It is about 3 a.m. Tuesday and I’m sitting in our backyard in the darkness with our dog, Ipo. She woke up and pushed the screen door open and wandered back there, so I thought I might as well join her. Despite the wind whipping through the branches overhead and some rustling in the bushes, it feels peaceful to be here at this hour. Ipo is lying down, raising her head occasionally when she hears something that catches her attention, then resuming her slumber.
A month ago, I would have told Ipo to get back in the house. I would have been in a hurry to return to a warm bed and get some sleep before sunrise. I would have been mumbling about her being the worst dog in the world. But now, I would rather just share these minutes with this old dog who has been part of our lives since we adopted her about three years ago. So I do.
Moments like these are ones I hold on to since our veterinarian told us Ipo had bone cancer in her right leg and likely didn’t have a lot longer to live. He could amputate the leg, and it might give her another six months. But at her age, about 13, she’s too old for such a surgery. Instead, we opt to take her home and buy pain killers and anti-inflammatory to ease her pain. And spoil her.
After leaving the vet’s office, we head to Kalapaki Beach, where we let her swim in the stream and buy her a breakfast sandwich from a restaurant. There is nothing like food, a car ride and a beach to perk this dog up. For an old lab with cancer, she still has a lot of energy. She still jumps in and out of the car. She still tries to run up the driveway. She still loves the water.
When friends come over a few nights later, I cut up my steak and give it to Ipo. When I have a turkey sandwich for lunch the next day, she gets most of it. She deserves it. She has been, since my wife and I adopted her, our best friend. And I treated her, sometimes to my wife’s dismay, like one of our children. She joined us for trips to Hanalei. She hiked with us on Kuilau Ridge Trail. She ran with me at Kalapaki. She happily charged across the stream at Anini Beach. She watched whales with us. She guarded our home and chased away rats and a pig.
Not that she didn’t get in trouble at times. Like when she crashed into Marianne from behind in Hanalei and knocked her down. Or when she broke her leash and got lost and was saved by kind-hearted residents. Or when she climbed out the car window when we left her for five minutes to run in the store.
But the good times are what we will hold dear.
I have to smile when I remember those nights I was reading in the bedroom and Ipo walked in, jumped up on the bed, and flopped down. Or when I would finish my run on our street and she would charge out to join me for the final sprint. Or when we would drive home after being away, and she would run out to greet us, racing around in circles, her tail wagging and her tongue hanging out.
I told my wife I think Ipo came to mean so much to us because when we moved to Kauai, it was just us. We had left our grown children and our longtime home behind. Sure, we had adopted other older dogs in years past. There were the 10-year-old black labs, Scar and Lucky. There was the crazy border collie, Beethoven, and another black lab, Kelli. But then, we still had our kids in the house. On Kauai, it was just us and Ipo.
As I have long said, we got the better end of this deal when Ipo became part of our family. She made us smile. She made us laugh. She gave us joy and she gave us love. She was and is a great friend. When she’s gone, we’ll miss her, and I’m sure we’ll cry.
But until then, we’ll spoil her as best we can. Car rides (even when I just vacuumed and cleaned it). Beaches. Steaks. Treats. Walks so she can lie down in the water at the lagoon. Perhaps best of all, we’ll just hang out with her.
When I came home from a run Tuesday morning, Ipo was resting in the front yard, feeling the warmth of the sun. She looked very much at peace. Sure, I had things to do, I needed to get to work, make some calls, keep appointments, but they could wait. Ipo had the right idea.
I laid down next to her, hands under my head, and closed my eyes.
Bill Buley is editor of The Garden Island. He can be reached at email@example.com.