In our family, the story starts like this: I didn’t want a new dog.
Now, I love dogs. I had one of my own, Toma, a cat-like Shiba Inu, that I brought into the family when Mary Jo and I were married. And Mary Jo had Cody, a great little rescue dog from Cincinnati. But after a couple years, Cody passed on, and Toma was getting into his teens, and I started thinking that a young family would be a little less tied down once Toma took his trip to the Big Back Yard.
Then Mary Jo brought home Crash.
He was tiny. “Dinky,” we called him. He had a cropped tail that shimmied like a little fur-covered metronome when he was happy, which was often. His default position was one ear up, one ear down. He had a bark that was from something three times his size.
Crash backed down to no dog, played with all comers and was the tug-o-war champion of the block. If you were on one end of a toy and he was on the other, and he whipped out his killer head shake, you felt it.
Luke, when he was maybe 4 or so, had a pillow shaped like Winnie the Pooh, and he’d lie on that while Crash — 10, maybe 12 pounds at the time — pulled him across the floor. Once, the baby brother of one of Luke’s friends came over to the house. He grabbed one of the millions of rubber balls we had lying around and challenged Crashie to a game. Crash drug him across the floor, too, by that little rubber ball, with the kid giggling all the way.
Crash could sit like a champion, rise up on his back legs to beg, speak when commanded and roll over like he was born to do it. Mary Jo taught him.
When we yelled “Come,” he had a little problem. “Off,” usually reserved for one chair in particular, was performed only with a hesitation and a nearly audible sigh. But, whatever. Those were easily overlooked.
Often times, Mary Jo would hug Crash — he allowed it in the early years, and became pretty fond of it later on — and whisper to him. “Remember,” she’d say, nodding my way, “Daddy didn’t even want you.”
Truth be told, though, I was hooked the moment we carried him through the door.
People who don’t have pets often don’t get people that do. I understand. Pets can be messy. They can tie you down. Cats have smelly cat boxes (even I don’t get that), dogs chew things, birds … well, I don’t get them either. Finding someone to pet-sit is a big pain, kennels are expensive, vet bills can be outrageous. Yeah, pets are a hassle to take care of. They’re a responsibility, and we grownups all carry enough responsibility, don’t you think?
The non-pets crowd understands, I guess, why we keep pets. The companionship. The sheer fun and joy. The moment you come through the door and the family dog greets you like he’s been thinking about you all day long.
Still, I don’t think they really, really understand.
Crash was a dinky dog when Luke was a dinky kid. Crash was there for Luke’s first day of pre-school, for his walk down to the bus stop in first grade. He was there when Luke was sick — often right there, right next to him in bed. He was there the day Luke took a baseball bat to the forehead. (I wasn’t.)
Every morning, starting with preschool, when Mary Jo woke Luke up for school, she brought Crash in with her. He’d jump up on Luke’s bed, or Mary Jo would toss him up there, and that’s how Luke got up. Every morning.
When Luke had a bad day at school, he’d come home, lie on the floor and Crash would crawl on top of him. If Luke would drop face down, Crash would climb onto his back.
Just about every night that Mary Jo settled down to watch TV, Crash would crawl into her lap, or next to her in a chair, put his chin down and settle down, too. And every night when we’d go to bed, he’d be there in his bed under the window, with his pink blankie, curled into a ball.
Every once in a while, he’d want to get up into bed with us and, every once in a while, we’d let him. I’d turn onto my back, and he’d invariably cross the covers to burrow down between my knees. It was, in truth, more than every once in a while.
To say he was part of the family is, of course, painfully cliche. But what do you call someone who lives with you every day for years and years and years, who sleeps in your beds, who eats in your kitchen, who is the de facto baby brother to your only child, who watches every episode of “Friends” or “Seinfeld” or “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” with you? Or at least sleeps through them?
Crash was always much more game for play than he actually was healthy for it. Early in his life, after we saw him limping around the back yard in Marietta a little too often, he had to have a ligament problem in his knee fixed. It didn’t completely do the job. We had to watch how much he ran, and if he ran too much, he’d start hobbling. He was still faster than all get out. When we moved to our house in Alpharetta, I’d take a tennis ball on one side of the back yard, toss it high in the air, bounce it off the deck and have it plop into the other side yard. Crash loved chasing it down, sore or not. He never, ever — not once — dropped it when he came roaring back to me. I still had to wrestle with him to get it. But, whatever. Easily overlooked.
For as long as I can remember, we had to watch what he ate, too. He was diagnosed years ago with IBD — Irritable Bowel Syndrome — which meant special foods and, I’m sure, not as much food as he’d like. That kept him lean.
(I almost said lean and mean, but Crash never, ever was mean. Never. If he ever snapped at a person, I don’t remember it. Maybe it happened, if someone accidentally petted him too hard or something. And he’d bark at strangers, for sure, in that too-big-for-his-britches bark, which was always more excitement than threatening. We used to joke that burglars would have a career day at our joint, as long as they’d play a little tug with Crash first.)
Not long ago, we discovered that Crash had gone deaf. Not completely deaf. But mostly deaf. Things (including our new dog, Brodie) could sneak up on him now. He didn’t come running when the security beeps signaled a door opening. He still would recognize the vibration from the garage door opener, which meant someone was coming home, which meant it was time to bark and go crazy. But thunderstorms, a former bugaboo of his, started passing mostly without notice.
