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Gone but never to be forgotten

Published April 27. 2013 09:03AM

As he took his last breath, I think a little part of Harry died with him.

He had been his bosom buddy for the last eight years. They were kindred souls.

Trapper was more than just a beautiful Beagle. He was a great hunter, a comedian, a good friend and had the heart of a champion.

Trapper came into our lives when my dad bought him as a very young dog nine years ago. When Dad died a year later, my mom asked us what should she do with Trapper. He was born and bred to be a hunting dog and she felt he should go to someone who would appreciate him.

When Harry came into my life, he and Dad had bonded. They were more like brothers than father-in-law/son-in-law. They shared a love of hunting, fishing and the outdoors. I often joked that Dad liked Harry more than me.

After we lose someone, I think we become very sentimental about our loved one's personal items. Such was the case with Trapper. He was Dad's dog and we just hated to see him go to someone outside the family.

Trapper came home with us.

It had been quite awhile since Harry had a hunting dog. But as in most things with Harry, he threw himself wholeheartedly into being the owner of a hunting dog, who both Dad and he had agreed, had the potential of being a GREAT hunting dog.

He built a class-act kennel for him. He joined the Eldred Beagle Club. He took Trapper out to run whenever he could. Sometimes I'd watch from the window when the two of them would roughhouse in play. In all our years together, I had never seen Harry bond with an animal like he did with Trapper.

Trapper had Lyme disease and heart worm. Harry and his vet did everything to prevent the disease from ravaging the young dog more than it could. I sometimes think Trapper knew Harry was doing his best and I'd watch as he ministered to his eyes, his teeth, his nails. Trapper was so calm and still at those times, enjoying the closeness of the one thing he loved more than life ... Harry. It was written all over his happy dog face.

When they weren't together, Harry would stand at the window and watch Trapper. If I heard it once, I heard it a million times.

"Hon, come here. Look at what he's doing now."

When Harry first brought Trapper home, he wanted to have him become accustomed to his smell. So he put a flannel shirt he had worn into the kennel with him. Trapper immediately trotted into his house with the shirt. The next morning, he brought it back out with him and he'd toss it around and dragged it everywhere. Again, more fodder for Harry to watch at the window.

"Come here. Look at him. Isn't he funny?"

One day he came running into the house. "Quick. Get the camera. And come out. You gotta see him."

The goofy dog had somehow got his head through the sleeve of the flannel shirt and was wearing it like Superman's cape.

I teased Harry that Trapper was just trying get as close to him as he could. He did this little trick a couple of more times and we nicknamed him "Super Dog." But Trapper didn't need a cape to be Super Dog. He just was.

When Harry walked down the sidewalk or came home from work, Trapper barked in greeting, happy to see his master. But if Harry was dressed for hunting, or he saw Harry holding his leash, Trapper knew where they were going and would begin to bark and work himself into a frenzy. He would get so excited, he barked from the moment he saw Harry and didn't stop until he came home. Only then was he finally silent. A pooped puppy, but a happy puppy.

When he was set free in the fields, the magic that was Trapper, was released. Harry said he could chase a single rabbit for hours. He never got tired of hearing Trapper's deep bellowing bark ringing through the brush. He loved it so much, he recorded it and it is the ringtone on his cell phone.

Oh, I could go on about the many merits of Trapper. He will live in infamy in the annals of the Koehler family history.

When Trapper showed signs that all was not well, Harry became despondent. Finally when he couldn't deny that there was something terribly wrong, first thing Monday morning, they went to the vet. But I still wasn't prepared to get the phone call from a choked up Harry, telling me that Trapper was so sick, he made the decision to put him to sleep. I met him at the vet. We took him for a walk to let him feel the grass and the warmth of the sun one last time. Both of us must have gone through a box of tissues. We talked to him, we petted him, we hugged him. We told him countless times he was the best puppy ever, the greatest hunting dog, and would be missed forever.

We brought him home to be buried.

Harry has all of Trapper's ribbons and pictures laid out in memorial. He's talking about the headstone he's planning on erecting in his honor.

We console ourselves by saying that the moment Trapper left us, Dad met him at the gates of heaven. We imagine Trapper chasing bunnies to his heart's content.

Trapper left a legacy. He fathered six puppies. We have one of his daughters, Sassy Sue. They were very close. Even with a chain-link fence between them, they played, often touched noses, reached paws out to each other and when they'd lay in the sun, they laid tight up to the fence so they could feel each other's warmth.

Sassy is a barker. Not like her dad, who only barked when hunting or when he saw Harry. Sassy barks if a butterfly flies by her kennel. She barks at her dish. She barks when the leaves float by.

I haven't heard her bark since Monday. She stands looking, waiting for her dad to come home. Don't ever let anyone tell you animals are dumb. They know. They feel. They love and they grieve.

Just like us.

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