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COLUMN: Reporter's family forever changed by death of 'fur baby'

'When his 'little sisters came along,' he stepped up and did what all big brothers do: he protected them,' reporter says of beloved Reese
BarrieToday reporter Nikki Cole with her dog, Reese, in an undated photo.

It’s been a month since we unexpectedly had to say goodbye to our four-legged fur baby and I still don’t think I have fully accepted it.

And, to be honest, I am not sure I ever will.

My husband and I brought home Reese, our 11-year-old chocolate lab, about six months after we were married and he’s been a really important part of our family ever since.

Sure, he was a garbage-eating, counter-surfing, food-stealing brat, but he was our garbage-eating, counter-surfing, food-stealing brat and he was a member of our family just as much as the rest of us.

Reporter Nikki Cole with Reese on the day she brought him home in December 2012.

I am pretty sure he knew before we did when we were expecting our first child, as he would all of a sudden come and lay with me on the couch and lay his head and his paw on my belly.

And when his “little sisters came along,” he stepped up and did what all big brothers do: he protected them.

It took us a while to figure out why he would never just “let them be” when they’d be playing in the water at the cottage. He always stayed on the deeper side of them and never more than a foot away as they’d play and splash.

We finally realized he was simply doing his duty as their big fur brother and making sure the kids were safe.

He never lost his cool with them, whether they were covering his head with Bubble Guppy stickers, using him as a pillow or trying to ride him like a pony. He just sat there and let them do it.

Reese just loved being loved by them.

He was the same way with other dogs. As a lab, he was often one of the bigger dogs among his pals — whether it was playing at Ruff Haus or with our friend’s dogs — but he always seemed to know what the other pup needed him to be in order to play. Whether it was the leader or the follower, Reese would do what needed to be done simply to be able to play.

Working from home these last few years, I had gotten very used to having him by my side while I worked. He’d sit at my feet while I typed, following me to the kitchen when I would make lunch in the hopes I’d drop something for him to clean up. (For some reason, he never did go for the veggies the kids would “drop” during dinner!)

I swear I still hear him shifting behind the couch, where he loved to stretch out and nap every day, as it was the perfect spot to keep an eye on me while I worked and ensure no one entered the kitchen without him knowing.

His death, despite his age, was a shock and still feels like an absolute punch in the gut to me. 

Reese never showed any signs of being unwell until a few days before his death, which, to be entirely honest, we just assumed was related to the fact that he liked to chow down on garbage and some other not so ideal “delicacies.” 

When I came home after a night away and realized he hadn’t eaten, I immediately knew something was wrong. Anyone who knows a lab — or more specifically knew Reese — would know that he never missed a meal.

In fact, you could set your clock by his belly. At 5 p.m. every evening, he’d come and sit right in front of you and just stare. If you ignored him, he’d start to whine, then drool a bit … and eventually a small bark to remind you what time it was.

At night, I am still reminding my husband to let Reese out one last time, and I am still finding myself thinking about needing to get home so that he’s not having to spend too much time in his crate.

I will also forever miss the adorable happy whimper he would make every time he realized we were nearing the cottage, the off-leash park and the doggy daycare he went to from the first week he came home.

I am also struggling with a lot of guilt. Did I yell at him too much for barking? Did I show him enough love and affection? I have no idea how long those feelings will last. 

And I know there are those out there who will say "it’s just a dog," but to us Reese was as much a part of our family as the rest of us.

Our home will be forever changed now that he’s not a part of it, but at least we know he is up in doggy heaven living his best life, rolling in mud, doing his moonwalk in the lake — and eating all the garbage he can eat, which I assume tastes like steak.

RIP my little peanut butter cup. We love you and we will miss you.

Nikki Cole is a reporter with BarrieToday. 

Reese had no issues letting his girls cover him in stickers or silly hats, as long as it meant he got to be with them.
Reese is having fun rolling in muddy puddles and digging for sticks in the lake up in doggy heaven.