a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
Back to Blog
June has always had an overabundant supply of energy and desire to play. She especially loves to play catch - with anything. A tennis ball or stick is preferred outdoors. Indoors, she has a wide variety of toys but shows favoritism to her stuffed moose, beaver, and ropes. She gets so excited to play that sometimes it's hard to get her to settle down.
I was lying on the couch and wanted to pet her. "Come here, June." June came running to me with her orange stuffed moose, trying to push it into my hand. I set the moose on the back of the couch. "No, June, I just want my dog." She ran off and returned with her rope. I took the rope, "No, Bugs, I just want my dog." Next, she brought a shredded rag; what's left of her stuffed beaver. I took the toy, set it on the back of the couch. "Buggy, I just want my dog." Finally, June sat down, and I scratched her head while telling her she was beautiful.
I scratched behind her ears; I remembered a day almost 12 years ago.
"Honey, can you come here for a minute?" Melissa sat at the left end of the antique wooden dining room table. She had the newspaper classifieds spread out, two pages wide, in front of her. Then, with a pair of scissors, she clipped an ad from the middle of the page.
"Look," Melissa said, reading the ad while holding it up for me to see. "Free Puppies. Border collie, blue heeler mix. Eight weeks old, weened, and ready to go." The ad went on to say they also had free puggle puppies.
Our daughter Annie had been pressing to get a family dog. "We can think about it," Melissa told her.
A couple of weeks earlier, Melissa had briefly mentioned, which led to us having some minor discussions about the slight possibility of maybe thinking about getting a dog sometime down the road. "You're not thinking about a puggle, right?" Don't get me wrong, puggles are cute, just not my style.
"No," she said. "Remember, we talked about looking into the possibility of a border collie? I wonder what a border, blue heeler mix would look like?"
At that time, I was more eager to get a dog than Melissa – but she was open to at least discussing the idea; I mean, she's the one who found the ad. "We could go look at them," I suggested, with an open cell phone in my hand. "Is there a number listed?" I called the people and got an address. "They'll be there anytime today."
Melissa cautioned, "We are just going to look, okay?" Then, in tune with my thought process, she repeated, "We're just looking, right?" I agreed. It was Melissa's way of saying we didn't want just any dog; we would take our time to find the right dog for our family.
We turned into a farm lane off the north side of the Eddyville, Albia highway. There were several cars and many people in the yard and driveway. The site was as chaotic as an estate sale with really good prices. A couple of pre-teen kids and their mom strolled among the crowd, answering questions and offering sales pitches to people who showed interest.
Several people were holding puppies. Other pups ran around; one group chased an adult border collie. Another litter of pups was in tow behind a pug. Both female dogs had heavy nipples swaying under their tummies, trying to elude their young. Neither dog showed any interest in letting their offspring nurse.
A loose beagle greeted anyone who showed him any attention. On the opposite side of the driveway, an adult blue heeler was chained to a dog house. One of the kids referred to him as Sergeant. The heeler jumped up on the roof, sitting on the peak like Snoopy, but Sarge sat on the front edge more like a gargoyle. He looked over the lot of puppies as if to boast, "Yep, those are mine."
We paused at the puggles; most of them were tan and white with some black – traditional beagle colors. But a few of the puggles were gray with black speckles. A little kid held a puppy to his cheek, pleading, "Mom, please. I promise I'll take care of him."
But Mom stood her ground, "I said we're just looking."
"I feel ya, kid," I muttered. "I'm in the same boat."
"What did you say," Melissa asked.
Thinking quickly, I pointed to one of the gray and black speckled pups, "I said it looks like ole Sarge is quite the lover. That is not a beagle mix." Melissa told me to stop it, but I pressed, "Seriously, look at the chest and body colors on the heeler. I'll bet he's the daddy of some of these puglettes." Melissa gave me a look, but I laughed, "What would you call them? Pugeelers? Blue Ugs?"
"Let's go look at the other puppies," she said.
The young boy and girl approached us where we were petting the border-blue heeler pups. Then, being quite the salesman, he asked what we were looking for. "This one is a really good puppy," he said, scooping up a little male. But another pup had caught our eye. It was a roly-poly little female who seemed to have a mind of her own.
