Six years ago we fulfilled Brenna's heart's desire for her 12th birthday by bringing home a pudgy ball of chocolate-brown energy, a 10-week-old Labrador retriever we named Moose.
As she later explained it, Brenna was Moose's owner — and I was his mother. (By the third child I well knew that despite the most heartfelt promises to care for a pet; all responsibility ultimately remains with Mom.) Our Chocolate Moose grew into his silly name — he reached 100 pounds and lived life with a bumbling exuberance that endeared him to our family and his many friends.
And Moose did have friends — sometimes, I believed, more than I had. He had ulterior motives — friends would throw balls for him. Moose was ball obsessed. He usually had at least two tennis balls in his mouth and sometimes also a large ball at his feet to dribble. He could sniff out tennis balls anywhere and found several every time we walked.
Moose's favorites were little boys, who shared his energy level and enthusiasm for balls. All the neighbor children came over to play with him; sometimes bringing friends. Moose helped me teach gardening to 4-Hers by leading wild runs around our yard, tiring the children enough so they could sit and learn something before setting off again.
Moose's best dog friend was Tillie, a female black lab who didn't share his ball obsession; but understood it well enough to steal his ball so he had to chase her to get it back.
Moose also loved water. He bounded through puddles, lay down in the drainage ditch to cool off (even in the winter), thought a walk in the rain was heaven, and would fetch sticks from the lake until forced to stop.
Moose constantly made us laugh. He put up with wearing antlers or sleigh bells for the holidays, posed in dog goggles or hats, and had a whole wardrobe of bandanas. When I looked for photos of Moose after his death, I quickly found 150 of them.
Moose had almost unlimited enthusiasm for an almost unlimited number of things. Any statement preceded by: "Do you want to…" was greeted with joy, from fetching the morning paper to locking up the chickens at night. Often a squealing yowl would burst out of him if the proposed activity was not begun immediately.
Moose woke me each morning to feed and exercise him, then spent the day at my side if he could. If my family couldn't find me; they would call the dog and ask him to lead them to me. He would not go upstairs to his bed at night unless I also went.
I have been thinking about why Moose inspired such affection in so many. My guess is that we were all drawn to the uncensored purity of his emotions. As Moose played, or snuggled, or acted guilty for stealing food off the countertops, his happiness, his love, or his guilt, was crystal clear. He did everything with enthusiasm and his joy was contagious. Perhaps it was too much to be contained.
On Dec. 26, about 10 minutes into our daily four-mile walk, Moose ran to fetch a tennis ball I had just found along the trail. Just before he reached it, he fell. By the time I realized he wasn't getting up and ran to him, he was gone. In shock, his family and many of his friends gathered that day and said a last goodbye before we buried Moose in our garden, with at least a dozen tennis balls.
We will never know exactly why Moose died but we do know that he lived far, far too short a life.
His absence in our lives is a wound that is slowly healing over. But there will always be a scar.
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener from Woodside. Her column runs the third week of the month. To see Moose's photo gallery go to: http://tinyurl.com/MoosePhotos.