Read FREE! Episode Twenty of Imagine: Life on a Chain. Epilogue

Well, we’ve come to the end of our tale. If you’ve reached this point I’m grateful to you for reading along, and I hope you’ll share Imagine’s story with your fellow dog lovers.

Imagine’s character is based on two dogs I rescued from chains, a dog named Magnum—the dog you see pictured on the cover—and one named Banshee, a black lab. Magnum was so damaged by his time on the chain that he had difficulty with life as a family companion. He stayed with me until his death. Banshee loved his ball more than life itself, but suffered from separation anxiety due to his imprisonment. He would have made an incredible working dog, and I believe he could have sniffed out virtually anything if he’d been given the chance he deserved. It always made me sad that he didn’t have the opportunity to excel because of man’s shortcomings.

This version you’ve read will be polished up and made into a book, too, which I’ll announce when it’s ready. I guess it will be more of a novella at around 25,000-30,000 words.

Enjoy Imagine’s finale, and I’ll be back next week with the first episode of a free read on a short story. If you want to catch up from the beginning, go here and just click along the links at the bottom of each episode to reach the next.

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Twenty: Epilogue

Using his Gift

Dream was transfixed by Imagine’s mournful tale of life at the end of a chain, clucking her tongue and cuddling into him when he became too sad.

“Well, that will never happen to you again, my bro,” she insisted. “You’re safe now. Home. For good! Let’s go play some ball. Confession: I’ve missed you so much, that I even taught myself how to play ball alone, the way you always did. Ya dork!”

They raced to the backyard where she proceeded to show him her own perfected toss and catch, and Imagined teased her by getting to the ball first and initiating a round of keep-away.

Dad called them in for breakfast, and then asked Imagine the question he’d been hoping for.

“Imagine, do you want to go back to the center today? They asked if we could put your gift to use for the community to sniff out this virus. Is that something you’d want to do?”

Imagine responded by rearing up on his hind legs and giving a happy “Woof” and a wag of his tail.

“Good enough, then, off we go. Dream, would you like to be your brother’s lieutenant?”

Dream looked at Imagine in confusion, and he quickly explained to her what they would be doing. “Remember when Mom was ill and I could smell the sickness on her?”

“Yeah?” she said, a question in her voice.

“Well, now there’s a new sickness out there among the humans, and I can smell it. I taught dogs at the center to follow my lead, so when I alert that someone is sick they all alert as well. It’s quite impressive to see. Want to try it?”

“I’m not leaving your side, bro, so I guess I’m all in. You’re never getting rid of me again!” Dream responded, a determined set to her shoulders.

Imagine grinned, finding it hard to believe that not only did he have his family back, but he’d get to help his community too. Was he awake? Was this all a dream?

He shoved a paw in his mouth and gave it a chomp. “Yelp!” he cried. “Yep. I’m awake, alive, and I’m finally feeling happy again. Yippee!”

He ran circles around Dad, barking. “Let’s go, old man! We don’t want to be late on our first day!”

Dad laughed and picked up their leashes, motioning for the door.

Keys to the City

They arrived at the center just as the morning volunteers were lining up outside. Folks cheered when Imagine reached the sidewalk, and Becky called out, “Here’s the Dog of the Hour now! Thanks for coming, Imagine, Dennis, and this must be Dream. You turned out so gorgeous, pretty girl.” She held out her hand for Dream to sniff.

Willow was leashed at Becky’s side like the day before, and she pulled the leash taut, trying to reach Imagine. “Guess what, Imagine . . . I think I caught the scent too! Maybe I can lead my own team.”

“Wow, that’s amazing, Willow! I’ll let you take the lead this morning, and if they see you’ve got it too, maybe we can break up into two teams.”

Willow did indeed prove to have the gift as well, so Imagine served as her first lieutenant, Dream following behind and learning the ropes. They scented one staff member and one volunteer, but overall the center had enough help to manage the day’s workload.

Before long, a line of reporters from local and even national news beat a path to Freedom Chaser’s door, with Imagine and Willow putting on demonstrations all over the area.

