Hayward died last summer. Cancer. He was the best one. Had a bit of an obsession for tennis balls and at ten-years-old still slept with a baby, but he was solid. A sucker for laying on the floor with his head in your lap, or stretching out long with his face smashed up against the heating vents, he’d bounce up in a second at the word, “Go.” As in, “Do you want to go…” for a run, to the park, skiing, outside, on a bike ride, to bed, in the car. You name it, if it was with us, he was all in.

In deep snow, he’d try to catch a ride on the back of our skis, both on the up and on the down. Sleeping in a tent, inevitably I’d wake up to 80lbs of golden retriever trying to spoon, or just laying outright across my knees and chest. Trying to move him, he’d go limp and start to grumble before giving in with deep sigh and a head shake, as if I should know he was only trying to keep me warm. Every time we’d roll into Bend he’d start whining at the smell of juniper and sage.

He was prone to ear infections and allergies, and his tail was almost always matted. I gave him haircuts with sewing scissors, and made him wear socks when he’d rip his pads chasing after tennis balls, or after a few too many miles on the trails. One season he chewed up every pair of goggles I owned, then started in on my wooden clogs. As a puppy, he ate the turn signal indicator off my Subaru in the five minutes it took me to run into the grocery store.

In the spring he’d nibble raspberries off the bush with his front teeth. He was so gentle that the core would remain on the plant.  He thought the only thing that could beat diving into the canal was laying the mud. In the fall, his head would turn yellow with pollen from the tomato bushes he’d raid for the fruit. For his money carrots were fantastic, and we regularly shared apples. He never minded that I got the good part and he got the core. He wouldn’t leave the porch without us, content instead to sit by the door and wait until we were ready to face the world together. He was the best one.

My friend lost his Jack Dog over the holiday weekend. Jack shared our office in grad school. In our space the size of broom closet the three of us each had a tiny stretch of lab table and a straight back chair. Jack had a couch. At night he’d wander the halls of the second floor his tags jingling. He was a magnet for the ladies. He loved going for mountain bike rides. He could outrun even the fastest of us. I cried into his coat when my first advisor said I didn’t belong in the program, and danced with him after I defended on top. He saw me strip and change clothes on several occasions and never looked anything but slightly amused, “There she goes again.” As long as he was with my friend, he was stoked.

Here’s to all of our best ones.

An addendum: My friend Cam Scott wrote a column about this time last year, titled, “Thanksgiving for Mountain Dogs.”  If you don’t click through for the whole piece, this paragraph, at least bears a read:

God love a good mountain dog. The fishing, hiking, skiing, biking, passenger-seat-hogging, beaver crap rolling sort of kind. The leave me at home and I’ll knock down the trash, chew apart your avalanche transceiver and sunglasses kind. The tail wagging through sage brush, rose hips, and skunk cabbage kind. The kind who spends all day eating grass hoppers, dead fish, and voles then plants a big sloppy kiss in your open-awed mouth. Yeah, that kind.