2018  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Starr's Mill and Lake, Peachtree City, GA

 

   
 
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   TRIBUTE TO AN ULTRA LAB:
MERGANSER'S KODIAK, AKA "
CODY-BEAR" 
3-24-03 to 11-19-18

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26

 
"When you adopt a dog, you have a lot of very good days and one very bad day."  
~ W. Bruce Cameron, author of "A Dog's Purpose" and other books
 
 

After almost sixteen years of very good days with Cody, our lovable, athletic male black Lab, our one very bad day with him seemed to come somewhat suddenly last Monday, although we knew it was inevitable from the beginning and likely any day for more than a year.

This is the fourth "Tribute to An Ultra Lab" I've written about now-gone Labrador retrievers we adopted as puppies who grew up to run and hike ultramarathon distances with us when they were in their prime athletic years -- Callie, Bubba, Tater, and now Cody. <sigh>


Tater (L) and Bubba in 2001; Tater was 5, Bubba almost 12.

The average lifespan of a Lab is ten to twelve years. Callie, Bubba, and Tater all died from cancer-related causes before or close to age twelve.

Cody was in his sixteenth year (15 years, 8 months) when he died last week, which is ancient in either Lab years or the equivalent human years. Jim and I were very lucky to have him in our lives for so long. Although he did have a superficial malignant tumor on his belly when he was twelve, as far as we know it wasn't cancer that killed him.

I attribute a lot of his longevity to good genes; Cody was our first Lab to come from championship lines, bred by a knowledgeable, conscientious breeder.


Six-week-old Cody rode with us from his breeder's home in Oregon to our home
in Montana in a laundry basket because we didn't have his crate yet!  (May, 2003)


Photo of Cody a couple months before he died; he still had shiny black hair and a sweet face.

This entry is a tribute to Cody's life and doggie legacy. He made a lot of friends through the years and I want to share with them some of his story and lots of his pictures, from puppy-hood to senior citizen.

Warning: This entry is long. It was hard choosing from so many pictures of Cody.

BEST_TRAIL_ DOG_ EVER!

But then, I'm a little opinionated.

If you've read any of these journal entries in the years since we began this website in 2005 to document our Appalachian Trail Adventure Run & Hike, you've probably read about or seen pictures of Cody. I've shared dozens of them on these pages.


Cody, just turned 2, training with me at Dragon's Tooth on the A.T. in VA before our trek

Cody turned two years old a couple months before we began that 2,200-mile trek.

We timed his adoption so he would be young and strong enough to run and hike as much of the A.T. with us as possible. When he wasn't running a particular segment with me on the A.T., he was usually running up the Trail with Jim to meet me several miles from the end of that day's section so we could all run some miles together.


Springer Mtn., GA at beginning of Day 1 on the Appalachian Trail;
L-R: Jim, Cody (age 2), Sue, Tater (age 9)   (April 30, 2005)


Some days on the A.T., Cody and I needed cold water
to soothe our tired muscles at the end of a long section!


Cody was happy to see me the day I took the canoe
across the Kennebec River in Maine.  (A.T. Day 137, Sept. 13, 2005)

Cody also did quite a bit of the Colorado Trail with me the next two summers, when I ran all 28 segments of that beautiful 500-mile in random order:


Cody would often stop when he heard my camera click. This is Seg. 26 on the CT.
(Age 3, June 30, 2006)

Cody repeated some of my favorite Colorado Trail sections with Jim and me in 2009 and 2010 when he was a little older:


Cody and Sue on CT Seg. 24  (Age 7, July 5, 2010)

Cody was always full of energy and relished his daily run.

Over the years he ran and hiked many, many miles with us. During Cody's lifetime I ran more miles with him than I did with Jim, mostly because Jim was faster than me. Cody went my pace. As long as he had adequate water and calories, he could go all day and sometimes got up to 30 or 31 miles. That's ultramarathon distance.

As Cody got older he ran and hiked less, of course, but even two years ago he was still able to hike for three or four hours at a time, including a lot of high-altitude mountain trail miles that year in the Leadville, CO area.


Cody and Casey enjoy some snow in July (2016) above 11,000 feet elevation at Windsor Lake
near Leadville, Colorado. It's a very steep trail getting up there, and Cody did fine.

