Nose prints on the passenger side window of our car…the orange chew toy laying in the yard…a worn spot on the leather couch…all reminders of our beloved family dog Cayman who made us laugh, cry, and laugh some more during her short 13 years with us.

When my (future) wife and I found Cayman (or she found us) back in 2005, we had no idea that she would become a core part of our family over the next 13 years.  Through three cities, three houses, multiple jobs, the birth of our two kids, and a couple of rescue dogs, Cayman was with us from the beginning.

As with most Labradors, she possessed the usual traits that make the breed so popular – great family dog, active, loyal, curious, dependable, and most of all, loved car rides, mealtime and swimming.  Some of our favorite memories of Cayman are taking her to the lake and letting her “do her thing” (we quickly learned of her fierce love of water after she jumped out of a moving car to run to the lake).   She was relentless at fetching and would always outlast our efforts to fully satisfy her (if I threw the toy 100 times, she could go retrieve it 101 times).

Over the years, Cayman was given several nicknames based on a series of events or habits:  Big Loaf, Chicken Leg, Petunia, Lady Bigglesworth, but our favorite was Swaggles, a fitting name for Cayman because her tail was a force to be reckoned with – her wagging tail could knock over tables and melt hearts at the same time.

Cayman taught us several life lessons, including patience, the importance of exercise, kindness to others, and loyalty.  Over the final years of her life, she would sit at the window at the front of the house and wait for our return, not knowing whether it would be one hour or eight hours until our return.   I heard a quote recently that said something like “to you, your pet is part of your world but to your pet, you are their world” which I finally was able to appreciate and recognize.

Time and age finally caught up with Cayman this July and her little body could not keep up with her drive for life so we had to say goodbye, which was harder than my wife and I had ever imagined.  The feeling of emptiness and loss was something that I had never experienced before which made us realize how big a part of our family that Cayman actually was.

So, while I can’t bring myself to clean those nose prints from the window, pick up that orange toy from the yard or repair that spot on the leather couch yet, our grief is slowly transitioning to gratitude and appreciation for the time we had with our baby Cayman. Our memories of her and our 13 years together will continue to make our family smile for years to come.

Allan lives with his wife and two children in Chattanooga, TN, and they have a dog named Cooper.

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