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our birthday girl

The first-born of the litter was willful and a little aggressive. The second-born was less so and seemed better suited for a pet. Jeremy’s mom chose carefully, administering all of the puppy personality tests. She took the second-born home and in one week’s time had her potty-trained, started her socialization, and had gotten all of her required shots. Mom said this was an anniversary gift from her and Pop.

welcome home

I felt like my nerves would reduce me to a heap on the floor: the drive from Ithaca to Syracuse, the wait for her flight to land, watching everyone on the flight pick up their luggage and then finally seeing the oversized luggage doors open. Skis, some large boxes, and then a large blue kennel rolled out. It was all a flurry of activity. Jeremy calmly, yet quickly walked up to the kennel and took a quick peek through the holes. Blackness inside. We could barely see a thing. He picked up the kennel and we walked outside to a patch of green lawn.

first visit to the cornell plantations

My hands were shaking. I had wanted a dog for so long and here she was. We opened the door and waited. Jeremy and I strained to see until two big eyes began to materialize deep in the kennel, catching the light of the February winter skies. This chunky, fluffy black puppy ambled out clumsily onto the grass. She heard my squeal and bounded toward me, hopping onto my lap, licking my hands, turning in little circles over and over. Soft. She was sooooo soft and wiggly. Jeremy laughed and she stopped in her tracks, spun around and bounced over to him. Our puppy.

jeremy taking kaweah for a walk

“What do we name her?” we asked each other on the drive home. She was asleep in my arms and then at some point, stretched across the emergency brake to settle her chin on Jeremy’s forearm before falling back asleep. He looked down at her then at me with the “I’m hopelessly smitten!” look. Scout? Bonkers? After a few days, Bonkers seemed more appropriate. It still seems appropriate today, but we decided on Kaweah, after the Kaweah Ridge Range in the Sierra Nevada of California.

out in the snow

She was on track to be a good-sized Labrador Retriever growing 1-2 pounds a week, giant paws, a 90-pound field champion for a father. After her spaying, she just stopped growing – frozen at 6 months with giant paws that she never grew into. And because Kaweah is over the moon with excitement and energy when she meets ANYONE, people always asked if she was a puppy… even when she was ten years old.

along for the fall shoot – and happy, always happy

Kaweah has been a healthy pup for all of her thirteen years. She doesn’t care for being petted, although she loves nothing more than to cuddle up with you on the couch, bed, floor. She’s a cuddler. She LOVES the vet (any vet, but especially her current awesome vet). She thinks drive-thrus are the best thing ever, especially when the bank teller has dog treats. She’s a quiet dog although her bark sounds like it should be coming from a dog twice her size.

a fan of flannel quilts

This pup will scavenge for garbage the moment she is out the door, but will leave any food in the house alone unless you tell her she can have it – even when we are gone for the whole day. For over a decade, she thoroughly enjoyed hiking mountain trails and running leaps into icy cold alpine lakes. She really loves kitty cats, though they aren’t so keen on her. Kaweah is not an aggressive dog, she just wants to play, take naps, eat (anything), and be with others.

playing gently with a puppy

During the bad nights of my chemotherapy when I was sick in the bathroom, she’d come and quietly sit by me for hours, gently leaning against me. Whenever I coughed, she would rest her paw on me. She watched over me when I slept or put her chin on my lap and softly sighed when I cried. Woman’s best friend.

birthday plate

These days Kaweah can’t hike or walk more than four miles on a good day. Her back legs are arthritic, her trachea is slowly collapsing, and her kidneys are starting to decline. It’s old age. A couple of white whiskers have replaced the black ones and her chin is turning white. We don’t let her go up or down the stairs without an escort anymore. She’s still in pretty good shape for a senior citizen. What matters most is that she is happy and comfortable, which she seems to be.

waiting for her release word

Happy birthday, my sweet little ‘weah. May your day be filled with romps in the snow, a special birthday plate with APPLES and CARROTS, naps on soft and fluffy blankies, belly rubs, squeaky hedgehogs, and dreams of chasing bunnies and squirrels.

make a wish, kaweah!

happy birthday, silly pup

73 nibbles at “our birthday girl”

  1. Barbara | Creative Culinary says:

    What a lovely story Jen. My dog Abbie just turned 14 and your story brought back many of our own memories and the same realization that some of those won’t be re-created. She’s in great health for the most part but a partial tear in her ACL means never again chasing tennis balls at the park.

    She look fabulous and I especially love the last photo. So cute. Happy Birthday, to mom, dad and pup!

