Layla was Julie’s dog, first and foremost, so any story about Layla is also a story about Julie.
I married into this family of two. They adopted me. It took Layla a long while to get comfortable with the idea of this particular addition.
The turning point was when I moved to North Carolina and my schedule shifted so that for several months while Julie was off teaching, I spent much of the day alone with Layla before heading out to an afternoon and evening shift. Those daily hours together were when we really got to know each other. I threw her the ball in the backyard — her favorite activity in the world, as it is with many labs — and she retrieved it. We went on walks and runs. We explored our new neighborhood together. I gave her treats — apples and carrots, mostly, because of her allergies.
Julie always joked that our “pack” had a set order: Julie 1, Layla 2, and yours truly 3. OK, it wasn’t really a joke. It was the way it was. Layla would remind me by, for example, jumping on the bed and blocking my way onto it, or cutting me off on the way to the bathroom in order to request a treat. It wasn’t mean-spirited. Just letting me know where she thought I stood in the pack membership.
It’s the relationship between Julie and Layla, though, that was so special. Julie adopted Layla from an early age and together, they battled Layla’s many health problems — severe allergies, digestion-related issues, a first small cancer scare, and finally, an ultimately fatal sarcoma, a disease that robbed Layla of oxygen in her red blood cells, reduced her strength and appetite, and over the course of about half a year, finally sapped her of her energy and her ability to walk steadily.
Her death in early May 2014 — what can I say about it? She was only a bit more than five years old. She was a wonderful, intelligent companion with her own complicated personality — unlike many labs, she wasn’t big on petting and hugs and that sort of affection. She was outgoing and affectionate to some strangers and visitors, standoffish to others. She was great with kids. She bonded with many other dogs. She was fearless when it came to travel. She bounced back from multiple surgeries and blood transfusions. She wasn’t scared of trips to the veterinarian. Many humans could learn a lot from her courage. I know I did.
It may be hard for some who haven’t had this sort of relationship with a dog to understand, but she was a true and full member of our family. Not a pet to be cooed over and babied.
The toughest part (and there are many tough parts) of mourning Layla, for me, has been her absence in so many of our daily routines. Meal times and taking her outside and returning home to let her out. We planned trips and vacations around her. She was always there, and if she wasn’t there, she was often on our minds.
Last year, on a memorable vacation, we visited a beach in North Carolina with Layla. It was the happiest she had ever seen Layla, Julie said. We played with her on the beach each morning, took her on walks and to the little shops in town. She loved the ocean. That’s where we plan to spread her ashes.
Layla’s legacy will live on. Julie is writing a book about her life. Following the example of a local couple here, we hope to start a foundation that provides funding for cancer treatments for dogs on behalf of families who can’t afford to pay for them.
When I focus on Layla’s brief life, I can’t help but struggle with the unfairness that she only lived for five years and a handful of weeks. Cancer usually strikes dogs late in their lives. Layla packed plenty of living into those years. I am comforted by that, and by the wonderful people who have offered their support, in particular the veterinarians and staff at Metropolitan Veterinary Associates.
Layla will live on. It’s just a shame that it won’t be in our little pack of three any longer.