It is the sixth day since you crossed the rainbow bridge. It never occurred to me you would go on this adventure so soon. I imagined us growing into senior years together. Your slick, incredibly shiny black coat would slowly show the gray hairs of time’s passage. I inspected you often scouting for the changes. Only three hairs on the spot above your left brow. There was one, and then this past year two more arrived. You were barely five. I would have continued bragging rights to your youthfulness. Most people assumed you were a puppy because of your prance and curiosity.
You and me buddy. Bonded in a way as no other dog has ever touched my heart. Girl was special, as was Rosie. And long ago my Smudge. Yet you, and only you knew my soul. No matter what I was going through in life, you always stood by me. Your brown eyes filling me so deeply with your love. You heard my less than charitable rants over what I thought were important at the time. You patiently listened, head cocked just so, deciphering the words you knew from our time together. Your body wags to let me know, “It’s OK Mommy. Let’s go walkin’ and it will get better.” Then you’d snuffle my left ear with your black nose as I laced my running shoes, head over my shoulder excited that we would soon be on our way. Me to feeling better, you to sniff and roam. And, maybe swim.
When we would drive to the spots you knew, in Syracuse and then in Baltimore, you would start to yip and whine some. Pacing back and forth through the confines of your seatbelt harnessed to the back seat of our Subaru Blanche. Once you fell off the seat when I hit a hard stop. No chances with your safety after that my friend. I know you didn’t care for the seatbelt, but as was your patient and pleasing nature, you let me pull your paws through and snap the contraption around you into the seat buckle. On longer rides you figured out how to settle in the middle of the back seat and lay your lovely long nose on the armrest in the front seat. I never could resist reaching to scratch your velvet ears.
The closer we got to our destination, the more you wailed. Sometimes it drove us insane if you were really ramped up. Even Daddy who has the longest fuse couldn’t stand it and would sternly say “Fen! Shut up!” I’d snap my fingers and get you to pause for a nano-second. Most times we just gave in and went with it.
You and me Mr. F, we were the modern day version of Lewis and Clark, exploring every nook and cranny of our hometowns. You certainly landed in the right family because that’s what we D’Ags do. Wooded trails, hills, country roads beckon us to see what’s on the other side. It’s so wonderful to have done this with you. You’re favorite words were, “Want to go for a ride? To the park?” You knew adventure was waiting.
You loved to chase critters. Your normally obedient habits fell by the wayside when your doggy brain kicked in. Squirrel! You’d take off and chase the little bugger up the nearest tree leaping up to try to capture it. Daddy and I joked that you wouldn’t know what to do if you were ever to catch one. If a deer happened by, you were long gone.
That’s what happened one morning on our walk down the lane near our Miles Ave. house your first year with us. It was a beautiful early summer morning and we went for a stroll in the neighborhood before work. You wore your dark green bandana, new and still starched. We had let Rosie off in the lane because she always stayed within 10 feet of us. You were still new to us and we were learning you. Dad unhooked your leash at just the moment a doe crashed through the hillside. Gone! No matter how much we shouted to you, you had to chase that deer.
Dad resigned himself to finding you as I had to go to work for a meeting. He couldn’t find you after 40 minutes of searching and headed back home to get ready for work too. Unfortunately he forgot his cell phone or he’d have known you showed up on your own after about 30 minutes, surprising me with your muddy body shake as I dried my hair in the bedroom corner chair. I knew then you’d always find your way home no matter where you were. You were so incredibly pleased with your adventure and so joyous I couldn’t be angry. Even when your shake off ruined my freshly dry-cleaned white blazer because I left it hanging on the bedroom door. Ah well, it was only a thing, and you were my baby.
I remember our first trip to Highland Forest that same summer. Daddy and I introduced you to the rolling paths in the forest. Where Rosie never took her nose from the trail, you leapt over logs and tree limbs nimbly clearing them before your strong legs touched off to the next spot. We thought we could let you off the lead to wander with us because at this point you usually minded our commands to heel and come. Silly us.
You caught wind of a doe in the distance and took off at lightning speed. No matter how much we hollered, you kept running. We lost sight of you. Dad and I tracked what we thought was your path, taking turns calling your name. Just as we began to really worry, some 20 minutes in, you made your way through the briars to me. The joy and relief that bubbled through me was palpable. “Tony, he’s here!” We said you were naughty, but that was just a cover-up for fear you were forever lost.
