To borrow a phrase from the Grateful Dead: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

As you read this it has been a little over a week since our sweet 14-plus-year-old golden retriever, Tucker, “Passed Over the Rainbow Bridge” on our annual road trip to Florida via travel trailer.  

My husband, Brad and I, chose this method of travel decades ago because of the dogs.

At this stage in our lives, we are pretty experienced dog rescuers having embarked on our third journey into the world of rescuing an older male golden and giving them forever homes and they giving us unconditional love.

First came Lenny (short for Lennon as in John), then Simba and then Tucker wound his way into our hearts in January of 2011.

Tucker, we were told while visiting his foster home in Baltimore, had made his way up from Roanoke, West Virginia and was apparently on the bottom row of three high crates of rescue animals.  We later learned he was somewhat traumatized by the ordeal.

With leash in hand, we took him for a walk in the neighborhood of the foster family, but never asked if he was good in the car.  He was not. We have a travel trailer! What a long, strange trip it’s been.

During our interview as possible new masters continued, Tucker turned three times, and settled not by our feet but on our feet.  He soon became known as “The Velcro Dog” because he just wanted contact with his humans (or any humans for that matter).

We’d take him to the dog park and he’d diss the dogs and run over to get attention from the humans.  On many a walk in Fort Washington State Park, Tucker would see someone coming toward us and he’d stop in his tracks looking to be pet by the passerby.  

If someone did stop to stroke his soft light golden hair, we welcomed them into the “Suckers for Tucker” fan club.  It was always good for a laugh.

Tucker was loved and spoiled.  He even had his own credit card that helped with no interest charges we put on it for two surgeries and a variety of veterinary visits, meds and lotions and potions over the years.  It’s a shame we didn’t get bonus points. But Tucker was our bonus as we received paybacks daily in the form of loyalty, companionship and tail wags.

With some hesitation about the long journey to Florida considering Tucker’s age, arthritis and general geriatric ailments, we left Flourtown later this year in order to attend a Celebration of Life in North Carolina for cousin Linda Sue Lusen, a horse and pet lover.  Linda was born on the same day in the same hospital as Brad. We figured a stop for two nights in North Carolina would break up the trip for all of us.

I can tell you we had “no regrets” delaying our journey as we caught up with Linda’s four older brothers, their spouses and extended family the night before for a casual dinner.  The following day we were honored to be part of a loving ceremony with friends, family and Linda’s co-workers who all brought along some homemade dishes of food of every kind. There was a separate bar set up for those who wished to do a shot of tequila from one of the many shot glasses Linda collected during her 68 years on this planet.  Tucker made an appearance at the end of the event and was warmly welcomed.

As we made our way into Florida the next day, Tucker (and I) suffered gastrointestinal issues.  Not fun for anyone.

“Had someone fed him some fried chicken under the table?” I wondered. “Or was it just that the long ride had taken a toll on everyone.”

I took Imodium and we found the lovely Dr. Jeffrey Slade at Sebastian Animal Hospital where a caring staff assessed Tucker’s condition.

Blood work was done and his white blood cell count was high, indicating he had an infection.  Our sweet boy was given IV fluids and a host of meds and we took our tired, gentle soul back to the campground for 48-hours of intensive caregiving.  Tucker was mostly not a happy camper.

We did get Tucker in the water at Sebastian Inlet twice during this time, and took him back to the vet for a follow-up visit and another IV infusion to keep him hydrated.  That was Saturday. By Monday I was calling to see if we might visit earlier on Tuesday to explore our options. The receptionist offered that if our intention was to ‘put him down’ we could come late that afternoon.  Brad was not ready. He needed more time to say goodbye.

By Tuesday morning, March 5th, our pack knew what the true option was – to help get Tucker over the Rainbow Bridge.  Pronto!

We wrapped Tucker in his favorite blanket and two men in the campground helped us lift Tucker into the truck to his date with destiny.

Instead of carrying him into a sterile examination room, we laid him on the back lawn where vet tech Rhonda and two other workers treated us all with dignity and respect.  Huddled on the lawn with blue skies above we said our finale goodbyes and gave our tuckered out friend permission to leave his loving masters. Snipping a lock of his nearly white hair, I said a prayer asking Linda to meet him on the other side of the bridge and pull him over.   He was gone rather suddenly.

Shedding tears of relief as much as sorrow, I quietly looked up to the clouds that had gathered and mouthed the words “thank you” to Linda Sue for helping pull him over and greeting him and helping him to make a transition to a world where there was only beauty and no more pain.  His suffering was over. Ours was just beginning.

We cried, then called and texted close family and friends.  We mourned, we held each other, we hugged, we walked in circles and somewhere along the way we healed.  

I did not post our news to Facebook until three full days later and the most poignant message came from a friend who said, “he was such a gentleman” and indeed, he was a gentle soul.   

We opened this gift of a rescued dog every morning and cherished him as he did us unconditionally.  

In the end, we gave him ‘the gift’ we could not give my mother or father, or Linda Sue – a hand in helping take them to a better place where there is no pain and only peace, joy and love.  
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is co-author of a horse memoir with her late father titled, “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived…not Preached.” This article is excerpted from her next book titled Golden Gifts: Lessons from The Dogs Who Rescued Me.  Barb can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com, through her website www.CommunicationsPro.com or Facebook.com/BarbaraSherf.