Up front: December 2011

Dear departed

Though it barely touched upon business, last month’s column about my dog’s passing prompted the most reader response of any piece to appear in the pages of this magazine. You’ll find a sampling on page 6, but I thought I’d share this one here. It’s from Rufus Edmisten, the Boone native who was deputy chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, North Carolina’s attorney general for 10 years, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1984 and secretary of state for two terms.

—David Kinney

Your words about good dog Donnie brought tears to my eyes as I remember the dogs of my life while living here in Raleigh. It seems as though we all measure our lives by our dogs.

First it was grand ol’ Moses, the wonderful English setter who thought he was some sort of a prince. In his younger days, he’d leap through the air, sometimes 10 feet, and land on the ground and make another leap even higher. He was a wonderful companion who loved to ride with me in the pickup, and when I’d go inside, he’d move over and make out like he was driving the 1972 Chevrolet Cheyenne. Moses was my wife’s constant companion and went to work with her every day.

David, believe it or not, Moses lived to be 17 years old, as big a dog as an English setter is, and he went through the same stages Donnie experienced. He lay down one night, couldn’t lift his head and soiled his sleeping chair. I gently picked him up and went through the wrenching experience of taking Moses to the vet, but I couldn’t go in.

Then came his daughter, Lily, who was a beautiful pup who didn’t point as much as Moses but was an inquisitive and loving dog. She had every instinct of a bird dog but was more interested in pointing squirrels. One day when I was attorney general, I had Lily over at the Capitol, and she put a perfect point on Gov. Jim Hunt. Of course, I got a big kick out of that, and I think Lily did even more so. She developed a terrible E. coli infection, and Linda and I finally had to make the decision that her quality of life was no good. I couldn’t bear to take her to the vet; Linda did, and as she left, with Lily lying in the back of the car, I wept like a baby.

Then there was that wonderful mixed-breed, Sissy. She was left abandoned in a ditch. Some friends of ours found her, and we decided to take her in. She was about 6 months old, all legs, and looked like a scarecrow. About two weeks later, she came into season, and we had to quarantine her for several days. At 8 years old, Sissy developed cancer. We had to again make another decision about a friend and companion.

As each dog left us, my wife and I decided that we’d take their ashes and place them under our newly planted camellias. Moses has a bright red camellia that glistens in the sunlight, reminding me of the wonderful time with him. We chose an apple-blossom camellia for Lily, which reminds me of springtime in Boone. Then Sissy got a pure white camellia. So each fall, I have those magnificent blooms honoring Moses and Lily, and then as spring finally comes around, the aroma of that white camellia reminds me of Sissy. My camellias help me remember those warm feelings that all three of those close friends gave Linda and me.

We now have two new dogs, one a wonderful Brittany named Nellie, after my mother. Because of diabetes, Nellie lost her sight, however her young brother — crazy teenager Jasper, another English setter — knows how to play with her and recognizes her disability. He is fiercely protective of his older sister.

Your article gave me a sense of sadness, but more smiles than anything else. Long live our wonderful buddies, our dogs.