Black Dog

Best Goddamned Dog Ever

Every pet owner believes his/her pet to be the "best ever". They are all wrong. The dog you see to the left, whom my kids named "black dog", was indeed, the best dog ever ... bar none.

Today, January 14, 2006, I had the lovely task of putting a round from a .357 magnum into the back of his skull and through his brain, ending his misery and his life. I've been crying ever since.

I tell you he was "the best dog ever", and I don't exagerate. There has never been another like him, and although I will have other dogs (indeed, I already have another pup), there will never be another Black Dog.

Black Dog in the snow

Black Dog was a pure-bred mutt, spawn of two AKC registered dogs, one black lab and one weimaraner ... two dogs that were never supposed to get together. The respective owners sued each other over this breach of doggy conduct, and the resultant pups were throw-aways. Black Dog was the runt of the litter, and made his way into our lives as a six-week old, in a winter that found us living on a 22 acre farm in southern Ohio.

It's funny, I don't remember much of his "puppy" days, other than the many nights he snuggled his somewhat misshapen muzzle in the crook of my arms and slept. However, my wife recalls that as a pup, he was a hellion, dragging stuffed animals from one end of the house to the other, at full gallop. It was soon thereafter that my wife lost patience, and Black Dog became an outside dog. And, it was very soon after that, that those "best dog ever" qualities came to light, and he was forever an "inside dog" and our constant companion.

He wasn't much of a hunter ... guns and loud noises scared him. For his entire life, a threatening thunder storm would find him wining and cowering. Nor was he a water dog ... considering his "lab" pedigree, he absolutely hated water. In fact, bath times usually meant me stripping naked and dragging his shaking-scared ass into the tub where we'd proceed to wrestle. Once I finally got him lathered and rinsed, the fun began, with all kinds of body shaking and some more wrestling with the towels. The after-bath aftermath found Black Dog hair on the bathroom ceiling.

He may not have been a water dog, but man what a noze. I could take a rock (your garden variety stone), have my young daughter rub her hands on it, let him smell it, and then put him in the house. I'd have my daughter traipse off through the adjoining farmland, through creeks, over fallen trees, back-tracking and criss-crossing her own path, and have her hide the rock. I'd have her take a separate path back, again back-tracking and criss-crossing her path(s) to try to confuse the scent as much as possible. It often took her several hours to make the trek, and upon her return, I'd let Black Dog out and say, "go get the rock". Fifteen minutes later, there he'd be, rock in mouth, wagging his tail.

Not only did he have one great noze, he was damned smart. As a young dog, he loved gathering up all the box turtles he could find, bringing them back to our back porch and depositing them. He'd drop one, and go find himself another, only to return to find the first one had disappeared. He lost maybe two turtles that way, before he learned that if he rolled them over on to their backs, they'd still be there when he got back with the next one. It wasn't unusual for us to find a half dozen plus box turtles, all on their backs and struggling, proudly on display.

At the time, we were partying with a couple who also lived out in the sticks in southern Ohio. Where we went, so went Black Dog. I've never met a dog that was as well mannered when riding, and he rode every where with us. When we had too much to drink at our friends house, we'd "camp out" in our conversion van, our kids safely in the house of our friends. Black Dog was torn as to where he was to sleep ... with us, or guarding his kids, so he usually opted to stay outside the van, halfway between the van and the house.

Occasionally, he'd get a wild hair to stroll the countryside to explore all those wonderful farm smells he caught on the wind. As we lay there one night, trying to sleep off too much drink, a horrendous smell worked its way into the van ... Black Dog had found himself a skunk, one whom didn't enjoy being found and nailed Black Dog point blank. That was his last ever forray into the unknown ... between the skunk stink and the ensuing tomato juice bath, he had enough.

Shortly after, we moved back in with my brother, in a very urban setting. It was a religiously followed schedule that Black Dog and I would take a stroll everynight at 11 for him to do his business. But, were I unable, or not inclined, I could let him out on his own. You see (and I never "trained" him to do this), one time around the property with the obligatory marking of territory, he never, ever crossed his boundries. No matter where fate found us living, or under what circumstances, that dog would not leave his yard, watched, unwatched, or provoked.

Black Dog being gentle

Similarly, he never begged, nor would he"steal" food. He would sit patiently awaiting his table scraps, and I ALWAYS saved him a bite. I could be eating a hamburger, put it on the coffee table right in front of him, leave the room (or for that matter, the house) and on my return the hamburger would still be there untouched. Well guarded, but untouched. The first time I handed him a bite, he snipped a bit and I scolded him, telling him to "be gentle" ... from that day on, "be gentle" meant he would gingerly and carefully take food, doing his utmost to avoid fingers.

