It is with incredible sadness that we announce the passing of Kaiya Vesga-Cromley. It's hard to know how to talk about the perfect dog. Do we begin by mentioning her fierce loyalty to anyone who was lucky enough to know her? Do we start by talking about how she demanded nothing more from life than to be fed and loved? Or perhaps we go with small things – the thwap of her tail against the hallway walls before her morning walks, the tap-tap-tapping of her toenails on the hardwood floors before mealtimes, or her propensity for sneaking out of the bedroom in the middle of the night when no one was looking to find a comfortable couch to curl up on.
I first met Kaiya on a trip to North Carolina. Her mother and I were in the midst of a long distance relationship and neither of us knew where it was headed. Kaiya, always outgoing and personable, made me feel welcome immediately (as opposed to her brother, Niko, who tended to be more circumspect with his affections). It's safe to say that those early days of the relationship were made easier through Kaiya's gentle grace and sweet charm. A little over a year after that first encounter, in November 2004, a U-Haul truck pulled up outside my apartment in Chicago, and Kaiya moved into my life full time. Since then, she taught me daily how to love and forgive and forge ahead.
From the moment her mother first saw Kaiya shyly peeking out from the back of the dog pound cage, she knew this was the dog for her. Kaiya was fortunate in those early years to have the companionship of her older brother, Niko, who embraced his status as canine role model wholeheartedly. He frequently tried his best to steer her in a positive direction. If he ever felt like she was straying from the straight and narrow path – such as the time she tried to raid the trash bin in the middle of the night – he would not hesitate to rat her out to her parents. Kaiya learned a lot from Niko, and shortly after his passing, she had the opportunity to begin mentoring her new younger brother, Tanka. As soon as we arrived at the rescue sanctuary, it was clear that Tanka was highly impressed with Kaiya and took to following her immediately. Tanka has, admittedly, not always been the best of students, but Kaiya has unquestionably left a deep impression on him and helped him to become the lovable dog he is today.
During the fourteen years we were lucky enough to have her in our lives, Kaiya evolved. Some of her favorite habits – like stick-fetching and varmint-chasing and lake-swimming – she had to ease back on as she got older. When climbing onto couches became too much of a challenge, she found out that an orthopedic memory foam bed could be just as comfy. But some of the changes were for the better. Late in life she got over her fear of certain hardwood floors. She even became brave enough to wander into the bathroom on her own, without fear of being bathed. Another nice late-blooming development was her decision to spend more time with us in the living room the last year of her life. It used to be that as soon as the television turned on she'd head for the bedroom, but lately – perhaps possessing some secret knowledge no one else had – she chose to stay with us. We are intensely grateful for those extra hours we were able to spend with her.
The illness that took Kaiya from us came on suddenly and left little time for lengthy good-byes. Even still, despite the fact that it was clear she was having trouble with lucidity at the very end, she managed one last time to lift her head and sharpen those soulful brown eyes – first on her mother and then on me – for a few beautiful seconds. In that moment, she seemed to be thanking us for the wonderful life she had lived. I'd also like to think she sensed the gratitude we felt towards her for making our lives immeasurably better.
This memorial began by mentioning a simple truth, that Kaiya was a perfect dog.
And it seems only fitting to end with that assertion. Over the course of her fourteen years on this earth, she traveled a lot of places and met a lot of different people. Every single one of them could attest to the fact that she was a special dog, one in a million, the whole package. And we were so, so lucky to have her in our lives.