Unfortunately, Cody developed a nerve problem in his hind legs last year, soon after turning 14. It affected his coordination and reduced his ability to handle steps or to walk more than a mile at a time.

Our vet warned us then that also losing the loss of his front legs due to the nerve condition would probably be what caused Cody's demise since he wouldn't be able to walk or control his body functions.

Around the same time he also developed canine cognitive dysfunction, the equivalent of doggie dementia. We don't know if that was related to the nerve problem. I've mentioned both problems previously in the 2017 and 2018 journals.


Cody on a hike at Line Creek Nature Area in Peachtree City, GA
(Age 15,  Aug. 22, 2018)

Every day since then we've watched Cody carefully and given him extra love and attention so he'd be as comfortable as possible. Previously he always adapted easily to the places we lived and traveled. After the diagnosis of both problems, we stopped traveling and kept his daily routine simple and consistent to give him more of a sense of security.

Sometimes he slept so soundly during the day or evening that it was hard to wake him up. We never knew if we'd get up one morning to discover that he'd died during the night. That was very stressful.

One thing was clear to us -- we would not prolong his life if it appeared he was suffering and/or had no "quality of life." Ten years ago we probably kept Tater, a female Lab, alive about a week too long, we realized in retrospect. We vowed never to do that to any dog again.


There were some times we wished Cody could talk so he could tell
us how he was feeling. He never complained. (Age 15, Aug. 30, 2018)

One week ago we had to say goodbye to Cody when he lost the use of his front legs, too. Even though his heart, lungs, and blood work has been excellent in his 15th and 16th year, he suddenly -- within just a few hours -- could no longer stand up or walk. His brain function was also deteriorating at a rate noticeable to us the last week of his life.

Based on his final exam and all the symptoms we described, the vet said he probably had a stroke the morning he died. As difficult as it was to have Cody euthanized, we know we made the right decision at the right time for him. He was in too much distress to prolong his life any longer.

RIP, Cody.


Clay paw print of Cody on his last day

Now let's focus on more photos and some anecdotes of the good times we had with Cody.

A LIFE WELL LIVED

"A life well lived" means different things to different people. Many folks ponder what it means in their own life, especially as they get older, but how many think about whether their dog or other pet is living a good life?

Jim and I know for certain that our Labs are loved and contented with their lives. People often comment on how "happy" they look when they're out for a walk or run:


If that's not happy, I don't know what is!  Jim and Cody on CT Seg. 24 (7-16-07)

Happy Labs! Ours have a real zest for life. They'll go anywhere with us and do anything we ask of them, just because they want to be with us. They give us so much devotion and loyalty that we want to make sure they are protected and well-cared for.

Cody went over and above in the "trust" and "follow Momma anywhere" categories.

He was with me on the Appalachian Trail in Maine the very intense day we had to swim across four flooded streams after it had rained a bunch. Each time he stayed on one side of the raging creeks while I gingerly waded or swam across, then called him. He didn't hesitate any of the times. Fortunately, at 2 he was strong enough to get across safely each time.


I never would have crossed Little (not that day!) Wilson Stream if I hadn't seen that thin rope.
I was swept off my feet by the strong current and had to use it to get across.  (9-17-05)

I was scared of each crossing but I was so concerned about Cody's safety that it helped me focus on getting us both across and living to tell about it.

I remember another scary day when Cody was three and we were on the Colorado Trail at one of the highest points along that whole trail and a thunderstorm with both lightning and sleet struck.

I do my best when running above treeline to watch weather forecasts before getting up there, and watching the sky closely during the run or hike. But sometimes I've gotten caught in mountain storms anyway:


Nowhere to hide with Cody that day on Segments 22-23 of the Colorado Trail  (7-18-06)

We were above treeline that day with nowhere to hide. I sat on the mountainside huddled with Cody until the storm passed, trying my best to protect him from the elements. I'm as protective of my dogs as parents are of their children.

I chose not to have children because I knew from an early age that I wouldn't make the best parent. I always knew I wanted dogs in my life, however, and I think I've been a good parent to the "fur kids" I've raised and loved in the last five decades.