Soon Willow was adopted by Dad’s new “friend” Julia, and the two dogs and their teams became regulars around town, always starting at Freedom Chasers first thing in the morning and then heading to town hall, the mayor’s offices, and even the county courthouse.

Julia and Willow eventually moved in with Dad, Imagine, and Dream, and the dog who spent three years on a chain now awoke each morning with a smile on his face, memories of the hardships surfacing only in the occasional nightmare.

As masks and vaccines became widely available and the world longed for a return to normal, Imagine was needed less by the community, and that suited him just fine. He looked at the matching Keys to the City framed and hanging on the rec room wall, and smiled.

Willow and he had been honored by the community, their work recognized and valued, and now he could relax and enjoy his golden years with his expanded family, his sister and father by his side.

He was Free. Beloved. And Happy.

Like every dog deserves.

The End

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Read FREE! Episode 19 of Imagine: Life on a Chain. The Biggest Dream

Alas, we’re almost to the end of our tale. Today we get to see the rest of Imagine’s reunion, and then next week we’ll have the Epilogue. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Imagine’s tale, but then I’ll wrap it up in book format and make that available in online book outlets like Amazon, etc., too.

This story is excellent for older humane education projects and classes, and I made sure to keep any swearing out of it for that purpose. Ha! If you want to start from the beginning, click here and go to town. If you’ve been following along the whole time, thank you and remember to share! Your fellow dog-lovers might enjoy the free read, too.

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Nineteen: The Biggest Dream

Witnessing a Miracle

“I haven’t seen him in three years,” Dennis whispered, looking up at Becky and then over to the news camera. “The day my wife died he escaped through an open gate . . . we could never find him. I thought he was dead.” His voice broke, and tears began to stream again. He held Imagine like he’d never let go; the dog laid his head on his dad’s shoulder, nuzzling him. “Where was he?”

“About an hour away, in a small town in Potter County,” Becky told him. “We got a call this week about a chained dog who’d been abandoned after his owner died of covid. We picked him up two days ago. I don’t know if you remember me, but I fostered him and his family when he was a puppy. You’re Dennis, right?”

Dennis nodded. “Why didn’t you call me? He’s microchipped?” The man sounded bewildered, heartbroken.

“I’m sorry. Our chip reader broke and we’re waiting on a replacement. I immediately thought of you, but we didn’t want to give you false hope. If our reader didn’t arrive this week, we were planning to have him checked at the vet office on Monday. He does respond to the name Imagine, though, so I knew there was a chance he was your boy. I’m so glad you’re here now, Dennis, and we all were lucky enough to witness your beautiful reunion,” Becky replied, wanting to reach out to him but hesitant because of the virus. “I doubt there’s a dry eye in the house,” she added, looking around at all the volunteers wiping their eyes and murmuring to one another.

 The TV reporter pushed a microphone as close as she dared to Dennis and Imagine. “So, Dennis, how do you feel? Were you surprised? What are you going to do now that you’ve finally found your dog?”

Dennis had gone his whole life without being the subject of a news story, and he felt uncertainty silence his voice as he looked up at the reporter. Squaring his shoulders, he got to his feet and pictured Val watching from the Rainbow Bridge; he could do this for her.

“Well, I’ve never been so surprised in my life, to be honest. I came here this morning hoping against hope that the photos I saw in the email from Freedom Chaser were really him. He looked older and thinner, and so sad on that chain. Who would do that to a dog? Imagine lived in our home with us his first two years of life. We took him everywhere, travelled the country, and to think of him chained out there in that backyard for three years is infuriating. That’s the only way I can put it. Just infuriating.”

The reporter nodded. “So what will you do now that you found him?”

Dennis turned his eyes to Becky. “Well, I suppose I’ll have a conversation with Becky and her people here at Freedom Chaser, and then I’ll take my boy home to see his sister. She’s been watching out that window every day for years waiting for this guy.” He hunkered back down to Imagine’s level, running his hands through his fur. “Want to see Dream, boy? You ready to go home?”