While all the other puppies followed their mother trying to nurse, the little girl pup roamed off to explore on her own; in the barn, around the tree, she wasn't interested in being part of the pack, begging for milk.
At one point, the pup wandered across the drive, under a gate into an area with cows. She had every intention of herding those cattle – rounding them up. But, instead, the mother snapped and growled at the litter, leaving them while she ran over to scold the free-spirited renegade and bring her back to the fold.
Melissa picked up the wayward puppy. "What about this one," she asked the salesman.
His sister answered, "Oh, that's Zoey. We might be keeping her." Melissa and I took an instant liking to "Zoey." She had a lot of black in her coat with black around her eyes and ears. There was an hourglass shape of grey and white with speckles over her nose and head. On her black back was a perfect letter J in lighter colors.
"So, what do you think of this little guy," the boy asked, again presenting the male. It must have been obvious Zoey was the puppy we wanted.
"We really like this little girl. Are you sure you don't want to let her go," Melissa asked?
The boy and his sister looked at one another, shrugging their shoulders as if to say: we need to find homes for all these puppies. Then, finally, their mom walked up, saying, "We were trying to decide if we were going to keep Zoey or the other male."
Melissa gazed into the young pup's eyes; they were still blue-grey, and her puppy breath was more alluring than any perfume. "Do you know when was she born?"
The young man answered right away, "June 23rd."
Melissa quickly did the math, "She's only six weeks old. Are you sure she's ready to go?"
"Yep, they're all weaned and ready to go." The boy said. "If you really want her, you can take Zoey, and we'll keep the male instead."
"Are you sure," Melissa asked. "We don't want to take your puppy."
"We're sure." The boy and girl answered together; Mom agreed. We loved the puppy, but not so much her name. We would work on that.
The puppy nestled in on the padded console between the front seats in the truck, enjoying the cool air from the a/c vents. With her head laying on my arm like a pillow, Zoey slept all the way home. Melissa stroked her back, "She was born in June and has a big J on her back. So let's call her June."
"June Bug. I like that," I said.
Melissa corrected me, "It's June."
As time went on, June Bug affectionately acquired more names: Bugs, Bugsy, Buggy, Bugzerellie. I have no idea where Melissa came up with Tater Bugs, but that was another one. But, even with all those nicknames, she's still June and always will be. Well, June Palen, when she was in trouble – which wasn't very often, but there were times.
Although she got along better with people than other dogs, June was kind to everyone. (other dogs couldn't throw a stick, but they did try to take hers)
On her seventh birthday, we surprised June with a black cat. Edgar Allan. "Are you kidding me," June asked in disbelief? However, within a few days, June accepted Edgar, and the two became best buddies very quickly. "Look, kid; if you're going to live here in my house, you will have to learn a few things."
June showed Edgar the ropes, and the little black cat grew up learning to walk on a leash, hike, camp, and travel. While the duo adventured through all lower forty-eight states with us, June taught Edgar how to pour on the charm when meeting new people. "Good morning, ma'am; you look lovely today." Or, "Hello, good sir. Would you happen to have a stick with you?"
June would let Edgar share her seat in the car, her spot in front of the fireplace, her bed, and toys. But she drew the line if Edgar messed with her tennis balls. Those were sacred. Oh, and the red laser dot. June would run over Edgar for the red dot. Then, she'd let Edgar have the first drink from a freshwater bowl. June was very kind.
It totally breaks my heart to tell you that June passed away peacefully on Friday, March 25, 2022. We are crushed beyond words.
Just two weeks prior, June was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She was full of life and intended to live the rest of her days to the fullest. Instead, June had a few days of lethargy and days where she was so energetic you wouldn't have known there was anything wrong with her.
We celebrated the first day of spring as a family, sitting on the back deck in the sunshine and grilling pork chops. Then, Edgar began staying even closer than usual to June. He insisted on napping next to her and giving her head boops. He no longer lurked under a bump in the rug to ambush June in the dark hallway or from under the bed.
Wednesday was a really good day for June. She carried her moose around and brought toys to Melissa and me to toss for her. Thursday, she was tired. Friday, I had to go to southern Minnesota. Melissa would stay home with June.
