I buried my hiking partner a few days ago.
She was tireless, faithful to the trail (well, most of the time), loyal and always ready to head out for another wilderness adventure.
I refer, of course, to my yellow Labrador retriever, Mali, who is also the only dog that ever applied for a Stanislaus County Library card.
After five patient years of waiting, she was indeed granted her own card in April. The Stanislaus Library presented me with their annual "Shining Star Award" and in my brief acceptance remarks I commented that my dog had never been issued a library card that she and I had requested some five years ago.
Mali and I had carefully applied for a card in her own name, filled out all of the appropriate forms, affixed her paw print firmly to the application and then waited, waited, waited for the system to work. Numerous inquiries to library staff and the head librarian, Vanessa Czopek herself, were always met with the same answer: "Application is pending."
At the award ceremony I once again mentioned this lack of response on the part of staff, and with great smiles her card was presented, complete with her photo on the front.
OK, in the interest of total disclosure it does read "Honorary Library Card Holder," but hey, who is quibbling?
Let the record show that, for a few short weeks, my dog was likely the only bona fide canine library patron in Stanislaus County, and more likely in the entire country.
Back to the trails. Mali loved all hikes, but her favorites were the ones that encountered water along the route. Streams, lakes, puddles, you name it, she loved to dive in. Of course, back at the trail head, this always presented issues with muddy feet, damp dog aroma, etc. but to see the pure joy in her eyes at the sight of water made it all worthwhile.
And there was always the occasional side trip to pursue a squirrel or small critter. Labs love to chase, but seldom catch. The few occasions where she did indeed capture a squirrel generally produced major damage to both parties. Or, as the vet told me after one of those encounters with a squirrel, "Nothing bleeds like a Lab's nose."
Teresa has a very stylish salon in our home and since Mali's passing there have been many tears shed as clients learn that the faithful greeter is no longer there in the parking space to welcome their visit.
Labs are not much for guard dog duty, but they sure make good pals. I miss Minea a lot. The first hike up a Sierra trail without her will probably not be as happy as it might otherwise be.
Somehow the puppy stage mishaps of chewed-up shoes and sandals, major digs in the rose garden and memorable carpet stains are all forgiven as a dog ages and mellows. Even the occasional foray into a neighbor's horse pasture to find amazingly disgusting things to roll upon are forgotten.
She rests in a quiet spot, under a giant oak, on top of my hill looking east to the Yosemite mountains and the "range of light." And while she never got to use her library card, it is framed and in a prominent spot, where all can see what a special dog she was.
Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. Send comments or questions to him at email@example.com.