Sunday, March 11, 2012

Goodbye, old friend

With tears in my eyes, amid much sadness and grief, I must tell you that Opal passed away yesterday, peacefully in our arms.

The end came swiftly; just a week ago her health and stamina had declined to the point where she would not walk more than a few yards from the bus to do her business, and I had to either carry her or take her on the scooter when we were at B&B Coach. Nevertheless, she did not appear to be in any distress or pain, and she still wagged her tail every morning while Louise fixed breakfast. She was even climbing the stairs three times a day.

We knew, however, that the end was near, and she ate her last meal sometime Thursday, a few bits of wet food. On Friday she made her last excursion down the stairs on her own, and I had to carry her down and up the next few trips. By Saturday morning she was mostly just sleeping, and we could not persuade her to eat or drink, but she was still moving around alright. But when we returned in the afternoon after a short errand in the Mini with Ben, she was too weak to make even the one step from the penthouse to the living room, and we knew she was out of time. We are very grateful to Ben and Karen for lending us the Mini for Opal's final journey.

We can't be sure how old Opal was -- she was a rescue, and was somewhere between one and three years old when Louise got her from the shelter nearly 15 years ago. As far as we could tell, she was a purebred American Eskimo, with all the right hallmarks. She had not been socialized either with people or other dogs as a puppy, which always made her first encounter with strangers of either species a dicey proposition.

Louise already had Opal when we met, and I think it was Opal who gave me the final seal of approval as a dating prospect. Usually, Opal was also right on the money in predicting who we would or would not get along with as a couple, too. I retired a bit before Louise, and Opal and I bonded when I became the primary dog-walker in the family; Louise would often tell people later that I stole her dog.

Our first few car trips with Opal, back and forth between San Jose, California and Sumner, Washington while Odyssey was being converted, did not bode well for her future life aboard. She was so carsick on the first trip that we had to get her "happy pills" at the vet to calm her nerves. By the time Odyssey was complete, however, she had grown completely accustomed to the road, and didn't need any pills at all. She adapted to the bus in just a day or two.

Opal has marked her territory in 54 states -- 48 in the U.S. and six in Mexico. She was a very well-traveled dog. Not only did she travel well in the bus, but she traversed Mexico by train

and loved to ride on Louise's scooter

Whenever I had to drive the bus without Louise aboard, Opal would take her place on the passenger seat, leading us to observe that "Dog is my copilot."

Opal had a long, full life, and while it was hard to watch her decline in her later years, we will always remember her younger, more vibrant days, playing with her favorite toy

Even as little as a year ago, Opal could still be excited by new discoveries, such as when Louise briefly became foster-mom to Rudy the kitten

Opal hated being photographed, and would often turn her head away if she saw a camera. She finally deigned to look at least in the right general direction for our friend and photographer Carol at Fire Lake:

Photo: Carol Dwyer Photography

While we've been reminiscing about the good times, and going through happy photos today, we already miss her terribly. For nearly 14 years I've started and ended each day walking with Opal; the emptiness was palpable when I came to bed and later got up without a dog to walk. No one was in the kitchen wagging as Louise fixed her breakfast, perking her ears up as the spoon clanked against the bowl -- one of the few sounds she could still hear toward the end.

There is a void in our lives now that will not soon shrink, nor ever disappear. But life goes on aboard Odyssey, and George and Angel have been good company in our grief these last 19 hours. In the morning, I have work to do, and it will be good to have my mind occupied.

Opening photo by Karen Nace


  1. I share your grief. She was a sweet dog and a good road companion for you.

  2. I am so so very sorry to hear of the passing of Opal... such a sweet and loving companion. I know that your lives and Odyssey will forever be different, and you'll feel her void for a very long time to come.

    You shared a very full life with her, many adventures and dear Opal has seen more of the world than most people ever will. Thank you for providing such a loving home and family to her for so many years.

    Sending all of you much love and hugs.

  3. So sorry for your loss. I lost a long time friend, our dog Bernard, last year. The void never goes away, nor should it. The sense of emptiness awakens memories, and those are good. Heal well, and remember.

  4. I don't know that I can say anything to make you feel better after losing Opal, but I would like to say I'm sorry for your loss.

    From Upstate NY, Bob S.

  5. Louise and Sean, I am sorry for your loss, it is amazing how those critters can get to you, we have a twelve year old Dobermin "grandpuppy" that is getting close to his end of days. I only hope that the end for him is as peaseful as it was for Opal. The bad will get easier and the good you will never forget. Best wishes for all of you

    Tom Turner

  6. Sean -

    I totally understand your feelings - I've gone thru similar after I came home from work one day and found our 13 year young border collie curled up in her favorite spot, yet passed away in her sleep. No warning, fine in the morning, gone in the afternoon.