Do you remember chasing another deer at Oregon Ridge last fall? I should have know better than to let you run in the woods from our early lessons, but you and your friend Pandora loved to roam and run on our weekly walks. God sent me Lauren last fall when I was lonely for a girlfriend in my new town. There she appeared, with her beautiful Pandora, your black lab mix twin though she has 20 lbs. on you. Guess you needed a girlfriend too. Lauren and I looked forward to our weekly trips to Falls Road, Robert E. Lee Park and the NCR trail. Because there were two of you, we felt brave letting you run together. Pandora would often lead you back when you took her too far astray into the woods, chasing some delicious scent.
On this lovely fall day, we roamed the trails at Oregon Ridge. Lauren knew lots of them and navigated. You and Pandora were a delight to watch. Two black streaks running through golden leaves and dappled sunlight. We crossed over the narrow log foot bridge. You figured out how to cross without any fear. As we crested the top trail that overlooked the pond, a huge doe bounded out and down to the water. Twin labs chased that poor thing down the hillside into the water.
Lauren and I shouted to come. Pandora turned, but you, you rascal, were in doggy brain and swam more than half way across the pond in pursuit of the doe. I truly feared you would be gone for hours if you’d made it to the other side because you never gave up on the chase if I couldn’t turn you fast enough with my voice. We got lucky this time because you finally listened. Swimming back and racing up that hill so pleased with yourself. As if to say, “See what I did Mom? It was so cool!” Lauren and I share that story every so often. I love that I have a person in my new life here who knew you and loved you too. Makes it easier to bear your absence when we can conjure you in a happy memory.
Swimming above all else was your favorite thing. When we were putting our wish list together before you arrived, this was in the top 10 qualities. Your favorite place was Green Lakes. We went at least five mornings a week. There were such wonderful trails around Green Lake and Round Lake. I taught you leash manners on these trails, because, let’s tell the truth Scooty, you were a pill at first. You’d strain and snap at other dogs. This was mortifying and unacceptable. Here these nice people would be running or walking past with their docile pooches who simply wanted to say hi. You’d raise your ruff and growl. I learned through watching The Dog Whisper you were protecting me. In my secret heart, I liked that. Yet I liked it better when people told me what a good boy you were when you behaved. Eventually you calmed down as we practiced good habits together. When I’d stop to meditate and take in the morning sun in our favorite open spot, you’d wait patiently, no strain on our leash while I took in the calm.
Your reward for your patience and fine behavior was a good long swim fetching sticks in either lake. Your favorite spot was the big outcrop on the east side of Green Lake. I would gather big sticks on the way around and you knew what was coming. The lake water was often too high for me to get to the furthermost outcrop. You knew this and would playfully retrieve the sticks, chomping them as you looked up at me seeming to say, “Come and get it Mom.” I’d call you a Little Shit but how could I be angry when you were in heaven? I’d say, “Go swim” after a time and you’d gleefully jump high into the water, treading gracefully up and back, snorting every few strokes to keep the water from your snout. It NEVER got old. You delighted many walkers and families as they watched your joy in that lake.
This lake was our most special place Boy. We left our hearts there and now I cannot have the pleasure of taking you back to jump from the big rocks. Maybe you are there in spirit and it is earthbound me who has to imagine you leaping and bounding into the turquoise water.
You were the funniest dog Fen! Your favorite sleeping position was upside down, head bent to one side, lips showing your incredible pearly whites. Strangers would often comment on how beautiful your coat and teeth were. We have lots of memories of you in this pose. In the mornings, Dad would roust you from the guest bed to come sleep with me before he left for work. You would roll over in this pose wagging your tail when he would cajole you to “Come see Mommy.” Lately he had to almost push you off the bed because you LOVED that sleeping space. But then you’d come clicking into the room, rubbing your head along the sides of the bed, stretching in downward dog before leaping up and curling along my body. I would lean around you, arm draped over your belly or neck, and we’d cuddle until it was time to get up. I miss our snuggle time Buddy. I have your blanket as the substitute for the moment. It smells like you. Clean dog and outdoors.
