Chief: Goodbye to a Legend

Every dog is special but there was something about Chief that brought on a legendary status that few, if any dogs can match. He travelled by log raft on the Yukon River, he would steal children’s toys and bring them home to show me, was electrocuted by a farm fence, was quarantined after nipping a woman raising money for cancer, he partied with the Bare Naked Ladies on Blind Line, had his head ripped open by barb wire and whenever he heard a party he would leave and come back in the morning after a night of being fed. All of this he accomplished with having only three legs!

It all began back on November 16th, 1998 when my Mom and I were driving in Burlington and we heard a radio report that there was an abnormal amount of dogs at the Toronto Humane Society on River Street that needed to be adopted. On a complete impulse, we drove to Toronto. There were hundreds of dogs at the shelter but there was something about Chief that drew me in. At the time Chief’s name was Naco and he was a very timid dog who was about a year old. We adopted him on the spot, a decision that would change my life forever. 

The most defining story took place about six months after we adopted him and would set the course for this legionary status. On my watch he had taken off, unable to find him I left home for Kilbride to see some friends, assuming he would return like he always did. Chief had wondered to the eastern edge of his territory at Lowville Park. The story goes that Chief was playing with a German Shepard when the dogs ran across the road and Chief was struck by a truck – the truck kept going. The owners of the Sheppard came to Chief’s rescue and drove him to Limestone Valley Hospital. 

The decision was simple, put Chief down or have the vet perform surgery to insert a titanium plate to fix his leg. We decided he deserved another shot and went for the surgery. But only days after the surgery, with a broken back leg that was held together with space age titanium, Chief ran away and literally broke the plate in two. Now out of pocket several thousand from the surgery my parents told me we would have to put Chief down. I suggested we have his back leg amputated and Dr. Wimmers agreed that he would probably do just fine. But none of us would ever imagine that he would carry on with three legs for another 15.5 years. 

Even into his early teens Chief could outrun and out swim any dog. He loved Lowville Park, and he loved swimming and chewing impressive logs until he cut them in half just like a beaver would. I always thought that his running would catch up to him because his black leg would take a beating to sustain his rambunctious lifestyle but he just kept going!

Chief was the glue that kept us all together. After my parent’s split when I was in university my Dad vowed he would never sell the house as long as Chief was alive, even though it didn’t make sense for him to keep the house all alone. I ended up moving back home after university and had an incredible handful of years with both my Dad and Chief as my roommates. This opportunity allowed me to chase my dream, and now 10 years later things are starting to come together. But had it not been for Chief, I probably would have gone into a different direction and my Dad would had likely sold the house and moved on. As the years went on Chief continued to be the glue that kept us together; be it my Mom coming over when I was away or Ryan, Doug or Cliff staying at the house to make sure someone was here to feed him and keep him company. Chief made this house a home. 

Incredibly it was just under two years ago when he was into his 15th year that I had to stop taking him on hikes on the Bruce Trail and for our daily circuit at Lowville Park. Slowly, his territory began to shrink from short walks on Blind Line to eventually just around the immediate house. The task of getting around became much more challenging but still Chief never lost his zest for life and was always ready to eat a bun if given the chance. 

I’ve done a decent amount of travel over the past decade but I am super thankful that I was able to work from home for the past 15 months, which allotted me more memories with my good buddy. I knew every day was a miracle and I knew Chief would let me know when it was time. It was about a month ago when I thought Chief had finally reached the end after two sluggish days only to see him bounce back as per usual. This was followed by four weeks of nice weather that made Chief’s last stretch a beautiful and graceful goodbye. We just took it day by day and enjoyed every moment together. 

But over the last few nights Chief seemed to be having an extra hard time getting around. Yesterday I had gone to Toronto knowing that Chief’s time with us was coming to a close. My Mom had come over to visit him during the day as she always did (without her Chief never would had made it this long) and when I called home to see how he was doing, she said he had not gotten up and had been sleeping all day. We talked and decided it was probably time to say goodbye to Chief. 

Of course when I got home at 4 pm he had just woken up and seemed his old self. I gave him a good belly rub and then he wanted to go outside. It was a beautiful day and he spent a good 45 minutes walking around marking and sniffing his territory. He was happy. Chief spent his last hour eating turkey, Mcdonald’s buns with butter (thanks Sgro) and drinking water. My Mom, Lyndsey and me kept petting and kissing him as he would reply back with a snort – a sign of his appreciation and comfort. 

Just after 6 pm on Friday, November 14th, 2 days shy of when we brought him home 16 years earlier, Chief left us in his 17th for a new adventure. Dr. Wimmers gave him a sedative as I comforted Chief as he slowly fell into a deep sleep on his bed in the kitchen where he loved to eat his dog cookies and sleep. We wrapped him up in the wool blanket he loved so much (the one that kept Cliff and I warm in the Yukon) along with some dog cookies and roses. While Lyndsey and my Mom rolled up the many carpets that we had put around the house that helped him move around, I went outside to the front lawn and dug him his resting place in a spot he would often sit and watch from. In the dark of the night we gently placed him down to rest, with his head facing to the east.

Every journey has a beginning and an end but what happens in the middle is up to us. Chief had an incredible middle and his tanatsiticity for life inspired me to follow my heart with the mantra of “what would Chief do?” Chief always lived every day to the fullest, and never let his problems from yesterday stop him from getting on with today. He was my best friend and he will sorely be missed by me and all those who knew him. He had one hell of a life and his spirit will inspire me for the rest of my days.   

Love you Chief.

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