"Can the dog go out?" It was a recurring inquiry from guests leaving the Rookery, a big black lab waiting patiently at their heels. "Sure!" I or another member of my staff would quip. "She'll walk you out to your car."
It was a response guaranteed to elicit a smile. Except that it wasn't a joke. That's exactly what Callie would proceed to do. Just as she would greet many arriving guests at their car, sometimes so avidly she'd practically crawl right in their open door. Or when they entered the restaurant, rising off the floor or from her bed. A bed numerous guests told me was much too small for a dog of her size. Only I just couldn't seem to replace it. Perhaps because of what was written on it. "You had me at Ruff." And that she most certainly did!
Our life together began when I brought Callie "home" on a day near the end of June eight years ago. Home being the building slated to open as Cable Nature Lodge in just a matter of days. I was camping out at the time in whatever space I could find that wasn't cluttered with renovation debris. Callie, in her kennel crate, camped right there beside me. Except, to be honest, on our very first night together. My poor little girl was so homesick for her mother and litter mates that she just cried and cried. Finally I could stand it no longer. I got out of bed and dragged her kennel to another room at the far end of the lodge, closing the door behind me as I left her in solitary confinement for the remainder of the night. I still feel a tinge of guilt in recounting that episode.
The reality is that Callie and I pretty much began this business together. One of my earliest photographs of her shows a tiny black figure playing with the tools I was using to lay laminate flooring in one of our future guest rooms. The hammer was as long as she was. When the first overnight guests arrived at Cable Nature Lodge Callie no doubt was the first to greet them.
Three years later a much bigger Callie hung by me late into the night as I was laying bamboo flooring in what is now the Rookery dining room. As usual she wanted to be so close that she often got in the way. But I mostly didn't mind. And when the restaurant opened on May 22, 2008 the very first dinner guests were once again welcomed by the Rookery's self-appointed official greeter.
Callie was my dog to be sure. And I was her person. We were a team. Constant companions. Inseparable buddies. Anyone who ever saw us together had no doubt.
Yet as much as Callie was family to me, she was a significant member of the Rookery and Cable Nature Lodge family as well. A social butterfly, friendly to just about everyone among the literally thousands of people whom she met along her journey. I've always said she was the favorite member of our crew. When I'm not at the restaurant people occasionally will inquire, "Where's Bill?" But far more often they would ask, "Where's the dog?"
Despite being in the hospitality business, the truth is that I'm a rather private person. So publicly sharing my grief in this way over losing Callie isn't easy for me. But knowing that so many of our Rookery guests loved her too I wanted you to know why she won't be here to eagerly greet you next time you come for dinner.
A little over a year ago Callie came up limping after slipping on ice chasing a squirrel, one of her favorite pastimes! We gave it some time to see whether it would heal on it's own, but by early winter her limp had only worsened and it was clear that surgery would be necessary to repair a torn ACL in her right rear knee. At that time it seemed prudent to schedule surgery for early March, with the expectation that most snow and ice would soon be gone, and with the knowledge that swimming is one of the best forms of physical therapy following ACL surgery.
All went well with the surgery and Callie seemed to be progressing nicely. And then our horrendous spring weather hit. Obviously she couldn't swim in our lake, with one of the latest ice outs in recent history. And whether it was trudging through snowbanks trying to go potty, or slipping again on ice, I can't be sure. In any case, at some point in late April Callie's other back knee gave out. Apparently it's not uncommon among large dogs that need ACL surgery on one knee to eventually require it on the other as well. But when both go at the same time the consequences can be disastrous.
For awhile I held out hope we could still get her healed up, if only the darn lake ice would ever go out. But the strain her nearly 80 pound body put on two bad knees proved to be too much. By the end of last week Callie could no longer walk on her own. Even so, she still gamely tried to perform her job as official greeter, pulling herself toward arriving guests by her front legs while dragging her rear legs and butt along the ground. It was heartbreaking to watch.
I purchased a sling to help her walk when necessary. But she either was too proud or too shy to go potty with me standing by helping to hold up her rear legs. Or maybe it simply was too uncomfortable. In any case, for the first time since early puppyhood she began messing her bed and the floor on a regular basis. And not only did her physical condition deteriorate rapidly, but I could sense her spirit fading as well.
In the end I was faced with the decision no dog lover ever wants to confront. And it was made all the more painful with the knowledge that Callie was only eight years old, and that she had been happy and mostly healthy all her life until a few short weeks ago.
Callie grew up with Cable Nature Lodge and the Rookery. And there was never a doubt in my mind where she should be laid to rest. There is a solitary white pine standing tall on a hill behind the lodge. From under that tree is a beautiful view overlooking wetlands to the west, and northward toward the heron rookery from which the lodge and restaurant derives its name and logo. It's a place where I've thought to myself I would like to be buried someday if such a thing were possible.
I dug a deep grave, between bouts of sobbing, under the pine and next to a natural rock headstone. And then on Monday afternoon I took Callie up on the hill. We laid there together, and I gave her lots of treats and plenty of loving, while we waited for Doc Swanson to join us. Doc was very caring, and very respectful of the extraordinary bond between a boy and his dog, for which I shall be forever grateful.
When he left us I laid with Callie awhile longer. Then ever so reluctantly I wrapped her in a sheet and lowered her down into the earth, atop the larger dog bed she slept on at home. I leaned down inside to position her in the way she often liked to sleep, all curled up, her favorite hedgehog toy nestled between her front and rear legs. Lastly I placed one of the rawhide chewies she loved so much just next to her mouth. Then I told her one more time how much I loved her. And in the waning afternoon sunshine I slowly filled in the hole.
While Callie's life was far too short, it makes me happy to know it was a darn good life for a dog. She got to do many things that most dogs don't. And sure, I probably spoiled her a bit, much like one might spoil an only child. Which, after all, she was to me. I'm also thankful for all the happiness she brought to, and derived from, our guests at Cable Nature Lodge and the Rookery. May her joyous spirit live on here for many years to come.
Should you wish to visit Callie you may do so by taking the walking trail between our outdoor stage and upper parking area. Turn left at the second fork and follow the path to the white pine at the top of the hill. At my dad's suggestion, that route will henceforth be known as Callie's Trail. Rest in peace my little girl.