Remembering our dear friend Yogi

The darned dog wagged his tail to the very end.

Meanwhile, I was crying like a baby.

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I’m choosing to write this to work through the grief of having to put our beloved Yogi to sleep today. A fast-growing cancer had started in his spleen and appeared to have advanced to his liver and lungs. Our new vet – we just moved to Lawrence in late June – explained the very real possibility of the tumor rupturing, which would cause extreme pain and death.

My wife and I didn’t want to risk him suffering such pain, especially with both of us working during the day. We didn’t want him to pass away alone, in pain and, likely, scared.

He hadn’t really been himself since we moved to Kansas. We thought it might just be the stress involved with the move, but that proved not to be the case.

So I’m writing to thank our big, furry companion for choosing us.

It’s true. He really did choose us.

A little over eight years ago, my wife and I decided to give in and adopt a dog. Our kids had wanted one for a long time. So one weekend while our daughter was sleeping over at a friend’s house, and our son was on a Boy Scout trip, we decided to head to a pet store in St. George, Utah, where we were living at the time, to select a dog.

The reality of summer in the desert southwest is that it’s far too hot for dogs to be outside on pavement for very long. The nice woman there to help adopt out animals directed us to the shelter in the nearby town of Hurricane, Utah.

As my wife and I pulled up to the shelter, a man and two children were getting out of their vehicle with a large, blond dog. It was a particularly difficult economic time in that region, and we presumed that the family had to surrender their pet because they could not afford to keep him or because they had to move and couldn’t have pets in their new dwelling. We never really had the chance to ask.

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Yogi on his first day with us in his new home.

As soon as my wife and I stepped inside, the big dog looked up at us and moved right next to us, almost as if to get a better look at us and so we could take a better look at him. The deputy on duty that day said if we wanted to take the large dog, there would be no charge for their family to surrender him and none for us to take him. It would be a private pet adoption. The man dropping off the dog said the big guy was 4 years old and that he thought the dog was a Lab-Chow mix.

My wife’s first reaction was “He’s way too large.” We decided to take a look at the other dogs in their kennels.

One dog was a 9-month-old Lab mix. He was really cute and reminded us of our beloved Sadie, a Lab-Rottweiler mix who passed away far too soon about seven or eight years prior. We decided we would see how active the youngster was out in the play yard.

It wasn’t very long before we realized that this puppy had way more energy than we could handle. And he had not been trained at all. While we came to grips with those realities, that large, blond dog walked across the yard, sat down by us and pushed his head under our hands as if to say, “Please pet me. I think I want to go home with you.”

That big dog’s name was Yogi, and he quickly became a big part of our family. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those first few days he was home. Our kids’ faces each lit up when they met Yogi. He was a little nervous about his new surroundings, so he slept on the floor of our daughter’s room those first few nights. (And our daughter slept on the floor right next to him).

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Our daughter took this photo when Yogi let her place these sunglasses on him as they rested in the desert shade.

I don’t know if it was his nature or some anxiety of being left behind by another family, but he did his best from that first day on never to leave our sight. He would squeeze into any room we were in, and he would plop down where he could keep an eye on us. He quickly gained the nickname “Roadblock.”

Over the years, the kids taught him how to shake, how to roll over and how to say “please” for his treats. But he never learned to chase a ball, much to our son’s disappointment. Yogi not only learned how to put up with our two cats, but even figured out how to nudge one in such a way that they could play a slow-motion game of chase (meaning a walking, follow-the-leader kind of game, not a full-on sprint). He let the kids take his photo with goofy glasses on his head. And kids in the neighborhood would pause and yell “Hi Yogi!” whenever they saw him.

And that tail! We talked often about how his tail wagging could single-handedly power our house if only we could harness the energy.

Even as we waited for the veterinarian to end his pain, he looked at my wife and me, gave us his toothy “smile” and wagged that darned tail. I like to think it was his way of trying to make us feel better.

That’s what he always did: brought us joy. To this day, I can only think of one thing he did “wrong.” While we were living in a rental house upon moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, he found a burrow of baby bunnies and killed one or two of them. As our son put it: “We’re so used to Yogi not really doing dog stuff that when he actually acts like a dog, it shocks us.”

Luckily for us, Yogi acted like the best part of dogs a whole lot.

If I’m honest, Yogi will never be inducted into any kind of Dog of Fame. But he certainly was special to us.IMG_2449

I’ll miss the parts of him that were Chow. He had little ears and a short snout – both of which helped him have the cutest face for a dog his size. He showed he was the defender the family wanted and needed by positioning himself between my wife or daughter and any strange man who entered the house, be it a dinner guest or repair person.

I’ll also miss the parts of him that were Lab. He had a loving demeanor, sweet spirit and genuine desire to please us.

Above all, I’ll miss the companionship. I’ll miss how he would be lying on the floor by the door when we got home. I’ll miss hearing him snore. I’ll miss the way he inhaled his breakfast.

I’ll miss him, period.

I guess you could say that Yogi inspired me. I know that sounds odd to some people, but our big friend exhibited everything that Christians should strive to be.

Like many dogs, he loved us unconditionally, just like God. Yogi put us before himself in every possible scenario, just like God does.

And he picked us, just like God does.

Losing Yogi really hurts, but it does so because of how much we loved him. I wouldn’t trade our time with him for anything.

I’m so very glad that he chose us.

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