  2. Kadee Barrett says:

    Oh, Kaweah! Happy birthday little love. When ever I see pictures of Kaweah, it makes me think of my Kelli, our family dog, who looks SO similar. She came to us when I was three and she was one and made it almost all the way through my freshman year of college. She was 17 or 18 at the time, and my best friend. Her back legs started to get weak and fussy too and our vet suggested we gave her glucosamine chondroitin, which seemed to help. Scratch those silky ears for me!

  3. vanillasugarblog says:

    oh jen that made me cry; picturing her in the bathroom with you. they know don’t they? a best friend for life.
    happy birthday to her indeed.

  4. Kat says:

    Aww, Happy Birthday Kaweah! I loved this so much.

  5. Lisbeth says:

    Orv, so adorable – then as well as now! Congratulations to the birthday girl.

  6. Theresa says:

    I just love everything about this post – from the adorable puppy photos to your abundant love for Kaweah. I have my own furry best friend waiting for me at home and I know nothing beats the love of a dog. Happy birthday Kaweah! What a lucky dog to get that beautiful birthday plate of food :)

  7. Jessica says:

    happy Birthday Kaweah! She seems like such a sweet and loyal dog!

  8. tea_austen says:

    Oh, oh, oh. Happy Birthday, Kaweah. You sweet girl. I want to cuddle with you some day.
    And Jen, you have just pushed me so much further in the direction of dog. You know I’m heading there…
    Also: can you really housebreak a dog in a week? Jeremy’s mom sounds like the doggie whisperer.

  9. Judy says:

    Birthday wishes to Kaweah from me and my dog, Coco. Aging is not fun for either dogs or humans. Our doggie wheelchair just arrived, so we’re looking forward to resuming walks around the neighborhood.

  10. Grant says:

    Happy Birthday beautiful puppy!

  11. Amy says:

    Birthday wishes and sweet pats for sweet Kaweah. What a lucky girl she is to have you and Jeremy as her family. xoxo

  12. Maria says:

    She is precious! Happy Birthday Kaweah!

  13. jo-lyn@jo-lyn's cup cakes n' candies says:

    she’s beautiful! happy birthday kaweah! :)

  14. TheKitchenWitch says:

    Kaweah’s birthday is one day away from Miss D.’s! I love all of the pics and the sweet story behind our girl. Looks like a lovely b’day!

  15. Melissa says:

    I love her I love her I love her I love her.


    I love the image of you and Jeremy in the earlier days as well. :)

    Happy Birthday, Kaweah, you beautiful, wonderful girl.

  16. Kittie says:

    This post made me cry, in all the best sappy ways. Happy birthday to Kaweah!

  17. Mollie says:

    you made me cry! love love love. sending scritches and happy thoughts to miss K!

  18. Leeann says:

    Wonderful memories shared in a beautiful way! Thank you for letting us celebrate her birthday with you. One year ago we had to say goodbye to our 15-year old Charlie dog. He was a Weimaraner and we loved him so. We now have our Percy pup, a golden doodle, who also loves squeaky hedgehogs!

  19. Shoshana says:

    Kaweah is such a cutie! Your post got me a little sniff-ly and teary eyed. I can sympathize with how you felt before you finally got Kaweah – wanting a dog SO BADLY, because…I do! What a great birthday treat for your pup! My Cecil is the biggest piglet around and loooooves eating. Thanks for sharing this sweet birthday dog tribute, and thanks for sharing your great food topics too :)

  20. Debbie says:

    Man’s best friend always. Sending a special birthday hug for your special dog!!!

  21. Margie says:

    Happy Birthday, Miss K!

    I swear, that doggie is precious. Absolutely. Purely.

    The puppy pic in the snow had me, hook, line and sinker.

  22. barbara says:

    Oh Jen this is a lovely lovely post. It brought tears to my eyes. Those early photos of Kaweah are just a delight. Happy birthday to her.

    Chris and Maria recently brought a dog. Chris is besotted with it ( not she if it’s he or she).

  23. DeeDee says:

    OH! She’s precious and here I am in the full-on throes of puppy madness. I want a puppy!
    Happy birthday, sweet Kaweah.

  24. Nicole says:

    Love this– Kaweah sounds exactly like my lab; small (lap dog all the way) and forever a puppy:) Glad to know that there is someone else out there that makes a special birthday plate for their beloved companion. Birthday belly rubs to her!

  25. Allison Day says:

    That post just made me melt and tear up a little. Happy birthday, Kaweah! ^_^

  26. swan says:

    labs are the best dogs ever! happy HAPPY birthday, you lucky beauty. luckily i’ve stopped crying enough to write this. jen, i don’t know if you remember me, but i am the person who had a female black lab and i have a nephew named kaweah, b/c of the same mtn. range.

    please give those velvet ears a good rub from me!

    thanks again for this wonderful post!


