Bozeman will likely be the only dog I ever have that I truly believe was sent to me. Sent to change my life, my family’s, and eventually John’s life, too. I know I’ll find love in a dog again, someday. We all have more love to give. But some say that every once in a while, we find love with a specific dog that can only be described as extraordinary. Bozeman was my extraordinary dog.
Small things around the house still set me off. His light-up collar charging on my nightstand. His slow-feeding dog bowl filled with the last meal he wouldn’t eat, which I finally emptied in a pile of tears after two weeks. His fur piling up in corners, still collecting on our socks as we shuffle across the wood floors. For most of January, I had to take sleeping pills for the first time in my life so I didn’t wake up and breakdown at 3 in the morning.
We lost Bozeman very suddenly on January 16th. It was his first time to the emergency vet, and what we thought could have been nothing turned out to be much worse: an aggressive form of cancer called hemangiosarcoma that appears suddenly, is incurable, and calls for a fast and drastic decision. He was good at hiding his pain, enjoying his life and his energy until the very end, bringing us joy until his final moments. We are grateful for the last week that we enjoyed with him–I can live on knowing that I never took him for granted.
When we adopted Misty—our former golden retriever—we had no idea what was in store for her. She was playful, but somehow also had the personality of a cat. We loved her regardless. In her sixth year with us, my dad found her with a young neighborhood newfoundland, in another neighbor’s yard. I use neighborhood loosely here, as we live on 13 acres of forest north of Duluth, and our neighbors are few and far between. I’m sure my dad prayed that nothing would come of their encounter, but after a few weeks, with Misty lounging on her back, I grabbed my mom’s arm in shock. Misty’s stomach was moving.
We rushed her to the vet and confirmed the equally thrilling and frightening news (thrilling for me, just 17, frightening for my parents): Misty was pregnant with five puppies.
Fast forward another month and we were rushing Misty to the vet through the snow, the day before Thanksgiving. I found her in her welping box with a puppy hanging out of her, and after helping her finish delivering it, realized it was stillborn. Misty was older to be having puppies, and we knew there could be complications, for her or the litter. It did not take my mom and I long to load her into the backseat of our car and head into town. Once in the delivery room at the vet, the entire process took about six hours. Six hours for four more puppies.
The first puppy born alive had black fur. He wriggled around as I watched in amazement, never before having seen any animal give birth.
Then next, a gold-furred puppy, with a white blaze on his forehead that matched his mother’s. But his head was all that my mom and I could see before he was stuck at his shoulders on his way out. The nurse had to gently pull him out into the world, and seconds after she did, she put him in my hands so she could tie his umbilical cord.
I stared down at this little gold potato in amazement. His nose was pink, his eyes were closed. His floppy ears on the side of his head were as small as my thumbnail. Something special happened in that moment, something that I know I’ll never find with another dog.
We placed him in a box with his sibling, a towel draped over the edges. Not more than a few minutes had passed before Bozeman lifted his paw and swiped the towel away, no doubt not wanting to miss anything that was happening outside. We always said he was born with a fear-of-missing-out. Two more black-furred puppies were added to the box before long, making Bozeman the only puppy with gold fur in a litter of five.
In the past couple of months I’ve realized that Bozeman was a part of my identity. He was born into my life when I was 17, a year when I was stubbornly not enjoying college visits and couldn’t imagine what my future held. After nearly two years of time with Bozeman and his mom, playing fetch in the yard, exploring the woods, and going for boat rides, I packed up my things and moved to Gustavus. But I always counted the days until I was able to get home to see Bozeman.
While I was away at college, learning and growing in ways I never imagined, and then traveling to Alaska, Colorado, and New Zealand afterwards, Bozeman enjoyed a full and happy life at home in Duluth. He had 13 acres of forest to explore with my dad. He laid on our deck in the sun, chased the tennis ball in our yard every day, and laid on my mom’s feet at night to keep her warm. My dad took him along on all of his workday outings from home, where he rested in the backseat patiently for hours, happier there than he would have been alone at home. By the time he was four, he helped my parents transition from a house full with two children to one without any.
He was always a people dog, happiest when he had as many hands and feet possible rubbing his head, ears, and belly. He would sit next to us and put his paw on your foot, lap, or arm, reciprocating the love we gave him. He looked into your eyes with ease, and his tail always wagged in circles, the most relaxed and happy tail way a dog can have. He was obsessed with eating popcorn, which always made us laugh, because he knew if you had popcorn instead of chips in your bowl on the couch. He only came onto our couch in the winter, when it was cold, and I would often find him snuggled up against the couch arm after I got out of the shower each morning. In the summer, he preferred to sprawl out on the wood floors, or use the edge of the ottoman to help him lay on his back.
Bozeman came to stay with John and I in Madison for the first time in October of 2020. It was originally just going to be a visit. Pandemic and election stress was at an all-time high, we did not yet have vaccinations, and I was working and studying from home during graduate school full-time. It was the perfect time for him to join us. The plan was for us to watch him for two weeks while my parents went farther north for a long weekend away, and afterwards they would come visit Madison to bring him home to Duluth.
