Today marks one year since our beloved River crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I remember it like it was yesterday when I finally had to say goodbye to my dear friend.
I was 21 when I met River at Adamsway Kennels in Walkerton, ON. He was one of 8 pups, 7 males and 1 female. They all looked so very similar, they were curious, lively and incredibly cute. It was hard deciding on one so I narrowed it down to three. They were brought out of their pen and I started interacting with them. One was not interested at all, the other stuck to the ground like glue and did not want to be picked up. River meanwhile was busy un-tying my shoe lace. He chose me.
Building a Bond
As the weeks went on, I developed a strict 6:00am morning routine. I would run to River’s pen in the basement, pick him up and take him to the backyard. As a way of encouraging him I would say “Good-boy” and “Do your stuff” over and over. My dad still makes fun of me because I said it so loud that I probably woke up the neighbours.
River came into my life when I was attending University and working part-time at Zellers. Travelling to Scarborough from Brampton every day and working at the Bramalea City Center on the weekends didn’t leave much time for friends or socializing. This is where my bond with River grew stronger every day. I relied on him for friendship and company.
As time went on River and I became inseparable, I based all my decision on his well-being first. Whether I was going on a trip or simply working extra hours, I always checked that he was walked, fed and was looked after. It was the least I could do for my friend.
For a dog I’d say he was pretty lucky and spoiled. Early on as a pup my mom fed him some human food and since that time he was always interested in nosing around what we were eating. People say Labs will eat anything and they are right! My mom lost several good shoes.
The Joy, Laughter and Love
My parents were always against the idea of having a dog. They came from a culture where dogs slept outside, ate scraps and never dared enter the house. This is obviously not the norm in Canada and not what I had in mind for my companion. It didn’t take much time for my parents to warm up to River. He became like their third child and stole their hearts. My dad used to call him River the “Engineer” because of his crafty nature and his high level of intellect. He never took a IQ test or anything but he always amazed us in knowing which toy we were talking about, or, when he did something bad and we were talking about him he would exit the room very quietly. It was always a treat to see how he would meticulously unwrap his birthday presents and toss the paper to the side. He had an ability to tell us exactly what he wanted without saying a word. I know this may not be ground breaking to some reading this but remember this was our first dog. My parents had dogs but they never interacted with them like a true Canadian pet.
After graduating, I left my Zellers job and joined the workforce. The weekends opened up and I began going out more. River was still top of mind and I would always make time for him and walk him regularly. He would push me to go for a walk and not give up until he saw his leash. I think I was in the best shape of my life when I had River. As a Labrador Retriever, he had a ton of energy and loved going on walks.
One of my jobs involved travel, sometimes 3 days and sometimes a full week. I remember every time I would bring my luggage down to wait for the taxi, River would be so sad and just mope around. It came to the point where I could not leave the luggage on the first floor. The good news is that when I would return I would always receive a hero’s welcome. I still remember him jumping all over me as I would walk through the door and him leaving his little white lab fur all over my clothes. It was worth it.
It still amazes me how so many people knew him. On every walk I would see strangers and they would turn to look at River and greet him as they walked on by.
When I first met my future wife, Denise, she told me she was afraid of dogs. This would have normally been a red flag in my dating days, but I could tell that she was a kind person and that River and she would be fast friends. Luckily for her, it all worked out 😉 Sorry love.
When Denise and I got married we moved to Bowmanville, ON (If you know where that is I really hope you don’t work downtown Toronto like we did). We were very lucky that our neighbour’s son worked from home and became our dog walker. There we settled in and River made new friends. It was here where I noticed him starting to slow down. When we would go on our walks he no longer pulled with the strength he had as a pup and he would walked closer to me rather than trying to lead and find new smells.
Our daughter Sofia was born in 2014 and River had to get used to sharing the attention. It took him several months to get used to her but eventually they became friends. One of the first words Sofia learned was “River”. To this day I have pictures of River around the house and on my phone. When she sees them she says: “look daddy, River!” I know her memories will fade but at least she’ll know that this dog in the picture was named River.
In 2015 on a cool summer August night around 2:00am, River woke me up and was barking very loud. I went to the family room and he was staring at the backyard door. I let him out side and I passed out on the couch. I woke up around 3:30am and noticed that he did not bark to come in as he normally did. I went outside and noticed him panting on the floor. He would not get up for any of my calls and even when I tried to help he would barely move. This was the first time in our time together that I had come across any health concerns with River. In the morning I rushed him to his vet and after an Ultrasound and X-Ray it turned out that he had a tumor in the spleen and it had ruptured. He had an emergency operation that removed a monster 6lbs tumor. The vet gave him 6-12 months after the surgery to live, but he pulled through. River fully recovered and stayed with us 22months!
Crossing the Rainbow Bridge
Sometime later, I noticed River started dragging his front paws on our walks. They even started to bleed. When I took him to the vet, he suggested he may be developing Degenerative Myelopathy. I started to a crazy Google search to learn everything about it! I walked him on grass to save his paws and tried to keep him comfortable. But, as time went on, he could barely get up anymore. It was at this time that I knew it was time to let him go.
River will always be more than just a dog; he was my friend, family and close companion. No words will ever be able to express the pure happiness and joy he brought to my life or the great sorrow I felt when he crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
Today I am proud to announce that we are launching River’s Rainbow Bridge by Toronto Dog Spot. This is a free space on our site where you can share your pup’s story and let their memory live on. You can send us text and photos, we will put it all together for you.