This post is mostly for myself - my memory is terrible, I wanted to put these memories somewhere where I will often read them again, and maybe you'll enjoy looking at the photos of a very good dog.
This month (July 2017) my family dog Jess would have been 16 years old. She passed away June 3rd.
My initial sadness is overcome by pride and happiness at the life she's had. A life filled with joy, love, walks, and on occasion stealing food.
In the last couple years of her life she lost her hearing. In all other ways she was remarkably healthy, far outliving the normal life expectancy of a Golden Retriever and her brothers and sisters.
She still walked a lot with my parents, distances that grew shorter as she grew older. I put her health down to the long walks, getting dirty in mud and sand at any opportunity, swimming, and the love she received.
But her age was getting the better of her. She developed bronchitis in the last weeks, and we could all tell the coming months would be difficult. I'm glad she was spared months of illness or my parents having to put her down to spare undue suffering. She died at home in her bed with my dad beside her. Of all the ways it could have gone, I am glad it happened that way.
Every time I returned home to Essex I would sit with her late at night. I would tell her about my life, expecting this to be the last time I got to be sat with her before I visited next. Often there were tears, but none from her. Even when she was deaf I'd still talk to her.
Jess was born in July 2001, which makes years of her life lost to film cameras, Kodak discs and other pre-smartphone cameras, all the way to 2008. One thing I've realised from this process is that 2001 was a long time ago in technology and culture. Jess is a pre-9/11 dog! The world has changed so much in her lifetime, not that she'd notice or care.
I remember the first Christmas we had her I got a Lord of the Rings toy that came with a plastic version of The One Ring. The actual ring! I wore it. It was the best thing ever. Except 12 year old me left it somewhere, and it turned up later chewed to bits. One of the early lessons in having a puppy. At the time, I thought I'd never forgive her.
When she was still a puppy, we took her to 'Retriever Rallies', where hundreds of Golden Retrievers and their owners would come to a big field. It was quite a sight to behold, hundreds of Retrievers bounding around. I remember there being a very big pit for a lake that was almost empty aside from a pond-sized puddle at the bottom. Obviously Jess went straight in it, getting drenched.
It was in the car park that she spotted a man about to enjoy a baguette and sprinted over and took it right from him. Luckily, she was young and he had several Golden Retrievers of his own so was forgiving of the whole thing. At the time it was embarrassing, but we can look back and laugh. Poor guy.
I remember how she would sit under the pear tree in the garden, eating the dropped pears. She was getting drunk off fermented pears.
When I left for University in 2008 I only saw her for summers and breaks but she was the first family member I missed (sorry Mum).
She was there from my 12th Birthday to almost my 28th. To have a dog in those teenage years was such a great experience - I could tell her all my secrets, and she'd always listen. (That's probably why she got deaf - to drown out my nonsense.)
I remember the endless hilarious fights of me, a 12 year old versus a bounding fluffy puppy. She'd win every time.
I remember her getting broody and stealing shoes to make a nest of stinky-feet puppies for herself.
Whenever I'm out walking now, I'll see a Golden Retriever in the same white-gold colour as her and my heart will skip a beat. Of course it's not her, but you can hope it all the same.
The last time I saw her was on holiday in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in April 2017 - her favourite place to roll around on the beach and get covered in sand. Nothing but happy memories.
I miss her with all my heart, but I'm glad she's at peace.