Dear Finn: How My Golden Retriever Changed My Life

By Jordan Schultz

Courtesy of the Schultz family

Finn (middle) was always first to his tennis ball, clearly fueled by an endless passion to retrieve.

Dear Finn,

This may not be the most relevant story for a site where I usually write about sports, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever composed before. However, I always say that one of the great components of sports is how they transcend society and become the fulcrum of communities. This story has nothing to do with sports, but it does transcend the way I look at dogs. It’s as important a column as I’ve ever written because I want your legacy to live on so you can perhaps inspire others the way you inspired me.

It has been a week now, and I still can’t comprehend that you’re gone. For nearly eight years, you were the beacon of our family ― a remarkably beautiful golden retriever with a massive, majestic square head and constantly wagging tail.

Courtesy of the Schultz family

Finn (far right) — inspired by the author — was an avid Seattle Seahawks fan.

We were traveling for the holidays when we received a phone call that something was wrong. Suddenly, you began acting strangely and out of character: cowering your head and not chasing your beloved tennis balls. What was supposed to be a quick check-in with the veterinarian turned into a nightmare. You had a brutally aggressive lymphoma cancer in your bloodstream and were bleeding internally. The vet said that you had mere “hours to live.”

Courtesy of the Schultz family

Finn had his ball, even during his final hours.

Mom and I rushed back on a red-eye to Seattle, not entirely sure what to expect or how to manage our emotions. Before we arrived at the animal hospital, we were told that you could barely walk. I guess we shouldn’t have been the least bit surprised at what happened next: We opened the door to your room and you perked up like a puppy! What ensued next was the classic Finnegan behavior we all knew and loved so much: crying at a devastatingly low pitch, jumping, pawing and then, more crying.

The vet suggested that we take you home for quality time since it was highly likely it would be your last day. When we got home, you and I napped together in my room and somehow you managed to give me more comfort than I gave you. That was the type of dog you were, buddy. You just wanted to please. If everyone else was happy, so were you.

Courtesy of the Schultz family

Finn was a loving father, always extra gentle with his favorite stick.

Breanna, your “sister-in-law,” used to always say that you were an old soul, a wiser reincarnation of Kiefer, another golden we lost too soon to cancer.

Of course, our brotherhood was forged during the spring and summer I graduated from college. I was home for a few months and we spent every day together: walks, runs, the local park and of course your favorite, swimming in the lake. It may have been the most fun I had ever had with a dog.

As the years progressed, you became my best friend. Whenever I came home, you howled like a wolf and followed me around the house. I became “your person,” as everyone said. We were inseparable ― so much so that you were even the ring bearer in my wedding!

There was also the classic “Finn pose.”

Typically, when a dog finds a place it likes, it will lie down. Not you though! Instead, you would put your butt up to someone and just sit there. Sometimes you’d fall asleep sitting up! It was the most incredible thing. I’m not sure why you did this or how you even learned to do this, but it was part of what made you our Finn. People would ask, “Why doesn’t he just lie down next to you? Isn’t he uncomfortable?”

Courtesy of the Schultz Family

The “Finn pose” in full effect — with the author — during a summer barbecue.

One of my favorite memories of you comes from our summers in Long Island. Every morning we would sprint to the beach so you and your “siblings” could play in the ocean. The culprit ― as always ― was the tennis ball, or perhaps I should say balls. You were always a good swimmer, not a great one, but you were fearless. The further we threw the balls, the happier you were. The problem was that you not only had to retrieve one, but you had to get all of the others. Two, three, sometimes four tennis balls. The waves would proceed to crash down, causing us to worry ― only then you would emerge from the water, soaked to the core, with every ball in tow!

Courtesy of the Schultz family

Post-swim activities typically included stick-wrestling with Finn (right) and his children, all of whom were adopted by family and friends.

By the time you got back to shore, your protocol was to drop the quartet of balls into the water, and dive right back in with your head fully emerged! This would go on for an hour, until you were finally exhausted, wading in the water like a tired polar bear. Even then, I’m not convinced you wouldn’t have kept playing for another hour. How do I know this? Because should anyone have dared get into the water for a quick swim, you jumped back in to “save” them, though it seemed more like you were attempting to drown them!

People have asked me over the past week what I will miss the most about you Finny. It’s a question I’ve struggled with ― much more than I anticipated ― because you had such an assortment of wonderful qualities. Loyal to your core, kind, handsome, a miserable sleeper, friendly to all but always by my side and passionately driven by food (especially bananas, red apples, cottage cheese, ice cream and carrots).

Courtesy of the Schultz family

Finn (right) with his son Leo. This may be the only photo ever taken of Finn lying down.

I guess my answer is all of the above ― and plenty more ― but what I also want to express is just how much you were loved. You weren’t just a great dog, Finn, but you were my best friend. The mere fact that you survived an additional two weeks is a tribute to how strong you were. It was a great lesson that we all should give an extra love or cuddle to our pets because you would do the same for us. I guess that’s why we always said you were our “Lion King.” To put it simply, your loving and gentle nature is a reminder to us all that even in these uncertain times, we can find great joy in the simplest of things.

Your best friend,
Jordan

Courtesy of the Schultz family

Finn and the author before the golden retriever passed away. Notice the “Finn pose” once again.

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com, ask me questions about anything sports-related on Twitter at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram at @Schultz_Report.


Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on January 24, 2017.

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