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A Bridge Too Soon

Red came to live with us the summer of 1998. He was an older Labrador Retriever, a big, polite gentleman dog in old orange- yellow coat he had worn for many years. He was a rescue with no known history, though from his response to the sound of guns and children he was a hunter and once had a loving family. Red was a helper. He would carrry things in from the car and would fetch the cans of green beans we fed him with his meals. Red willingly retrieved anything once but unless it were a retrieving dummy tossed into water he would give me a an incredulous look as if saying "You asked me to retrieve it for you-Why did you throw it again? If you want it, go get it yourself" and would stomp off in disgust. Retrieving things from water he would do for hours. He enjoyed napping in my favorite chair and I would sometimes scratch his chin until he would start to drift off to sleep, his head slowly getting heavier in my hand until he would start to snore and I lay his head down on his paws.

We knew an older dog would not stay with us forever but it seemed that time caught up with Red sooner than we were prepared for. We began to see the Rainbow Bridge off in the distance. He developed Congestive Heart Failure, arthritis and began to need more pills than I did. His naps became longer and he stopped leaping into the vehicles and stopped swimming as much. The pond was nice to swim in for about 10 minutes. He seldom won the race to the Jolly ball and retrieveing dummies tossed out in the pond. He would sit on the shore preening and looking off in the distance. Was he sizing up the Rainbow Bridge?

August 2001 was a thrilling month. A week in northern Michigan. Splash Lake was therapy. He swam three times a day. Red got a dry, polite cough. The day we got back from camp he went swimming. He fell into the pond. He had trouble getting out. He sat on the shore a long time looking out toward the sunset. Off to the Vet’s for more pills. The last Friday of August he attempted to leap up into the van himself. Caught us by surprise. He stumbled backward. Not quite ready to do it by himself. He sat up, leaning against the door looking out the window of the van instead of being slumped on the floor asleep. We seemed to be turning away from the Bridge; it got further away in the distance. I was ecstatic. That night I had to work third shift . I got home at 4 am. He was asleep in the living room waiting for me. When he saw me he got up and walked quickly over to me and rubbed his big head against my knee. I scratched his head and ears and under his chin for a while and then we went to bed.

Saturday 1 September 2001 was a bright clear pleasant morning. He let me sleep until 7:30 am. He got his beans from the pantry. We took a ride to breakfast. He happily watched the world out the window of the van. The Bridge continued to recede in the distance behind us. Coming back to the van I could just make out the top of his head peeking over the bottom of the side window of the van. During errands Red started panting and looked to be in distress. I took him back to the vet’s and left him in the bed of the truck while I reported in.

When I got back to the truck Red was laying down on the front seat. Eyes closed. Head on paws. No response. I tugged on him and he finally came out slowly on his own. He moved so slowly. Little steps. Heavy panting. He looked so old.

His temperature was 103.5. He panted heavily. His belly seemed puffy. He would not stand still, nor lay down. The vet told me this was not a good sign. She said I should think about what it means. It then hit me hard we were now in the shadow of the Bridge. Some how we had made a U Turn. She wanted to run some blood work and take some x rays. Come back in an hour she said. I went home.

Less than 15 minutes later she called. Bad news. His stomach had twisted. She could either put him down or try to operate. Please come back now. When I got there she told me Red was not a good candidate for surgery. He was old. He had CHF; he could die on the table. He could bloat again if he lived. The surgery would have to be done at the emergency clinic in town. She recommended we put him down. It hurt.

We were at the Bridge. She needed a decision soon. Red was in distress. He was on oxygen. How could a dog that was so full of life an hour before now be struggling so hard to live? What to do? Opt for the surgery and have him die on the table? Euthanize him and find out it was an easy repair and he could have lived several more years? Red was hurting. The bloat was getting worse.

There is an old saying about if you really loved someone, let them go. If they really love you they will return. Red was old. Dying slowly either from CHF or the bloat. Tears were streaming down my face. My throat ached. I could hardly talk. “Please put him to sleep.” I whispered.

I walked into the room to find Red on the table held by an assistant. I could hardly talk. The vet and I were talking at the same time. I told Red I loved him. I thanked him for three wonderful years and how much he taught me. I scratched the top of his head and under his chin. He looked at me. He closed his eyes. His head became heavy in my hands. "Run fast and free Red.. Run fast and free. I love you Red. Well done."

He crossed the Bridge. I laid his head down on his paws and looked at my old friend. He was gone.

In the months since he died I have thought about him a lot. There have been times I have seen him out of the corner of my eye. I have heard his bark on several occasions. Once my wife and I both heard the sound of his cough coming from the chair he slept in. Once while trying to edit a longer version of this piece I felt a cold nose on my arm and yet there was no dog there. I was wrong about older dogs. They do stay with us forever in our heart.

Somewhere off in the distance is a Bridge I too will cross. I cannot see it with my eyes yet. But in my mind I can see that bridge very clearly. At the far end of that bridge sits a large Labrador Retriever in an old orange-yellow coat, watching intently, waiting.

Photos of Red can be viewed at

Originally posted on the JL forums January 5, 2002.
Lab Dad

I do not own Labradors. I am but a steward for their care until they are called home.

5,163 Posts
Hi Lab Dad,

Thank you for sharing your story with us all, when i'm sure it must still be difficult for you looking back on it all. I hope it has helped you by sharing, i'm sure it will help others who have loved and lost their beloved labs.

I'm sure Red had the best labdad he could ever wish for.

Life throws many unexpected & difficult situations in our path sometimes, and i always try to find something positive when it does, in this case i think it is the memory of Red & the fact that this will never be taken away, and the happiness he gave you will be with you forever.

Would you like to post a photo of Red on this thread? I personally, as well as others i'm sure, would like to make him part of our labrador community.

Thank you again for sharing.

Dear Labdad

Thank you for sharing this story it makes me cry when I read it also brings me much comfort as I lost my precious Ollie just a month ago. Red came across as one of lifes extrodinary labradors whose stoic nature showed in his actions of his love and affection for the people who cared for him. I understand that difficult decision of letting them go, you know it's the right thing for them, but so hard for us left behind. Ollie has left me with the greatest gift he ever could - many happy memories as did Red for you.
I loved the picture of Red carrying his tin of green beans.
Take care.


241 Posts
Hi Michaela,

So sorry to hear about your loss. We lost our Alfie earlier this year & although we were only blessed with his company for a short time he is still missed.

We have Kane now who is filling our time....Alfie is always in our minds though......
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