Coping with Grief
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Today marks one week that I had to say good-bye to Walker. As you can imagine, it's been a very hard week, one that I really wish wasn't a reality, but sadly, it is.
A number of you have been so very kind to send your heart-felt condolences and for those I am very thankful. Cards, gifts and even donations in his honor have been received. again, thank you for your love and support during this most difficult time.
It's amazing, but not really surprising, of just how many lives that Walker touched. Seems that everyone that had an opportunity to meet him knew in an instant just how strong the bond between he and I really was. And Walker was the best at making new friends, especially those who he knew he could convince to sneak him a treat, give him a belly rub or just take a minute to say hello to him. No doubt, Walker had many fans and was loved by a number of you. And I hope you all know that Walker was one of your biggest fans and loved each of you as well.
For those of us at SoCo Rescue, 2023 started out with our hearts already heavily burdened after closing out the last two months of 2022 with the passing of two of our long-time friends, Candy, who was with me for 7 years,
passed away here at home on Nov 21; Tuck, 9 years. with me, passed on Dec 19 at our vet's office with humane assistance.
Walker and I had found a way to communicate with each other. I know many of you will find that absurd, but unless you've ever bonded with a dog the way I did with Walker, you could never even begin to believe it's possible to "talk" to and understand a dog. We had moved Candy indoors to keep her comfortable and better able to tend to her needs. It was then that Walker began wanting to sleep near the doggy gate that separated the living room area from the area where Candy was being kept. Walker's normal spot during the day, was on one of three couches in the living room. No sooner than we lost Candy, we received word that Tuck also had cancer and moved him indoors to better care for him. I recall a day after I'd taken Tuck out for a potty break and upon my return to the inside of the house, I found Walker standing at the doggy gate looking at me as if to say "Dad, uhhh, I need to tell you something". I knew then that he wanted to say he had the same sickness as Candy and Tuck, but I told him "No! Do not tell me that!"
Just this past month, during our ride to New Jersey, Walker began acting very sickly. At first I thought it was due to the gabapentin that he'd been on after being diagnosed with arthritis in his rear hip joints. During a stop to clean the crates and walk the dogs, Walker had taken his customary spot in the driver's seat. As I took a moment to snap a picture of him, I felt him say "This is my farewell trip Dad"; again, I told him to stop being silly. But his condition worsened on the trip up and I had become so concerned that I contacted a good friend and asked her recommendation of a vet to check Walker out while I was still in New Jersey. After the adoption event was over and on Jan. 9, that dreaded word "cancer" was used in reference to my beloved Walker and my heart was crushed to pieces.
For those who don't know, I had found Walker as a very young pup almost 13 years ago while driving along Highway 19 from Glenwood to Dublin. Sadly, I don't recall the exact date but do remember it was a hot Georgia summer day. Just as I approached the Big Flat Creek bridge, I saw this skinny black and white pup, with every inch of his tongue hanging out of his mouth, approaching the bridge and walking very close to the road. After I parked and exited my truck, I watched with laughter as this pup walked right by me without so much as casting a glance my way and climbed right into the cab of my truck. When I looked inside the truck, this pup was stretched out and looked at me as if to say "Took you long enough to find me. Now let's get started spending our lives together." I knew then that this pup was going to be very special and yet, one day break my heart at the same time. It was then and there that I named this pup Walker since I'd found him walking along the road. Good thing he wasn't taking a poop when I found him, how embarrassing of a name would he'd had then!