And what food that dog would eat! I never met a dog who would eat fruit, tangerines and apples were two of his favorites. Veggies? You bet. About the only things I ever saw him refuse were a carrot and an olive, otherwise, I guess he figured if we'd eat it, it was good enough for him.

Another of his displays of brilliance was in the "fetch" game. He loved to chase after balls you threw off, but it only took him a couple of times to learn that if he gave you back the ball, you'd invariably throw it again, and he'd be obliged to "fetch". Smart bugger that he was, he'd put up with one, or maybe two throws, at which point it was impossible to get the ball back.

I never taught him to heel, but when we'd go for a walk, if he got a pace or two in front of me, all I had to do was stop, and he'd circle back and get on my heel. All dogs know from wence the food cometh ... Black Dog would follow any one and every one who headed to the kitchen, in the hopes of garnering a bite or two. One clear sign to him that the food flow had stopped, was if one washed one's hands.

Black Dog on the couch

I've mentioned "well mannered", but I have barely done Black Dog justice. To his dying day, he would not get on any of our furniture ... without "asking" first. He'd put a paw up on the couch and look over at us for permission. Even after receiving the go-ahead, he would wait until we spread out a towel, or sheet for him to lay on. We have slept on a water bed since our earliest days ... he tried ... once ... to get on that bed. When that sucker moved on him, he never again tried, or asked. He was never much of a "chewer", but it used to piss him right off if we left him alone. He would make a point of finding one thing, usually a kleenex, and tear it to shreds, just to let us know it was completely unacceptable for us to leave.

As polite as he was, he was much like my wife, a bit of a bed hog. At night, he would roam from my side of the bed, to Dianne's side, to the feet of the kids' beds, always protecting us. But, he knew he had my eldest suckered. He'd politely lay his head up on her bed, asking to join, and once he got the go ahead, up he'd go. And then he'd get big, real big. Many a night Ashley found herself on the floor. Likewise, on his many trips down, brother Steve shared the couch with the dog, the dog spread out huge, Uncle Steve rolled up in a tight little ball, on the only remaining area of bed that wasn't covered in stretched-out dog.

Once house-broken, he never erred. Only one time in his life did he ever have an accident, that being a time where we unavoidably had to leave him way longer than we should have. Puking, was another story ... that dog just never grasped that puking was undesireable. And, it has only been the last year of his life that he learned to bark to let us know he wanted out, or in. For years, the signal that he wanted out was repeated ear-flapping and circling. But, when it was time to come in, the poor old bastid would sit in front of the door, patiently and politely, for as long as it took.

Another move found us hauling everything we owned to the Tampa Bay area, where for the most part, my children grew up. Black Dog, of course, made the 1000 mile ride as the well mannered dog he was, and adjusted nicely into the role of family protector. Soon after we settled in, a non-poisonous snake made the mistake of crossing Black Dog's path ... before I could say "oh shit", that dog had dived into the bushes, grabbed the snake dead center in his middle, and came backing out voilently shaking his head, breaking the snake's back in the process. I never worried again about the kids safety, living here in snake coutry.

Black Dog and I were out numbered, being the only males in a house full of women. And, I'm afraid he was a bit of a girly-dog, one who loved perfume. Let one of his girls put on some perfume, and he'd be rubbing all over them, or the area where they sprayed themselves. I kinda let this behavior slide, since I too, like the smell of perfume on my girls. And, it wasn't only perfume ... Florida is blessed with good-smelling flora and fauna ... Black Dog loved to rub himself under the many sweet smelling bushes in our yard(s). He'd come back in the house smelling good, but covered in pollen. Unfortunately, he was alergic, and often had to be treated with Benedryl to keep from itching himself to death. But damn, he smelled good.

Black Dog and Skooch

My kids snookered me one father's day, giving me the gift of a kitten, meaning of course, they wanted a kitten and got one. Black Dog adjusted. In his latter years, his hearing and eyesite failed him. There was a memorable day recently where he was standing outside, when one of the local stray cats was intertwining itself around Black Dog's legs. He was quite content until he nozed down, sniffing the strange cat's ass, and figuring out that it wasn't HIS cat, let out with that Black Dog, "there's an intruder here" alert bark.

