Our guest blog post today is from Tracy H. Tucker author of I Kill Me: Tales of a Jilted Hypochondriac.
Penality Kicks in Soccer and the Life of a Dog
If there are two things I know about this world, it’s that championship soccer games shouldn’t be decided by penalty kicks, and dogs don’t live long enough. Even when they get to be fifteen.
It was May of 1998. On the way home from running errands, I passed the Humane Society. I would always feel a twinge driving by, picturing the wide-eyed, fearful stare of a senior cat, the timid dog thumping his tail in the corner of his cage. But this time, I felt more than a twinge – I felt a pull. I knew it was foolhardy–nay, colossally STUPID, to go in there. We already had a lively eight year old black Lab mix and three cats. But for whatever reason, I found myself driving into the parking lot and moments later, standing in front of the cage of what was to become my second dog. He was twelve weeks old, a black Lab/shepherd mix with a white streak down his chest and ears that didn’t know what they wanted to do yet. He came to the front of the cage when he saw me, wagged his tail, and then went back to his bed and curled up to nap, tucking his tail beneath him, and acting as though everything was right with the world. I decided I had to have him.
At the beginning, everything about it screamed mistake! Completing the adoption paperwork caused me to get home about five minutes later than I should have, so that my first grade daughter got off the bus to a locked door, and I found her crying on the steps – until she saw the puppy. No one seemed to understand why I had felt the need to get a second dog. I didn’t understand why I felt the need to get a second dog. Even though I was his new mom, I had not fallen instantly in love with him as I had with our other dog. This new puppy had a dull coat and a bloated, worm belly, and he was quiet and didn’t lick and jump on us as puppies usually did. I remember all five of us, my husband, three daughters and me, sitting in the bathroom as I prepared to give him a quick bath in the tub, while he just lay on my husband’s lap. Sometimes quiet puppies can turn out to be aggressive dogs, I thought. What if he turns out to be mean? What if having two dogs is too much to handle? Our older dog had seemed less than enamored with the new addition. For a few fleeting moments, I considered bringing the puppy back. I thought of it all that first day, right up until the time I took him out to pee that afternoon, and instead of me having to lead him to the door, he bounded up the steps and sat, waiting to be let in, and I thought with a pang, even as little as he was, he knew this was his house. His. And I stopped thinking about bringing him back. I shudder to think of what we would have missed if I’d brought him back.
I say, without reservation and unapologetically to the millions of dog owners out there, that Tucker was the Best Dog In The World. His mellow, dignified nature carried through his puppyhood to old age. Our house was always teeming with neighborhood kids, lively with birthday parties and barbecues, and none of this would faze Tucker. Later on in his life, when we added kittens to our family, he didn’t even lift his head off the rug to sniff them. The dog was the meaning of the word chill.
There were only two things that would get him riled: the first was when our neighbors would walk their Standard Poodle up the road, and then Tucker would become uncharacteristically unglued (perhaps because the dog looked decidedly un-canine). The second thing was the water. When we’d drive near a large body of water, the Lab in Tucker would completely overtake anything else he was made of. He’d tremble and drool until the windows were steamed up and the upholstery was spattered with droplets of his saliva, and the car would be filled with the sounds of kids protesting and Tucker’s loud, throaty panting. During what would be his last trip to the ocean at my parents’ seaside home, Tucker, at fourteen, his legs stick-straight with arthritis, leapt out of the car upon arrival and raced to the water. Oblivious to our pleas to slow down, Tucker scrambled down the embankment and landed upside down in the bushes, until my father rescued him.
One of the things I appreciated most about Tucker was that he was always There. There when my kids were growing up, in so many family photos: one of him playing in a pile of loam we’d had delivered, his snout covered in dirt, while my three little girls in their bathing suits looked on, giggling. There as my faithful and ever-ready jogging partner, his leash looped loosely around my waist, bringing I love dogs, too smiles from passers-by. There during my unexpected, difficult divorce, when everything I had believed in was no more. But I could always believe in Tucker. And he was There to approve the new man in my life, my husband-to-be who grew to love Tucker as much as I did—a man I loved partly for his willingness to take twice as long installing my new front door because he was throwing the tennis ball for Tucker. Priorities.
Tucker had been around so long that we liked to say he’d done it all. Tucker used to be a general in the Korean War. Tucker knew about the challenges of coaching the Celtics. When Tucker was CEO of General Electric… you get the idea. He was also bright enough to understand past tense, looking at us with interest when we’d say things like, “‘Member when we went for a ride? And got a donut? ‘Member that?” He responded to many nicknames: Charlie Brown. Chuck Brown. Biggity Big. Hot Diggity Dog. Blackety-Black, don’t talk back. When he would hobble slowly in his later years: Rocket. And my personal favorite: Mr. Moonlight.
He used to talk with his ears. Much of the time, they were in flying nun-mode, but when he was standing outside at the door waiting to come in and saw your face in the window, his ears would go down flat which meant “oh good, you’re there.” His ears were damned cute, but they didn’t always work. At times, he had selective hearing. He couldn’t hear you calling to him when he wanted to stay outside or caught a scent of something interesting, but he sure could hear the crinkle of a wrapper, or the crunch of teeth into an English muffin.
One of the most wonderful things about him–the fact that he was always There–was also the hardest thing to accept when he died. I used to try and prepare myself for the day when he would no longer be with us. I knew it was coming, knew it when our family room turned into a Geriatric Canine Center, complete with a small tarp underneath his bed, knew it when I petted him during the last few weeks and felt the stark reality of rib-rib-rib. No matter how much you wished it wasn’t so, no matter how much you wanted him back, you had to move toward acceptance and learn to deal with the split-second burst of heart-leaping hope, followed by crushing sadness, when you came into the family room and thought you saw him on the rug. For a dog that didn’t say boo, the house became eerily silent without him. While I fully realize that people endure far, far worse than saying goodbye to an old dog, still, the ache is tremendous. You don’t realize there is sentimentality in a tuft of black hair in the house (or even poop in the yard), until you’ve lost a dog.
I had been trying to find just THE right phrase to capture the essence of this dog, until my husband said, simply, “he was a perfect gentleman to the end.” And he was, although I do not want to think of him as having ended. I will instead imagine him racing headlong into the waves on the legs of his youth, his fierce love for the ocean throbbing in his blood, my Tucker Everlasting.