  27. Phoo-d says:

    Happy Birthday Lady K! You are a very special pup who ended up with two very special people. I think it was meant to be!

  28. Anne says:

    This was a really wonderful, sweet story. Our pups are precious and give us more than can be counted or told.

  29. Dana says:

    Oh Jen. This is such sweetness. What a wonderful gift she has been to you and Jeremy. The part about being your companion while sick really got me. Dogs are really the most incredible intuitive animals. Happy birthday Kaweah!

  30. Donna says:

    Happy birthday, Kaweah! You are wonderful!!

  31. Bri says:

    Happy Birthday Kaweah! People are amazed when I tell them how old our senior citizen dog is, he barely acts like an “adult.” :) Hugs to you all!

  32. joanne says:

    So glad it is her birthday… .my hormonal self was hoping that nothing bad had happened to her. Wonderfully told!

  33. Jess says:

    Aw Jen, the pictures of you two with your new pup made my eyes all moisty. It makes me excited for a time when, nearing the end of grad school, when we live in a real live house, my boyfriend and I can go get the dog we’ve both always wanted but were never allowed to get (my mom told me she was allergic! How could she!)

  34. Ted Stauffer says:

    What a beautiful post Jen. It’s sure nice to end my day on a similar note from the heart. These pets of ours dominate some of the largest places in our hearts. God bless your birthday girl!

  35. Beatrice says:

    Happy birthday, tesoro. Thanks for sharing your love, Jen.

  36. ARC says:

    Happy Birthday to Kaweah from Peanut and Spike, a couple of old dogs in Seattle :)

    Love the photos and the birthday plate.

    +1 to glucosamine and fish oil. No idea if it’s working but our guys at 9 and 11 are in pretty good shape, and the creaky sounds from Peanut’s joints went away.

  37. Jill says:

    Happy Happy Day, Kaweah! We feel so lucky to have met her, taken her a toy that she seemed to enjoy, and just see what a lovely home she enjoys!

    What a lucky family you are….Nothing like a good dog!

    hugs, jill and tom

    ps- to many more “short hikes” (I think 4 miles is pretty damn good), romps in the snow, and licks of bbq drips!

  38. Colleen says:

    Happy Birthday to an extra special dog, Kaweah! What a beautiful tribute to her.

  39. Lucy says:

    Happy Birthday Kaweah!

  40. Linda says:

    I wish she could meet my Grandpuppy Rowdy! She is also a beautiful black Lab who is nothing more or less that a bundle of love! She has a tail that has it’s own never stops. How can one creature make so many people so happy. Kisses from me, Kaweah! (I, too, am glad it’s a birthday celebration. I feared something else….shudder)

    xo Linda

  41. Magda says:

    Happy birthday Kaweah!!!

  42. Ellen Yu says:

    Happy, happy birthday, Kaweah! Your Mom obviously loves you so much. May God continue to bless you with vibrant, long, and healthy life.

  43. Nan says:

    Happy Birthday Kaweah! You’re part of a loving family — a gift for certain!

  44. Kristin says:

    Well, gee. It was hard to read by the end…the tears got in the way. It’s going to be hard to see to type in the code too. Happy birthday to Kaweah, and thanks to you for sharing such a lovely tribute. And the adorable photos…the eyes!

  45. Sil says:

    Feliz cumpleaños Kaweah! She is an amazing dog indeed. Beautiful!

  46. Susie says:

    I’m a big fan of userealbutter, I like it so much, from your stories to your photos!
    Happy Birthday Kaweah!!

  47. Connie says:

    Good dog.

  48. Shelley says:

    Admittedly, my favorite posts of yours are ones with pictures or stories about Kaweah. So naturally, I loved this. Happy Birthday to the adorable Kaweah!

  49. Perfecting Pru says:

    The most lovely post ever. I wish I could write the way you do.

  50. Laurel says:

    This made me all sniffly, in a good way. Happy birthday Kaweah!

  51. Collette says:

    Made me tear up a little bit. Happy Birthday Kaweah!

  52. Chani says:

    What a beautiful story (and beautiful dog!! Kaweah’s coat is always so shiny!). Labs are truly wonderful animals; when I was a student, my lab Macey would come to check on me if I was staying up late and she would try to get me to go to bed with her. Truly, our lives are enriched with dogs like Macey and Kaweah.

  53. Brynnie says:

    Your food posts have made my mouth water, and your photos of the beautiful Colorado landscape have touched my soul. But this one…the tears just rolled down. Thrilled at being able to share a window into your furry girl’s precious life. She is pure magic. I wish you birthday fun to follow your birthday feast, Kaweah!

