The following entry is the only surviving offering from the old Blurty blog. It was written on February 1, 2009. It is dedicated to family pets everywhere. They make us more human.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
I come from a family of animal lovers. It is no surprise that we had anabundance of household pets during my childhood. We had everything fromhunting dogs to fish to gerbils to horses. When I was a kid, I was very fondof a grey cat we had named Tequila. Some nights, particularly during thewinter months, she would come up on to my bed and lie with me as I went tosleep. She purred and licked my hand with her rough tongue. Eventually, shewould jump off the bed and I would drift off to sleep.
My father alwaysinsisted on a big hunting dog, but my mother wanted a dog of her own. Shefinally insisted on a small white mix-breed poodle and named her Dolly. Dadcalled her, “the little white rat.” He didn’t have much use for an animal thatcouldn’t carry a dead bird in it’s mouth. I was also very partial to Dollyand Dolly liked me a lot. She would often come jump on my bed at night, butwouldn’t stay very long. Sometimes she would lie on my lap and nudge my handif she wanted me to pet her. But Dolly was my mom’s dog and if Mom was inthe room, Dolly followed her around like a small, white shadow. Mom had toput her to sleep in 1989 because she was losing control of her bodilyfunctions and was always making messes in the house. I was sad, but my griefdidn’t last too long.
My younger brother Nate was the biggest animal lover of the three of us. Hehad everything from hamsters to boring fish in a tank to pet rats to ahorse. I never thought he’d get the horse, but Dad gave in one year andimported a horse named Conrad from a ranch out in western Nebraska. Nate hada pet rabbit whom he loved, but who met an untimely end in the jaws of Dad’schocolate lab, Waylon.
Waylon was the third chocolate lab I remember Dad owning. The first wasBenjy, but Benjy was around when I was very young and I only have vaguerecollections of him towering over me as I tried to feed him cookies from anempty margarine container. The next dog was Samson, who we owned when I wasin the second grade. Samson wasn’t with us for long. When he was still apuppy, Dad took him to exercise outside of town one day. Dad got in hispick-up to move it and Samson decided to run along side the truck. Dad lostsight of him for only a second, then felt the truck run over something. Herealized too late that Samson had run under one of the pick-up wheels.Samson was badly injured and Dad knew that he was a goner, so he got hispistol from the truck and put him down.
Jared was angry with Dad for nottaking Samson to a vet, but Dad knew animals and knew the vet could donothing for Samson. I didn’t learn about Samson’s death for three days. Noone bothered to tell me. I learned about it from an off-hand remark by ababysitter. I cried in my pillow that night, but the tears didn’t last.Samson had only been with us for a short time and he was certainly Dad’sdog.
Waylon came to us in the fifth grade. We got off to a bad start becauseWaylon didn’t understand that I was a blind kid who couldn’t tell where hewas. In his puppy days, he would often lay somewhere and wouldn’t notice mecoming until I stepped on him. I wouldn’t have a clue that anything waswrong till I heard a squeal and felt something under my foot. Luckily, Inever injured Waylon when I stepped on him, but he never really liked mebecause of the accidents, so we were never close. Waylon wasn’t reallyimpressed the night I took his tail and put it in the end of the vacuumcleaner, hose then turned it on. It was the only time I heard him give offan angry growl. He would sometimes get very friendly with me, but thatusually coincided with the moments in which I had food in my hand.He was Dad’s dog for sure, but I think he also liked Jared a lot.
Waylon wasvery laid back in his temperament and only had one bad habit. When he wasput outside, he’d stand at the door and whine and wale until someone let himin. Mom and Dad tried everything from harsh scolding to a rolled-upnewspaper to cold water. Nothing worked. One day I found a strange collararound Waylon’s neck. It had a battery device of some kind on it. I askedDad what it was and he told me it was a shock collar. I was not happy. Dadpromised that it would only deliver very mild shocks to Waylon if he barkedtoo loud. Dad is a very gentle-hearted guy and I know he would never becruel to his dog. Waylon was more spoiled than most dogs had a right to be.He just wanted to make Waylon quit barking when he was put outside. Still, Ihated the idea of the shock collar. One day, for some unknown reason,Waylon’s shock collar disappeared. Dad suspected me of stealing it. I’m notsure why. Dad never bought another collar like that. He probably knew itwould be pointless as the damn thing would just disappear again. He and Momjust tolerated the barking until Waylon passed away in 1999.
In 1994, Dad took Waylon to hook up with a bitch so he could get her knockedup. I was told later that Waylon was the proud father of 12 tiny labpuppies. Waylon was kind of a deadbeat and didn’t give his bitch muchemotional or financial support. This may have been why Dad brought homeanother chocolate lab puppy in the late summer of 1995. Waylon had no choicebut to acknowledge his son when he was forced to share the back yard withhim. Mom and Dad named him Yogi.
When I came home in August of ’95, I wentout on the back patio to meet Yogi. Yogi ran up to me, jumped up on my chestand started licking my face. Dad told me to make him get down, but I didn’tcare. I let Yogi love me up and I scratched and petted him all over. Then Iwent over and sat down on the back deck steps. I expected that Yogi wouldrun off and play. To my surprise, he came over to me and jumped up on meagain. I knew right then that this dog was something special to me.