One reason I know that is because Jim used to joke that after his death, he wants to come back as one of my dogs, presumably because I've given them so much love and attention!


That's my baby boy!  Cody was about 12 weeks old in this picture (6-17-03) taken
at our house in Montana. Our HitchHiker 5th-wheel camper is in the background.

By now, Jim has become quite the "dog person" himself, especially since we got Casey six years ago. He is very attached to her and Holly-pup because he's retired and has been involved with them so much since the day each of them came to live with us. They're like our own uncertified therapy dogs. Early bonding makes a big difference.

Jim can even joke about talking baby-talk to "the girls," knowing he wouldn't have done that even a few years pre-Casey, let alone before I came into his life with two Labrador retrievers nineteen years ago!


What a sweet puppy face and a proud puppy parent!
Jim holds Cody, age 8 weeks.    (5-16-03)

Jim loved Cody, too, and has probably cried as much as I have about losing him this past week. He was still working when Cody was a young puppy and didn't initially bond with him as strongly as I did because he wasn't with him 24/7 for the first eight or nine months in our home.

After he retired, a couple months before Cody was a year old, Jim had more time to spend with the pup and he learned what a great companion and running buddy we had. I've got several hundred photos of Jim running or hiking with Cody since 2003.


Jim and Cody run at McDowell Mtn. Regional Park near Phoenix, AZ
on a warm winter's day in January almost eleven years ago. (Age 5, Jan. 8, 2008).


Jim and Cody relax on the trail to Grant Swamp Pass near Silverton, CO.
(Age 4, June 9, 2007)

I had a stronger bond with Cody than any previous dog I've ever had, partly because he lived at least four years longer than any of them.

The main reason, though, was my being retired his whole life. I simply had more time to spend with Cody than the dogs that preceded him. We were together nearly every day for almost sixteen years,  more time than most parents spend with their human children -- I didn't go off to work all day and Cody didn't go off to school.

RUNNING BEAR

Like our other Labs, Cody adapted very well to living in three different states and to extensive traveling in an RV all over North America.


Let's go camping!!  Cody (about 4 mos. old) and Tater
in the doorway of our old HitchHiker 5th-wheel trailer  (2003)

He's been in more states and provinces across North America than most people have in their much longer lifetimes. (I said that about Tater ten years ago, too, but Cody's been to even more places than she got to go.)

He spent many hours running and hiking on trails with us. He "helped crew" at numerous ultra-distance foot races over the years, as well as the Colorado Trail and our Appalachian Trail Adventure Run, when he wasn't on those trails running with me.

Above and below: Cody was only 16 mos. old when he climbed to the top 
of Mt. Elbert (14,333' elev.) with us the first time.  Before long, he was
rolling around in a snow cornice, pack and all! Too funny.   (8-9-04)

One of my terms of endearment for Cody was to call him "Cody-Bear" in a sing-song voice. He'd grin and wag his tail when I did that.

One of Cody's favorite games before the nerve dysfunction slowed him down was to find sticks and carry them around. He didn't lie down and chew on them like Casey and Holly do. Instead, he'd pounce on a stick he found, toss it in the air and catch it, and/or carry it for several minutes as we were running or hiking.

I had another sing-song response when he'd do that: "Cody's got a stick!" And he'd wag his tail to that, too. He also loved to retrieve sticks we threw into lakes. He was a strong swimmer.

He always shared sticks and toys well with Tater when he was younger, and with Casey when he was older:


Playing tug with Casey when she was 2 mos. old;  Cody was 9.  (October, 2012)


Sharing a stick with Casey when she was about 3 mos. old


Cody and Casey play with a stick after retrieving it from Turquoise Lake
near Leadville, CO.  Cody was 10 years old and Casey, 11 months. (7-21-13)

By the time we got Holly last year, Cody no longer played with toys or the younger dogs any more but he was tolerant of them playing and lying around him. He was very gentle with the rambunctious pup and she intuitively knew to be respectful of him:

 
Cody (14) lying next to Holly (3 mos.) and Casey (6 years/cropped out of this close-up)  (9-3-17)

CODY, THERE'S SOME SNOW!!

