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  • Writer's pictureRobert Swanson

My Squire. A Remembrance.

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 earlier. 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 be held 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 that ran 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 an occupied bed. 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 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 told me everything. We had one more heart-to-heart conversation as we waited for the vet to make that final house call. 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 large mound of dirt was a constant reminder that I was losing my boy.

Like his sister, his mother and all the dogs that came before him, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't see him in his kids, grand kids or the places he loved to sleep and play.

I will always remember Squire as one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given.

Scout (L) and Squire (R) as puppies. They were incredibly close throughout their entire lives. She was the smartest dog I ever knew and tested me every day. Squire was the opposite. I always thought he would have been a surfer dude if he were human: athletic, handsome, well built and taking life one day at a time.

Squire was gentle with everyone and everything he met. As a puppy, our then 15 year old Siamese, Chotapeg, found him to be the most perfect sleeping companion.

Squire loved the show ring. He loved strutting his stuff and his energy translated into pure happiness. We had so much fun together. Win or lose, it was always fun showing this boy.

Squire and his daughter, Sahara, in December 2016. Sahara, at 13 1/2 years old, is every bit her father's daughter. She's a joy.

Squire celebrated his 14th birthday with his usual energy and joy for life. It would only be a few days later when I would first notice the slight hitch in his gait. It was the start of the cancer that would eventually take his life.

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