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August 29, 2003

In Loving Memory...

I've always been a dog person. Sure I've owned cats, and one in particular stands out because the finest compliment I could pay to him was that "he's half dog." But dogs have always been the pets that really dug in and made themselves family for me.
After moving into a house in the country my wife mentioned that a friend just happened to have some labrador/golden retriever mix puppies to give away to a good home. Well a country home doesn't really qualify as "home" without a good dog, so I agreed to make a visit to look at some puppies to see if a suitable family dog could be found.
We had determined that a good short-coat black lab would be the perfect companion for our three kids and myself, since I could teach it to hunt in the fall and depend on it to be gentle and attentive to the children. Conveniently my wife's friend had picked out a fine specimen from the litter that fit the bill perfectly, and even named her "Velvet" because of her short and shining black coat. We were quite pleased with Velvet and began getting her ready for the trip back home when I spied a shy chocolate puppy looking at us with the big sad eyes that are reserved only for worshipfulness and getting out of serious trouble. At that moment I knew I had to have a second dog, and this one was it. The kids and wife could complain about the long-haired retriever coat on her all they wanted, the chocolate pup would be mine and I would name her Bobo... be quiet, this is not your dog.
On the ride home, despite the alien experience and seperation from her former home this little chocolate pup lay quietly on the floorboard without a whine or whimper. Once home she made herself comfortable and slept in our bedroom. Her sister kept us up for most of that first night, but Bobo just took it all in stride. That's pretty much how things went with the pups... Velvet would start trouble, Bobo would reluctantly join, if she joined at all, and inevitably if they were going to get caught doing no good she would be the one. Her sister was more devious, but Bobo managed to avoid major trouble because she was the master of the pitiful apologetic look.
Bobo was the first to discover that she could climb into the kids wading pool, and she did so often. It seemed a near-daily occurrence that the wife would open the front door to let the dogs in and there would be a gasp of horror followed by a vigorous scolding and a cry for towels to dry off two sopping wet pups who had a love for water and mud.
If I had to confess the truth, I'd claim that Bobo was the less intelligent of the two. She made up for it in outright affection and brains are overrated when compared to unconditional love. She was also most assuredly the lazier of the two. Velvet would be ready to bound out the front door, and Bobo would after much cajoling get up and shuffle out the door as if we had chained her to the coal cart for yet another trip into the mines. That is not to say that she didn't enjoy rough-housing with her sister, in fact she would often ambush Velvet and roll her on the ground before hopping up and seeing if Velvet would chase her. Invariably Velvet would do exactly that.
On a Saturday morning, about 9:00am, I think she was doing just that trick. I was at my desk going over a list of things I had to prepare for a trip that we would take later that day when I saw a farm truck pull up to our driveway. I'm used to that kind of thing because the local farmhands often stop by to comment on the Cobra kitcar I own, so I went to put a shirt on and get my boots for what was sure to be a gawker interested in jawing about the car. My wife answered the door, and I could tell by the look on the face of the kid that was standing on our porch that this wasn't about my car. I overheard "I didn't see her run out" as I came to the door, and felt my stomach drop into my shoes.
As I rushed out the door I could see the form of a dog laying in the road, and I knew it was Bobo. Velvet came racing to the house just as I was getting to the road, and the truck driver was in tow behind me delivering a stream of anguished apologies and explanations. My concern was that she was seriously injured and I would have to get her to the vet but seeing her up close I knew she was already gone. I can't recall a single word the driver said as I sat beside my dog and stroked her fur as she lay there dead. I knew that she had died instantly because of the unnatural twist in her posture that was the evidence of a broken back. One moment she had been goading her sister into chasing her, and then there was nothing.
After several minutes I got up and told the driver that he had done the right thing and there was no blame for an obvious accident. Then I walked to my wife and told her to get a blanket because Bobo was dead. I'm sure she knew, but hearing it said made it real I suspect and she broke down. I told her to say nothing to the kids until I could get the pup wrapped up and more presentable. She returned with the towel, and I made the long walk back to our dog. I apologized to her as I gently picked her up and wrapped her in the blanket before laying her in the cardboard box. Then I told my wife to tell the kids what had happened. The response was as predictable as it was terrible, and after the initial shock wore off I suggested that they might want to write letters that we could bury with Bobo while I dug a grave near a stand of trees we had planted.
As I lay our dog into the grave and placed the letters the kids had written to her with her, our youngest daughter said rather quietly "she was our good dog," and that seemed enough of eulogy for everyone. After filling the grave and surrounding it with stones the kids had gathered, I went back into the house.
Later, while drinking one of what would be many beers that day, I thought about the meaning of the phrase "she was our good dog," and even now I can think of no epitaph more eloquent or that can convey such a strong endorsement of love and approval. A good dog is a breed apart from the rest of the rabble that occupy the world at any given moment, and every child knows that truth as surely as they know anything. A good dog comes padding into your room at night when the thunder booms and the lightning flashes like a strobe, and reassures you that she is guarding things just fine and that no bogeyman will be disturbing the house this night while she remains on duty. A good dog knows that the best place to be is trotting along beside you as you take a long and contemplative walk pondering the weighty matters of life. A good dog may look at you quizzically when you're behaving like an idiot, but she has the discretion to keep her opinions to herself and the abiding faith that even at this moment you are right, if not correct.
I can think of no man I have ever been acquainted with that is worthy of the honor that comes with the title "a good dog," and I suspect no one else has either. And so I think it is enough to say that we shall miss our Bobo deeply, for she was indeed our very good dog.

Posted by fallous at August 29, 2003 10:56 AM

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