My dearest, most-loyal companion, Millie, left this world yesterday morning from the comfort of her own bed with me holding her paw. This last photo above was taken just the day before, as we enjoyed a nice afternoon on the shady, cool grass of Socorro, New Mexico’s town square.
While going through photos today, I realized just how similar our last day was to our very first day together back in April of 2005-- we started and ended our journey from a lush lawn of spring-green grass.
Many would often comment that Millie had traveled to more places than most humans ever got to in far longer lifetimes, and as I tallied the places she visited today, that might very well be true!
She visited 39 states in the USA, 10 Mexican states, and 3 Canadian provinces visiting places from Vancouver Island, BC to Cabo Pulmo, Baja to the Florida Keys, to the coast of Maine…and darn well everything in-between.
She took her first camping trip when she was just a 4-month-old puppy—up to the Wisconsin Dells with my brother, “Uncle Randy,” in our very first RV—a spanking new Starcraft pop-up tent camper.
After proudly showing off yet another puppy hole she had dug…
We thought her excess energies might be better focused on learning how to swim. So the next day, she got suited up in a puppy life preserver, and off we headed to the lake. Millie carefully observed the grown-up dogs fetching their sticks, balls, and toys from the lake and swimming back to shore.
In very quick order, she was swimming well enough to ditch the pesky life vest for good! There seemed to be no body of water, moving or still, frigid or not, that she did not gladly dive into and paddle.
She swam countless lakes, rivers, running rapids, seas, and oceans including the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Sea of Cortez, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron. I now wonder if she logged more miles in the water, than she had on land!
I never tired of taking videos of her swimming, even though the game was almost always the same: drop the stick or toy on the ground, wait for me to lean down to pick it up, quickly steal the said toy from me and shake it wildly, finally let me throw it in the water, swim to retrieve it, then spray me with water when she shook off back on shore.
Last year, when I got a waterproof GoPro camera, I suited up and finally did a “if you can’t beat her, join her” routine to wade into the Pacific and have Millie swim out to me and her toys. This video from our time on the Isla south of Mazatlan last winter, was one of my all-time favorites!
Once I realized how much Millie loved the water, I had visions of her becoming one of those docile Labrador Retrievers who sit in the front of a canoe. But every time I’d manage to get her in my canoe, she’d cry and look for any opportunity to jump out of the wobbly, tipsy vessel and swim back to shore!
It wasn’t until years later, when I finally traded the canoe for a super-stable inflatable Sea Eagle FastTrack, that Millie finally became that docile Lab happy to ride in the front of the boat for hours to see all the stuff that was too far to swim to.
Her other great entertainment in life was to play Frisbee. If Uncle Randy was in town, she was always guaranteed a good workout.
In later years, her Frisbee was more often used as a gift to give any guests who might come to our door, or a quieter way (than barking) to tell me she needed to go out. But she still would run and catch one on occasion and enjoyed having Frisbees in just about every color imaginable!
She also loved to dress up for the holidays (no doubt, a trait that my mom taught her). She had bandanas and neckwear for every season and holiday (although, some she liked more than others if any of these facial expressions are of any indication!).
At Christmas, she would often don her candy cane-striped “jingle bells” for an annual holiday photo. It wasn’t until I compared this year’s Christmas photo to last year’s in Mazatlan, that I realized just how much weight Millie had lost.
Cancer sure took its toll on Millie in the last 3 years. In early 2012, she was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor on one of her rear toes. After going through surgery to have the toe amputated, she then had to endure a month of painful daily radiation treatments.
I promised after that, I would not put her through that kind of suffering again. So when we discovered this past September that her cancer had returned, rather than immediately seek out treatment, I decided she’d better enjoy a winter swimming in Baja. And that, she did.
There were many people Millie dearly loved, but perhaps none more than my mom. A camping trip always seemed much more fun if “Grandma” came along. We traveled together to the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, California and the Desert Southwest, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes states, and to southern Florida. While Millie never much cared to be cuddled, she’d gladly snuggle up to her grandma, especially as Millie sensed my mom’s cancer progressing.
Somewhere up in heaven right now, I’m fairly certain Grandma is getting kisses from her favorite granddog again.
I have unwavering faith that Millie is now in a place with lots of sandy beaches and powdery snow to run through…
with plenty of sticks to fetch, unlimited free bones at the heavenly Petsmart, and sofas more comfy than any on Earth.
There are surely plenty of campfires, dog beaches, unlimited bowls of cool water, lots of laughs, and green, green grass up there in heaven.
I will miss my constant companion, trusty co-pilot, and paddling partner more than anything imaginable.
I have never had a more faithful dog to always walk beside me (whether wearing her leash or not), always watch for me to return to the RV, always smile and be willing to go where ever I went, and trust that I would always be there for her in the end.
Rest in eternal peace and sunshine, my dear sweet Millie. I love you.