I’d never have guessed how much I would miss you. That the absence of just one furry, wagging butt could make our entire house seem silent and empty. For a few days after you slipped from our life with a gasp in my arms, I ached with the reminders of you. Your imprint was everywhere- the empty dog bed in the bedroom, the food bin with your name on it in the pantry, the shiny, mocking emptiness of your bowl tucked next to Miles, the second leash swinging hauntingly on its hook in the garage. Some of the worst moments were when I arrived home for the first time to be greeted with a heartbreaking silence at the door, Miles looking confused and alone or when I sobbed and scrubbed the last of your snotty nose prints from the front window, where you used to like to keep watch when we were away.
Right up until the day before you died, you were still stalking the kitchen for scraps. Scurrying to gobble up every bit of vegetable chopped and haphazardly discarded. Your favorite was carrots and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to eat one without thinking of you. The way your little, flopping triangle ears would perk up and you’d attempt to straighten your sliding butt into some semblance of order on the slippery wood floor, ever optimistic that some small portion of orange matter might make it into your waiting mouth. You always ate every bit of food with an intensity that bespoke passion, irreverently nipping fingers and anything else that might get in the way. So when you began to look skinny, I was alarmed. By the time I realized how sick you were, it was much too late. Too late for just one more of your favorite treats, an extra dollop of peanut butter, or a scoop of ice cream. Just the night after they diagnosed you with lymphoma, you were unable to hold down even water and when I stretched my hand out to offer you a carrot and you turned your head away, I knew it was already time to let you go.
And yet, for the all the misery and sadness of your few final days, we had ten years. Ten years of companionship and love. Initially we got you as a rolly, polly ball of tan fur and blue eyes for Miles, our Labrador. He seemed desperate for socialization and we lived in a cabin in the woods where he saw more moose than people. We had dogs instead of children and we raised you with the same kind of focus and attention. I recall the first few years as difficult. Your frequent accidents and penchant for chewing meant you couldn’t be left alone for long stretches, so I would take you to work with me in the winter, letting you out on my breaks for walks. We still own the truck that you chewed the insulation out of, its felt lining hanging in ripped shreds. As a puppy, you adored eating your own frozen poop and while you grew out of that eventually, I’ll never forget the time you and Miles got out of the backyard in a snowstorm. We found you across the street, eating the neighbor’s dog’s poop. Later that night you graciously threw it up all over our bedroom. I got pregnant with Owen and we moved into our first home. The very first time we brought you in to introduce you to it, you walked into the corner of the basement, squatted and pooped. Now that I think about it, almost every really great story about you involves poop. Hmmm…
I’m pretty sure you did not appreciate the addition of children to our family. This is where your nickname comes from, as you used to grumble and give a remarkably good imitation of a pirate “arrg” when confronted by little fingers and messy hands. But you braved it. Mostly for the food. It didn’t take you long to figure out that those obnoxious, noisy beings made food rain from the heavens. When they were babies, I used to lower them in their highchairs and let you and Miles lick them clean. It satisfied my sense of fairness. I also have pictures of all the times we used to let you and Miles lick the empty ice cream containers just to get them stuck on your noses. This was not fair, but it was damn funny. You would perform some pretty great tricks for food. I taught you to turn circles to the command “do donuts!” and because you had a little black fringe of fur that looked just like a Hitler mustache, we taught you to rise on your hind legs when we gave the “Heil Hitler” hand motion and said “Rise up!”. My favorite though was when I would tell you to “Attack Daddy” when he was in bed and you would jump up and burrow your head under the covers, pushing into him and growling.
You were the howler in the family. No one could talk on speaker phone without you interrupting. Miles was never able to do it properly, not like you. It would only take me imitating a howl a few times for you to join in, throwing back your head and exposing your white throat as you bayed at the ceiling. You were also the one to draw my attention with a whimper or a whine when you or Miles needed to go out, trotting around the house until you found me or waking me up in the middle of the night. While you and Miles never seemed that close, you spoke for him when he needed it, threatening other dogs who played too rough or whimpering your worry when he seemed hurt. And in the evening, when the kids were in bed and we watched TV downstairs, you and Miles shared a cushion on the couch more often than not, spooning.
In the days leading up to your death, I noticed that you had begun to follow me. You were never very comfortable with affection, but out of everyone in the family, you seemed to trust me the most. I remember when you had your surgery to get your ACL repaired and I was six months pregnant carrying your ass end up and down the stairs so you could go to the bathroom. When we clipped your nails, I often got you to hold still simply by laying with you. If I got up and left the room, you usually followed. If I tried to pet you or snuggle with you, you started panting and got up but you’d never leave the room. You wanted to be wherever I was. When you got sick, I noticed you wouldn’t let me out of your direct line of sight. At night you would lean against my side of the bed, laying your head near my hand and panting softly, awake most of the night. I never appreciated the magnitude and beauty of that kind of childlike trust until you got sick, until I held you in my arms, emaciated and shaking and helped you die. I was home to you. I was your mama. Thanks for ten years of simple devotion and deep, unconditional trust. I hope you heard the meaning in those last words I whispered in your ear- “You were always loved.”