His IBD was always an issue, but in the past year or so, it became worse. We had to start trying all sorts of different foods, supplemented with medicine. He still wasn’t putting on any weight. But he was still, every pound of him, a fighter.
I guess I should point out here that it was Mary Jo who named Crash.
He came from a family of machine-named dogs; Diesel and Axel and Rotor and the such. We kicked around his name for a while. Luke — 3 or 4 at the time, remember — wanted to call him Chair Pop. He didn’t quite get the mechanical angle. Or, evidently, much of any angle.
We finally settled on Crash, and it fit perfectly. The way we figured it, Crash was spot-on for a miniature Jack Russell, a breed known for its high energy and rambunctiousness. But our Crash was not classic Jack Russell, because our Crash could take a nap at a moment’s notice, in somebody’s nap, in the forbidden chair, in a patch of sun in the back yard or on the wood floor in the foyer. Crash could, truly, crash anywhere, any time.
As he got older, I’d joke that Crash was a secret energy-sucker, too. Because if he climbed into your lap and settled down for a nap, you were evil if you disturbed him. So, naturally, you’d have to put your head back and nap a little, too.
This is the hard part. As I mentioned a couple posts back, Crash’s health problems were worsening. They got particularly bad before our trip to Austin last week. He couldn’t keep any food in his system. After eating, he immediately rang the bell on the door — another trick Mary Jo had taught him — to rush into the back yard to go. Once, he didn’t even make it off the porch.
His weight had dropped to barely 10 pounds. Mary Jo often caught him standing in the middle of the room, gazing off at nothing.
So we visited our veterinarian at the Hollyberry Animal Clinic in Roswell, and faced The Question that no pet owner wants to face. We — the vet, Mary Jo and I — decided to try him on a couple new drugs (steroids, some stomach-coating stuff and whatnot) and revisit The Question after we returned.
We left Crash with our great neighbors and even better friends, Neil and Jim. We would have left him with no one else. Neil and Jim’s dog, Callie, is a beautiful Westie who has been a good friend for Crash since we moved in more than 12 years ago. Neil lets Crash lick him on the face, which is something I never even let him do. When Crash has a sleepover next door, he sleeps with Neil. They are the best friends and neighbors we could ever hope for.
We got our hopes up when Neil and Jim reported that Crash was doing fine while we were away. He couldn’t jump up on the furniture, like he used to. But the food wasn’t rushing through him, and he seemed to be in better spirits. It was great news.
It was, unfortunately, the drugs. Because when we came back on Thursday, poor, skinny Crashie seemed no better. He barely ate. What he did came out almost immediately.
Mary Jo called the vet on Friday and they talked. He told her that some of the drugs had worn off, and if Crash was still having trouble with all the drugs that were still in his system, his situation was dire. It was time to seriously think about letting him go.
We talked. We weighed the idea of giving him more drugs, and with them maybe another few days of pharmacological relief. We wondered if we were being selfish. We hugged him. A lot. He let us.
It is strange, I think, to call this humane. But I think that’s exactly what it is. I won’t, or can’t, get into why this is considered humane for animals but it’s inhumane, in many people’s eyes, for humans. Maybe another time.
As Mary Jo and I talked through our decision, we thought of Luke. We thought of us. But most of all, we thought of Crash, leading a life in which he, clearly, felt more miserable every day. A life in which he couldn’t eat, couldn’t play and couldn’t even sleep without some amount of discomfort. It was, as near as we could tell, agonizing for him for much of every day. We agonized, too.
Mary Jo and I took The Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived back to the vet clinic on Friday afternoon. I drove. Mary Jo cried and hugged.
We sat in a little room while Mary Jo covered Crash with kisses and told him, with as much of a smile as she could muster, that, “Remember, Daddy didn’t even want you.” I looked into his eyes and told him something different. I told him, several times, out loud, that he was a good boy. I understated it.
The vet gave him a quick shot of sedative, then left the room. We hugged Crash some more. Mary Jo cried. I told him, again and again, that he was a good boy. A good boy. And then Crash, just short of 13 years old, let out a sigh — we felt it was a great sigh of relief — and drifted into a sleep. Mary Jo held him tighter.
At 4:42 p.m. yesterday, we laid Crash — Luke’s little brother, Brodie’s older brother, our little boy, a family member, dammit, in every sense of the word — onto the table in that little room at the Hollyberry Animal Clinic in Roswell, GA. He was wrapped in his pink blankie.
I have told Brodie more than a few times over the past several weeks that he has some big shoes to fill. That he will never be The Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived. That he is no Crash, and he never can be.
And, of course, he can’t. This is Crash we’re talking about. Crash.
But Brodie — a goofy, gangly Border Collie who lives to please his Mom, who loves to gnaw on Luke’s fingers and wrestle with me — will be a good dog as Luke enters his senior year of high school, as he leaves for college in a little more than a year and as Mary Jo and I move onto whatever we do next. While I’m writing this, Brodie sits, dutifully I guess I would describe it, at my feet in my office. Of course, Mary Jo and Luke aren’t here, which is why he’s sticking with me. But still.
Outside, the sun is shining through the April pollen. The grass is greening up. And there in the middle of the back yard — I can see it through my window — sits a lone tennis ball.
I think it’s time to teach Brodie to fetch.