You were always good at amusing yourself. You have a toy basket in the TV room which I cannot bear to put away yet. It holds: a marrow bone, two rubber bones, the green squeaky giant gummy bear from Adam, the spiky red rubber ball and purple rubber ball. And your ding-a-ling. It’s what we called the makeshift toy Daddy made from your chewed-down nyla bone that has an embedded Salvation Army red bell. Watching you run through the house ringing the bell was a riot! You would pull multiple toys over the course of the night and day, scattering them about your pillow or the living room rug. Your favorite game when you were younger was taking the balls and knocking them under the furniture for us to retrieve. Or you’d try to scoot under the chair and sofa, your head making it but your shoulders couldn’t. Perhaps that’s where your nickname Scooty came from.
And speaking of nicknames, you had so many. Some came from different people. Schway and Design Dog were your monikers when we worked with Miss Amy and Company at the design studio. I was so happy you could come to work with me each day. You had your spot between our desks on your pillow. You brought your calm and happiness to our little office (until the kidlets came and jumped your pillow) or the UPS man made deliveries. We worked on the protective barking that was never meant to harm, only to say, “Hey these are my people. Careful.” It was always a work in progress.
There were lots of variations of Scooty. Scootypotamus. Scootay-pot-a-myus, Mr. Scoot. Scooter Pie. Scootybottomus and when you had an unfortunate incident on Adam’s bedroom rug, Squirtybottomus. Somehow Scooty morphed into Skitty recently. It was my name for you and Margot. Unless I motioned to one of you, you didn’t quite know who I was calling. I borrowed Mr. PeePee Caca Puppy from your departed sisters. I still sang their song to you off-key when it was time to go peepee. Also Fen, Mr. F., F. Fenwaydius. Our favorite corny joke was, “What’s a Fenway? About 62 pounds.”
I think your most enduring trait was your enthusiasm for our family.Your entire being
vibrated with joy when we would return from an outing, amplified if we were gone for vacations and you were at the sitter’s. You’d explode with happiness, jumping up on hind legs, big doggy smile and happy yowls of homecoming. Then you’d circle a million miles an hour and launch into our arms. I know Cesar Milan would frown on this action, but I loved it and couldn’t correct you.
You didn’t get to see Alex much when we lived in Syracuse so the homecomings were especially boisterous. Then it was so when we moved to Baltimore and Adam came for visits. Here you were, a huge dog that Adam would pull into his lap like you were a puppy. Our photo albums are full of you boys in these poses, every holiday dressed in some ridiculous bow or hat as you mugged for the camera.
Fen, I miss your tail thumping. You used your tail as your mouthpiece. When I’d softly call your name, you’d match it with a quiet thump. When it was time to go somewhere, you’d wag enthusiasm from the hips down. The bigger the adventure, the broader the wag. Sometimes you’d say hello from your pillow or the sofa as I walked by with the merest flip of your long tail. These sounds echo in our empty halls in memory alone now.
I have to tell you that when you were naughty, I was never really mad at you. Like the time you stole the turkey from the counter, or ate the mint surprise cookies and my milk chocolate unwrapped caramel kisses. Though it did vex me when you’d slink into the dining room and treat yourself to Margot’s untouched wet food. I’d say in a stern voice as I stood above you, “Did you eat that…cookie, cat food, garbage.” This was most always preceded by you coming up to me wagging your entire body and pushing my hand for a pat on the head. I learned that this meant, “I didn’t do anything. Honest. It was the cat.” You’d squint your eyes and turn your smile into a frown, ears bent way flat aside your head, contrite in your body language, tail wagging furiously back and forth to beg forgiveness. Maybe it was wrong of me, but I loved this charade. Your relief when I’d say, “OK, I love you you’re a good boy, give me a hug” made my heart fill with even more love.
You and Margot were pretty good friends. Not at first. It was our fault for the bad start because we let you into the house on your first day home without prepping her. She was confused because we think she was expecting Rosie as you looked similar. It took months for her to trust you. Finally, one day, she stood her ground when you tried to playfully buzz her with your nose. She hissed and you backed off. Margot would take her revenge too by lounging smack in the middle of your huge bed. You’d wiggle yourself into a small ball in the corner as she casually flipped her tail slowly up and down. Hilarious!