Even then, I was aware that Bozeman was getting older, though strangers were always shocked when we shared that he was eight. Tears would fill my eyes as I imagined life without him. I told John, “But even when that day comes, I will get to hold onto these two weeks in my heart forever, and I will be so grateful I had this time with him.”
My parents never came, instead gifting us with the best dog I’d ever had. Covid-19 cancelled our family Thanksgiving. And before I knew it, we’d had my handsome Bozeman with us for over a year. I’d always talked about how someday, I’d go to grad school and take Bozeman with me. My dream had come true.
Bozeman changed our life while he was here, and we took him everywhere with us. My mom says he had the life of a movie star, and I think she was right. We took him camping nearly every month of the year, including his first backpacking trip last October as he was nearing 10, to Rock Island State Park, Wisconsin. We took two separate ferries to get to the island, hiked 2 miles to our campsite, and then hiked 6 miles around the island on our full day there. John took Bozeman for his first paddleboarding adventure on Lake Wingra in Madison, and I was able to go with them both a handful more times before summer was over. It was Bozeman’s undiscovered passion to dive off of paddleboards and chase a tennis ball in the lake.
We walked him around the neighborhood, took him to dog parks, had him at all of our outdoor social events. He worked his way into the hearts of more than a few of our friends in Wisconsin, and I’m grateful so many were able to know how much joy he brought to John’s and my life.
When I took a long trip away from Madison in September, Bozeman stayed with my mom and Dad in Duluth. We had him in Madison for October and most of November, when he went to Duluth for five weeks while John and I traveled to California for the first time in two years to visit his family over Thanksgiving. He stayed in Duluth until Christmas. Bozeman sat by my mom’s side for three weeks while she recovered from surgery, and my dad spoiled him with special quality time at home and riding around in his red Toyota truck. At Christmas we were reunited, and I spent my time with Bozeman in Duluth snowshoeing through our woods and watching him happily bound through the two feet of snow we’d gotten that week. Everyone treated their time with him as special.
His last two weeks with us in Madison were also memorable. I took him on walks around the neighborhood nearly every day, and John snuck in extra walks after work. We threw the ball for him in the yard and took him to a new enormous off-leash dog park on my birthday, where we hiked 2 miles through the woods with our friends and their pup. For the last year, he always laid at the end of the twin bed next to my home office desk while I worked, and these weeks were no different. More than once I left my desk in the afternoon to snuggle up behind him, my arms wrapped around him, falling asleep together for up to an hour. The day before he died, I was sleeping in and invited him up into bed with me, where we snuggled for an hour and a half.
On our final day with Bozeman, though we had no idea it was, we took him to the thrift shop and the plant store down the street, where the workers always spoiled him with treats and pets. He always was more rambunctious after they fed him snacks, and I told John on the way home that next time we would ask them to wait until the end of our visit so he knocked over fewer plants in excitement. A couple of hours later, at John’s insistence (and I am forever grateful to him for it) we dressed in warm clothes, put Bozeman’s fleece-lined booties on him, and walked two blocks to Lake Monona, where people were ice skating on a frozen lake without snow.
It was a special occasion – Bozeman’s first time on the ice with us, and John’s first time skating on a frozen lake. Bozeman barked and ran, his tail wagging wildly, following the snow patches on the lake so he could more easily run. We took loads of photos and videos and I remember my stress from the week simply melted away. I was happy and full of love, both from John and Bozeman. Those are the memories I choose to hold tightly.
We never had to worry about Bozeman running away, even off his leash. He was always too concerned with what we were doing and where. He stuck by our sides constantly. When I worked from home, he would jump off of the bed to follow me every time I stood to go to the bathroom or the kitchen. He was my constant companion, my shadow.
The best part about our dogs is that they love us unconditionally, and any dog owner would know that. He had enough love in his heart for everyone, and I’m especially grateful for the love he gave to John. John didn’t grow up with dogs, and when I first met him, he probably would have said that dogs are nice, yes, but nothing more. In the past year, Bozeman taught John what love from a dog could be and could feel like, and that they were also constant companions. How many times was I snuggling Bozeman on the couch, only to have him swing and snap his neck around to watch John walk throughout the apartment? I never doubted that Bozeman loved John fiercely and intensely, and in Bozeman’s final hours I told him that I truly believed part of his purpose was to teach John how to love dogs, and that he did an amazing job.
Bozeman was the rock in my life, through all of the unimaginable changes I’ve encountered in the last ten years. Right now, it’s hard for me to imagine this new chapter of my life without him. The pain is still too fresh. But my pain is just one measure of how much love that dog brought into all of our lives, and it is matched with so much gratitude for the time I was able to spend with him. It was less time than I planned, but I am grateful for the unconditional and unwavering love he gave me throughout the most dynamic ten years of my life. Play in peace, Bozeman. We will love you forever.
If you have any memories or love to share, please leave it in the comments below. Sharing stories of Bozeman helps us smile and remember him, and keep his love alive.