Dog hair is the bane of my existence at our house. To place the blame where it belongs, the hair of our 130-pound yellow lab Cowboy is at the root of our problem. This dog sheds year-round, by the bushel bag. His golden hairs move like woven clouds through our house. If you walk by one too fast, it takes flight. If you slam a door, a hair pile poofs into the air. We’ve burned out three Roombas trying to deal with it. Sweeping just moves it around. Vacuum cleaners shoot the hair across the room. Just about the only thing that works is a wet paper towel. That’s a fun exercise three times a day in 4000-square feet.

Cowboy and his hair like to be in the thick of things. His favorite position is stretched across the french door opening from our dining room to our kitchen, so that everyone has to step over him thirty-six times a day.

“Hi Cowboy.” His tail thumps the ground, sending hair floating in all directions.

“Good boy.” He rolls onto his back and bicycles his legs in the air like an overgrown puppy.

“Don’t get up on my account, fur bag.” He puts his paw over one of your feet when you stop to pet him with the other.

He’s always hungry and prone to chunkiness. He’s never been able to jump more than an inch off the ground and has to be lifted into any vehicle he travels in. He used to love a good run–ten miles or so–but now he watches sadly from the dining room window while Petey the one-eyed Boston terrier (the other eye removed by his good buddy Cowboy, accidentally) takes off on the leash instead. Cowboy does good to make it around the block at a walk. Every now and then he surprises us at Nowheresville by bounding around like a puppy, but mostly he’s happy to dig down to the coolest spot he can find under the Quacker, where his tail thumps the ground and knocks against the floor of the trailer above him. He loves to be outside, although even more he loves to go in and out, in and out, in and out.

He’s a big presence, a “you can’t miss him” type of dog. And he was the first family pet my kids had. He became Susanne’s big baby, since Clark Kent wasn’t much into dogs. She has about a million pets (two ducks, two cows and one soon-to-be on the way, two others dogs), but Cowboy had her heart first.

These last few years he started having seizures. The vet didn’t think they were life threatening, and they weren’t frequent enough to medicate. We did keep him outside more in pretty weather because of them. 130-pounds of dog evacuating his bowels and bladder in an absolutely unpredictable fashion once or twice a week got old quickly. He didn’t seem to mind, though. And his longtime companion Layla stayed with him at all times.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday we had incredible storms. Layla wanted in, Cowboy wanted to stay out in “his” shed. We let him. About 6:30 a.m., Layla went to Clark Kent’s room and tried to get him up. At 6:45 a.m., we heard a wail outside our door. It was Susanne. She was first up, and she found her giant puppy dead in three inches of water in our pond.

It was awful.

It appeared Cowboy had seized and fallen into the water, where he couldn’t lift his head. He drowned.

Of all the ways we could picture him going, this never occurred to us. He is a giant 11-year old dog, so we hadn’t expected him to be with us much longer. We just hadn’t seen this end to his story.

Eric and Clark Kent retrieved him while I held my crying daughter. Clark had work, Susanne had finals, and so Eric and I loaded Cowboy into our truck for one last trip to Nowheresville. Wildflowers had exploded all over our property, especially golden black-eyed Susans. We laid him to rest facing our pond, but back under a shade tree. I know he would have liked it there.

While we were gone, our housecleaners worked their magic. We walked into a hair-free house. And it hit me. We don’t have a hair problem anymore. I’ll never curse the yellow piles growing and spreading between morning and night. I won’t trip over a giant breathing fur rug when I go to the kitchen in the dark. There’ll be no yellow-maned Chewbacca greeting me in his special language each morning. I won’t see Susanne laid out on top of him, her blonde hair the color of his unfortunately mobile coat.

It’s a big hairless hole he left behind.

RIP Cowboy, 2003-2014.

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