Goodbye — Cash the Dog

13 years ago we came home with the most beautiful Golden Retriever Puppy.

Cash.

Johnny Cash the dog.

This was 3 months before my wife and I were to have our first child — a baby girl! It has been said that the brooding instinct for expecting parents is so strong that sometimes they resort to getting a pet even though they know their lives will be turned upside down in a matter of months with the introduction of a baby human! That was us — we wanted to nurture — and we couldn’t wait!

We would joke about his name. When we brought him home for the first time, Cash in Transit; moving him out of an area, Cash Withdrawal; his dog poop, Cash Deposit…

He was the most wonderful puppy and it is shocking to think how quickly those puppy years flew by! He was a curious pup — except when it came to playing fetch. He carried an air of royalty, and looked at me with a quiet disdain when I threw a ball expecting him to run after it. He had quite possibly the worst ‘retrieving’ skills in the history of Golden Retrievers.

When he was a few years old we got him a ‘mate’ — Bali — also a Golden Retriever. Little did we know that Bali was pregnant from some other Golden Retriever when we got her. Just a few weeks after she arrived, we had 11 Golden Retrievers running around the house, garage and garden. Cash was bewildered and bemused through all of this chaos. Eventually each pup went to a new home, Bali herself went on to another owner, and Cash once again took his rightful place as the sole object of our pet affection, meanwhile our human family kept growing. Now Cash had two ‘siblings’. Mykala - who was just slightly younger than Cash, and Judah, who was 4 years younger than Cash.

When Cash was about 5 years old we emigrated from Johannesburg, South Africa to Boston, USA. Leaving Cash behind was not even an option. Once again — Cash was in Transit.

It seemed that Cash struggled to get settled in his new home and country — he picked up an extremely annoying, and highly inconvenient habit of running away any chance he could. He was so sneaky, loitering around the gate, waiting for someone to leave or arrive, or for the kids to go outside, and then he would barge past them, picking up speed, running like he was running back to South Africa! This was sometimes a daily occurance. Many an afternoon and evening was spent slowly driving around the neighborhood shouting “Cash, Cash” out the window. One night he got picked up by animal control — and I had to go and bail him out of animal jail — like a delinquent teenager.

During those early years in the States our lives were busy and frantic— we had two small children, and we were trying to get ourselves established in a new country with very little support. In many ways the dog, with his constant escape act was an added stress. My wife’s mom, still living in South Africa, offered to take him. She and her husband adored him. We wondered if he would have a better life back in South Africa, with a retired couple who would take him for lovely walks every day, shower him with affection and give him the best possible care. It made a lot of sense — so we started the process. We bought the airplane ticket, and processed an almost insurmountable amount of paperwork, blood work and examinations. The day arrived. Kerry and the kids all said their goodbyes, and at 3am I popped him the car and off we drove from Boston to JFK New York to ship him back to Joburg.

Instead of lying happily in the back, he sat right behind me resting his head on my shoulder.

About 45 min from JFK an uncalled-for thought slid into my head.

“I don’t think I can go through with this.”

Uh oh.

The closer I got to JFK the more the dog seemed to nestle against my shoulder and the more my emotions seemed to swell uncontrollably.

We parked and I went into the office and asked the attendant “Is this where you bring your dogs to fly?” he said — “yes, bring the paperwork”. I walked back, and started pacing around the car, tears welling up, while Cash sat in the warmth of the vehicle, calmly observing my distress.

The attendant came out the office and called for me to bring the papers — I called back — “I’m not ready!”

I tried calling Kerry — no answer.

I called her mom — and by this time — I couldn’t hold back the tears and was on the verge of sobbing. I told her I couldn’t do it — I couldn’t give up the privilege of being the owner of a dog for the dog’s whole life.

She kindly validated my emotions.

I marched back into the office and announced, “I’m not sending my dog away”, turned around and started the 3.5 hour drive back to Boston. Cash happily in transit.

This was one of the best decisions I ever made.

From that day on I committed to make time for the dog, taking him for a daily walk. For many years this became a wonderful and sacred daily routine. He had this funny habit of dancing with his front legs when he knew it was walk time — his nails clattering on the wooden floors. As the years went on, life changed, jobs changed, our family evolved; but Cash and I would still take our daily walks. It was our sanity, my break from the manic, his break from the boredom, our time away from it all. I know I’m a better person because of the enormous number of hours of walking we’ve done together!

Over the last year I noticed he wasn’t able to walk for as long, needing frequent breaks. His eyesight started failing and he would bump into things. Stiff legs made it tricky to get up and down stairs. Walks were now less about distance, and more about getting to a lovely patch of grass, stretching out and enjoying the sun.

I think back to that fateful early morning at JFK — to the revelation of the blessing of being there from the beginning; through all the chaos and life-change. And now, I am so incredibly grateful to be present in the end - as we say goodbye.

It’s the blessing of being caught up in the full life-cycle of an incredibly dear friend and family-member; compressed into what, at the end, has felt like a very short 13 years.

We’ll miss you old boy.

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Justin Donlon

Husband of one beautiful wife, Father of one precious girl & one handsome guy. Vice President of Process Innovation and Analytics at CarGurus