Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.
We’ve said good-bye to many Overlook dogs throughout the years. In most cases we’ve been there when they were born and watched them grow and have puppies of their own. The many years of companionship and joy are never enough. We know the day will come when they will leave us, but it always comes too soon and we’re never ready.
In 1986, I bought a weekend home in Connecticut to give me a break from Manhattan. I grew up with dogs and thought this was the perfect time to have one. I searched for reputable breeders and found a litter of seven week old puppies. The breeder also had a six month old who was her pick of the previous litter and this beautiful puppy became my Chelsea.
The breeder agreed to sell her to me if I would show her in conformation. I quickly agreed but had no intention of doing any such thing. But, I was held to my promise and Chelsea and I made our debut in a match show when she was nine months old. I was hooked.
Chelsea never became a champion but she loved the ring because she loved the attention. She was a happy girl who loved Manhattan as much as she did the country. How I loved her.
She was four when I introduced her to Savannah and she went from an only child to a surrogate mother of a seven week old puppy. They became fast friends and when Chelsea died 8 months later, Savannah's personality changed and she was never the same again.
Chelsea's life wasn't long enough, but she knew a lifetime of joy.
Rizer's Savannah's Dream "Savannah"
(3/24/92 - 6/12/2004)
Savannah came into our lives when I decided I wanted to get serious about showing golden retrievers. When I picked her up from the breeder I didn't know how such a gawky puppy could ever grow up to be a show dog. She grew up to be a stunning dog but thought running around a small ring was beneath her. She was so damn smart. . She was much happier at home running with the others, opening gates and attempting to be a lap dog.
She wasn't the best Mom either - she wanted to be out with us and only nursed when she absolutely had to. In the middle of the Summer she jumped through a screened window to get to us because we were in the pool - she left the puppies behind without a thought. She gave us two wonderful litters and our Sailor and Safari are her legacy. They both have their mother's amazing temperament and Sailor's personality is a mirror of Savannah. Her spirit lives on in so many of our dogs.
Savannah had a wonderful life. She was raised in Manhattan and had a dog walker who roller bladed with her and Skye up and down Madison and Park Avenues. They would travel sixty blocks from Madison Square Park to Central Park and back. She loved to swim and would dive off the pier at the lake head first; we always spelled the word "s-w-i-m" around Savannah because she would get crazy if she knew she might get to go in the water. She was a joy.
Decoy's Summer Skye "Skye"
(3/14/93 - 9/13/2005)
A big chapter in my life closed when we put Skye to sleep. We made the decision because she was unable to walk or move and had extreme difficulty breathing. She had been growing weaker by the day but her spirit was bright and she never ceased to wag her tail or smile.
She had rallied to such a degree the week before that she spent the weekend swimming in the pool and chasing her tennis ball - she was two years old again.
That was her best weekend. She slowly started to decline after that to the point that I took her into the pool area but she opted to stay on the edge while we swam. She was still chomping on the tennis ball and wagging her tail, but she wouldn't come in the water. Swimming was her number one favorite pastime so I knew we were losing her.
Losing my foundation girls within 15 months of each other was difficult. But I still see them in their favorite places and in the antics and smiles of their descendants.
Overlooks Indian Summer "Shane"
(6-25-1996 - 3-31-2011)
We lost Shane three months shy of her 15th birthday. Shane was the last surviving member of the very first litter at Overlook. I remember the day she was born as if it were yesterday. I was beyond the pale with nervousness, lacked all the modern tools we now use for whelping and had no mentor to call for advice. I was fortunate that Skye decided to begin whelping at sunrise rather than sundown, but knew the day was off to a rocky start when she went outside and promptly delivered her first puppy in the pachysandra. Running at the speed of sound with a newborn in my hands and a totally bewildered, hugely pregnant dog at my side, we made it into the house before the next ten puppies were born. We lost that first male which was heartbreaking to both me and Skye, but Skye rallied, after an excruciatingly long break, and finally began the whelping process in earnest.
A female was born two hours later but then all sense of normalcy disappeared as Skye then delivered two puppies at once. Both came out awash in a mass of green slime. I immediately thought Skye was internally hemorrhaging and I was going to lose Mom and all her unborn puppies. I was crazed about this turn of events and have never seen anything as horrific in 15 years of breeding. One of the puppies had apparently died days earlier in the birth canal and the sack had ruptured coating both puppies with a viscous, green fluid. The other puppy in this frightening dual delivery was a female I soon named Shane. She arrived covered in slime but clearly incensed that her grand entrance had been co-opted by another as her puppy bark broke the silence of the room. She always had some bark on her.
I cleaned Shane as best I could, but couldn't quite get rid of a black stripe on her hind leg. I thought it was just deeply embedded slime and would tend to it after the rest of the puppies were on the ground. But, the stripe wasn't gunk after all, it was an overabundance of pigment that resulted in black hair. The stud dog owner urged me not to keep her, but she was clearly pick bitch in the litter and had the most gorgeous face and head. She looked like no other puppy in the pack and was a standout from day one. A twice-monthly touch up of a little Nice 'n Easy for blondes kept her in shape for the show ring.
