Today we said goodbye. Goodbye to a best friend, constant companion and the greatest pal I’ll ever know. To the most constant thing I’ve ever had in my life. My girl, Ryder.
When I was 18, dumb and impulsive, I moved to Fernie, BC. I didn’t have much of a reason, but I wanted to get away and make a life for myself away from home. I wanted to be able to make decisions without anyone there to “save” me. I wanted to start over. We got in a car, all our clothing pulled over the front seats of my grandmother’s Toyota Tercel and we left Ottawa behind. I was fresh out of high school and imagined a life in BC, me in the mountains with all my cool, outdoorsy mountain friends in a little mountain house. Imagined being the key word.
Three and a half months in, I saw an ad in the free paper for chocolate lab puppies and I decided I needed one. Again, 18, dumb and impulsive. I didn’t research the owner, the breed, the cost of food or vet care…. once again, we took off in the car to Jaffrey, BC to pick one up. We arrived to a farm house late in the afternoon. It smelled like fresh, cool air and burning wood. There sat 3 four month old chocolate labs. One covered in shit, a definite no, one covered in her own drool, and her. Sitting at the back of the run, alone and stoic. She was clean and calm. The breeder told us that she was her favourite and that she slept inside with them at night. We wanted her and I wasn’t leaving without her. I should have gathered from her lack of dirt/drool/signs of playfulness that she was shy. So shy that we needed to carry her from room to room, and in and outside to pee. She was terrified of us. Terrified of anyone, really. I took her for long walks along the creek at the base of the mountain near our house. Played fetched on the ice, her legs slipping out from under her like a newborn fawn.
Four months into my time in BC, I found heartbreak. It was time to go home, back into the arms of everyone I loved and missed so dearly in Ottawa. I felt like I was giving up, but I had no choice. I wasn’t strong enough on my own and I missed the support system. It was time. Once again I loaded my life up, now complete with 4 month old puppy, and headed across the country, back home to my family.
Ryder was difficult from the beginning. Always sick, or broken, or limping, or barfing… it was always something. From a $4000 vet trip due to pancreatitis to every stomach bug from tearing through the garbage, broken tooth, allergic reaction (to grass!), heart conditions, liver concerns and eventually, kidney disease. She kept us on our toes. We joked that every time we had enough money saved up for a vacation or to finally do something nice together, she would get wind of it and find a way to hurt herself enough that we would have to tap into or more likely, use up, that money. It happened at least 4 times in the last few years. We just told ourselves it was because she didn’t want to be without us, didn’t want us to have fun without her. She was, after all, our life. Our joy, our reason to get out of the house and enjoy the fresh air during hard times.
I’ve moved around a lot. Two times I’ve moved across the country with her in tow. And in Ottawa, we’ve lived in about 9 different apartments together. No matter where I went, she was home. It didn’t matter where it was, if she was there I felt at ease. And as someone who suffers from anxiety, having that constant to remind me that everything was normal and OK couldn’t have been more valuable in my life. She was my home and I was hers. Every heartbreak, every joy, every failure and success, she was there. Every tear I cried, she was there to listen quietly and provide the silent support I so badly needed. She was, in every sense of the word, my best friend. From dumb and 18 to 29 and having a baby. The years that shaped me the most, she was there.
She loved Allan. When we started dating, she was a shy and terrified dog. Much like I was a shy and terrified person, we were one in the same. Introverted and reluctant about strangers and the unknown. I told him that she was the way she was and that was that. As usual, he didn’t take that for truth. His confidence and kindness changed her. Made her a more confident dog who could walk down the street without hiding behind my legs. She loved him. Oh my god she loved him. I’d never seen her get so animated or excited to see anyone, even me, like she did Allan. They had the type of relationship I hope he and our daughter will have. The most uncontrollable, undeniable love. If he was sleeping, she was sleeping beside him. If he was watching hockey, she was watching hockey. if he was sick, she stayed by his side the whole time. No matter what or where, she just wanted to be beside him. And he her.
It feels impossible to imagine a life without her. To come in our front door without her wagging tail or stupid face staring back at me, wondering where I’d been all day and why I’d left her home and when we could go to the park and play fetch. She had more personality than most people I’d met, and a lot of the time I’d prefer her company to human companions. She was everything I couldn’t find in people, the type of friend who just understood with a look and didn’t ask me for anything in return. Just a kiss between the eyes and a pat on her wrinkly, bare tummy
She loved potatoes. We used to come home to find her in her bed with a few raw potatoes in there with her. She’d help herself from the potato bin and spend her afternoon gnawing through them. She also had a penchant for kale stems. Never the leaves, just the stems. She would sit, tail whipping furiously, and wait while I pulled the leaves from the stems. I’d hand it to her like a stick and she’d take it in her mouth, head tossed back maniacally, and crunch as audibly as possible on them. It made me laugh every single time. And yogurt. Oh, the many times she had to eat yogurt to help her ailing gut. This colcannon is for her. I made it on Saturday as a last meal of sorts but she was having too tough a time getting it down. She did manage, however, to eat half of my filet mignon (which I should mention was for a magazine shoot…we certainly don’t eat that often). It was always her way, never wanted what she had and I always ended up giving her everything I had. And I would have done it for a lifetime more.
Brown Butter Labneh Colcannon
Labneh is a strained yogurt “cheese” made by straining the whey out of plain yogurt over a day or two. It’s tangy, creamy and perfect on sandwiches or bagels, with fresh tomatoes and pita bread, or rolled into tiny cheeseballs and marinated in oil and herbs, like this. It gives these potatoes a tang that might remind you of buttermilk mashed potatoes, but it’s slightly more intense.
4-5 large golden potatoes
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk or light cream
Cut potatoes into 1-2″ chunks and place in a pot of cold water with a generous tbsp of sea salt. Bring the pot to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes. While the potatoes cook, melt butter in a skillet over low-med heat. Swirling the pan every minute or two, cook butter until golden brown flecks start to appear, about 6-8 minutes. Poor into a glass cup or bowl until potatoes are ready.
*To make labneh: