Captain Kody the Courageous: A Tribute
THE PARADOX OF JOY AND GRIEF
Slightly over five years ago, I had to say goodbye to my beloved childhood friends, the two adorable, black and white Tibetan Terrier, brother and sister duo, Chip and Dale. When Chip and Dale entered my life in second grade, their presence quickly become the light of my life and to this day, remains one of my fondest childhood memories. The experience of having two puppies at home was challenging, exciting, and full of love. It also led to my second grade imaginative mind writing my first ever, full-length poem called, “Puppy Trouble.” Full of clever rhymes, hand-drawn pictures, and creative documentation of all the joys and troubles of a young family with three kids and two dogs, everyone I shared the poem with fell in love with the story. One day, as though they were celebrities, my mother brought Chip and Dale to visit with my classmates and I soon became one of the most popular students in class! Primarily because befriending me meant access to the puppy trouble pups, and no one could resist their charm. Eventually, my encouraging teacher helped me create a short book called, “Puppy Trouble,” and since then, I’ve always aspired to write books and share stories.
At the time, with two crazy puppies, three over-scheduled young kids, and growing parental careers, our home was veritable zoo! Yet, through growing up with Chip and Dale as members of the Cladis clan, I not only learned to love, but I learned to love to write poetry as well. Chip and Dale remained a part of my life throughout my high school years and through the middle of my college years when age and illness prompted their passing. Prior to their loss, I had experienced the death of our Kerry Blue Terrier, affectionately named “Sox” (after the Chicago White Sox), as a very young child and remember feeling responsible somehow that he died. I know looking back that my feelings of responsibility were only masking the actuality that I didn’t want to abandon innocence or accept the reality of death. Then, even though I grew more mature with time, with the sudden, but somewhat expected loss of Chip and Dale, I was devastated. I was crushed. My soul had been ripped out and my world had turned dull. My mind become numb. I didn’t understand why my best friends had to leave the earth and leave my life. I didn’t understand why it was fair for them to become sick or to suffer. I couldn’t comprehend the weight of the void or the burden of uncompromising sadness.
After the initial grief subsided, I confronted such feelings of desolation by convincing myself that I never wanted to become attached again. I never wanted to have another pet or dog because quite simply, the pain appeared to outweigh the joy. However, this is where I was wrong. This is where I was naïve and immature in my perspective on grief and love. For I thought that if love causes grief, then why love at all? Right?
Yet, this is also where I have Captain Kody to thank for teaching me a most important life lesson and renewing my hope and faith in love.
During my senior year of college, my family contemplated getting another dog. We discussed the idea of welcoming a new dog into our family and into our lives. Still raw from the loss of Chip and Dale, I immediately and adamantly opposed this idea. I told myself it was not acceptable to have another dog and that if we did, I would not get attached; I would place limits on my love, and that the scars I had wouldn’t allow for me to love again. In a sense, I wanted to protect myself from future, yet inevitable pain.
Then along came Kody. The young, energetic, fluffy, obstinate, ever-loving, terror (at times) was born near my birthday late in February and joined our family just a few months before my college graduation in May. At first I remember not wanting to feel trapped by the lure of puppy cuteness, but Kody, the look-a-like Kodiak bear, was absolutely irresistible. Irresistibly cute. And irresistibly stubborn. From the first day I met him I quickly learned he liked to have things on his terms and done in his way. The world was not just to come to Kody, but Kody was to come to and come at the world – tail-wagging, booty-shaking in full force! And come at the world he did. Kody was the brightest dog I’ve ever met and he had an ever-ready spunk, enthusiasm, and chutzpah that only in being in his presence could one fully understand such unadulterated energy and joy.
As I described in his very first blog –
Fuzzy, fun and full of love, I am pleased to present the newest addition to the Cladis family.
Meet Captain Kody-a tan and white Tibetan Terrier who was named for his uncanny relevance to a Kodiak bear. Prior to Kody, the Cladis family had two well-known black and white Tibetan Terriers named Chip and Dale. According to some Geneva residents, “They were legendary.” Sadly, both Chip and Dale passed away, leaving a large vacancy in my heart.
However, puppy dog faces are not easy to ignore, and I am convinced there is a reason that God spelled backwards is dog. Dogs are angels on earth, and though I did not think it was possible after losing my other dogs, I am making room in my heart for a new dog and companion.
