While I have never been one of those who elevate pets to the same level as humans (though I have known several people who I would definitely rank below turtles and most other animals) I have enjoyed the companionship of dogs and on occasion a few cats.
Growing up, I had a succession of dogs. My first dog, Lady, disappeared shortly after she decided it would be a good idea to eat our landscaping that my dad had spent the entire weekend installing. I’m not sure if her disappearance was linked to her shrub meal or my dad’s outrage when he discovered what she had done, chased her around the yard in his stocking feet until he cornered her, and then proceeded to kick the side of our brick house when she ducked.
My next puppy, Tyke, lasted only a day or so before my grandfather accidentally ran over him while backing his car out of the garage. I was devastated as this was the first time I had ever experienced the death of an animal.
My next dog, Prince, disappeared after we returned from a vacation. I can still hear my mother’s sobs when she discovered that Prince had managed to leap over the safety gate to escape from the kitchen where he was being kept and fed by our next door neighbor. Our once gray living room carpet was mottled yellow and Prince had eaten about half of our furniture.
Fast forward 30+ years. My eight year old daughter Brittany had been lobbying my wife, DeeDee, to get a pet for some time and it appeared that she was gaining traction. I could see that my delaying tactic was headed for ultimate failure, so I decided to be proactive.
I had always owned and preferred large mixed breed dogs that we would typically get from someone with a litter in a cardboard box outside a grocery store. But I decided that with our frequent boating trips and travels, an acceptable compromise might be a small dog. DeeDee suggested a Pomeranian and I found someone with several for sale.
So that afternoon when I picked Britt up from school she said, “Are we going to the movies like you promised?”
I smiled and replied, “I’ll give you a choice. We can go to the movies or… (I waited several seconds while she gave me her typical annoyed look at being held in suspense) we can go get a… (drum roll) puppy.”
“Really?” she squealed, and made her decision in about three microseconds.
She picked Skippy out of the litter of 7-week-old puppies, and the lady added a small pink bear for him to play with. Then we headed home with what would be Brittany’s constant companion for the next twelve years. Three weeks later, when he had stopped crying constantly and wetting everywhere but the newspaper, he proved to be a pretty good dog.
Britt used to love tying his pink bear to the back of her remote controlled car and then tormenting Skippy by driving it all around the side yard with him in hot pursuit. One time we had him on our boat, Vixen, while we were over in Destin. I was in the galley cooking dinner when I noticed a crowd gathering behind the boat staring. Curious, I walked over and saw that they were staring at Skippy, who was walking around the cockpit on his two hind legs in order to see over the side of the boat.
My favorite trick was teaching him to “attack.” Whenever someone would knock on the door, I would get him all spun up and then yell “attack” as I opened the door. The look of fear on the person’s face would instantly melt into a smile as they saw this six pound dog (half of which was fur) come hurtling out barking and then begin to lick their legs.
I was amazed that Britt could let him out to do his business and he would dutifully return to the front door to be let back in. With any dog I had ever had, letting it free was followed by an hour or two of pleading with it to come back, and then a wild chase through the neighborhood until I was finally able to corner it and physically return it home.
In Skippy’s case I never really believed it was obedience so much as being a very small dog, he was somewhat of a coward. One day, I let him out the front door just as one of our neighbors was jogging around the circle with two horse-sized Great Danes. They were just heading away when Skippy saw them and bolted across the yard barking as if to say, “Yeah, you better run away.”
Well, the lady was afraid that he might follow them, so she turned and made another loop around the circle. As soon as Skippy saw the two giants headed back his way, he couldn’t get back inside the house quickly enough.
A few days later, I decided to try taking Skippy with me on my neighborhood walk. This lasted about a week before one of my buddies saw me and made some very unflattering comments about me walking Britt’s little toy dog. It was then that I recognized that I either had to abandon the practice of taking Skippy along or get a far more manly dog—a German Shepard or maybe a pit bull.
Britt was forced to leave her faithful companion behind when she headed off to college at the University of Florida, but was always glad to see him whenever she returned home. But as Skippy was about to turn 12, the normal maladies of old age caught up with him.
One day about 3 weeks before his 12th birthday, he became very sick so I took him to the vet. Several hundred dollars and a round of antibiotics later, they referred us to a “specialist” vet about an hour away for an ultrasound.
Their diagnosis indicated that he had a problem with his gall bladder which would require surgery, and they offered to work up a cost estimate. While I mentally prepared myself to spend another few hundred dollars, the doggie nurse returned and handed me a several page printout with the total–$3000.
When I regained consciousness, I reluctantly gave my consent as they were prepared to operate right then and there while I waited. I figured that we were playing long odds but I just couldn’t bring myself to give up on him. The surgery was successful, but they discovered that he was much worse off than we had hoped and two days later, we lost him.
On the one hand, I knew that he had likely been in pain and suffering. But on the other, it’s hard to let go of a pet that is so dependent and has become an important part of the family. I know that dying is part of living, but saying goodbye is surely not the fun part.
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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