She was lying on the futon when I talked to her. "Bugs, I'm supposed to go on a short trip. I'll be home by ten tonight. Are you going to be okay?" She assured me she would be. "Are you sure because I can stay home if you need me?" She again said she'd be okay. "Alright, then give me kisses." I pressed my lips together tight, and June gave me five or six licks on the mouth and mustache.
By the time I loaded the car, it was half-past noon. June had moved to the living room. I went to see her. I petted her head and scratched behind her ears. "I love you, June Bug. Give me kisses." I went to the kitchen for my coffee mug. Returning, I knelt down to her. "I love you. If you need to go, baby, it's okay. I just don't want you to suffer," I whispered. "Can I have kisses?" She gave me just one kiss. Perhaps the sweetest kiss ever.
I backed out of the driveway and gave two toots on the horn. "I'll be back soon, Buggy; please wait for me." I was worried something would happen to June while I was gone, and I wouldn't be there for her. Still, a voice told me I had to go.
I ran errands in Silver Bay and Superior. I talked to Melissa a couple of times as she kept me updated on June's condition. I was crossing the bridge back to Duluth when I got word from my wife. "Babe, she's not going to make it." I immediately canceled my appointment, then called Melissa back. She held June and put me on speakerphone, "June Bug, hang on, baby girl. I'm on my way home."
"She raised her ears, Tom. She heard you." Melissa said.
June loved living here in the north woods. The cool air, the trees, wildlife in her yard, the woods, and the lakes. She loved traveling, but the north shore was her home.
Melissa didn't want June to pass inside the house; that's not how June would want to go. So she carried June to the open front door so that June could see outside and breathe the fresh air.
The red squirrel June always chased off the porch, stopped eating seeds. He remained calmly in the bird feeder to show June respect and say farewell. Across the walk, a grouse stood under the trees – the grouse June always chased whenever she saw him. But this time, the grouse didn't run away. Instead, he fully ruffed his feathers and fanned his tail, offering a salute to June. "Thank you for letting me live here, June, and letting me live." June never killed anything – she was kind to everyone.
Melissa tried to keep June from seeing her cry and focused on the nature June loved. "See all the birds at the feeder, June? Do you feel the breeze? Look at all the pine trees waving at you." June's heartbeat was fading. "There's the squirrel and the grouse." Melissa held the free-spirited pup, telling her, "Go chase them." Melissa wept, holding her. June took her last breath, and her heart quietly stopped beating.
By the time I ran into the house, June was lying peacefully on her bed in the living room. Her beautiful black coat was brushed and shiny. Her face was washed, and her soft brown eyes sparkled. June looked so peaceful; I had to ask Melissa, "Is she gone?"
Melissa nodded and said, "I'm so sorry, Tom." Her tears fell like rain, as did mine.
I picked June up, carried her to the couch, and held her in my arms. My eyes burst with tears, "Oh, June bug. My sweet, beautiful June Bug, I'm so sorry I wasn't here for you." Melissa sat next to me with one hand on my shoulder and the other on June's back. We wept together, mourning the loss of our little girl.
I felt sick to my stomach, and my chest hurt like someone had punched me, tearing my heart out. I was devastated and felt like I'd failed June for not being there for her. Then I heard that same voice telling me earlier to go, "Tom, you had to go. June needed you to go away so that she could leave. She didn't want you to see her pass. June needed to be alone with Melissa." I cried even harder.
I began to pray out loud, "Thank you, God, for the gift of June and for trusting us to take care of her for almost twelve years. Thank you, God, for having Melissa here with June, to be with her, and hold her while she passed on to You." We both cried even harder. "And thank you, Lord, for not letting June suffer a long illness. Thank you."
Melissa cried and said, "Isn't it ironic this beautiful, gentle dog, who was so kind to everyone, died of a large heart."
Thank you, June Bug, for the joy you brought and the love you showed us. Thank you for working and playing with us, camping, canoeing, fishing, and hiking – you're the best trail dog there ever was. Thank you for traveling the country with us; for the stories you made, for all the hearts you touched along the way; the lives you changed. You certainly changed ours. We will always hold you dearly in our hearts. Life won't be the same without you, June.
We ran our fingers through June's soft coat, and tears continued falling. Edgar was close by; I whispered to June, "We just want our dog."
June Bug Palen, June 23, 2010 – March 25, 2022