  54. TERESAT says:


  55. B.A.R.K. says:

    And a very Happy Birthday to our favorite Black Lab! Wishing you wags, snoozy time, snow angels, and treats!

    Lots of love, the BARK Pack (Brad, Arnie, Red, Katie)

  56. Lisa says:

    Happy Birthday Kaweah!

    I loved the photo of her in the snow as a puppy.

  57. Michael Frye says:

    The photo of Kaweah as a pup in the snow is absolutely precious! Happy Birthday Kaweah!

  58. Tracy says:

    Awww (sniffle). Happy Birthday to Kaweah! I love the photo of her out in the snow. And she’s so patient being photographed with her birthday treat! My 11-year-old Lab mix has the same lean, stately face, with Shepherd ears, and a greyer muzzle, and when people at the dog park ask how old he is, they always clarify, “Years?” And I wish for time to pass less quickly. Thank you for sharing Kaweah’s birthday with us.

  59. April was in CT now CA says:

    She is such a beautiful, beautiful girl and those eyes, gorgeous. Happy, happy birthday to her Kaweah!!!!!!

    Our little dachshund is 11 and showing his age with some back problems (that keep me waiting with bated breath daily on the worst to happen), but he still thinks he is a spry puppy and life without him is absolutely unimaginable.

  60. shopaholicinvan says:

    Happy Birthday Kaweah!!!

    I feel like I know her through URB; reading your blog over the last 3 years. Happy Birthday darling girl. Loved your story about her.

  61. Susan says:

    Happy Birthday, Kaweah!!

    You’re such a beautiful girl!
    Such a touching story.

  62. Karolyn says:

    What a touching birthday tribute–Happy Birthday to Kaweah!

  63. Melanie says:

    What a great story. Have to say that I was afraid it was going to end differently. What a lovely, sweet dog. TRULY a part of your family. She’s a beauty!

  64. Kim says:

    I absolutely love your blog and all the delicious food you make, but I have to say, posts about Kaweah are my favorite. They do leave me feeling quite envious though! :)

  65. Shut Up and Cook says:

    love this.

  66. Jie says:

    Happy Birthday to her! wish she lives a long long long and happy happy happy life! jen, do you mind me using the pic of her in the snow as my profile pic? i love it!

  67. Gemma says:

    Happy be-lated birthday, Kaweah! You’re a beautiful girl!

  68. Sarah Puleo says:

    Happy Birthday beautiful pup! What a touching story.

  69. Kim says:

    I recently found your blog and enjoy it very much. That was the most beautiful posting and it reminded me of my pup, Rocky. He was a boxer that left us in 2007 and still holds the most special place in my heart. Thank you for sharing so openly. Happy birthday to your pup!

  70. Tara says:

    I seriously love and appreicate your blog so much. Thank you for the honesty and beauty you put into every post. Happy Birthday to your adorable Kaweah.

  71. Deborah J. says:

    As much as we love all of our furry babies throughout our lives, there are always one or two that we bond with in such a special and unique way, knowing that their presence in our lives was just meant to be. You have that with Kaweah, you are blessed with each other. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  72. jenyu says:

    Thanks to everyone for Kaweah’s birthday wishes! You all are ridiculously sweet. I love you guys :) And yay for squeaky hedgehogs!! By the way, we did try Kaweah on glucosamine a year ago and it didn’t do a lick of good :\

    Tea – Jeremy’s mom is pretty amazing with house training the puppies!

    barbara – oh, Chris and Maria must be so thrilled :) xo

    swan – yes, I do remember you :) Thank you for commenting!

    Jess – I hope you get your pup soon and that you have many many wonderful years together.

    Ted – awww, I know you’re feeling the loss of your sweet kitty. We are all sending you hugs, my friend.

    Jill – she still plays with the toy you brought her despite having removed a fair bit of stuffing :) xo

    Sil – thank you!!

    Susie – awww, thanks :)

    Shelley – you aren’t the only one. There are many folks who will email me if I haven’t posted a photo of Kaweah in a while ;)

    Pru – you’re too sweet.

    Chani – the love of a dog is priceless, no? :)

    BARK – thanks, Katie! xo

    Michael – thank you :)

    Tracy – me too, I wish that time would pass less quickly these days. There will never be enough time with her.

    April – I hear you on that one. I hope he continues to be spunky and happy.

    Jie – uh, sure?

    Kim – Kaweah is my first dog, so I can only imagine how much you miss your Rocky. xoxo

    Tara – you’re so kind, thank you. xo

    Deborah – thank you.

  73. eemilla says:

    Happy Birthday, Kaweah! What a milestone.

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