Shortly after we began settling into a new routine with young Kody, I found that I loved not just being with him, but I loved watching him play, experiencing life, listening to his voice and how he lectured us daily in his own unique, sonorous ways. And as I observed him, Kody inched his way closer and closer to my guarded heart. I kept a comfortable distance for a while, but each day in a new way, Kody would welcome me to play, he would drag me outside, he would insist upon loving me. Kody was a dog who suffered from severe separation anxiety, which was evidenced as he screamed the entire way home from when we first got him from the breeder, and if he was ever left anywhere he would howl and cry in a way that pierced such guilt into your heart it was physically unbearable. Yet still, despite that need he had for love, and the love he had so freely given me, I was afraid to fully let love in and give myself to it.
A LOCAL STAR
Early in June, the first year Kody was in our lives, I was writing features articles for a local paper. Since Kody had been going everywhere with me for my reporting and stories, I elected to pitch the idea to my editor that I make Kody an integral part of my stories. I thought maybe I could use Kody as a way to connect people to their town. Kody could be the perfect vehicle to showcase my town and add excitement to otherwise recycled feature stories. Upon meeting Kody and seeing his absolute beauty, and also being a dog-lover himself, my editor obliged and thus was born my next, maybe best, and most memorable journalistic writing venture. The infamous “Captain Kody” blog, formerly known as, “The Chronicles of Captain Kody” was also the adventure that bonded Kody and I together more than anything else.
Every story I wrote had a Kody angle. Every story I wrote contained his spunk. Every story I wrote from draft idea to publication had his perspective, his zeal and his eagerness to explore the world around him. It was brilliant! As a new puppy, Kody and I spent the next year exploring our town, the people, the places, the events, seasons, and even neighbors or family gatherings and reporting to his loyal band of growing followers. Within a few months, Captain Kody became a household name in town and I simply could not keep up with requests for his appearance, for more stories, or for Kody to come visit a certain small business to give his “pawprint” of approval. Kody was everywhere. His photogenic qualities were put to good use and pictures of Kody were everywhere from online sites and blogs to the local paper. He loved the attention and I loved the opportunity to see life in a new way and to finally see my hometown in a way I had never envisioned possible. Kody brought joy. He created hope and he gave love. Captain Kody Cladis was winning my heart one day and one story at a time.
On a daily basis people would point out Kody in the street as though he were famous and shout, “Hey look! It’s Captain Kody!” Little children would crave the opportunity to pet him and relish in his soft hair and his abounding ebullience as he would run towards them and greet them with smiles and whole body tail wags.
I even ran into people at the gym and grocery store who would ask me, “So what has Captain Kody been up to lately?”
EVER-READY CHAMPION THROUGH LIFE’S ADVENTURES
From there, the adventure continued and through exploring life and learning to love writing again, Kody slowly peeled back those jaded corners of my heart. I, with the help of my family, traveled with and photographed Kody everywhere, and we became close companions during this time. From his fame as a blogger to appearances in dog magazines and calendars, agility trainings, and even achieving his Championship title in the show ring officially as ASCOT GOLD CUP, Kody lived and he lived large.
In his short life he attended graduations, tennis matches, baseball games, 60th birthday celebrations, weddings, triathlons, and marathons. He went sledding and swimming. He spent time at my brother’s new home, the Tippecanoe Battlefield, went to apple farms and Christmas tree farms. He even visited my Greek grandmother’s house because not surprisingly, he was the only dog she ever liked! Kody supported us with a constant smile and presence through graduate school transitions, new jobs, deaths in the family, moving, and patiently aided during illness and the healing process post surgeries of his owners. Kody uplifted at all times and loved without ceasing. He traveled to nearly ten different states, probably visited over 50 parks, stores, trails, and places. He kept up with the Cladis pace and never once wanted to be left behind.
But most importantly, despite all he did or was able to do as the anchor of an ever-transient time in the Cladis family, was what Kody gave. With his show stopping prance, his confident swagger-like stride, and his jaw-dropping, handsome coat of caramel and white hair, and most beautifully kind, tiger-like brown eyes, Kody gave the world everlasting smiles. He filled the world with ubiquitous love. Never in my life have I ever met a happier soul – dog or human, than my dear Captain Kody. As a puppy he wagged his entire body and as a grown dog, he wriggled his fully grown Tibetan show coat of smooth hair as he pranced around giving happy, joyful greetings to all. Even as I write this, I think of him sitting at my feet, tickling my ankles with his cold, wet nose, and then thumping his tail at the very moment he heard his daddy walking through the door. With the appearance of a smile on his face in this position on the ground, Kody would eagerly wait and wriggle on the floor until he couldn’t handle it anymore excitably thinking, “Yay! The next person I can bring elation to today is finally here! Daddy’s home!”