Another one of Cody's favorite activities was heading for any snow we passed or ran through while we were running or hiking. If I saw it in the distance first, I'd point it out to him excitedly: Cody! Snow!

It didn't matter if it was just a little bit of snow left in a shady place or if it was a whole mountainside of snow, he'd run through it, poke his nose in it, and/or roll around in it. Despite Jim's aversion to snow, I have plenty of photos of places through the years where we either intentionally or inadvertently found snow for the dogs to enjoy. (Me, too.)

Here are a few pictures of Cody having fun in snow. I have lots more. He did this until he was an old guy, too, not just when he was younger!


Cody and Tater running through snow on our property in Virginia in 2005.
Cody (L) looks like he's laughing, he's having so much fun!


Age 4, walking on top of crusty snow while Jim waded up to thigh deep on the Bighorn
Wild & Scenic Trail Run course near Porcupine aid station as we helped mark and clear downed  
trees before the race (snowshoes would have been more helpful than a snow shovel!)  (6-9-07)


Lunging head first into the snow at age 4, Colorado Trail Segments 14 & 15 on 6-22-07


Rolling around on his back at age 6 in the Bighorn Mountains of WY near Dry Fork, 5-28-09

MELLOW FELLOW

Cody was the most easy-going, easy-to-train, and obedient Lab of the six we've had. He displayed normal young puppy behavior, but even at about ten weeks of age our puppy trainer in Montana asked me to bring him back, for free, to the second, more advanced, series of puppy classes so he could model good behavior to the other pups. That was quite a compliment.

Although Cody was very active, he was never a Wild Child like some of our other Labs. The hair on his chin began turning white when he was only two or three. People who met him saw the white hairs and assumed he was older because he was so calm.

His only fault was his drool. He often drooled when we ran or hiked because of all the tantalizing scents along the trails. He drooled when I was cooking or we were eating meals. And it was wet, sticky, obvious drool, not just a few drops here and there.

He must have smelled food in the house when I took this picture of him outside the door on our deck in Virginia:


Drool Dog  (11-9-12, age 9)

Fortunately, it rarely got that bad. It was comical when he'd have one or two strings of drool hanging down and then shake his head -- the drool would be wrapped around his snout!

We could take Cody just about anywhere with us and not worry about him jumping on people, barking for no reason, being aggressive with other dogs, or chasing wildlife. He was welcome in other peoples' homes and could be trusted off-leash in almost any setting.

He was also gentle with children, cats, and puppies. He wasn't fazed a bit when we presented him with not one, but two, puppies during his later life:

Above and below:  Cody was already 9 when we got Casey.
He was very good with her, despite her young puppy antics. (Oct., 2012)

 


14-year-old Cody nonchalantly lies next to rambunctious Casey, age 4,
and Holly-pup, age 8 weeks, on Holly's first full day in our home.  (7-29-17)

Cody wasn't just obedient and mellow, he was also intuitive. He read people's mannerisms and emotions well and just naturally behaved accordingly. Good instincts, I guess you'd say.

He also had amazing senses of smell and hearing. He was always poking his nose into crevices, weeds, snow, and everywhere else. Once he stuck his nose into a hole in Alaska and got the tip of one ear bitten! He would have made a good scent dog of some sort.


(Age 8, Alaska Basin, west side of the Teton Range in Wyoming, 9-3-11)

The first that we became aware of his amazing sensory perception was on the A.T. Adventure Run when he was just two years old. Jim would drop Cody and me off at one trailhead and pick us up farther north at another trailhead, anywhere from a few miles to twenty or more.

No matter the terrain or how busy the road where we ended up, Cody invariably knew at least a quarter mile away that Jim and our truck were there and he'd begin running farther ahead of me in anticipation.

Once I realized what was happening, I looked for that behavior each time he was with me. It was reassuring on days when I wasn't sure how much farther we had to go.


Now where?? Cody could also figure out alternate routes very quickly! 
(Colorado Trail near Molas Pass, Silverton area, 7-1-09)

Cody also learned at an early age to wait for me when I stopped to take pictures during trail runs and walks. Even while I was still able to run, I stopped frequently for photos of the scenery, flowers, and whatever else caught my eye.

