This is Willow, our 13 year old yellow lab who passed away unexpectedly on December 15th. She was my 4th lab. I've said goodbye to 3 others before her but this time was different. Different for a lot of reasons.

7 years ago we weren't looking for another dog. I got an email from one of my neighbors about a 5 year old "white" lab that needed a new home. I wish I still had that email. Perhaps I do have it saved on a thumb drive somewhere. I should look for it.

Don was in Chicago at the time. He'd always wanted a "white" lab so I forwarded the email to him. The note said that her owners were elderly and that they'd recently both had health issues and they thought she needed a home that could better care for her. She'd made her way from SC to Charlotte with their son-in-law. He worked long hours so she was spending long days in an apartment while he was at work. He was headed out of town for the weekend and needed someone to care for her while he was away. 

Don and I agreed that I should go and meet her. I did and she was really sweet. I think that was a Thursday and the following day, the son-in-law left instructions for the apartment manager to let me into his apartment so I went and got her and her bed, loaded her up in my car and took her to our house. 

Willow turned out to be Don's dog. Our previous 3 labs were mine. The first two, Sloan and Sam were part of my life before Don was. Buddy joined our family shortly after Sloan died and he quickly became my heart dog. He was my shadow and I loved him for it. He was exactly what I needed.

I think Willow was exactly what Don needed. She got along well with our two other dogs Buddy and Sam and even walking the 3 of them was easy. She fit right in.

We learned quickly that she was sensitive to a lot of different sounds. For 7 years our phones have been on silent. Any sound coming out of our phones would scare her. If our phone dinged or chirped, she'd tuck her tail and leave the room. It took us awhile to figure out that the sound of the train scared her. More recently, she didn't seem to be bothered by it as much. We are guessing her hearing was failing.

She loved stuffed squirrels. We have lots of stuffed toys but she always loved squirrels the best. She'd go to her "toy box" and every time she'd come out with the squirrel. She lie down and gnaw on it. We always said she was whittling. 

Willow had a few nicknames too, all of our dogs do. One of them was Whittle. She was a little hefty for awhile so then the name Whittle Waddle stuck. 

Losing her so suddenly was hard. Losing them in any way is always hard but the suddenness of losing her has left me with the guilt of wondering what I missed. We knew she wasn't feeling well. We'd taken her to the vet and were told maybe she was getting dementia. Something in my gut told me that wasn't right and now I'm beating myself up for not asking more questions. I was dismissing some of her behavior as old age. 

She didn't always want to go for walks but the night before she died, she and I took a stroll through the neighborhood. A nice, leisurely stroll and she seemed to really enjoy it. Thank you Willow for giving me that special time with you.

Thank you Willow for deciding it was time to go when your dad was home. She made it easy on us in that we didn't have to make that decision. 

I don't have a ton of photos of her because she didn't love my camera. The clicking noise of the shutter was another sound that bothered her. Luckily she loved the beach and when we took her to Hilton Head, I was able to take photos of her on the beach. I'm so grateful to have these photos. 

Sloan, Sam and Buddy's ashes are on the chest of drawers in our bedroom. Once I am no longer on this earth, I want all of our ashes put together. Don had always said once Willow was no longer here, he wanted to spread her ashes in Hilton Head on the beach. She loved the tide pools and I know she would be happy there. I did keep some of her ashes so they are with the other dogs.

We spread her ashes, a little bit of her squirrel's fur and some rose petals along Hilton Head beach. It was a beautiful sunny morning. I think she would've liked that. 

Don and I were talking about her the other day. Then we heard the train. Without missing a beat, he looked at me and said, "That's Willow. Letting us know she is okay." I think about her every time I hear the train now.

I miss her like crazy and the sadness is sometimes overwhelming but then I remind myself of the Dr Seuss quote: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." We love you Willow.