In early January 1991, Dixie somehow dug her way out of our yard and was struck by a speeding pick-up truck. She died instantly. According to my husband, the driver didn’t even slow down – horrifically, Wade and our kids witnessed the whole incident. They called me at work, and I immediately came home. Amid their tears and after getting the kids in bed, I curled up on the floor with Duke. As I hugged him and was finally able to cry for Dixie, an unbreakable bond was formed between him and me. Duke became one of my best friends that night.
The years progressed with few incidents. Duke grew into a healthy 93 lb. dog. He seldom barked, only becoming loud and somewhat aggressive when he felt like some other dog or some stranger threatened “his” family. However, his mere size, a nod to his St. Bernard/Golden Retriever parentage, could intimidate even the bravest of neighborhood children. I knew that Duke was truly a gentle giant!
We took Duke camping with us on several occasions, but one trip in particular sticks out. On the way home one weekend, with Duke in the back of the van, my husband had to hit the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of him that stopped suddenly. As he did so, all of our camping gear shifted onto Duke. We pulled over and got the stuff off of him quickly, but from that time on, Duke became claustrophobic – the only dog I ever heard of that was!
When the Air Force reassigned us to Illinois, Duke went with us, of course. As our children grew older, so did Duke. As they became teenagers with likes, dislikes and peccadilloes of their own, so did he. They learned things they would never forget. Duke did, too. An example of his learning comes to mind. It is both touching and humorous: once, when we had severe weather, and the tornado sirens sounded, I gathered my children and Duke in the bathtub to wait out the storm. From that day on, whenever the clouds produced thunder and lightning, Duke could be found hiding in the bathtub!
On the catastrophic summer night in 1995 when I had my stroke, and the world changed forever, Duke was the only living being home to witness my futile efforts to get help. When I came home from the hospital four months later, Duke danced around with obvious joy to see me, no matter how broken my body now was.
We were fortunate enough to have Duke with us for nine more years: well pass the average life-span of a dog that size. Whenever we all piled into our van for a camping trip, he piled in with us. When we moved, he moved with us. Whichever child came or went, he adapted with us. A lot of things changed during the fourteen years we were together, and he always rolled with it.
When Duke succumbed to stomach cancer in late 2004, we all cried for days, even our now-grown sons. It seemed as if something was missing in every task I undertook. I couldn’t fathom why the people around me didn’t act as heartbroken as I felt.
One thing didn’t change in all that time, though: I still hate dogs! But now I’m not so reluctant to give the small balls of fur I come across a chance!