My wife developed breast cancer, lost a breast, and has since gone through the hell of chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer went into remission, and then resurfaced as a brain tumor, bringing about yet another series of chemo and radiation, this time making her voilently ill. One family member refused to leave her side throughout it all ... Black Dog. And, during this time, he began to develop cancer of his own. He had knots and tumors all throughout his body, and his hips were undoubtedly painful. He never showed his discomfort, but time had worn on him.

Black Dog and Ashley

In fact, he instictively knew when someone was ill, or upset, and was always there to lend his comfort. Ashley recalls that he was an amazing companion, always standing by her when she was in some sort of distress. Once when we lived at the farm house, she remembers being realy pissed off at her mother and me, and she stormed off to go sit out in the woods and cry a little bit. Black Dog wouldn't let her go alone. He went with her and sat beside her the entire time, waiting patiently for her to feel better. He did this once again once we moved to Florida and Uncle Mike died. As Ashley sat on the floor crying queitly, he sat beside her with his head on her shoulder, snffing at her face to make her smile. The older he got, the harder it became for him to try to lighten our spirits, but he always stuck by us. This past Christmas Break and as old and feeble as he was, when Ashley was puking her guts out with flu, Black Dog stayed up with her all night, making sure she was alright.

Ashley and the Black Dog had a bad habit of wrestling in the house. It wasn't until very recently when she had become a full grown woman that Ash ever won ... Black Dog was very strong. But even when thekids were verysmall, he never got rough with them, or never hurt them. The three of them might tear the house apart, but I knew the kids were always safe.

West central Florida is home to a plethora of lizzards. I've gotten to the point where I don't jump any more when they scurry through the leaves at my feet, simply because there are so many of them. Black Dog noticed each and every one of them, as one of his favorite pass-times was to chase 'em. Even crippled and old, let a lizzard cross his path and he became a young dog again.

My eldest daughter has now flown the nest, this past fall leaving to go to the University of Florida. And Black Dog was lost, for weeks pining away in front of her bedroom door. The trips back home ... Thanksgiving and Christmas, saw one happy dog to have his kid back.

Black Dog and Butters

My youngest never particularly cottened up to Black Dog ... oh, she loved him in her own way, but I suspect she always viewed him as "Ashley's dog", as opposed to one of her own. This past fall found her wanting a "dog of her own". Knowing Black Dog's time was limited (he was in his 15th year), and against my better judgement, I relented and we adopted a catahoula leopard mix. I knew in my heart that Black Dog would be devastated ... that the pup would be the death of him. The pup, lived up to my expectations, being the aggrevating bitch that only a young pup can be, and driving my poor old dog nuts. Black Dog however, far surpassed my expectations ... he grew stronger, and rather than the pup being his death, she gave him new life. There were things he had to pass on to her, instructions to give.

By Christmas, he was back to his old self, following his routines and thrilled that his kids were home from school. He was eating well, moving well. And although he had no patience for this new pup (at least when we were watching), I caught him on occasion being quite playful with her. In the process of severly scolding her, he got between us, protecting her as he had always protected his kids.

The new year saw my daughters both go back to school. Black Dog went down hill very rapidly thereafter. I saw the pup jump on him one afternoon, and his hind quarters locked up to where I had to help him back in the house. A couple of days later, he went into convulsions, the cancer eating away at his nervous system. I dug the hole that same day. For the next few days, he waxed and waned between good and very bad moments, my wife and I holding him and comforting him. Last night, he came into our bedroom, and slept in a position to guard us, as he always had. And this morning, he got up with us, went outside as he always did ... but he couldn't make it back on his own. As I carried him into the house, I knew it was time.

Black Dog and Dianne

I have never taken a pet to the vet for final disposition. Black Dog fucking hated the vet, and I'd be damned if his last memory was going to be a stainless steel table and a needle. After taking him inside, he spent the next couple of hours, alternately trying to crawl to me, or to my wife to be held and comforted. I think we both hoped that he'd let go and nature would simply take its course, but I got the sense that he was pleading with me. He was too faithful to just give it up, and my reluctance to do the right thing was simply my own selfishness in not wanting to lose my best-ever dog. I carried him outside to the hole, offered him a Hershey Kiss, said goodbye, and shot him dead.

My best friend in the whole world is my wife ... lover, wife, best friend. My children, are of course, my children, and I love them both dearly. Black Dog was my dog ... the best goddamned dog I've ever met, or ever will meet. Time will dull the pain, and the new pup will be the queen bee around here, but I will never forget my dog. Fare thee well old dog, you were the best that's ever been.

All rights reserved.