LEARNING TO LOVE
JOY. UNWAVERING JOY. And that is what I firmly believe was Kody’s purpose in life here on earth. It was far too short to comprehend, but Kody gave the world everything he had. He did not hold back. Everyone he encountered was immediately enamored with him. He was the dog that could not be ignored and would not be ignored. I loved watching the way people’s faces would light up with innocent smiles as he walked down the street. It was impossible not to look and not to smile and not to want to his love! During those daily walks, everyone paused, stopped, smiled, and wanted to give Kody a friendly hello. Why? Simply because Kody was bringing them joy. Kody made everyone else feel important and treated each day as though it was his distinct mission to bring love to others. Even those stingy dog-haters could be broken down by his grace-filled ebullience in love. And yes, even my previously hardened heart that once refused to love, that had cast love aside because I feared what I feel now — this most vicious, hollow, soul-crushing, unbelievably paper-thin feeling of pain that accompanies loss, was able to find acceptance in and an insatiable desire to have Kody’s love.
Kody didn’t merely chisel away at a hardened heart though. He taught me that it was okay to feel deeply in love and it was also okay to need love because without fail he always gave love. And through this endless, loyal, consistent gift of love, I learned once again to trust in the infinity and eternity of authentic love. I learned that his love for me would continue to give despite my flaws, despite hardships, despite change, despite occasional neglect or feelings of despair. Kody gave a love I have never experienced before and it was a love I never wanted to lose.
Kody taught me to always love others and if perchance they don’t love you back, then be persistent, love more, be ruthless in your efforts to give love in all ways on all days…and if they still don’t give you attention and love in return, well then that’s when you’re free to give them hell! At least, according to Kody. Even so, Kody demonstrated the ideal principle of unconditional, selfless love. He gave and gave even without always getting the same energy of loving in return.
In addition to loving, though, Kody also taught me to fight. No, not to fight in an aggressive, teeth-barring sort of way, but in a stubborn, show-of-strength and perseverance sort of way. I am thankful that he did because aside from love, life requires strength, stubbornness, and perseverance. Kody exhibited all of these qualities as long with his stubborn love for me – and that stubborn love is by far the best kind of love. It’s love that insists. It’s love that never quits and it’s a love of the highest caliber.
I will never be able to thank or repay Kody for his gifts. Kody was an interminable fountain of love. A blessing of warmth and life.
THE CAPTAIN OF MY HEART
All too suddenly, over the course of a few weeks’ time in late October, the tail-wagging love and center of the Cladis family, Captain Kody was diagnosed with and succumbed to cancer. After a courageous battle I know he fought for his family, Captain Kody passed away on October 30th, leaving our world completely darkened and leaving all who knew him shaken and disheartened. It’s only been a month now and I still feel alone, a hollowed out cavern of grief. Yet, I know even though his passing came in an unexpectedly unfair way, Kody will always be shining a light on and putting a glow in my heart that he would want me to graciously share with others. As I mentioned prior, Kody was infamous for his separation anxiety and now I know the heavy burden of that all too well. I never wanted to be without this dear friend and nothing can lessen the weight of this hurt. But what I do know from Kody is that regardless of the aching agony of loss, we should always make time for love. We must make time for play. We must make time for the margins of life that will all too quickly disappear before our very eyes. We must make time for what matters. So put the work aside for this moment. Put those bags down at the door. Set the phone aside. Get down on your knees and appreciate the greeting of warmth and happiness your dog has waited all day to give. And then go! Go! Grab the leash for a walk. Don’t rush, but take your time and relish every tail-wagging minute.
Live for the moment. Give love a chance. Even if it hurts – an impossible pain. I still can’t write his name without tears welling up in my eyes, but through KODY – through his smiles, his joy, his ever-present mission to give abundant love, I know that the risk of love is always worth the cost because the reward will forever leave caramel-colored, fluffy, energetic, spritely, sassy, amusingly delighted, and stubbornly brilliant paw prints in the center of your heart.
I am still in utter shock and disbelief right now about the loss of Kody, but one thing I know for certain is that our beloved friend was loved, cared for, and nurtured to the highest degree. And in turn, that spunky, beautiful, smiling, happy boy gave our family more hope, more love, and more joy than we ever could’ve repaid him for. Kody will be most sorely missed and forever will he remain, the Captain of my heart.
FOREVER PAWPRINTS ON MY HEART