Thursday, December 22, 2016

A dog, and the family who loved her

A lump formed in my throat as I stood in the darkened hallway outside my office, a phone to my ear, listening to a comforting veterinarian walk me through the options my wife and I had left. It was a dishearteningly short list.

“I’m sorry you have to deal with this, and so close to the holidays,” she offered kindly.

“Yep,” was all I could muster without a torrent of tears being released.

I’m not one to wish days away, but like many, I just want this year to end.

Days. What a strange unit of measure. All equal in duration, but different in size, content, even in light and darkness. Passing like pages in a book. Some remembered well, others forgotten.

I remember the day 14 years ago when we went to a little house in Northern Virginia to pick up our puppy. Feels like yesterday. It was the first time we met her. A white mutt with black spots, billed as an Aussie Sheppard mix, rescued from West Virginia, where they had more dogs than people willing to raise them, and brought to Washington, D.C., where young couples waited to adopt pets as a toe in the water before having kids.

She was the first addition to our new family. And, as I said to friends at the time, she filled holes in my heart I didn’t know I had.

I remember, in the first days having her in our home, laying on the floor with her on my chest, playing and smiling as she nibbled my hands, nipped at my face, and licked everything in sight.

Man, she was a licker. Some dog whisperer theorized it was due to losing her mother too young. For us, it was just who she was. We trained her eventually, though that too was a bit of a fiasco. Sit. Heel. Stay. We even broke her of the habit of jumping up on visitors. But she never stopped licking people. She could control the urge with us. But the second someone else came in the house with shorts on, she’d lick their legs like it was her religion.

“Sydney, Stop!” Visitors would yell. I’d laugh, wondering when people would learn to wear pants when they came over.

I remember well those puppy training classes my wife and I took her to in her first year. She was young for canine school, and just so darned excited to be around other dogs; she could hardly contain herself. As graduation day neared, we were certain she was going to be held back. Whether there would be a diploma for Sydney was the source of much anxiety. On the day of the final exam, my wife led her around the little obedience course, as the other dogs and owners watched. Our distractible little puppy didn’t earn bonus points for staying focused, as she wiggled and wagged around the room while my wife pleaded, “C’mon girl.” But she did graduate. Diploma and all. Yippie, we said. We were proud. She was a good girl. Of course, the class was as much about training us as it was about training her, the instructor mentioned as we left, deflating our pride just a hair.

But she was trained and ready to become a friend to our first child. And she did, such that our daughter’s first word wasn’t “mama” or “dada,” but “puppy.”

Our pup was patient and curious, kind and gentle; no matter how often she had her tail pulled or was climbed upon.

And, the years and the kids kept piling on. Through it all, she remained our excitable pup.

I remember when, after one of the later kids came along, I decided to start running each morning to get rid of my sympathy weight. Sydney ran with me. She loved it, and it helped keep her nails trimmed. Those were good days.

I remember so many times playing with her in the yard, how she’d run full sprint, and her back legs would hop as she slowed down. And in the snow, and on the beach, and taking her with us on our family walks around the neighborhood. The truth is, I was a crappy owner and didn’t do those things enough, always too busy with the hectic demands of everyday life. My wife was far better, always doting on her, and thinking of her, and including her in our plans. She came to be my wife’s constant companion, the two of them sharing the home office day after day. Those days meld together more than we wish they did now.

There were bad days, too. Like the first time she got sprayed by a skunk. I found myself at the store at 1 a.m. buying a conveyer belt full of tomato juice and douche. “Gonna clean up Gotham,” was the bad joke in my head as I slunk through the checkout line. That was one of several late night washings, which always seemed to happen when the air was cold and the water stung my hands. I can only imagine how she felt. She hated baths. Especially cold ones in the middle of the night. We’d both sooner forget those.
 
Then there was the time we falsely accused her of pooping on the bed. The cat did it, we later learned. And then in more recent days, when she hobbled instead of galloped, when she stopped going up the stairs to avoid falling down them, when we started carrying her places – to her bed, to go outside, to the vet.

When I think of the days with her, I’ll likely remember today, too, though I wish I didn’t.
 
I’d rather remember her curled up at my feet as I wrote a dumb blog post, or graded papers, with her head draped on my foot, and her warmth and love constantly within reach. Or how she sprawled out on the floor, like super dog, with her hind legs straight behind and her front legs reaching forward. Or how excited she'd get when anyone said "wanna go for a walk" and grabbed her leash, or when we'd grill steak and she knew I'd slip some trimmings in her bowl.
 
It’s hard to lose a dog. It’s hard because, except for the rare vacations where we’d board her in the kennel, she was there for it all, waiting at the door as new babies came home, sharing the floor as they started to crawl, running behind them as they learned to ride bikes, eating their snowballs out of the air.
 
For fourteen years, she was a part of us. My kids don’t know a world without her. 

Sydney was such a good girl. She was a good dog. She was a part of our family. Now, just days before Christmas, she’s gone.
 
And we’re gonna miss her. Every day, for always.
 

Sydney

 1/26/2002 - 12/22/2016