Home? Imagine’s tail began to wag and another whimper escaped his throat. To Dream? Am I dreaming? He shook himself, making sure he was in fact awake.

He gave his dad another slurp, and Dennis laughed and hugged his dog to him again. That would suffice as his answer. Yes, I want to go home, Dad. How about now, please?

A Bargain Struck?

Evie and Becky worked quickly to get the volunteers signed up for slots for this week and next, while Imagine, Dennis, and Willow sat outside quietly together, enjoying the spring day and waiting their turn. Sam and Stacy brought the two pups breakfast and some water, along with a special treat for all their hard work.

Finally, Becky made her way over to the little group, asking Dennis if he’d like to come into the office to talk further.

“Sure, as long as Imagine comes, too. And his friend here . . . what’s her name?”

Becky smiled. “Of course. And that’s Willow, she’s his lieutenant, one could say.”

The four made their way to the founder’s office, where Evie was already seated in Melody’s chair. She smiled when she saw them come in. “Dennis, it’s so nice to meet you! I just can’t believe this morning’s reunion. That’s what I’d call a tearjerker, for sure. That reminds me, I have to get a link to the news story tonight so we can send your interview out to all our supporters, too. I’ll bet you can expect a few other reporters beating their way to your door when this comes out tonight.”

“Tell me something, Dennis,” Becky said. “Did you have any idea Imagine could do this? Sniff out disease like this?”

“Yes, I’ve given it a lot of thought since Val passed. He had been poking her with his nose for months before we knew she was ill. We just didn’t understand what the poor boy was trying to tell us. Now that I saw him and Willow at work this morning, I’m even more sure of it. He has a gift, I’m convinced,” Dennis explained.

“Would the two of you consider working with us to put Imagine’s gift to good use? I know that you want to take him home with you, but his nose could be invaluable to the whole town during this awful pandemic. What do you say? We can always work out the details later, but our community could really use his help,” Becky pleaded.

“I’ll tell you what,” Dennis replied. “Give me 24 hours to think on it and get Imagine settled in at home. Then I’ll give you a call.”

“Excellent!” Evie exclaimed. “We’ve given him worm and flea and tick medications already. As well as three baths! He has an appointment at the vet on Monday. We’d be happy to take him to get checked out for you as we’d planned to do. I’ll hope to hear from you tomorrow then, Dennis.”

“Sounds good,” said Dennis, standing. “Imagine, you ready to go see Dream?”

Imagine had been napping on the floor next to his dad, but at the sound of his sister’s name he jumped to his feet, alert and ready to go. He raced over to Willow and nuzzled her neck. “Thanks so much, Willow, for everything. I hope to see you again someday.”

“So this is it, then?” she questioned. “How am I supposed to find the sickness without you? I thought we were a team?”

Imagine shrugged and avoided her eyes. “I don’t know. All I know right now is I really need to go home and see my sister. Maybe Dad will bring me back and we can work together again soon, ok?”

Willow turned away, a sad look on her face. She’d just found a purpose, and now she felt abandoned, again.

In the Window

At home, Dream climbed up onto the couch to peer through the front window, for what seemed like the 90th time today. Where had Dad gone so early this morning? When was he coming home?

She knew she shouldn’t hope to see her brother on the other side of that window after all these years, but hope has a way of sprouting through the cracks and continuing to live long past its expiration date.  

Nope, nothing yet. No sign of Dad. She plopped onto the cushions and fell into a short nap, rousing only when she heard Dad’s car in the driveway.

Dad? He’s home? She poked her head above the couch and pressed her nose against the pane. Who’s in the car with Dad? A friend? No, it looks like a DOG! No . . . it can’t be. It couldn’t be.

She rushed from the couch to the garage door and waited impatiently for whoever—or whatever—was in that car with Dad. . . .

Imagine just couldn’t wait. This day—heck, the past week—felt so surreal he almost couldn’t believe it happened. Prince was DEAD. HE was freed from his chain. He was brought to a HAVEN for dogs. And THEN he’d found his dad and his SISTER, too?

Who could even believe a story that fantastical?

