This is a tribute to Kaitlyn (11/1/1993-11/16/2007), a canine also known as Big Dog, Kaitlyn Dog Bolin, Big Black Dog, Big Fat Dog, Katers, Tater and Katie.
May 28, 1994 – that was the day Katie came into our lives. We had just lost our first dog, Jake, in a terrible accident. Our friends, Dave and Cathy Finnerty, drove us out to North Shore Animal League on Long Island to adopt a new dog. We had no idea how profoundly our lives would be changed.
Once at the shelter, we walked down the aisles of cages. On my left, I saw a beautiful black dog that looked a lot like a Lab, but thinner with a more unique, almost regal face. As I approached her cage, she leaped up and planted her front paws near the top of the cage. I leaned toward her to say “Hi!” and she planted kiss after kiss on my face.
I noticed that she had a small tuft of white hair on her chest. She was beautiful. We chose her, but – in essence, she really chose us. And we are so glad she did.
We brought her home to our small apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey and tried to make her sleep in a crate next to our bed, but she would have none of that. Even though we had only a super-single converted waterbed, Big Dog thought there was more than enough room for her. Eventually, we gave in and let her sleep with us.
Eventually, we moved out of that small apartment and into a house in Hazlet, along the north part of the Jersey shore. Katie adapted well to playing in her large backyard so we decided she needed a playmate. We chose a Weimaraner and named him Samson.
Although Katie generally disliked other dogs, she took to Sam right away. I remember them chasing each other around the backyard, running and jumping as they tackled one another over and over again.
After a year or so in Hazlet, we moved across the country to Parker, Colorado, which is where Katie lived out the majority of her life. She loved to play in the backyard, go camping, and – more than anything else – go for a ride in the car.
The trip from New Jersey to Colorado was also the source of one of our fondest Big Dog memories. My wife Karleen drove our Jeep on that trip with Katie and Samson riding in the back. She had packed some bananas to eat as snacks. Late the first evening, while traversing the mountains of Pennsylvania, Karleen smelled something that was suspiciously like banana.
Karleen flipped on the interior lights in the car and saw (in the rearview mirror) Big Dog with a banana held daintily between her big front paws, half-eaten (peel and all). The look on Katie’s face was a priceless – “Uh oh! I’m busted!” To this day, it cracks us up that she was able to quietly steal a banana and eat over half of it before being caught – and all this while keeping it a secret from Sam, too.
We are certain that there will never be another dog with as much personality as Katie. When our first child, Seth, was born, Katie stayed near him at all times. She slept under his crib when he was napping. If he woke up and started crying, she would immediately find us and start barking. She was obviously a good mother even though she never had pups of her own.
If there’s one thing that Katers couldn’t stand, though, it was sneezing. A loud, explosive sneeze would definitely get the evil eye from Big Dog every time. More often that not, she’d accompany her glare with a yip, if not a full-blown howl. It eventually became a game. I’d look at her ... just stare at her ... and she’d look back at me, just waiting. I’d start with an “aaahhhh ... aaahhhh ... aaahhhhh” as if a big sneeze was coming on, and she would jump up and start barking in retaliation before the sneeze ever came.
Although not as bad as her partner-in-crime Samson, Kaitlyn also enjoyed counter surfing. In particular, she loved potato chips. More than once, one of the children left a bag of chips unguarded and we found it – empty – in another room ... with Kaitlyn nearby, covered in crumbs.
We’ll never forget, though, the time we caught her red-handed. The children left an empty bag of Doritos on our bed. At that time, Katie was wearing a collar to prevent her from licking an injury. The collar did not interfere with her finding the empty Doritos bag though. In fact, it did not even prevent her from sticking her head into the snack package to forage for leftovers. It did, however, make it impossible for her to get the bag OFF her head before Karleen snapped a few pictures.
By the time we moved to Indiana in 2006, Katie’s hips had deteriorated significantly. It probably didn’t help that she gained 5 to 10 pounds during her several-week stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s house during the transition. She slimmed back down once we brought her to our new farm.
Although she definitely enjoyed our new farmland to an extent, it was increasingly difficult for Katie to navigate the stairs to get outside. Eventually, she was unable to get on our bed or the couch without help. But she was a trooper and enriched our lives to the very end.
On the morning of November 15, 2007, Katie woke up in our daughter Maggie’s room. She had spent the night on the floor next to Maggie’s bed. It had turned quite cold that night, and we fear that the cold weather finally shut her hips down completely.
Katie was unable to get up when we called her for breakfast. I helped her to her feet and massaged her hips, and she eventually made it to the front door. I had to carry her down the steps outside. Big Dog spent the entire day resting on the couch, but it was clear her hips were causing a good deal of pain. Simply touching her feet or her hips elicited a painful response. With heavy hearts, we realized what we had to do.
We spent the rest of the evening just enjoying her company. At bedtime, I carried her to our bed, and we snuggled tight with her through the night. As always, she reveled in the attention and refused to let us to stop touching her at any point. As long as she had a hand caressing her head or her belly, she was happy.
The next morning, Karleen fixed Katie an extra-special breakfast of Philly cheese steak with fresh tomatoes. Big Dog would choose a fresh tomato over steak if you gave her the chance. It was so much fun to watch her sit by the sink as Karleen canned tomatoes, just waiting for one to drop to the floor. We took Katie – snuggled in her SpongeBob SquarePants blanket, cradled like a baby in my arms in the front seat of the Subaru – to the vet.
We waited in the car for a bit while they prepared a room for Katie. She watched the hens and roosters in the front yard, perhaps thinking of the time last spring when she chased them. I carried her in and laid her on a cold metal table. We wrapped her blanket around her and just lovingly held her until the end, whispering in her ear until the shots brought an end to her pain. Some day, I hope the image of her on that table will leave my mind.
As I write this later that same day, my heart is heavy with grief. I look over at the couch, and she’s not there. She’s not lying at my feet, requesting a pat on the head in return for passage to the kitchen. My Big Dog is in a better place. I know that. But it sure hurts right now, and I already miss her terribly.
Big Dog, we thank you for all the years you gave us. We will miss you so much. We love you.
From Duane, Karleen, Seth, Maggie and Hannah Bolin
November 16, 2007
P.S. The children wrote their own separate letters to Katie, and I promised them I would include them in this tribute.
You are such a good dog. I will always remember you. Like when you got the potato chip bag on your head. It was pretty funny!
I also want to say sorry for any time you didn’t feel loved. I love you so so much that it’s infinite to know how much I love you!
I always loved it when you dropped us off at school. I will always remember how you put your head out the window. The way your ears flapped and your tongue hanging out.
Whenever we sneezed you didn’t like it, and now that you’re gone, every time I sneeze I will say “Sorry, Katie.” I always loved how you would sing when we sang.
I’m so thankful for how when I was sad you would cheer me up.
I loved how when we came home, you were right there waiting for us. You were so warm when we were cold, you would warm us up. I will always always remember a great dog!
With lots of love,
You were such a good dog. I’ll always remember you. I liked how when Dad said “sing,” you’d start to sing. I always will remember when I eat chips because you used to get your head stuck in the bag.
Lots of love from,