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,
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.
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
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
15½, 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.
Clay paw print of Cody on his
Now let's focus on more photos and some anecdotes of the good times we had
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
2½ 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!
holds Cody, age 8 weeks.
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.
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.
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
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
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 9½.
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:
lying next to Holly (3 mos.) and Casey (6 years/cropped out of this close-up)
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
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
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
and below: Cody was already 9½
when we got Casey.
He was very good with
despite her young puppy antics. (Oct., 2012)
14-year-old Cody nonchalantly
lies next to rambunctious Casey, age 4,
age 8 weeks, on Holly's first full day in our home.
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.
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
13½ 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.
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
Like most Labs, he always knew when it was time to
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
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.
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
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup
© 2018 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil