Neither my son nor I wanted a dog.
Not that I don’t love dogs, because I do. In fact, I’m the type of person who feels compelled to greet every dog I see in every situation. If I’m at a party, I’m likely to spend more time with the dog than the other guests.
I was being pragmatic. In addition to complicating the logistics of a family with two extraordinarily busy kids, I did the math. Any dog’s life would likely not exceed our daughter’s time in college. I knew the emotional turmoil that would bring.
My son found the whole thing quizzical. “So you want to bring a wild animal into the house.” Fair statement.
As with many family debates, the women won on a resounding 2-2 vote. I tried to gain consolation by trying to name it “Doyt Perry Smith,” after my alma mater’s legendary football coach, Doyt L. Perry. The idea of calling a dog Doyt was quickly shot down but when I suggested Falcon, I was able to convince the family. So we named our collie after one of my alma mater’s mascots, Frieda Falcon and so we brought home Frieda Falcon Smith, who would forever be known as Falcon.
Like all collies, Falcon was lovable and sweet, and so social that if you were the only one in the house and went to the bathroom, you had to be sure the door was shut tight lest you end up with company for the duration of your stay.
My son grew to love Falcon, of course, and I recall when he came home from the Naval Academy for the first time in full uniform, as all Plebes must do. Falcon was scared off and wanted nothing to do with him, which was tough to watch. But once he put on civilian clothes, she couldn’t get enough of him. So the standard became that when he came home, he would always spend time on the floor with her and she clearly loved it.
Noah was with me when Falcon had her first of many seizures. I called him up to my room in the middle of the night, panicked and unsure of what was happening. He carried her to the truck and we rushed her to the pet ER (no, I wasn’t aware such a thing existed until that evening) where she was deemed OK. Over the next several years, we worked to get her epilepsy under control, getting the seizures down to once a month and, several years later, a few months apart.
Falcon went on vacations in the Poconos, reluctantly learning how to swim, and to the beach in Maine. She was a great traveler and incredibly low maintenance. I’d read stories of collies demanding to lay on the furniture and being non-stop barkers, but Falcon was the opposite. As long as she was with the family, she was content. My Mid became prone to saying, “she’s the most chill dog ever.”
Which was true. While laying on the front porch, other dogs would walk by, see her, and begin jumping and barking. Falcon would offer a sideways glance but little more. She loved interacting with other dogs but had no interest in the drama.
As it turns out the story took a turn while we were in Annapolis for our pseudo-Commissioning Week celebration. We had noticed Falcon developing some struggles standing up, but since she was 10 years old, we didn’t pay it much mind. On our last night in Annapolis, we walked from our rental to DTA for dinner, Falcon in tow.
Falcon’s neurologist would tell us that collies are notoriously stoic and we saw that first hand that night. She walked the near-mile roundtrip without a complaint and it wasn’t until we got her back that we saw a thin trail of blood coming from her back paw, which apparently she had been dragging.
Countless tests revealed that she had a sleeve tumor – imagine a broken rubber band wrapped around her sciatic nerve. Long story short, the nerves in her back legs soon stopped working, which meant her back legs slowly stopped working. We would try everything from acupuncture to water therapy to a wheelchair but eventually, I was lifting her with a harness and walking her with her back legs elevated.
My son is now a full-fledged ensign and my daughter is just about done with her first year at the Air Force Academy. And during a recent visit to the vet, he said what I had been dreading for nearly 12 years, “It’s time to make a quality of life decision.”
So Friday night, both the ensign and the cadet Zoomed with Falcon, told her how much they loved her, and said their tear-filled goodbyes. And Saturday, April 9 at 9:53 a.m. EST, I held Falcon in my arms as she gracefully, peacefully crossed the Rainbow Bridge. No longer in pain, no longer restricted by a body that had betrayed her, she will keep the watch until we all meet again.
Bravo Zulu, Falcon. You were the best of all shipmates.
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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.