Saying good-bye to one of the great loves of your life is gut wrenching. Some may think that is an extreme statement, but I am content with this.
I knew from the moment that my cousin Kimmy said her dog Cheyenne was pregnant with puppies that I wanted Kioko, my Dog Daughter. And I was so so lucky to enjoy her as part of my life for so many years.
It was a day at the beach when Kimmy offhandedly mentioned it, and in my gut I knew: “I want that.” I want one of those puppies.
And every day since, she was a joy. A complicated comedienne, stubborn, but full of joy. As Akitas are.
Dog is my co-pilot; it could not be a more true statement. Our roots in Maryland, she came home to my first house on Talbott Square, and started her hijinx. Cheyenne’s nickname was Houdini, and we found that trait trickled down: Kioko was a runner.
There were two gates in my fenced in yard, and there were some “whoops” times where a gate was left open or not closed right. She would bolt, and I swear as she was running away would look back at me and laugh: Ha-ha, not going to catch me! You’re left with a sinking feeling, heart in your throat panic.
I joined Kimmy in North Carolina the next summer for a weekend trip and friends were all hanging out with all the dogs. I being a tad overprotective, had Kioko attached to my hip (perhaps the type of behavior was what led to Chris calling me a “Helicopter Mom” a few times), and Kimmy said, “With all these dogs here, she won’t run.”
Five seconds later we were running after her, tail in the air. If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.
Luckily that time, a neighbor was out filling his bird feeder; I got used to calling out to strangers, to call her over, that she’s friendly. It was a good strategy.
Other times she would escape, hours would go by.
I’d leave the gates open and and after patrolling the neighborhood, have to go home and wait. She’s be on the back deck at some point relaxing and catching her breath after the adventure.
One time, she came back covered in dirt. Covered! With ticks crawling all over her: into the bath she went.
The first time I visited my parents at their new house in Delaware, Kioko was about two. She had a wild hair, and within moments of us getting in, and bringing in stuff from the car, she squeezed out the open door and ran for it. Oh and it was on! Because of course, it was a game, and she was having the time of her life evading me, laughing. Two boys in the next neighborhood hear me calling, perhaps the panic in my voice and helped get her: more people to evade. I finally just had to tackle her as she was running by, on one of her back and forth, just out of arms reach. The best trouble. After getting her back in the house, my mom said. “I’ve never seen you run so fast.”
The running decreased when she was older, thank goodness. Of course there was the time in my second house on Weston where the Verizon guy had left the gate open. It wasn’t wide open, so I didn’t see at first when I let her out, but she saw that the latch wasn’t secure, nudged it and trotted down the alley. My inner alarm was going off because I had moved to a place near a very busy road, and was so afraid she’s go the wrong way. Luckily there was a smell that distracted her long enough for me to close in. From then on, I had to make sure that the bungee cord back-up system was secure before opening the back gate.
She was always ready for a road trip.
I just completed my first long drive without her, and am so unmoored without her looking out the window, my girl to talk to and not make comments about my singing.
In 2012, my vacation was a drive to Colorado. I had been in 2006, with Kristina, but I wanted to road trip! Kioko and I set out and tent camped along the way, getting to Snow Mountain Ranch and staying in a yurt. We hiked Monarch Lake and drove up and over Trail Ridge Road in RMNP.
Several times I took her back to that lake for hikes with my parents, Jen, and Chris. Never could I wake early enough to get out there to catch a moose, but her pawing the water in the stream and sniffing out squirrel holes were top of the list.
Heading home from that trip, I knew the next time would be back to Colorado was with a moving truck, which is exactly what happened the following year.
She lived by the adage that: Home was where your heart is. No matter what house, apartment, tent, with my parents in New Hampshire or Delaware, and finally on the road for three years in the trailer, she was always happy to be with her people. Content to be present.
New places brought out the Akita tendency to secure the perimeter, and even her last night she checked on everyone at bed time to make sure that we were in our places and that everyone was settled.
We went to the dog park when she was a youngster, but the Akita tendency to not like other dogs prevailed. She just didn’t really care about other dogs but loved humans. Lucky to never need the protection, but after one night time walk in Denver, she kept her eye on one fellow, and knew she would do what she needed to do if ever there came a time.
She tolerated her kitty siblings, and vice versa. Ella threw a hissy fit when I brought Kioko home to Talbott Square. Toby let Kioko know when she stepped out of line.
I did obedience school, but needed to call a trainer in for a house call when we were in “that stage.” I needed to learn how to use the choke chain properly, and needed to work on saying “No” so that she would understand. I remember the trainer laughing at me a little when she had me show her how I using the choke chain. She said, “Look at her neck, you aren’t going to hurt her.”
Kioko got the basics, sit, stay, high-five, but her Nana prevailed in teaching her down. Maybe she understood left and right, maybe she just knew what I meant. She always knew what I meant.
I had to call upon a trainer one more time, moving into our first studio apartment she was exhibiting separation anxiety, while I was there.
It was so weird, and in the end the issue was solved with advice from a Denver Botanic Garden employee who had “encounters” there, and a bundle of sage. Let’s just say her sixth sense was being called upon, in ways that were completely unexpected.
Kioko was sweet and loyal, and soft and gorgeous. She could take down a stuffed toy in minutes, no matter the rating for “tough chewers.” Fluff everywhere.
My special girl, my kitty-puppy-bunny-rabbit, fuzzy face, monkey-duck, Kioko Yama Kuma. Happy Child, indeed. The cry of joy you made when my parents arrived for Christmas in Colorado is a sound I won’t ever forget.
Trouble though, the times I’d come home and you’d be on the wrong side of the baby gate, or somehow got yourself locked in the trailer bathroom for an hour or so, causing me to reconfigure a system to keep you out!
We had our last outing in the snow this past October in Golden Gate Canyon. Oh how she loved the snow! February 2009, oh how silly you were in the blizzard. I was late to work (even more so than usual) when you refused to come inside in the mornings. I had to buy a 12 foot lead to reel you in in the mornings, there was no way you’d let me catch you in the channels you made in the backyard.
September 27th, 2007, the note I sent out introducing her: “She’s now 10 weeks old, and it might be a fluke, but she just slept through the night… believe me, I couldn’t be happier.”
She was a howler monkey at night for the first two weeks after bringing her home. I was exhausted, and despite having plans of her to sleep on the floor next to the bed, I laid her at the edge of the bed to get some peace. We both slept soundly that night. At the edge of the bed was where she started so many subsequent nights, “Get your bone, we’re going to bed.”
Then she’d hop down at some point and go to her spots.
It’s so hard to quantify the love of a dog, my darling companion for over 12 years. And the hurt, the loss, the sorrow.
Oh how lucky I am to have had her by my side on so many adventures, taking in so many sights. I kept you as best I could, but time became an ever increasing burden on your body.
I know that sometime in the future we’ll meet again on a trail padded with pine needles, listening to the wind.
You felt that getting your picture taken stole your soul, but I managed to document our time together.