Let me tell you about Holly.

She came to us from my aunt and uncle’s ranch. Holly was three (?) years old, but she’d only lived a short while at the ranch. A co-worker had given her to my aunt - she was too high-energy for the co-worker to handle - but after Holly chased some calves through a fence, my uncle decided she wasn’t a good fit at the ranch. So she came to live with us at Christmastime in 2010.

It took us half an hour to coax her inside the house for the first time. Another 15 minutes to get her through the next interior doorway. I don’t know if she’d ever been inside a house before. She’d certainly never been in a city.

There was a period of adjustment. Her appetite was off; she refused to eat unless I fed her out of my hand. She had to learn how to take walks with the leash. To stay in the yard. To give the cat a wide berth.

It was summer before I heard her bark for the first time. We were in the backyard playing the Chase Game, me running circles around the herb garden with Holly hot on my heels, delirious with happiness. She barked once, stopped in her tracks. Gave me her best “I’m sorry” eyes. Damn near broke my heart. I told her that was a very good bark, she did so good! Gave her lots of scritches. Never had much luck getting her to shut up after that, but then again, I didn’t try very hard.

She had a good day last week. We were up on the balcony that evening, and she spotted a coyote crossing the hillside. Roused herself and barked for a solid three minutes. I gave her scritches and told her she was very good at barking.

Holly was the gentlest dog I’ve ever known. We used to walk down the street to pick my daughters up after school. She’d roll over on her back and have half a dozen kids rubbing her belly. Never reacted to the occasional fur-tug. Never snapped at a human - or a cat, for that matter. If one of the cats had a sudden hankering for dog food, Holly would just stand back and look very sad.

She loved to chase squirrels though. One time she found a squirrel tail in our backyard in Oklahoma City. Slobbered all over it by the time I noticed. She thought it was the best thing ever, so I let her keep it (in the backyard.) She’d roll around on it, gnaw at it a little bit, but never tried to eat it. That squirrel tail lasted about six months before it disintegrated to the point that I finally threw out the bony remains.

She once ate half of a three-layer red velvet cake.

Holly was with me when I learned to hunt mushrooms. When my daughters graduated from elementary to middle school. When Jibber-cat came to live with us, and when Dink-cat died. She was with us for the long move out to California. She walked across the threshold of our new home with no hesitation.

Photo credit: J. Grant Schofield

She was with me the first time I visited Roy’s Redwoods, and for most of my visits since. I couldn’t ask for a better trail companion. She patiently kept watch at my side while I hunched over a camera, oblivious to everything but the creature on the other side of the lens. Sometimes I let her choose the path, and she always found something amazing for me. She helped me feel safe.

She was with me in my home office, in the living room, in the backyard, on the porch, at the beach, on vacation. She slept at my bedside. When I did leave the house without her, she was always there to welcome me home with happy yips and butt-wiggles and love.

When the end came, it was fast and brutal. She’d been slowing down, lethargic, eating less. Then one Saturday afternoon, she rolled over for scritches and her belly was covered in dark purple bruises. I got her into the vet on Monday. When her blood work came back on Tuesday, there was no mistaking the signs of leukemia. She had a dose of chemotherapy on Wednesday. Did not improve. Refused to eat unless I fed her out of my hand. The next Tuesday morning, I found open weeping sores on her side. By Wednesday, it was clear that we were near the end. The chemo hadn’t helped. This was acute myeloid leukemia: sudden and untreatable. I scheduled her final vet appointment for late Thursday morning.

Her last evening was filled with love and gentle scritches and all of her favorite foods: bacon, burgers, peanut butter. She lay down next to the apple tree in our backyard while Grant cooked for us, and I sat with her. She was happy - happier than I’d seen her in weeks. And I knew that she’d never have a better day than this. That if I delayed another day, her last hours would be spent in agony.

I won’t tell you about the very end, except to say that it was peaceful and beautiful and horrible, and her family was with her.

My world has a hole in it now, and I’m not sure how to go forward. I feel like I lost a part of myself. For ten years we’ve been a pair - Holly and Damaris. I don’t know how to be a Damaris without a Holly. My world was turned upside-down in the span of less than two weeks. I’m staring down the barrel of endless weeks of lockdown in this house full of memories, and once the lockdown’s lifted, I’ll be returning to the forest she loved without my best buddy.

Nobody ever said this would be easy, but damn. It is so hard.

Rest in peace my faithful friend, my goodest girl, my sweet baby Holly-dog.

I will never stop waiting for you to come home.