To My Sweet Old Man
June 27, 2003. A wily little pit bull named Lacey gave birth to seven puppies. She’d accidentally gotten knocked up by the neighbor’s dog—a ridiculously furry thing—and so the pups were an interesting mix.
Puppy number seven came out and he wasn’t breathing. I scooped him up and rubbed him briskly (just like I’d learned from 101 Dalmatians), and he inhaled his first breath.
I saved his life that day, but he spent the next fourteen years saving mine.
I had to let my best friend go last night, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I won’t go into the details, because they’re unimportant. All that matters is, he’s gone. And it hurts like hell.
He was such a smart, happy, sweet guy. Picked up on new tricks so fast. I spent years showing off his “Reach for the sky” trick to any new person he met. And, no matter how many times he did the trick, when I yelled BANG! he’d plop to the ground and immediately transition into “roll over.” ever quite got the “play dead” part.
He had a fondness for all things sugar. I blame my brother for this. They spent years sharing candy bars and donuts and cookies. So much so that when I moved out on my own, there were multiple times when he’d get on the counter and help himself to the sweets. An entire dozen donuts once. I couldn’t even eat that!
He was the best cuddler. All that fur, how could he not be? We spent many hours snuggled up on the couch, in bed, on the floor.
He had this innate ability to know when I was sad. And I spent a lot of time sad for the years in the middle of his life. He’d wander over and rest his head on my knee. Or bring me his latest favorite toy (for a while, it was a stuffed monkey—I replaced that thing at least eight times, then it was a Snoopy dressed as the Easter Bunny. He had weird taste). Those big brown eyes of his were filled with so much love and worry. When I was sad, he was sad, and he’d do anything in his power to make that sad go away.
Peanut butter. This guy LOVED the stuff. I think partly because of the joy I got out of watching him eat it. His black-spotted tongue flicking in and out of his mouth never failed to make me laugh.
He was the furriest guy. Thick, long white fur hung from his chest. So long I could’ve braided it. I shaved him a couple summers in a row, and he looked so naked. Felt naked, too, I think. I’d have to put a puppy sweater on him when he went out at night.
Bath time was always interesting. He’d resist at first, then spend the entire bath still as a statue while I scrubbed him up. After, he’d run through the house like a maniac before throwing himself onto the towel I’d put on the floor. He’d gotten really good at drying himself.
One of my favorite memories is the way he welcomed Luca, my other dog into the family. He was resistant at first. Grumpy and growly. He’d run away from her—from the teensy little 5 lb thing—and jump on the couch to avoid her. She wore him down, though, with her carefree charm. Soon, he was sharing his treasured monkey with her, tolerating her while she humped him, and even cuddling with her. They, too, were best friends. And she’s going to miss him as much as I am.
I fought hard for this dog. From the moment he took his first breath to the moment he took his last. That day, fourteen years ago, I declared to my parents, “I’m keeping him.” And I wouldn’t hear otherwise. In the middle of his life, he expressed some separation anxiety when we moved out of my parents’ house. There were many battles, for years, about him. The person I was with insisted that he had to go. He’d gotten into the trash, peed on the rug, escaped one too many crates. He was a hassle. He couldn’t stay. “I’m keeping him,” I said over and over and over. I stood my ground, and would do it all again. Ventura was my best friend, my baby. If he went, I went.
And, in the end, we both went.
Which was the best decision for both of us. I got out of a terrible situation, and he didn’t have to see me sad anymore. Didn’t have to be away from his family. Didn’t have to worry about being taken away from his mom forever.
I knew it was time last night when he crawled into Luca’s crate. I’d tried crate-training him for years, and he just wouldn’t take to it. Didn’t matter what type of crate, he’d find his way out. From bending the bars on a wire crate and squeezing through, to digging a hole right through the back of the plastic one, this guy was straight-up Houdini. So when he voluntarily went into a crate, I knew. He was ready.
Didn’t matter that I was not.
I don’t think I would’ve ever been ready.
I had to do what was best for him, and letting him go was best.
We had a long talk before I took him in last night. I thanked him for all the love he so freely gave. All the support and comfort. I apologized for those murky middle years where, I’m sure, he could feel that he was unwanted by half of his people. I told him how much I love him and told him he was such a good boy. The best boy. My bestest friend. He hung in till after midnight—after my book went live. I even showed him the email on my phone, and he pressed his nose to it and looked at me, as if he were telling me how proud he was. Not as proud as I’ve always been to call myself your mama, buddy.
Today, I’m broken. But he wouldn’t want me to cry. He’d want me to celebrate achieving the dream he watched me pursue for years and years. All those hours he spent snuggled by my side while I worked on my laptop. He was the best support system, my fluffy rock. Seriously the bestest friend a girl could ever ask for.
And I’m gonna miss him.