It is with great sadness that I share the news that our family has lost our beloved dog of fifteen years, the beautiful and loyal Riel.

After a sudden onset of illness Riel had to be put to rest because, like any good dog, she would have kept trying to live more for us than for her. We loved her enough to let go.

My friend told me I would get “the look” from Riel when it was time to say goodbye. I would know. Riel would tell me herself. I got that look at 7:00 am on a Thursday morning. But I still had lunches to pack, two children to coordinate into clothes, school bags to stuff and the debate about why snow pants, although clearly not cool, were absolutely mandatory. Riel watched the spectacle from her bed in calm silence, like she did every day. Her litter-mate (sister) Blake, by her side.

Then it was off to school. The children rattled on about their days while I tried to pretend everything was fine, knowing I would come home to face the inevitable end of a lifetime of friendship for Riel and I both.
The Carpenter, because of his job, had to get the news by text message. It turns out he too got “the look” at 5:00am that same morning. He and his dog said their goodbyes in the private hours of early dawn.

Strength comes at the strangest times. I carried Riel into the veterinary office that morning. I got her into the door and then I fell apart. When I cry, I like to take everyone else down with me, so in no time the sweet veterinarian, Dr. Linda and her capable assistant, Joanne, joined in. I cannot express to you the comfort and respect in which that veterinary team treated both Riel and myself in the hardest moment, but I can tell you my brave dog left this life with dignity, courage and love, free of pain. It was horrible and beautiful all at once. Peace. I wish all life ended with as much respect.

Holding Riel as she drifted away, I had a flood of images go by. Riel and Blake were our first babies. The Carpenter and I rescued them as a set. Why take one when you can save two? It seemed like a good idea at the time. We were in our first home in the Kawartha countryside with lots of space, no kids and disposable income to replace the couch after Riel and Blake ate it. We were a family.

Riel was named after Louis Riel, (my thesis in university), a great Canadian figure of rebellion, social justice, and a true wing nut. I chose the name to remind me to keep the passion for writing history alive, no matter what changed in my life.

A lot changed and Riel was there for all of it, from our honeymoon at the cottage to the homecoming of each new baby, swims in the Otonabee River to the reality of fenced-in neighborhoods. She was my bodyguard, when the Carpenter tried to snap a dishtowel at my bottom, and my best friend when I needed her silent council, when hard times seemed endless. Nobody loves you like your dog does.

Riel lived up to her name and in doing so, helped me live up to mine. It was an honor and a privilege to be her human. Bon soir, mon Riel. Woof.