Saying Farewell: The Story of Zephyr

by Brett French

After waking us up with her insistent, high-pitched barks in the morning for 12 years, our chocolate Labrador, Zephyr, would spend the rest of the day — and parts of the night — constantly reminding us of her presence.

At night, her claws could be heard clicking across the wooden floors before she would collapse to lie
down with a large harrumph. Even when stretched out and quietly resting, her gaseous emissions were so foul as to leave us gasping for fresh air. When not resting, she would breathe heavily, like some prank
phone caller, which helped to spread the smell of her bad dog-food breath.

Now she’s gone, and it’s become very apparent how well she had us — her so-called masters — trained.

Walking down the dark hallway to the bathroom, outside of which lay her bed, I still squint to steer
around her sprawled form.

In the morning after she got me up, one of my first duties was to fill her dog dishes with food and water, even before I started the coffee. She had a routine to gobble down her food, drink noisily, slobber a bunch of the water caught on her saggy chops around the house and then give that high-pitched bark to signal it was time to go outside for her potty break.

By the time I was done with my cereal, she was giving the same bark at the back door to be let in.

When I would go for my morning shower and shave, she’d follow and park outside the bathroom door.

Our house used to have carpet, so the doors were cut to accommodate the high pile. When we moved in I
pulled up the carpet and refinished the oak flooring.

So now we have a gap under all of the doors, just wide enough for Zephyr’s tail to slip partially under like some intruding, furry brown snake.

If I forgot to latch the door she would always be lying on the bath mat outside of the shower when I
went to step out.

My wife got so she would organize her outings around Zephyr’s daily routine: rushing home to feed her lunch and let her out. Forgetting could leave a mess to clean up. One time, Zephyr ate the inside of
my wife’s car, chewing up the driver’s side door panel and gnawing into the seats’ cushions, in an attempt to exit.

zephrUnlike many other outdoor writers who can pen tales about the great hunting adventures they had with their Labs, Zephyr was pretty much a house dog we adopted for our children. The few times I took Zephyr hunting she shied from the blast of the shotguns and one time nearly crushed my hand in her jaws when I tried to get her interested in a pheasant I had shot.

Instead, she became a regular at the vets after being diagnosed with diabetes, hypothyroidism and finally cataracts that left her nearly blind. By the time she died she seemed nearly deaf and her hips kept giving out, forcing her to stand awkwardly. She was smart enough that she would sit or lie down next to a piece of furniture so she could push her butt into it to steady her as she rose.

We told our children when they visited over the Christmas holiday that Zephyr’s days were numbered. It was time to put the dog they had grown up with out of her misery. We suggested they say their goodbyes then.

Then my wife and I kept putting off a date for euthanasia, even though we agreed it was the right thing to do.

Although the situations are completely different, it’s been impossible for me not to equate Zephyr with
my elderly mother’s decline. Both of them, long dear to me in obviously distinct ways, were transformed in these past few years so greatly in all aspects but one: They both still loved me unconditionally.

Together, they also continued to teach me lessons about responsibility, devotion and kindness during difficult times. Sometimes the hardest lessons are the ones most remembered.

Even though Zephyr’s now gone, when I hear a high-pitched squeak I think she’s crying to come inside.

We’ve slowly taken the garbage cans, which Zephyr always raided given the chance, out of hiding.

Snacks can now be left on the coffee table without fear that the dog will devour them.

Zephyr, I now realized, had us well-trained, but now our furry brown master is gone.