Over the years Walker became the most amazing dog I'd ever met, and I've met and have owned a vast number of dogs. He once literally saved my life after I became trapped in a kennel with a bulldog that had attacked me. Walker jumped a 6' fence with ease, drew the attention of the bulldog away from me long enough for me to escape harm and then sat next to me and, again, said "I got your back, Dad." From Day 1, Walker gave me the definition of what love was to him: without condition, judgment, or interruption. And that's how he loved me each and every day of his life. No human that I've met has ever shown me such love and I know I'll never find as pure of the emotion as I did with Walker. And he taught me how to love him in the very same way. When we commissioned a man to design the SoCo logo, I never told him what likeness of dog he was to use. But I think some greater force not only led the man to use the likeness of a Lab, but to also make that Lab resemble Walker's silhouette. And the official SoCo colors: black and white, of course. Walker was what drove me, made me push through the hard times and overcome even the biggest obstacles as it's my desire that everyone find their Walker.
January of this year continued to be a hard month for me personally as I suffered another kidney stone attack while driving home from that New Jersey trip. I ended up having the first of three surgeries just a day before my eldest sister, Debbie, passed away on Jan 20th. During the time that I was down with the kidney stones and grieving over my sister's death, Walker remained strong and was always by my side. But on the night of Feb 20, he lost use of his left rear leg, which had also begun to swell to twice its normal size. By the next afternoon, Walker could no longer stand without my help and began a quick decline. I knew then that our time was coming to an end.
Feb. 21 was Walker's last night with me and was spent with us just lying on the bed just looking at each other. I'd give him belly rub after belly rub, he'd look at me with those eyes that were filled with an endless amount of love. While he didn't have an appetite at all, we both did enjoy snacking on his favorite treat: pizza crust! Neither of us slept much that night, not wanting to waste one second of our time together, but we did finally both drift off early the next morning. When I woke up Walker's paw was laid across my hand and his eyes told me it was time. His condition was such at that time that I didn't think he'd live long enough to make it to the Sandersville Vet Clinic to be humanely euthanized. Along the way, we stopped at the very spot where our journey together had start so many years ago. I'd opened the side doors on the bus and had to help Walker hold his head up, but when I told him where we were at and as he looked around, a smile came across his now tired and weathered face. Walker was barely hanging on when we arrived at the vet's office but still very aware that I was there with him. Just as he passed from this world to whatever awaits us on the other side, I uttered the words that he understood so well: "Love, Love! Love my Walker" as I saw those eyes once so full of endless love become lifeless and void. My Walker was gone.
Tomorrow, I'll embark on another trip to New Jersey, the first since Walker's passing and the first in a number of years that won't have my buddy riding shotgun. Not physically anyway. Thanks to the great team at Paws 'N Reflect, who handled Walker's cremation, I'll have him in his urn. Paws 'N Reflect also supplied me with an impression of Walker's front right paw (yes, I can tell which paw it is, as he allowed me to hold his paws often). I also have a lock of his fur, now a treasure worth more than gold to me as I'll be able to still feel the softness of his fur that I've grown to love over the years and never want to forget exactly how it felt to touch him. These are the tings that those of us who have lost such a beloved companion grow to miss and long to never forget. Paw 'N Reflect has served SoCo Rescue with great compassion and professionalism over the years when similar situations required their services. When I spoke with Bob at PNR, he was very attentive and understanding, it was as if he knew Walker as I did. To Bob and the entire staff at Paws 'N Reflect... THANK YOU!!!
They say that time heals all wounds, but there's always an exception to every rule. If I'm forced to live another 100 years without Walker by my side or if eternity doesn't allow for our reunion, I will be in mourning until I can once again see that look of love from his eyes. I've been begging God to let Walker return to me, if for but a day; I've cried out in hopes that Walker will somehow hear me and do as I ask of him-to just come back home. But I fear that I'll be forever in sorrow as I wait with a broken heart for a day that will never come.
To Walker, aka Mr. Handsome:
I miss you so much, my friend. My heart feels empty, I don't want to accept that you're gone. You understood your assignment and completed it with far-exceeding perfection. Please know, that wherever you are, that's where I want to be when my time here comes to an end. Of course, you're always welcomed to come back, but if not, then wait for me there. I wish you were here so I could once more say to you...
Love,! Love! Love my Walker!
Southern Comfort Animal Rescue, Inc.