Words: Mike Rogge
Farley came into our life by sitting on his sister. I've told this story for years, but with his unexpected passing, I wanted to tell it one more time here if that's alright with you.
Meghan and I married in a small park in Tahoe City surrounded by friends and family, the line blurred between who was considered blood and who actually was. We loved our people and our mountains and so we brought them together for the very beginning of our little family.
In our good fortune we received a small amount of money from those folks as a gift. Together, we decided to turn those funds into a small, little female Golden Retriever puppy. I asked Meghan to "just go look at the pups," an old trick Mom used to get Dad, a softy at heart for tiny dogs, to cave on a new family dog. It is a tried and true technique.
At Judeth's home in Grass Valley we found our little girl. She was sweet, delicate, and abruptly sat on by a big oaf with a goofy smile. "I like this one," said Meghan. I would always remind her it was in that moment that she and Farley chose one another. We do hope that little girl found a good home. Farley came to ours a few weeks later.
He was an easy puppy, happy, silly, and completely his own soul. We trained him to sit, stay, and come, but ultimately he would make the choice to do those all on his own for the rest of his life.
And what a life our Farley boy had! He loved the ocean, which is a strange obsession for a dog raised exclusively in the Sierra. He was the first living creature we told that Meghan was pregnant. With a little morning sickness that Spring, Meghan slept in the downstairs bedroom near the rear porch door, while Farley, Kiki, and I watched a pre-season Mets game on a lazy Sunday late morning. With deGrom on the mound, Farley's hair stood up on the back of his neck, he let out a series of loud barks, sprinting down the stairs. I rose to my feet, following him down the stairs to the vision of him chasing a bear out of our home and into the woods in the backyard. Chasing bears was a joyful hobby for Farley. He couldn't get enough of it, though I do believe the local bear families thought he was a bit of an asshole.
Months later Meghan shared with me that she was having trouble sleeping during her pregnancy. The lack of rest was taxing. She would walk downstairs to the kitchen, falling to the ground in tears, only to have our good boy find her with a heavy head rested on her lap. He made no judgements. He offered no advice. He only loved. And that was all Meghan needed in those moments.
We brought our son home that fall in November. Farley wasn't sure what to make of the little guy often nervously sniffing around E's crib. At 12 weeks, E went in for corrective hip surgery and came home in a body cast from ankles to nipples. My son's surgery remains the most trying time of my life. Farley knew, whining by the door for a walk in the third biggest winter in California history. He pushed us to go outdoors, to remember who we were in the middle of our misfortune, and that because we were lucky enough to call a ski town home, we were still lucky enough. Farley helped us through that time, too.
Our goofy, silly dog developed a love for going on morning walks by himself. He befriended our neighborhood with folks often letting him into their homes to enjoy a treat. A little girl down the street would come to the house, knock on our door, and ask if her friend Farley could come out and play. We once found him inside an AirBnB, partying with Silicon Valley coders, up in Tahoe for a long weekend away from their daily grind. Farley welcomed all to our neighborhood. He didn't care if you were a local or a tourist. He cared only that you were a person. In Farley's stubborn belief system, his unwavering instinctive code, people were deserving of his love.
Only a few weeks ago a spandexed-up biker rode through the neighborhood. Farley chased him down the street, barking his bellowing bark, and the man stopped. He pet Farley releasing the rapid tail wag that came whenever anyone reciprocated his love. As Meghan approached to bring him back to the porch, the man looked up with a smile, saying "This dog made my day. I needed that." And that is who Farley was. He was a dog that knew what the people around him needed.
For me, Farley, my sweet boy, was my best friend. I have long suffered from a deep anxiety and imposter syndrome. I occasionally battle small, yet significant, fits of depression. My dog and I would head to the hills, the outdoors being my solace. We hiked 14 miles together around Squaw Valley, our silence never broken alongside our strides. These giant hikes happened when summer turned to fall and the pain of nostalgia made me wish for East Coast weather. On our walks we shared the hills, the silence, the peanut butter and jelly, and the water. We were inseparable. And by the time we got back we were exhausted and thankful to be where we were in the universe. Thankful to have what we have and to be surrounded by those we love, those people who made it possible for us to get Farley in the first place. He was our wedding bounty dog. He was a constant reminder that we are not alone. That we are apart of something bigger than our own small world.
Last night his stomach bloated so he and I hopped into the van for a drive to the emergency vet in Reno, NV. He sat shotgun and I talked to him the entire 49-minute drive as we listened to The Avett Brothers. He smiled. We didn't know what was coming, but we were there, happy in the van and happy being together. The nurse took him on the leash, his tail wagging at meeting a new friend, a new friend who would call me 20 minutes later with the prognosis of DCM, an enlarged heart disease that kills most larger breeds of dogs. Farley's big heart was actually four times a normal size.
An hour later his heart slowed more and his body filled with fluid. There was nothing more they could do. I made the 49-minute drive home alone, an empty seat filled with only his collar and dog tag.
I write this from a place of tremendous heart ache. He was a four year old companion whose life didn’t need to end as early as it did. We've since learned a grain-free diet, a popular marketing dog food trend, is likely responsible for his heart condition. We are not angry, but hopeful that our story can save the lives of other dogs that may be on this type of diet.
Farley was a beloved member of our family and community. In his short life he routinely hiked around by my side, remained loyal as we brought home a baby, and quickly became our son’s best friend. We will miss him terribly.
Yesterday morning we awoke without his fish breath in our face, excited for the day ahead. We woke our two year old son to tell him that his friend was gone. E walked outside, recovered fully from his early hip dysplasia problem, and looked. He yelled for his dog, who was prone to be making friends somewhere in the neighborhood. Farley, of course, did not come. We quickly dressed, Meghan and I believing we needed to get out of the house. On our way to the beach, E began to howl. He howled loudly, Meghan and I joining him, as The Avett Brothers played from the speakers, the playlist unchanged.
E looked out the window, howling his little lungs out. As we pulled into the beach, he said goodbye to his lifelong, furry friend. "Bye Far-lay," our son said.
Goodbye, Farley. Good boy. Thank you. We needed you more than you needed us. If you, the reader, have made it this far, thank you for indulging me with your time. This isn't the end of our story with mountain dogs. We have a beautiful little girl named Sunny and this morning got placed on top of a list for a puppy in the spring. We are mountain dog people. We feel connected to our community and our neighbors in the mountains, all because of a happy, silly dog who lived completely in his own soul.