He couldn’t sit still on the drive home. He kissed his dad’s cheek then pranced in the seat, eager to get back into the house he’d only seen in his dreams for the past three years.  

Dad laughed at him, then ruffled his fur. “We’re almost there, boy, just hold on for one more minute. Oh, look, I see her in the window! Can you see her?”

Imagine barked and circled in his seat, excitement gushing from every pore.

He heard the garage door lift, and remembered that sound.

He heard Dad’s car door open, and remembered the reverberation of noise in these four walls.

He heard a whine at the door, and remembered Dream’s voice.

He remembered it all, and was flooded with memories and feelings that were both comforting and alien at once. As if it was all from another life, another time.

But he was here, now, he reminded himself. He couldn’t come apart at the most important moment of victory over his cruel circumstances!

He dashed out of the car and rushed to the inner garage door, answering Dream’s whine on the other side with one of his own.

He barked. “Dream! I’m home! I’m HOOOOMMMMMMEEEEEE!”

Dad threw his head back in laughter and turned the handle, asking, “You ready?”

The two dogs met in a mashup of fur and teeth and bodies, wiggling and whining, rolling and racing, so busy showing how much they’d missed one another that they were little more than a blur. They forgot to eat or drink for hours.

They raced through the doggie door and out into the back yard, then ran through the recreation room and back up the steps to kiss Dad. Dad grabbed them both in a bear hug and they squeezed their way out to do it all over again.

Even though Imagine would always miss Mom, he realized how stupid he’d been to run away, how much pain he’d caused them all by leaving them. He couldn’t take back the mistakes of the last three years. But he could make sure that whatever time he had left with this, his TRUE family, was the best he could make it.

Finally exhausted, the two dogs slurped down a quick dinner and some water before collapsing on Dad’s lap in front of the TV.

“Immy,” Dream whispered. “Where have you been all this time? Why didn’t you come home?”

Imagine kissed his sister. “Can I tell you in the morning? I’m too tired and happy to ruin it tonight with such a sordid tale.”

“Sure, bro,” Dream replied sleepily. “In the morning. I like the sound of that.”

Next (and Last!) Episode: Epilogue

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Read FREE! Episode Six of Imagine: Life on a Chain. His Greatest Fears

I’m feeling covidy today; but alas, there are no tests to be had in my town during this omicron outbreak, so I’m just staying in bed and reading…not so much a hardship, then, eh? This does mean I ALMOST didn’t publish today’s episode, but didn’t want to break my promise in case I have someone actually waiting on tenterhooks {ha!}, so here we go…

Remember, if you need to catch up, start at this link, then just follow the links at the bottom to the next episode.

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Six: His Greatest Fears

The Middle of the End

Imagine and Dream moped downstairs, while an eerie silence took hold of what was once their warm, safe home. Dad had rushed off to the hospital after Mom, and the two dogs felt scared, alone in wondering what was happening and if they would ever see their mom again.

It was many hours before Dad came through the door, the sadness apparent on his face as he brushed a hand over his eyes and rubbed down toward his mouth. The dogs waited patiently, sitting quietly nearby and hoping for Dad to tell them something, anything.

Dennis sank heavily onto his kitchen chair. He looked at Val’s empty teacup beside him and tears began to work their way down his cheeks. He suddenly sprang to life, grabbing a scrub brush and a bucket of soapy water and ferociously swiped at the kitchen tiles, trying to remove every last spot of blood from Mom’s fall.

His anger spent, he sank back against the cabinets and looked at the dogs. “Come here, Imagine, Dream,” he called in a hushed voice. The dogs were nervous; negative emotions filled the room, and nothing felt the same. Their home was normally a happy one, but today everything was different. The siblings obediently crept to Dad’s side and lay down, heads in his lap.

The three sat for what seemed like hours, Dad running his hands through their fur and talking to them softly. They didn’t understand much of what he told them, but they knew from his tone that they had probably been right about Mom.

