Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Sorrow makes us all children again, destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest knows nothing.” 

When our dog Ipolani died, her kidneys were so bad, she could barely get up and walk. She had stopped eating and drinking the day before. After a night of holding her and sleeping beside her on the floor, we took her to the vet to be put to sleep. 

Not quite a week later, I was full of sorrow, and ready to contradict Emerson: though I did not claim to be the wisest, Ipolani’s passing taught me a great deal. Because of her, I knew something, if nothing more than the pain of losing someone you love so much. For so many years she had been an integral part of our lives.

It was my wife Joan who gave her that name: Ipolani, which is Hawaiian. Ipo means “sweetheart,” and lani refers to “the heavens.” She was our “heavenly sweetheart.”

It was I who found her in a pet store in Helena, Montana. It had been over ten years since our first cockapoo, a cocker spaniel-poodle cross, named Lilly, was stolen from our yard on 7th Avenue in Helena. Lilly was short for Lilioukalani, the Hawaiian queen who was deposed by the American government. When I saw the litter of black pups in the pet store window I thought it was high time we stopped grieving and got ourselves another dog.

Joan just about had dinner on the table when I drove up and called her out of the house.

“Come and see,” I said.

“What is it?” she said. “Dinner’s about ready!” 

“Come,” I said. “It’s a surprise.” 

When we got to the Mall, I led her into the pet store. 

“See,” I said. “Cockapoos.” 

They were five weeks old, no bigger than my hand. They were selling for $35 each. (Can you believe that? Now they are selling for $200 to $300 each, maybe more.) 

“Oooh,” Joan said. 

She wanted a female. The pet store clerk said there was only one female and she was reserved for someone else. The rest of the litter were males. 

I flipped over one of the pups she pointed to as male, and, you know, the pup in my hand was a female. For some reason, the clerk didn’t know how to tell male from female.

I said, “We’ll take this male,” and that’s how we got Ipolani in 1987.

From that day on, Ipo went everywhere with us. She was a traveling dog, going with us to Spokane and Seattle, Washington and back to Montana, to Napa, California and to Chicago, Illinois and back to the Denver Metro area.

When she was little, she’d sleep on the floor at our feet on the passenger side, and when she was bigger, she sat on Joan’s lap. She loved to hold her face in the wind, like one of those big dogs. And when we’d come in from a restaurant, she’d check out the front of Joan’s blouse: Ipo knew that there had to be some food crumbs there. Mom always brought her something back.

Joan was Ipo’s Mom, but she was always my dog, Joan maintains. I was the alpha dog in the family. When I came home from work, Ipo would leave Joan’s side and come settle herself down at my feet, as if grateful for my presence. She waited for me to return. Joan swears that she knew half-an-hour before I got there that I’d soon be home, and Ipo would lie in the hallway facing the garage door, alert and waiting.

She followed me everywhere. If I went outside to work in the garden, she wanted to be outside. If I came in the house, even for a moment, she wanted to come in. She slept in the doorway to my study when I worked at the computer.

She was a quiet, healing presence in my life, around the yard, around the house. I believe she loved me unconditionally, and she taught me by example how to wait as God waits on us, even as she expressed her dissatisfaction with me, even as she begged me and/or Joan for something off our plates, even when she chose sides when Joan and I argued. She’d watch to see who needed her help, and she’d get up in that person’s lap and glare at the opponent. She had a way of setting things in perspective and making us laugh!

Joan and I missed Ipo so much. She was such a huge spirit, such a huge presence, even as she got weaker and weaker and stumbled about in so much pain. And, as the days went by after her passing, we asked each other how soon we should get another dog.

At first I thought that we should wait, even if it hurt. Ipo came to us just as our children were leaving home, and she filled the gap that we would have experienced as the empty nest syndrome. She was always with us, even between us, and I thought maybe we should give ourselves time to see if we could get along with each other without Ipo. 

But a few days later, as we dealt with the ups and downs of ministry, I realized that Ipo provided for each us a place in her heart where we were accepted unconditionally and were healed daily. Maybe we needed a dog like Ipo sooner rather than later. 

We concluded that we first needed to grieve her passing. We would wait a couple of months before we took steps to get another dog.