I have another confession, to Margot this time. I helped you get back at her occasionally by setting you after her. Margot would claw the front door rug. I’d say, “Fen, get the Baby!” You’d rush her as if to say, “Mom said no!” and she’d turn tail scurrying off. Petty amusements that did no lasting harm, because she was your pack too, and you loved her. Margot gave up more room on your pillow or the bed so you could nestle together as time passed.
My Boy, you have to know that your Daddy loved you to the moon and back. He was the one you would wrestle with, sounding for all the world like you were ripping him to pieces. Then Dad would say softly, “OK,” and you’d stop just like that. Licking his hand or face. He took you hither and yon on adventures too. Most often we’d go together, but during periods of my intense work, off you would go finding new trails and spots to swim, unearthing humungous sticks. You’d carry these treasures proudly though they might be three-four feet long.
Dad has a wicked arm so he could throw your tennis ball hundreds of feet. At Jamesville Beach dog park, you ran sleek and low to retrieve these balls. Sometimes you’d play keep away but always caved for the next round of fetch. Dad also invented the rock game at the dog beach at this park. He’d lob small rocks upstream and you’d bound after them. He learned to keep a handful of ammo before starting the game as you’d leap up to help yourself, drenching him in the process. You lost the tip of your left front canine in this game although it healed itself nicely.
Here’s a secret about Daddy, Mr. F. He was never cross with you either. Sure, he might have grumbled when he had to chase you down when you went walk about. Or wasn’t happy when you chewed the rug, his shoes, your pillows and the TV remote. You’d melt his heart when you looked with liquid love into his equally gorgeous brown eyes. He misses you mightily too. So send him your secret language of comfort.
I’m going to have to learn a new way of being here without you. To honor your lessons of living life fully and with joy. You see, though you were a friend to many and treasured member of our family, you were my touchstone to a happy life. It’s the little things that I already know will vaporize with time. How you would sigh when you’d wake from your doggy day dreams. The way you’d magically appear when I made salad, crunching the spines of the lettuce. You curled behind me on the office rug as I wrote. Your delight when I’d throw the tennis ball, ears flapping as you’d drop it at my feet and sometimes in my hand. Our snuggles at night, as I’d do my needlework while you pressed against the pillow under my left arm. I loved to gently flip your long, soft ears back and forth, then lean into your forehead and give you a big kiss. Tickle your pink belly and blow warm kisses into your shoulder. Your sweet breath.
When strangers came, you were my guardian. I never had need or worry that you would have to fight. I wouldn’t call that energy into our lives. But I will say that I admired how you placed yourself between me and strangers to our home. Your body was relaxed, but you made it very clear with your eyes that “this woman is my most important human so mind yourself.” I always felt safe and protected within your love.
As for exploring, how I will miss putting you in the car and wandering about. You were always the perpetual little kid who was game for new places. I cannot conceive of the walks to our familiar spots without you on the other end of your leash. How you’d respect my need to have you heel or pull me up a steep hill. Your joyous abandon and gleeful howling when I’d urge you to jump off the concrete pad into the river.
You eased my transition into my new life. Erasing my loneliness last year when Dad had to move to Baltimore while we stayed behind to wrap up life in Syracuse. Creating excitement to find new haunts in Baltimore, introducing me to new people when we ventured to parks and the neighborhood for our walks.
I will miss blowing bubbles watching you leap into the air to capture them. Giving you the last bite always. Watching you frolic with Pandora, Jake and Tito, Ruthie and Paisley. Seeing the sun shine so brightly off your coat it turned you silver. Watching you lay in the yard, nose sniffing something yummy on the breeze. The gentle tug of your teeth as I handed you your cookie after our walks. Bending down to hug you.
If I could turn back time, I would change your last moments with us, keeping you with us until old age took you. You burst from the kitchen in pursuit of a fox that wandered in our yard as the dusk began. You were so fast, and so in doggy brain. Chase! “ Leave my yard! These are MY people!” I could neither catch you nor turn you, though my heart so badly wanted to. I wanted to believe the blaring horn from the light rail train was a warning, not a death blow. Yet, I know, because you taught me this, there was only a brief moment between you and the rainbow bridge. “Don’t mourn me Mommy and Daddy. I am whole and always with you. Play, have fun, make new friends. And one day, when you’re ready, we’ll meet again.”
Until then Scooty, I am living our joy together. I love you with all my heart.