“I don’t know if you guys have noticed lately, but Mom hasn’t been well. I kept after her to go to the doctor, but I think she was afraid to hear any bad news, so she refused to go and played it down. She told me it was just a cold, just a headache, just a little tweak or twitch that would go away. I think she’s been in a lot more pain than I realized.

“They did a bunch of testing at the hospital . . . It’s the worst news we could imagine. Mom has cancer, and it’s all through her body; there’s nothing they can do. On top of that, she now has pneumonia, and they don’t even know if she will ever come home again.

“How is this possible, Imagine?” Dad asked brokenly. “Just last week we went on that hike to Red Rock, remember? Yeah, she was slower than usual, but so was I. I figured it was just our age getting to us. I had no idea she’s been this sick for this long.”

Imagine licked Dad’s hand, wishing he was a human too so he could take away some of Dad’s pain.

Dennis was sobbing now, holding both dogs tightly to his chest while long, mournful moans shook his body.

Imagine looked to Dream and whined, wondering what they could do. Surely there had to be a way to fix everything?

Dream shook her head, and then tried the only things she knew. She trotted downstairs and brought Dad offerings like she did with Imagine—first a ball, then a stuffed animal, and finally her leash and the promise of a walk. But nothing roused Dad from his stupor until she carried her dog bowl to him and dropped it in his lap. Dad blinked his bleary eyes and focused on her face for the first time.

“Oh, I’m sorry, guys. I’ll bet you’re hungry. Forgive me,” he sniffed, and then stood shakily to his feet, moving slowly about the kitchen to ready their dinner.

“Here you go. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was so late…” his words trailed off, and he stumbled toward the stairs, pulling himself up the railing and to his bedroom. Ignoring their food, the dogs followed, watching as he fell fully-clothed onto the bed and lay motionless. The rise and fall of his breath were the only indications he was still of this world.

The chained dog jerked from his reverie, peering about for signs of danger. Thomas still stretched across the grass nearby, but he’d moved into a new patch of sun to stay warm. “Magnum” stood and yawned. As painful as his current life was, he recognized that day as the start of his slide into what he would become…

Imagine and Dream curled into their beds on the floor, wondering what would become of them as they watched everything they loved slipping away…  

Next Episode: Mom Comes Home

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Read FREE! Episode Four of Imagine: Life on a Chain. The Dream is Lost

Welcome, Friends, to today’s FREE EPISODE of Imagine’s Story, a fiction tale based on true rescue pups. Need to catch up? I got you!

Here are the links to the first three:

Episode One: A Weird Smell

Episode Two: His First Home

Episode Three: Imagine and Dream Go Home

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Four: The Dream is Lost

Mom is Sick

Imagine knew something was wrong with Mom, just knew it. But how could he communicate with her? He felt an urgency take hold and he paced, whining with anxiety. He heard Mom and Dad talking to Dream and him every day, but he only understood a handful of the human words they used: breakfast, dinner, treat, ball, toy, walk, RV, and swim were his all-time favorites… 

Those words had always elicited a tail wag and a happy “woof.”

Early on, Imagine and Dream learned to communicate their needs for bathroom breaks by poking Mom and Dad with their noses, and it seemed to work. Eventually Dad installed a doggie door from the rec room to the fenced backyard, and the two dogs spent part of the day chasing each other in and out, in and out, never again having to ask to do their business. 

“Well, unless we were camping,” Imagine remembered. “Mom hated to take us out of the RV for potty breaks at night, and always made Dad do it; he grumbled under his breath the whole time.” The memory was bittersweet.

Mom and Dad didn’t understand most of what he and Dream tried to communicate, either. It was generally acknowledged by all that they didn’t speak the same language, yet they muddled through to the best of their abilities—as families did.

With little choice in the matter, Imagine tried the only thing he knew: he poked Mom with his nose, then sat back on his haunches and looked at her expectantly.

“What is it, boy?” Mom asked, baffled. She yelled downstairs: “Honey, is the doggie door open? Imagine’s acting like he has to pee.”

“Yeah, everything’s a go down here, Hon,” he yelled back, muting the TV for a moment to make sure she could hear him.

