Happy Birthday to A Great Dog

Keisha with stickToday would have been Keisha’s tenth birthday but five weeks ago we learned she had cancer and four weeks ago she visited the vet for the last time. For a week Peter and I together mourned her loss, at home, received condolences from family, friends, and dog-walking acquaintances, and poured over hundreds of photos in search of the best one to hang on the wall between our offices. We felt keenly both her absence and her presence. We cherished encounters with dogs who knew us and sensed, as we’d seen Keisha do with others, our need for their brand of comfort, and it wasn’t long before we knew that there would have to be another canine companion in our lives before summer came.

During my first days at Fool’s Paradise, while Peter was in Halifax, we arranged to meet a pup. We liked her. We would bring her home from Misty Pines soon after my term here is over. We named her Georgia. I returned here to immerse myself in my work-in-progress and Peter left the too-quiet house once again to visit friends.

It has been easier here. Tears have all but stopped flowing. When I think of dogs at all, I think about a new pup I don’t even know, as much and possibly more than the senior dog I loved for almost ten years. I tell myself that’s okay, it’s good to look ahead, to move forward; and Keisha was never a jealous dog, she wouldn’t mind at all that we’re ready to lavish attention on another member of her tribe. But I wonder if the timing of this writing retreat has denied me the opportunity to fully grieve, and to cherish memories of the dog who enriched our lives so deeply. And so, instead of leaping immediately into the lives of my characters this morning as I usually do, I’m turning my attention to Keisha.

As I write this, I long to wrap my arms around her (and smile at how she leans away); to stroke her lovely coat and her soft, expressive ears; the see and hear her bounding into the water and come swimming gracefully back with the ball or stick we’ve thrown. I long  to say her name and see her dark eyes look at me full of expectation for what wonderful thing might be about to happen — or she might just twitch her eyebrows, not even lifting her head. How is it possible to so adore a dog’s eyebrows? 

But I’m also looking forward to getting to know another pup, to find out what her quirks will be, endearing and otherwise, what brand of joy she will bring into our lives, and . . . Another puppy? What have we done? Bringing home a puppy, someone has said, is a recipe for heartache.

It has been a hard season for a number of dog people we know. Gone in recent weeks: Lesley’s Murdo, John’s Rupert, Trudee’s Dudley; in recent months: Jennie’s Mosa, Anne’s Keira, and Corrie’s golden retriever whose name escapes me. Going back not much farther, countless other dog’s we’ve known whose passing their people have deeply mourned. I suppose we would all like to believe there’s a great dog party happening somewhere, with all our dearly departed canine companions in attendance, romping and sniffing butts.

Some of the condolences from friends, on hearing that Keisha was gone, assured us that dogs leave us and yet remain with us. Keisha will certainly be with me today, perhaps sitting with her back to me waiting to be patted, perhaps reminding me that rain is not a reason to stay inside, almost certainly appearing suddenly from wherever she would sleep here, when I start peeling the carrot that will be part of my lunch. She might leap to ‘catch’ it in her mouth, or she might take it ‘gentle’ from my fingers. I may have to give an extra chunk or two. It is, after all, her birthday.

Happy birthday, Keisha.

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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson


  1. janlcoates on March 31, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Beautiful, Kathy. And I'm in Georgia right now, St. Simon's Island, possibly my favorite place in the world, so I wholeheartedly approve of your chosen name! We lasted three months after our beagle died before bringing Charlie home. And with your dog parenting skills, Georgia is bound to be a beauty, too, like Keshia.

  2. org4life on April 1, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Happy Birthday, Keisha. <3

    • Kathy Stinson on June 29, 2016 at 10:13 am

      Sorry it’s taken me a while to respond to your birthday wishes for Keisha, Hazel. There was a glitch in the system for a while that didn’t let me know when someone had commented on a post. Of course, as soon as Janet picked up on it, she solved the problem very quickly! Thanks for reading and responding.

  3. Nan Forler on April 2, 2016 at 12:36 am

    Kathy, this is such a beautiful tribute to a beautiful dog. I can't imagine being at your house without her. We are looking forward to meeting Georgia but I will always remember Keisha as the dog who calmed me on nights when I really needed her calm presence. She was a symbol of the welcoming feeling in your home. A sweet, sweet doggie who will always be remembered with a yellow plastic porcupine (or was it a hedgehog?) in her mouth!

  4. online dog trainer on December 6, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    happy birthday, i think i am so late, i hope she’s going well

  5. Emma on December 12, 2016 at 6:28 am

    Hi Kathy, sorry for your loss. I went through the same thing with my boxer Bella. One day my sister noticed a small lump on her neck that we hadn’t seen before. After a visit to the vet, the results – a form of Melanoma caused from direct sun exposure that had spread into an aggressive form of cancer. Bella is now back to his bouncing, and can officially add dog cancer to the list of diseases she’s tackled. Emma @ Tech Tails

    • Kathy on December 13, 2016 at 10:31 am

      Lucky Bella and lucky you, Emma. I’m glad your cancer story had a happy ending.

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