The next picture is a good example of this. Jim is running ahead of us on the Hardrock Hundred course in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton, CO. I stopped to take a photo of the fantastic scenery and Cody waited for me instead of following Jim:


(Age 7, June 30, 2010)

Cody usually ran a little bit ahead of me on trails and would often "check in" to make sure I was close behind. If he heard the camera click, he'd stop and wait for me to catch up to him. I never had to teach him to wait, he just did it intuitively.

He'd also wait ahead of me at trail intersections to see which way I wanted to go. I taught him right, left, and forward.

CUDDLY BEAR

One of my favorite memories of Cody is sitting on the floor with him in the evenings and massaging his whole body. He loved that. He'd soon turn over on his back, groaning in pleasure, and wriggle all over while I ran my fingers down his spine.

With all the running and hiking I did, I knew how valuable a good massage could be for me and I'm sure it helped keep Cody more healthy and happy, too.

After he developed the nerve problem in his rear legs and back he no longer enjoyed those massages. I don't know if he just couldn't feel them any more or if they caused him some pain. I wanted so badly to make him more comfortable but had to find other ways to do it.


We inherited a golf cart with our house in Peachtree City last year. Jim retrofitted the back seat to
accommodate up to two dogs and padded it so Cody would be more comfortable. After Cody required
a ramp to get up there, we folded it to make sides so Cody wouldn't slip out.  (April, 2017)

As mellow as he always was, Cody would have been an excellent therapy dog but since we traveled around so much his entire life, I didn't pursue volunteering with him like I did with Callie and Bubba long ago.

I think Cody's easy-going temperament and handsome physique also would have made him a good stud dog. We didn't consider that when we got him as a six-week old puppy but did by the time he was 18 months old and we knew for certain what a great dog we had.


Cody with his first grunting hedgehog stuffie  (Six weeks old, May, 2003)

We wanted to be responsible, however, so we had his eyes and joints tested. He passed the eye CERF test with flying colors but the OFA hip test was only borderline good, not very good or excellent. Because of those results, we had Cody neutered when he was about 20 months old and didn't use him for breeding or showing. (His sire was a champion show dog, his dam a champion hunter.)

We also got half of his purchase price back, since the breeder guaranteed his hips and eyes. 

In retrospect, considering his hips weren't perfect when he was young, it's a wonder Cody was able to run and hike thousands of miles during his lifetime AND live so well, for so long!

AGING WITH GRACE AND DIGNITY

I'll be glad if Jim and I can age as gracefully as Cody did. Our vet complimented him on his stoic  determination well before the end of his life, and he just kept going for more than a year even when he couldn't walk as well or remember things.

We used to joke that Cody was going to outlive us all. Unfortunately, he couldn't.

He sure tried, though. Although Cody was slowing down in 2016 -- while we were traveling around the country full time in our RV -- he could still climb up and down mountains with us in Leadville, Colorado that summer and through interesting canyons in the desert Southwest:


Cody and Casey follow Jim down a gorgeous trail at
Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.  (April, 2016)

As I recall, his longest hike that fall was six miles; he was 13 years old. For a big dog, he was already at or near the equivalent of about 95 people years then.

While we were staying at Kings Bay Sub Base in far southeastern Georgia the winter of 2016-7 he began having difficulty getting up and down the five rather steep steps into our camper. They weren't the easiest thing for Jim and me either. We assumed Cody had arthritis from aging, but several months later our vet also diagnosed a nerve dysfunction in his hind legs and back.

Jim and I were having increasing difficulty with our own arthritic joints, especially our knees, and we were getting frustrated with the hassles of RVing full time. We made a decision to get off the road full time and buy another house that would be suitable for all of us to age in place.


Our back yard is sloped a little but Cody was able to wander around
until his last day.  (Almost age 15, December, 2017)

One factor that was important to us in selecting a particular house was having few to no steps. That was mostly for our benefit as we age, but it was also good for Cody.

We found a totally stepless ranch house with a mildly sloped yard that all of us could manage well. I'm sure that made the last 20 months of Cody's life easier for him. Just a few hours before he died he was able to walk outside to potty as usual. We did notice, however, that he didn't have as much coordination or stability in his front legs for a few days before that.


