Goodbye Val

Tuesday, July 25 at 7:04 PM we had to say goodbye to Desiree’s second guide dog, Val. Below is my goodbye letter to our beloved Val.

Dear Val,

I only had the pleasure of knowing you for about 25 months. But in that 25 months, I came to love you for the amazing guide, wonderful friend, and constant companion you had been to Desiree for 10 years and seven months. It would be easy for me to spend a couple of paragraphs joking about your appetite and love of food. I could go on about how often I pretended to be your voice and teased Desiree for not paying attention to your mental health by not feeding you all the time. I could joke about the time you came whenever a bag rustled or the way you scratched my leg or rubbed your head on my leg as I ate. But focusing on those memories would not do your true value justice. In time, those memories will serve as funny stories that make me laugh when I remember you. But sitting alone in the middle of the night in the room where you died, I’m not ready to enjoy all the laughs you gave me over such a short period of time. Sitting here, letting myself focus on the quiet, I want to share the unique parts of you that can’t be found in almost every Labrador.

You weren’t my guide dog. You weren’t my companion through some of the hardest times of my life. But for 10 years and seven months you kept the love of my life safer and happier than she ever would have been without you. For 10 years and seven months you were there every time the love of my life needed someone to cry with and someone to offer reassurance. For 10 years and seven months you were always there when Desiree needed you. You were trained to guide her around obstacles and to help her navigate busy streets. While many dogs could have done that for her, few dogs could have been with her in those numerous sad nights while she struggled to chart the best course for her and the girls.

While I wasn’t there for Desiree then, I know by how sad she has been in the wake of your loss how important a role you played in helping her get stronger. Watching her, I know Desiree wouldn’t be where she is without you. Watching Desiree, I know she wouldn’t be everything I love about her without you.

But my love for you isn’t limited to all you did for Desiree. As you know, I spent many hours petting you, rubbing your tummy, and listening to your soothing snores. At some of the most important moments of my life, you were there.

The day Desiree had her first of the two eye surgeries she has had during the time I have known her was difficult. I was expecting a good outcome, but we weren’t sure what would happen.

I will never forget how often I spent sitting with you that day. Petting you, listening to you snore, and hearing the thumps of your tail helped me feel so much better than I would have felt without you. While people who couldn’t understand your kindness and presence may have believed me to have been alone in the house on that long, emotional day, I will always know I had much more support from you than I could have gotten from most people.

I will never forget the day I proposed to Desiree. Waiting for a meeting of hers to end, I nervously played with the ring in my pocket. As my right hand grew sweaty and my heart beat faster, your steady, rhythmic snores helped me relax a bit. As the meeting dragged on well passed its scheduled end, I started pacing. When it seemed like the meeting would never end, I found myself petting your head and talking to you. When you nuzzled my leg and thumped your tail, I couldn’t help but smile. Smiling, I instantly felt more relaxed.

The morning of our wedding, I had to rewrite my vows and the speech I wanted to give at the reception. While I was telling everyone, including Desiree, I had to make a few edits, you knew better. You knew better because I woke up early that morning knowing my words didn’t match the moment.

Headed for the bathroom, I felt for you with my feet as I still sometimes do now. Grazing your back with the toes on my right foot, I heard your tail start thumping. Far from being upset about my having woken you up, you were glad to see me and ready to help.

Leaning down I petted your head. Sitting next to you, I whispered the truth into your ear: “I have to do better, Val.” You rested your head in my lap, and I started feeling better.

Afraid I had already woken Desiree up, I only sat with you for a few minutes in that early morning. But sitting with you the words I had been seeking for weeks filled my head.

Later that day, I made the changes to my vows and my reception speech that I know I wouldn’t have made without the time I spent with your head in my lap, your snores vibrating in my leg, and your tail gently thumping. There truly was something magical about the way you relaxed and the way you helped those of us lucky enough to love you relax.

Later that day, you led Desiree down the aisle. I’m truly honored to have had you next to Desiree and I as we married. I’m profoundly grateful for the truth that you will forever be remembered in our wedding video. As long as I live, you will always be in my heart. Sure, I will in time take pleasure from the laughter your begging will always provide. But there will always be a hole in my heart made at 7:04 PM on the evening of July 25 2023 that will never be filled. There is no replacing someone who was with you during some of the most important moments of your life. There is no getting over the loss of someone you know could have and would have helped you through much more had fate given them more time to do so. But the comfort I was lucky enough to have received from you at times when it meant so much to me is something I will always cherish.

I didn’t know you for long. I didn’t get to spend as much time with you as I would have loved. But I spend enough time with you to know how lucky I was to have been able to have the time with you I had.

The morning we knew we were going to have to let you go, I sat with you while Desiree showered. Petting you, I started crying. I know in my heart that you had hung on to bring Desiree home. I want to believe that it was maybe a bit easier for you to go knowing that she was home and that I love her as much as you love her.

Obviously, our relationships with Desiree aren’t the same. But I hope that in your moments of suffering the truth that I love Desiree as much as you do and that I, like you did, will always give Desiree my best helped you feel better.

I will never again have the privilege of hearing your thumping tail or steady snores. I will never again be able to pet you when I need a true friend. But I will forever be better for the times you were the friend I needed when I really needed a friend.

Goodbye, Val. I will always love our beloved Val!

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