Shane became my first true show dog, albeit a reluctant one. She never really enjoyed the ring - she was too smart to be fooled by a few pieces of liver as a reward for running in countless circles. She was an amazing retriever with an unabashed love for aquatic Kongs - the blue ones with the long yellow rope attached. Those were her Kongs and she wouldn't share. She would hold that Kong in her mouth in the most gruesome games of tug-a-war always emerging as the victor. Even when she got older and was besieged by the constant attempted stealing by the younger dogs, she held onto that Kong. She loved nothing more than running at the speed of sound to retrieve it and then running back to drop it at my feet and take off again, certain I was throwing it in her direction.
Shane was one of the best Moms I've ever had at Overlook. She was born to raise puppies and adored them. She was an easy whelper, terrific surrogate Mom when needed and passed on her wonderful personality to all of her kids. She helped discipline every generation of Overlook puppy, teaching them manners and respect.
She was a very independent spirit but so soft and gentle on the inside. As she aged, her coat became thick and wooly and she shed hair like Pig Pen shed dirt. She had a bark that could startle people and dogs alike but only used it when she felt it appropriate. She was a very easy dog to live with and asked for little but a good Kong session, a swim in the pond on a hot day and a little bit of love and a biscuit before bed. How we miss this gentle soul.
Overlooks Soft Light of Spring "Scout"
(4/23/2002 - 9/2/2015)
Scout was one of just five puppies Shiloh ever whelped. Shiloh was my first champion and my true heart dog. Her death at 15 1/2 is still one of the saddest memories I have in a lifetime of Golden moments. Does a day go by that I don't think about her, miss her, see her? No, I can say that honestly.
Scout was like her mother in so many ways. She adored people and never met a dog she didn't like. She was independent and incredibly smart. She opened gates both ways. If she couldn’t push the gate open, she would cup her paw under the gate and open it inward. When she wanted in or out, she went in or out. In her temperament testing at 7 weeks old, she was fearless. She didn't require any encouragement or soothing words to comfort her in a strange place, doing strange things with a stranger. To Scout, this was just another adventure complete with new sounds and smells and a chance to do as she pleased. She never changed.
Scout had one litter of puppies. Six boys, six girls. Six born before midnight, six after. So Scout. Her first puppy was born while I was putting the others up for the night. Opening the bedroom door, I saw a perfectly formed, minutes-old puppy crying on the floor. Scout was on the bed staring at this odd little thing she'd just whelped. Coaxing her off the bed to her whelping box wasn't easy and it was the beginning of a very long night.
Motherhood was something of a chore to Scout. She was a very good Mom, but grew bored with all the work of caring for 12 puppies. I could see it in her eyes. She wanted to be outside with the others. She always thought she was missing something. When I started to wean the “Overlook Dozen”, she never looked back. She was done! Scout never had another litter despite many attempts. I always thought Scout's attitude was "I did it. I'm done. Let somebody else do it". It's exactly how she would think.
Scout led a charmed life. Her world revolved around food and treats and food and treats and more food and treats. Typical Golden Retriever behavior, but Scout could spend countless hours staring at a tiny morsel of food that found its way under a cabinet, just out of reach. The only sign of life was her wagging tail as I tried to call her away from her fruitless endeavor. She inhaled her food and would stalk the others while they ate, just waiting for an errant crumb to manifest itself. She gorged herself on the bushels of apples that fell from the trees. She could be in the deepest of sleep, yet come fully awake when I closed the lights for the night. She would jump up and quickly climb the stairs to the bedroom. At the top of the stairs was a never-empty jar of biscuits and she never missed her bedtime treat. I could fool myself into thinking she wanted to sleep by my side, but I knew it was all about the treat.
At 4:00 pm, every single day, year in and year out, Scout would start to bark. In Scout’s world, it was time for dinner. Didn’t I know? She wouldn't stop until she saw me break out the bowls. If I played with the youngsters too long before making breakfast, she would start barking. You could never get angry with Scout. She had a smile that literally went from ear to ear and she wore it all the time. It was a look of pure innocence that always made me smile. I could never resist that face.
Scout was never sick a day in her life. But, in mid-August I sensed something was off. It was just a feeling. A couple of small things that didn’t seem right. An ultrasound confirmed a mass that would prove to be inoperable. Scout began a slow decline that manifested itself in erratic eating behavior. For a food-obsessed dog, this was painful to watch. But, true to her self, she still climbed those steep stairs every night. Every now and again I would carry her because she was growing weaker. But she always wanted to be upstairs. Maybe now it was to sleep by my side.
The day of our wedding, Scout was in glorious form. She ate an enormous amount of food and was up and about and so full of life. She was a different dog. She wore her beautiful collar with grace and posed for countless photographs. She was an incredible picture of happiness that made the day perfect. It was the last gift she would give us.
Late that night, it was obvious Scout wasn’t doing well. I hoped it was the craziness of the day, but knew in my heart we were losing her. The other dogs were very respectful and quiet. We spent a lot of time with her and knew when we kissed her goodnight, it was likely for the last time.
