There was never a question that when we got a dog, it would be Catie’s dog.
So when we found the collie puppy to bring home, we named it Falcon (both our high school and my alma mater have Falcons for mascots), and Catie was her human, a role she took seriously.
Catie would take her for frequent walks and make sure she was brushed out regularly. In fact, we rarely had to prompt her and she never complained about it. Now, Falcon certainly did, but never Catie. To stop Falcon from nipping, she’d gently place a mesh muzzle over her long snout, and to keep her from squirming away (by the time Falcon was full-size, they were about the same weight), Catie would fling a leg over the dog’s midsection. Then Catie would methodically brush and comb Falcon, creating a large tumbleweed of extra fur.
For a school project called “My Life,” Catie was charged with coming up with a handful of topics to tell her story. She included her adoption, of course, mentioned playing basketball and competing as a gymnast, and talked about her musical interests including playing trombone, violin, and piano. But the one that jumped out to me was about Falcon. She talked so sweetly about her, then ended the paragraph with “She’s my best friend.”
Falcon developed epilepsy and for a few years would average a seizure a month. Catie was always close by, comforting Falcon during the recovery period when she was disoriented, then helping to clean up the inevitable mess left behind. When we learned that Falcon had a sleeve tumor on her spine (imagine a broken rubber band wrapped around her sciatic nerve), we watched helplessly as her mobility decreased. Eventually, she couldn’t use her back legs at all and we would use a harness to hoist her up and walk her with her just using her front legs. We would also try acupuncture and water therapy, not to mention a wheelchair (not as easy as all those videos you see online would have you believe), to no avail. On top of that, she had developed significant arthritis in her hips as well.
At this point, Catie outweighed Falcon by about 20 pounds, but Falcon learned that while collies are stubborn and stoic, Catie was a determined and dedicated dog owner. She would lift Falcon and take her outside, making sure she kept those front legs moving. Of course, she would also continue to groom her. And when the inevitable incontinence started, she would patiently clean her after an accident.
Just prior to Spring Break, I took Falcon to a new vet who confirmed my suspicion of a UTI. He had seen her quite substantial file and said that the sleeve tumor had clearly progressed, robbing her not only of her hind legs but control of her bladder and colon. The UTIs would become more frequent with all the problems that included.
When my cadet arrived for Spring Break, Catie immediately noticed that Falcon had deteriorated even in the short time since Winter Break ended. The messes were becoming more frequent and, well, messier. Falcon was on the cusp of another UTI and we both went to the vet with her. The doctor said the phrase I had always dreaded, “it’s time to make a quality of life decision.”
We both cried, but the vet told us to take our time with the decision. When Catie and I would take a walk through a tranquil local park the next day, I asked her what she wanted to do, something she had been thinking about it quite a bit. Falcon had been with us through the best and worst of times. She wanted to enjoy as much time with Falcon as possible and asked if we could wait until she went back to USAFA, trusting I would know when it was time to say goodbye. As we finished that difficult conversation, we passed a newly planted grove of trees in the park and agreed that it would be the perfect place to spread her ashes.
As is often the case, Falcon’s condition began deteriorating more quickly. So Friday night, both my cadent and my Navy ensign Zoomed with Falcon, who had just dined on steak and bacon. They told her how much they loved her and said their tear-filled goodbyes. And Saturday morning, at 9:53 a.m. EST, I held Falcon closely as she gracefully, peacefully crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We can rest easy knowing that she is watching over us, no longer in pain, no longer restricted by a body that had betrayed her. She will be waiting for us and I know that she will particularly be watching over Catie, her best friend.
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If you want to see more of Falcon’s beautiful life, check out her Instagram page. She was very patient with her photographers.