Mom patted Imagine on the head. “Dad says it’s fine down there, sweetie. Run along and let yourself out if you need to go.” She made shooing motions and Imagine ruefully headed downstairs and out into the backyard, lost as to how to make her understand him.

***

Shadow

As Mom’s scent grew more pungent and overpowering to Imagine’s sensitive nose, even Dream began to detect it. “Oh, now I get it, Brother,” she told him one day. “That is a bad smell! It reminds me of the animals we see on the road sometimes on our trips, or along the trails we hike. Do you think Mom could be dying, too?”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense to me, Dream,” Imagine sighed. “I keep poking her with my nose to try to tell her, but she just thinks I have to go to the bathroom. It’s so frustrating!” He paced back and forth, not even his pile of tennis balls bringing him much comfort these days.

Imagine became Mom’s shadow, always worried she was going to fall; or worse, leave them when he wasn’t looking and never come back.

One day Mom sipped her afternoon tea at the kitchen table, lost in her own little world. Dad was mowing the lawn in the back, the hum of the tractor and scent of cut grass enveloping the house in a cozy familiarity. Imagine lay at Mom’s feet, keeping an ever-watchful eye on her as he fell in and out of slumber.

Mom crossed her legs, kicking her dozing “shadow” by accident. He yelped. “Imagine!” she cried in exasperation. “What is wrong with you? Why are you constantly underfoot? Get out of there! I need some space to think. Geez, buddy. I mean, I love you, but…”

Imagine slunk from under the table and down the steps, flopping beside his sister, who raised an eyebrow at her now-always-moody brother. “Bro, I know it’s sad, but what can we do? I don’t think she’s getting your message…you’re just annoying her now. Want to play ball? It’s your favorite…” Her voice trailed off hopefully, and she jumped up, wagging her tail and play-bowing.

But Imagine just didn’t have the heart for it.

Suddenly there came a “thud” from upstairs. Imagine looked at his sister wildly, and tore up the steps…

Next Episode: Now What?

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

The 7 Things a Cat Named Tuna Tried to Teach Me that I Failed to Learn

My limbs felt heavy as the dog and I plodded up the hill, like gravity had doubled its pressure and forgotten to notify me in advance. I fought the unseen forces that held me tightly to the earth, my legs barely clearing the ground as I slogged my way toward home.

The drizzle of rain was appropriate, even soothing. At least it matched my mood.

I noted without much interest that I seemed incapable of walking at a normal speed, that the grief manifested itself in physical ways, too.

It wasn’t just all in my head.

Una was unbothered by most things…even new arrivals didn’t phase him.

Tuna had been gone a week now, and I was no nearer to moving past the intense mourning than I was the day he left me. In fact, I felt worse. I got out of bed, but only because I had other animals who needed me. I moved forward with my day, but only because that’s what I did—and I was afraid if I stayed in bed too long I’d never leave it.

The low-grade depression I ran with most days intensified in times of deep distress.

I sat down to eat my breakfast and felt utterly alone, even though His Puppyness still lay at my feet and our other cats meandered about the kitchen. Except Tuna always sat in the chair next to me, insistent on checking to see if I had anything good. He’d take a sniff first to determine if he was missing anything, and then sometimes he’d accept a little bite of butter toast. And then maybe one more. Once he was satisfied, he’d jump down and wander off.

I pulled the chair closer to me so the dog couldn’t steal Una’s treat, like I always did.

Pretended the chair wasn’t empty . . .

I dreamed the first night he left me that my mother with dementia was dressing herself on a picnic table, unaware that she was giving an entire slew of strangers an unwelcome peep show. Awkward.

I awoke in horror (no Freudian analysis, thank you), but then reality hit me that my baby was gone . . . and I realized I’d repeat that dream ten times over rather than face this particular reality.

Because my baby, my emotional support cat, was gone.

No, we had no official documentation in regards to his emotional support cat status, it was just an unspoken agreement between us. His loss devastated me.

The day I’d dreaded for years had come.

We all have that one, or two if we’re lucky, animals who becomes our soulmates. There’s no rhyme or reason to how it happens, it just does. We usually love all our rescue companions, but some slip past the guardrails and take over our hearts.

