A farewell to Kate

Kate was the only dog I’ve ever known who howled when you petted her. Her human—my good friend Steve—always insisted she was singing.

Like him, she loved people. And birds.

Kate and Kaia

She stayed with me and Cath a few times over the years, when Steve had to be out of town. Indoors, she always parked herself just inside the sliding glass door to our back porch, eyes riveted on the action around the birdfeeders.

Our black Lab, Kaia—puzzled by her Brittany friend’s immobile fixation—would occasionally check on Kate, sniffing at her shoulder or licking at her fuzz-fringed ears. Kate ignored her. She had her priorities. She even spent the first night there, staring at the reflective surface of the glass, not yet having figured out that the entertainment was a daylight affair.

There were only two ways to get Kate’s attention: fill her food bowl or suggest that it was time to go out. Outdoors, she was wildly enthusiastic. Nose to ground, she’d zigzag through field and woods, casting about excitedly.

Two walks with her stand out in my memory.

On the first occasion, in autumn, Cath, the two dogs, and I had hiked out through the woods, along the old railroad bed that runs near our house. On the way back, I noticed Kate some seventy-five yards ahead of us. She was frozen, stock still, her butt visible, the rest of her buried in the brush beside the trail.

When I caught up, she ignored me. I scanned the woods and undergrowth below the embankment, but saw nothing.

“Go get it,” I said, giving her a slight nudge with my foot. The instant she moved, a grouse rocketed up. Just five feet from her nose.

That’s a bird dog.

On the second occasion, in spring, we were coming back along that same stretch of trail and Kate had gone ahead. We heard her yelp and feared she might have crossed paths with a porcupine. When we found her, she was merely splashing about in the first open water of the season, along the edge of an old beaver pond. Her yelp, like her being-petted howl, was one of delight.

But she yelped again a minute later and came out of the woods on three legs, screeching, a forepaw held high off the ground. Great. A friend’s dog injured on my watch. Inspecting her paw, I found a puncture in the webbing between two toes. Barbed wire, perhaps.

Normally an uncomplaining dog, Kate just sat there, letting out that ear-piercing shriek. She wouldn’t take another step. So I picked her up and carried her the last hundred yards to the house.

I caught Steve on his cell phone and he asked me to clean the wound and massage it. I got the peroxide and a bowl of warm water. And two pairs of ear-protectors.

When I stepped outside, though, all was quiet. Cath—who practices both acupressure and Reiki—had her hands on Kate. And our shrieking friend had subsided. Even as I worked the paw, Kate remained silent, relaxed, her eyes taking on a faraway dreamy look. I had never seen her so mellow. If her brain turned to cosmic mush and she forgot what a grouse or woodcock smelled like, I’d be pleading the Fifth.

Thankfully, both paw and mind recovered, and Kate spent many more happy days afield.

But four nights ago, after several days of precipitous kidney failure, her irrepressible little body breathed its last.

There’s emptiness in Steve’s house and heart right now. Though he has loved and lost many dogs in his lifetime, he wasn’t ready for this. Kate, his constant companion, was torn away after only seven years.

Thinking about him, I’m finding solace where I can. She didn’t die at the vet’s. She died at home in his arms. And though there’s still snow in the woods, it’s not mid-January, the earth hard as iron. Up the hill behind his house, a shovel can break the softening ground.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. What a nice tribute. It is tough losing our four legged companions. Just doesn’t seem fair how short their lives are and how attached we become in a very short time. My thoughts are with Steve and Kate’s friends. Sounds as though she had a wonderful life and all are the better for having known her!

  2. Frank Billue says:

    Thank you Tovar. It is gratifying to read that others knew the Kate that I knew. Having hunted with her many times, I was always amazed at her energy and enthusiasm. She was pure Brittany in this regard. Her Joy in life was irrepressible, whether sprinting across a Montana prairie or cuddling with a human. We can all learn a lesson from her in that. Living in Idaho, two thousand miles away from my brother, I miss him. And, I worry about him sometimes, especially at times like this. I’m glad, but not surprised, to know that he has friends who care so much. Thank you.

  3. Tovar says:

    Terry: Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your kind thoughts.

    Frank: You’re more than welcome. I’m glad my words mean something to others who knew Kate. And it’s a pleasure to make your virtual acquaintance here. Steve has often told me of your times in the field together.

  4. Ingrid says:

    I’m with Terry: a lovely tribute to a dog who obviously lived life according to Kate’s sensibilities. I’m never surprised but always touched by the unique personality that emerges from each animal we know. You captured an essence of Kate here, with her howl, her love of acupressure and Reiki touch, her bird-dog proclivities. My sympathies to your friend Steve.

  5. Christine says:

    Your tribute to Kate brought tears to my eyes. Some things just need telling and in the telling comes healing.
    I’m going to enjoy reading your blog.

  6. Casey Harn says:

    Thanks for sharing the memories, Tovar. We get so attached to dogs, they become soul mates. Unfortunately, bad things happen, but at the same time we are reminded of all the pleasure and insight into ourselves that they bring to us while they are here.

    I feel bad for your friend. Just 2 years ago I had to put down Floyd, my golden retriever of 13 years. Hardest thing I’ve had to do yet. Hopefully your friend will consider finding another dog. That “spirit” we all come to love can be found in another. That’s the way dogs are, they are so unselfish they share even that.

  7. Jane says:


    You captured the essence of dog love perfectly, and I was reminded of the deep pain we must endure when our friends leave us. I am sorry for Steve’s loss.


  8. Arthur says:

    Rest in peace, Kate. And my heart goes out to your friend, Steve. Losing a dog is so heart breaking. It’s a shame they have such an impact on our lives, but are only around for such a short time.

    I recently had to give up a dog we had for 3 years, and I cried like a baby.

    Time will heal all wounds, though, and nothing helps to speed up that process more than a new puppy.

  9. Tovar says:

    Ingrid, Christine, Casey, Jane, Arthur: Thanks so much to all of you for your kind words and your own stories. I’m glad the post touched something in you and I really appreciate your thoughts, especially for Steve.

  10. Tovar says:

    An update: Kate’s sister is due to have puppies in the first week of May. And Steve is planning to bring one of those pups home in early July. I can’t wait to meet the little fur ball!

  11. Cornelia Carey says:

    I am so late in saying how sad I have been to hear about Kate AND how much I’ve enjoyed reading all about her. Kate blessed us with her appearance on many occasions and certainly seemed much more interested in us (well really Steve it was) than our two dogs…in fact she never quite understood it when she’d get relegated to be shut out with the dogs rather than at the table with us. We’ll miss her and her passion for food AND we look forward to meeting her niece…as we’re sure that Steve’s next dog will once more be a girl. love to you, Steve!

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave such a sweet comment, Cornelia. Kate really was special. I’m sure her niece will be, too.

  12. Tovar says:

    An update to the Kate story: Steve brought home her niece last Friday. There’s a photo in my most recent post, which you can find by clicking here.

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