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Kira - The Last of the Second Ones

Michael Hillman

2002 - 2016

Kira died peacefully. While her body gave out, her spirit, the spirit that made her the special dog she was, was true to the end.

Kira was a lucky dog – lucky in the sense that a certain vet took a liking to her and decided she would be perfect for us. He was right.

As I like to tell the story, Kira was brought to the vet hospital by a kind older man who witnessed her jumping out of the window of the truck in front of him. The truck didn’t stop. He did. He gave chase to the truck, but it evaded him.

He brought Kira, a young lab mix, to the hospital to be checked out. She was fine, other than being a tad bit on the wild side – so wild in fact the staff nicknamed her "Loco."

That evening, the vet, Gary Kubala, called me. "What are you doing?" Having then been friends with Gary for almost 10 years, I’d learned that opening line from Gary is always followed by something…

We had recently lost Charlie, our old Lab-Rottweiler mix, so we had an opening on the farm. "A nice Lab cross came in today and it needs a home, why don’t you come in and look at her." He said.

My first impression as I watched her bounce off the walls of the hospital treatment room was that the staff had named her appropriately. Gary did all he could to keep her under some semblance of control, but eventually gave up and just let her run in circles.

"I’m not sure," I said to Gary, "let’s have Audrey (my wife) look at her."

She did, and that evening Gary dropped Kira off at the farm.

Things didn’t exactly get off to a good start. Kira took one look at the cats and went after them – all the cats headed for the high hills.

My wife cringed.

"Let’s give her some time," I said, "maybe she will settle down."

It suddenly occurred to me that maybe Kira had not jumped from the truck, but in fact had been pushed by someone unable or unwilling to deal with her any longer, and then sped away …"

We put Kira in a crate, and in a semblance of normalcy I said matter-of-factly: "Well I guess you liked her enough to tell Gary we wanted her…"

"What?" She said. "I thought YOU told Gary we would take her!"

We looked at each other dumbfounded – we had been snookered!

As Gary would later recount with his ‘fox in the hen-house’ grin: "Well Mike said it would be OK with him if it was OK with Audrey, and Audrey said it would be OK with her if Mike said it would be OK. So you both technically did say OK."

It was a stretch of logic, but for Kira and us it was one that history would prove well worth stretching.

Like all our animals, Kira was given a Star Trek name. In her case, she was named after the Deep Space Nine character Kira Nerys.

Kira quickly learned that cats, much to her chagrin, were not her personal chase toys. They were to be left alone, and if they should happen to whack her in the face, she needed to suck it up.

Farm life suited Kira just fine, and the ability to run all day was exactly what was needed to burn off her wildness. She quickly settled in and became a "nice dog." While she had a heart of gold, she was a big dog with a look of "don’t mess with me!" Strangers to the farm always halted well outside the Invisible Fence boundary until they were assured she would not gnaw them to death.

She drove her canine companions, Kess and PJ, both well into their senior years, crazy with her insistence on playing. When PJ died, she got her own puppy, a Jack Russell named Neilx, and for the rest of her life, the pair were inseparable.

Kira in many ways was a couch potato. During the winter months she would sprawl out on the couch in front of the fireplace. During the summer, she would sneak downstairs late at night to recline on the coolness of the living room couch. At first, she would slink away when discovered, but eventually she realized it was allowed, and from then on, it was always easy to find her in the house – just look on a couch!

Kira was first and foremost an outdoor dog. If it had to do with the outdoors, you could always count Kira in. When it snowed, Kira would happily blaze the trail to the barn for you. Open the door to a car or truck – Kira magically appeared ready and willing for the ride.

If for some reason you couldn’t find her, all you needed to do was toss a Frisbee and she would appear out of nowhere and snag the Frisbee in mid air. As I write this, I realize that is one of the things I remember most about her; she was a great Frisbee dog.

Kira would follow the path of the Frisbee in the air and make a mighty leap and cease its flight. In her youth, she never missed. No matter how far or high I threw it, she always got the Frisbee. Now getting it back was another question!

As age took its toll, Kira’s ability to snag the Frisbee in mid air began to elude her, but she still tried. By the fall of last year, with her eyesight all but gone, catching one was just a dream of her youth. A puppy to the end, she would still come out and join the other dogs in the toss. When they were distracted, I would extend my arm and offer Kira a Frisbee. Her eyes would brighten and she would seize it out of my hand, but not before I would momentarily release it. Both of us enjoyed the illusion that she had caught it as always. One catch, for old time sake, was all she wanted or needed.

The other thing I’ll remember about Kira was her faithfulness. She had her job, and that job was to defend us, and for her that meant she was always the last one to come to bed. No matter how late I worked, she would refuse to call it a night until I did. If I went to bed and my wife was still working, Kira would stay up with her.

In the morning, she was always up with the first one up. That is, until she "retired."

With eyesight and hearing failing fast, the arrival of Troy, a German Sheppard-Husky cross rescue, took the guard duty pressure off of Kira and she slipped into a more sedentary lifestyle. While she stuck to her practice of staying up until the house was dark, her mornings did not begin until the last person was up. Many a times I would wake up late in the morning to be greeted by Kira sleeping soundly on her bed next to mine. I would gently touch her to let her know I was up. She would yawn, stretch, and contemplate if the day would be a good day to sleep in.

Life for Kira was good.

The last few months of her life were happy, but rough. Her vocal cords were becoming paralyzed, making breathing difficult at best. There was nothing Gary could do for her. It was an affliction most old Labs, lucky enough to live as old as she had, eventually succumb to.

As the months wore on, her breathing became more and more labored. Long walks became short walks. A climb up the stairs was followed by a half hour of rest. Her appetite declined, and she soon took on the appearance of an old dog. Gone was my puppy – although I still called her "pup."

She crashed while I was away for work, but somehow, she revived. When I returned home from the trip, she greeted me like the puppy of old. Moments later, unable to catch her breath, she died.

Her final greeting was her way of saying goodbye. TO remind me she was still my puppy.

She was faithful to the end.

That evening Gary came by with a bottle of Champaign and after sharing memoirs of Kira, we all toasted to a life well lived.

"Farewell, Master, Yet not farewell
Where I go, ye too shall dwell
I am gone, before your face,
A moment's time, a little space.
When ye come where I have stepped
Ye will wonder why ye wept."

Pastor Wade Martin: Do Pets Go to Heaven

Read other stories by Michael Hillman