Tuna was a rescue kitten who came to me in the early 2000’s. One of our Dogs Deserve Better volunteers discovered him dumped in a ditch near her house; he was still very young, and very, very sick. She asked if I’d take him and I couldn’t say no—because he was just a little guy, and because he immediately tugged at my heartstrings.

I had every intention of rehabbing him and finding him a new home.

But instead he stayed, for the next umpteen years.

We named him Charlie, but his name quickly devolved, becoming first Charlie Tuna, then Tuna, The Biggest Fish, and—because my daughter was just learning to talk and dropped a lot of her initial consonants—The Biggest Ish and then finally, he became just Una.

Una was my world from the very beginning. He was curious and friendly with everyone he met, but he loved his momma. [There’s no accounting for taste.] He was incredibly tolerant of my daughter dragging him around, cradling him on his back like a baby, even sticking goofy hats on his head. Through it all his eyes would seek out mine, as if to say, “Are you gonna’ just leave me hanging here, or what, Ma?”

Una was smart. He knew what he wanted and he went after it, communicating in no uncertain terms his goals. He slept on my head whenever he could, and I loved nothing more than snuggling my face into his precious neck.

Una loved his Liquid Biocell, and opened his mouth for it without hesitation

He jumped onto the kitchen stool each morning and yowled loudly for his biocell (num nums we called it) and his licks of coconut oil until his needs were met.

Una was that perfect mixture of cat vs. dog in temperament. I always found dogs to be a bit too needy, but cats have a reputation for being standoffish. Una landed right in the middle of the two, and his uniqueness made him beloved by most everyone he met.

The mere thought of losing him sent me into spasms of internal panic, and once he turned ten I reminded myself often to treasure each moment with him. I burned the memories into my ever-so-forgetful brain in hopes I wouldn’t lose them.

When I realized he was leaving me—liver failure came for him—the panic set in for real. I stayed up all night, cuddled him even when he grew weary of being cuddled, and explained that I needed him. I couldn’t let go.

But I knew I had to, because I loved him too much to watch him suffer for me to selfishly eek out an extra day or two together.

I’m not ok, and I really don’t know how to go on without him.

Una tried, and failed, to teach me many things over the years. I wish I had his personality as a human, but he was pretty much my opposite in every way.

Here’s a list of the Top Seven Things I would have learned from the best cat ever, if I were the teachable sort:

1. Sleep on heads, or in a pile, because there’s no sense in waking up alone.
2. Never meet a stranger, but if said stranger isn’t kind, leave ‘em in the dust and go home to your mommy.
3. You can both drink and eat with your hands, don’t listen to anyone who tells ya’ different.
4. Take a walk with the big dogs, no sense sitting around on the porch.
5. Find your person and become their world.
6. Let others groom you whenever possible. No sense doing it yourself!
7. Keep your dignity until the end, and go out with your person by your side.

This morning the phone rang, and caller ID told me it was the vet’s office. I knew why they were calling. I picked up, keeping my voice even, smooth…indifferent.

“Hello?”

“Is Ms. Thayne there?”

“Speaking.”

“Hi, we just wanted you to know that Tuna’s ashes are back. You can come pick them up anytime.”

“OK, thank you. Have a great day,” I replied, not a whisper of pain in my voice.

I dropped the act as I replaced the receiver, holding back a sob. Every new reminder becomes a fresh stab to my already flayed heart. 

I’m watching TV after dark—our time together, the time when he always sought and found my lap. Every evening I held him, caressed the day’s worries away, and we both looked forward to those few hours. I become engrossed in the show and momentarily forget. Then a commercial hits, and the heaviness descends anew.

It seems that at the end of every happy ending there is just THE END.

RIP, Una. That day has come for us. And I miss you as much as I feared I would.

See you at the bridge, my love. Catch me some Swedish fish, please…Mommy likes those.

My baby.

P.S. There’s another story about the time I THOUGHT I lost Una in our Rescue Smiles book, if you’re interested.