There are still 14 Golden Retrievers here at Overlook. They keep us very busy and highly entertained. But, there is a deep emptiness without Scout. She is terribly missed. We’ve raised many dogs over the years and each of them has given us scrapbooks of wonderful memories of joy as well as sadness. But, every now and again there is a very special dog whose loss is difficult to bear and very hard to define. That is Scout. She brought boundless joy to our lives. She gave us an incredible legacy in her offspring. And she trained me well. I still make dinner at 4:00pm and that makes me smile.
Overlook's A Gentleman's Report "Squire"
(April 23, 2002 - March 23, 2017)
Squire lived an incredible life. He died on March 23, 2017, just four weeks shy of his 15th birthday. He died on the very day his mother, Shiloh, was born 20 years ago. He died on the day my incredible Sloane was celebrating her 14th birthday. I made the decision to end his life that morning after a nearly year long battle with malignant melanoma.
It started with a tiny hitch in his gait one April morning in 2016. He was running toward me from out in the field and I saw it. Almost imperceptible, but I know my boy and when he moved, he floated. Never sick a day in his life, I thought perhaps it was the onset of Lyme.
The hitch became more pronounced despite a treatment for Lyme. Although he had just celebrated his 14th birthday, I wasn’t too worried. He was a brilliant picture of health; time and the maladies of aging seemed to have passed him by. If anything, six girls in season at one time should have been his end.
During that twice-yearly event (nightmare), he would careen around the five open acres, at top speed, searching for the elusive source of joy. To watch a dog of his age expend that kind of energy was akin to watching an 80 year old run a marathon. I held my breath despite the amazement.
Squire was one of two boys and four puppies born to my Shiloh. From the moment he was born I knew he was something special. I don’t say that often. He had incredible substance and the most gorgeous head I’ve ever seen on a puppy so young. As he opened his eyes and began to stand on his feet, he was always the puppy who seemed to say “Me! Look at me!” And I did. He was at home in my arms until he was too big too hold. How he loved to sink into my embrace and just stare at me with his big, expressive eyes. Fifteen years later, there are some things I will never forget.
As he grew, he fulfilled every promise I saw in him as a baby. He was big, powerful and beautifully put together. His light blonde coloring gave him a forever-puppy look that completed a stunning picture.
Like his mother, Shiloh, Squire loved the show ring. His excitement was infectious as we went through the rigors of bathing and grooming and blow-drying. He knew the pay-off of that routine: liver, treats, showing off, winning ribbons. His tail would wag with a speed that would shake his body and make judging him a hardship (and a joy!) for the judges. Like his mother, we had an incredible connection in the ring. He made me look good, but nobody could make him look better.
Squire never asked for much. He was an incredibly easy dog to live with. He was a food-whore and never missed a meal until the last weeks of his life. He loved everyone and never met a dog he didn’t like. He was everything a Golden Retriever should be and so much more.
Life for Squire was just one moment of happiness followed by another and another and another until I found the melanoma between the pads of his front paw. It looked like a wart, but the biopsy said otherwise. The tumor was excised, chemo administered but a second tumor appeared a few weeks later inches away from the first. Same drill for the second tumor with a better outcome. It was six months before the cancer returned, this time with a visible vengeance.
I'm a realist and know how lucky I’ve been to have had so many Golden Retrievers live to 14, 15 and nearly 16. But losing each one breaks my heart. Squire never let the cancer slow him down despite the ravages of his paw and the terrible growths up his leg. He wasn’t in pain; he hobbled over to meet me for a treat and barked at the sleeping crew of dogs when he wanted the comforts of a bed and they were occupied. Of course nobody listened, but Squire always got his bed.
The last weeks of his life were so difficult. I knew the time we had together was fading. I also knew I would have to make the final decision. His decline was swift, devastating and heartbreaking. The boy who loved food, no longer ate. A small bite of a biscuit was a cause for celebration. He slept most of the day and needed help navigating the few stairs to the outside. The nearly two feet of snow that fell in a blizzard nobody wanted was an unexpected challenge for both of us.
When the weather cooperated we would sit outside and he would sleep in the winter sun. We had countless one-sided conversations as I tried to embrace my future without him. He was a great listener and I loved that time we had together.
On March 23rd, Squire struggled to lift his head. The expression in his eyes was nothing more than exhaustion. We had one more one-sided conversation as we waited for the vet to come to the house to let him go. People always ask me how I know when it is time; Squire let me know.
I buried Squire next to his sister, Scout. I dug his grave weeks before when the earth warmed during a February thaw. The view out my kitchen window of a pile of dirt was a constant reminder that I was losing my boy.
Loving a dog is so easy but finite. I would never trade so many years of joy to avoid the grief of those final days. Chelsea, Savannah, Shiloh, Skye, Shane, Stormy, Sailor, Summer 1 & 2, Scout, Squire, Simon, Shelby and Daisy. Their pictures adorn my walls and their ribbons could stretch for miles. They have defined my life and who I am as a person. Their memories will never fade.