Age 14  (9-3-17)

In addition to the nerve disorder, Cody developed canine cognitive dysfunction and became a total Velcro Dog a few months after we moved into the house. He was under my feet or lying right next to me as much as possible -- at my desk, working in the kitchen, watching TV, even in the bathroom when I took a shower. I had to be very careful not to trip over him when I moved anywhere.

Although he felt most secure when he was close to me, he did OK when I was gone for a few hours during the day. He'd just sleep, and be happy to see me when I got home.

It was with some apprehension that we boarded him for two nights at our vet clinic's nearby boarding facility in August when Jim ran A Race for the Ages in Tennessee. Despite being in a good-sized kennel in the quietest area of the building, with his own comfy bed and food, he was traumatized enough the staff gave him tranquilizers to keep him calm.

We felt awful when we heard that and wished we'd taken him with us. We thought it would be too hard on him. In retrospect, he could have stayed with us in our motel room overnight and been with me while I was crewing for Jim. I vowed never to board him again.

Our vet said a few months ago, based on simple tests we watched him do, that Cody's hearing and vision were good.

I can vouch that until the day he died, he could hear any potential food treat from several rooms away! Our dogs know which sounds from a bag or box mean a likely snack -- once is always!

However, apparently not all the synapses in his brain were connecting. He forgot some things he knew, like which side of the doors to the back yard or garage opened. He sometimes didn't come when called or lie down when told, which was unusual for him. He had always been very compliant and intuitive, often doing what we wanted him to do before we said anything.

Cody became noticeably confused the last week of his life. The most obvious sign was not knowing that he was already right next to me. He'd suddenly stand up and walk around the house looking for me. The relieved body language when he "found" me again was so obvious that it broke my heart.

Like most Labs, he always knew when it was time to eat, though!

Cody had an internal clock that told him when it was time for breakfast or supper. His appetite remained robust until he died. The only reason he lost a few pounds in the past year -- he was never overweight -- was muscle loss in his rear legs and back because of the nerve dysfunction. He simply wasn't walking and running like he used to and the muscles atrophied.

Cody was a sweet boy until the day he died. He was on two prescription pain medications for his arthritis and nerve disorder and never showed any signs of stress or discomfort until the very last morning, when nothing we could do could console him.

CAREGIVER ROLE

I felt a tremendous responsibility to make Cody's life as comfortable and happy as possible the past year and a half. He was such a devoted dog that I owed it to him.

I don't want to get too graphic, but he was sometimes unable due to the nerve dysfunction to control his bowels and would poop in the house. Fortunately, he never urinated inside.

Because of that, and the time required to properly care for a puppy (Holly), a second young dog (Casey), AND a senior citizen (Cody), we put the needs of our fur-kids above those of friends and relatives who would have otherwise enjoyed visiting us more often.

We've passed the most time-consuming part of having three dogs in three different life stages now. With Cody gone and Holly almost 18 months old, I am under much less stress and have more time for poor Casey-in-the-middle. She likes getting more attention now.


Cody (R, age 13) and Casey (3) outside our camper
at Horse Thief CG near Moab, UT  (April, 2016)

We know that Cody had a life well lived. Our biggest regret is that his health failed in his last year or two and we couldn't prevent or "fix" that with all the love in the world and the best medical care money can buy. We miss him a lot but have many happy memories of him.

We're pretty sure Casey misses him, too. Although she seemed to distance herself from him as his health deteriorated the last year, her demeanor was different for a few days after his disappearance and she was noticeably upset by his moaning/crying and struggle to move around before we took him to the vet to be put to sleep. She's been with Cody for over six years so it's understandable that she'd be aware of his absence.

We haven't seen a similar response from Holly, who is still a pup. Maybe we just can't read her behavior as well as Casey's. Holly adored Cody and had more interaction with him the past year than Casey did. She still has Casey to play with, so maybe that makes a difference.


Cody and Holly when she was just 3 months old  (9-10-17)

I'll end with this quote that is so, so true of any devoted dog:

"Dogs' lives are too short; their only fault, really."  ~ Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Next entry:  a posthumous letter from Cody to his beloved family

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup

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2018 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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