    Kids were devastated, too. Candy was their favorite playmate, still talked about fondly at family gatherings.

    Time heals, but some pain never goes away. Best to you and Louise at this time of your loss.


  7. My wife and I are foster parents for rescued Corgis and we share your grief. It's always so sad to see the pets that we love go onto the Rainbow Bridge.

  8. ALva and I are so glad that Opal approved of you, Sean, all those years ago. You two gave beautiful Opal such an adventure of a life. And through your and our happy memories of all these Opal days, we will carry her doggy spirit further into our every day. Love from Alva and Bear

  9. So sorry for your loss. You certainly gave Opal a happy and loving life. Your post was a lovely tribute to her. Thoughts of peace to you both. Chris

  10. So sorry for your loss. I'm sure you will always have a spot in your heart for Opal as I do for my dog Sheba. It makes us better people to have loved and to be loved by a pet. God speed Opal.


  11. Our condolences on the loss of Opel.... We lost our dog of 15 years a couple of years ago and it was a heart break that we won't forget. But now we have a new doggy and she has taken over being the apple of our eye. So perhaps that special puppy will come along for you folks too. It will never replace Opel, but rather help replace that empty void left in your hearts and minds.

    Rod and Loyce

  12. Sean & Louise,
    My condolences on your loss. May your grief wane over the coming miles and time ease your pain.

  13. She was so very cute. I wish I could have met her. Contrary to what was said, the pain does go away and is replaced by very special memories. When I lost my pal of 13 years, it took me almost 3 years to get another pal. (of course, I had two other babies to share the grief with)

  14. So sorry to learn of your loss. Even as just a remote observer of your travels, I share in your pain.

  15. Also so sorry to hear of your precious dog passing, so cute. The video tributes are excellent.


  16. I'm so sorry for your loss. My condolences.

  17. I'm so sorry for your loss. This lovely post truly honours her memory.

  18. What a beautiful tribute to Opal, Sean; I'm sitting hear with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. It's so hard when our beloved pets die. Please accept my deepest sympathy. My thoughts are with you and Louise.

  19. Piling on with the empathy and condolences. I too was very moved by this post. You guys seem to have a really healthy way of dealing with the loss...don't know how well I'd cope, to be honest. She seemed like a really great dog.

  20. I am so sorry for your loss. The photos are a great tribute to a wonderful friend and loyal companion. You both made Opal's life a grand adventure.

  21. Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

    When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
    There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
    There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

    All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

    The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

    They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

    You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

    Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

    Author unknown...

    As you both know we have several waiting at the bridge for us....our feelings go out to you....

    Russ and Pat

  22. Sorry to hear of your pain. A hard thing to love a pet knowing you will outlive it. I have experienced an event like yours, and it was not easy. I feel a loss, but ultimately I am thankful for the gift I received. I wish you tender mercies in your vulnerable times, and strength too. I am thankful for your willingness to share your lives and your stories. May peace find you easily, and may your giving spirits find a generous return from others.

  23. Louise & Sean, we are sorry to hear of the loss of your old friend. I was sure glad to have had the opportunity to walk Opal when we met you guys at Fire Lake. We won't ever forget her. Steve & Carol

  24. I'm so sorry to hear that you lost your beloved friend and companion, Opal. Wendy and I check your blog daily and I know we're going to miss hearing about her adventures, so I can imagine how much you miss her. I hope you can take consolation in the certainty that you were the best 'mom and dad' any pet could have and you gave Opal the opportunity to live and extraordinary life!

  25. Sean, as you said, Opal had a long and full life. She was fortunate to be rescued by Louise and taken along on your adventures.

    Enjoy the memories.

    Pat, Nancy, and Kumori

  26. Nothing fills the spot of a soul mate companion -- I lost my English Mastiff 8 years ago and I still cry when I think of her. No other dog has been able to fill her place, and none have come close to being the companion she was. I'm so sorry that you've lost Opal, but so glad that she enriched your lives (and you hers) while she was with you. The memory of her will never be far away even if it feels like she is.

  27. Oh Sean and Louise, I am so sorry about Opal. I'm glad we got to meet her at Arcadia in 2009, she was an energetic ambassador for your bus. Our animal friends love us unconditionally, so trusting and steadfast. As Dr. Suess said, Be glad she was here, not sorry she's gone. But, of course, we are so sorry she is gone.

  28. Dear Sean and Louise,

    I have been away from blog-reading for a week or more, and so just read your so very sad news about Opal. I too have tears in my eyes this morning, as I can empathize so much with the pain of losing a beloved four-legged family member. My heart goes out to you. I am so sorry for your loss.

  29. Don't know how I missed this oh so sad news. I am very sorry for your loss.


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