The summer of ’95 had been a difficult time for me. The Heidi affair hadcome to its disastrous end and I went through those hot months swingingwildly from one volatile emotion to another. The only time I could feel somesemblance of inner peace was when I would go over and hang with Shane andthe ’95 WAGES kids. They were a rowdy bunch, but they gave me something tofocus on other than my misery. But the WAGES group eventually went home andI entered September of that year feeling depressed, angry, guilty andaimless. I went home one weekend to visit my parents and headed outside tosay hit o Yogi and Waylon shortly after I dropped my bags in my room. Yogiran up to me and gave me his customary slobbery greeting. I hugged him andscratched his ears, then went to sit in a lawn chair. Yogi came over andstarted head-butting my hand and arm with his cold nose. I pet and scratchedhim some more, then Dad came out on the patio to light up the grill. Yogiran over to him and I prepared to turn on my Walkman so I could read more ofmy book. Not two minutes went by before I felt Yogi’s cold nose again on myarm. I started scratching him and he kept licking my hand. Any time Istopped petting him, he’d go back to nudging me with his nose again till Igave him some more attention. Dad was still out there firing up the grill,but Yogi stayed by my side. When Dad went back into the house, Yogi laid hishead in my lap for a while and I just pet him non-stop. For the first timein three months, I’d felt an inner peace with myself that had not beenthere. I think I’m only projecting, but it almost seemed as if Yogi knew Ineeded a kind of unconditional love that only a dog can give.
Anyone who knows me understands why the break-up with Heidi hurt me sodeeply. Anyone who knows can understand why a lot of guilt went with theparting. Yogi reminded me that animals can love humans no matter what sinthey have committed. It was a lesson I never forgot and I was alwaysgrateful to Yogi for imparting it to me. But more than that, Yogi came backto me and loved me up even though Dad was nearby. He did this many timesafter that. He was certainly Dad’s dog for sure, but for the first time, itfelt as if he was my dog too. I came to find out later that Mom loved himdeeply as well. For the first time in my life, it felt as if we had a realfamily dog that belonged to everyone, including me.
Yogi perfected a technique that Waylon had started to learn. Somehow, Yogifigured out early that I couldn’t see where he was, so whenever I came intothe family room and he was lying on the floor, he would thump his tail so Icould locate him. He did not pick up his dad’s habit of constantly barkingand waling when he was put outside. He would bark now and then to get ourattention, letting us know that he wanted to come in, but it wasn’t aconstant noise. His temperament was more hyper than Waylon’s. He was thestereotypical Labrador, always demonstrating enthusiastic glee whenever hewas happy. Mom and Dad made him stay outside in the garage or back yard atthe old house, but once they moved across town into the new place, theybegan letting him sleep on a pillow in their bedroom. All three of us boyshad moved out and the grandkids only came home on occasion. I think theywere so used to other family members sleeping under the same roof that Yogiwas a good substitute.
Over the next decade, I’d come home for various reasons and Yogi would oftenrun through the kitchen and attack me with his nose until I gave him aproper hello. It didn’t matter if my hands were full or not. He wouldn’tleave me alone until I paid him some attention. I would be sitting on thecouch watching TV and his cold nose would eventually bump my arm, asking forsome affection. Yet, he somehow surpassed his dad in the manners department.I don’t remember him often sitting at the table and begging for scraps offood. Maybe that’s why he always got extra steak, ham or chicken from theleftovers. Mom hated it when Yogi got up on the furniture. He learned tomind her and stay on the floor, but sometimes I would secretly sneak him onto my bed when no one was around. Mom found out, of course. Dark dog hair ispretty hard to hide, but I didn’t care.
One Thanksgiving, I brought Aliciahome and we hid out in the basement. We were lying there listening to theradio when we heard the telltale “click, click, click” of Yogi’s toenails onthe wooden stairs. He came bounding into the room and over to the bed,shoving his head at us demanding attention. I rolled to the other side ofthe bed and called him up, allowing him to lie between Alicia and I. We bothstroked and petted him for a long while until he jumped off.
The years went on like that. Yogi was as much a part of our family as anyhuman. It seems that pets have a way of creeping into your heart and stayingthere. Hunter, Josi and Jackson came into the world and they all loved Yogias much as he loved them. My Grandpa G. also took a liking to Yogi once hemoved to our home town to live in a retirement home. He was mostly a seriousman, but had a great affinity for animals and always loved Yogi a lot.
I don’t remember exactly when I first noticed the small lumps on Yogi’sbody. I think it may have been sometime in early 2007. I was lying on thefloor petting him one day and found a lump on his chest. I asked Dad what itwas. Dad told me that Yogi had some tumors, both inside him and on his body.They had taken him for two operations, but the vet told him that the tumorswould multiply too quickly. Better to let him go when the time came. Theyestimated that he had only about a year left. Yet, a year later, Yogi wasstill feisty as ever. The tumors were still there, but there were no signsof him getting sick. He grew tired more easily, but he was about 13 yearsold at that point and it was to be expected. Mom told me his dark whiskersand the hair around his muzzle had turned white. His coat was still dark,but was lighter than it had been in his younger days.
Even though Yogi seemed to be relatively healthy, I kept waiting for a phonecall or Email that broke the bad news that the tumors had gotten the betterof Yogi. But the message never came. I went home this past Thanksgiving andChristmas and spent a lot of time with Yogi. I didn’t know how many moretimes I would see him. He had developed a bad habit of frequently fartingand the smell was hideous, but none of us ever kicked him out into thegarage. Mom would just grab the matches, strike a few and hope that wouldclear the air. I think we all knew that we didn’t have a lot of time left.
Several weeks ago, I went home for my grandpa’s funeral. As usual, Yogi wasthere to greet me and hang out as I watched TV and talked to Mom and Dad. Heseemed more attentive than was normal. Whenever I got up and moved around,his tail would thump more rapidly than usual and he would often follow mefrom place to place, waiting for more loving. He hadn’t done that before. Itwas customary for him to wait until I was stationary before he clamored forattention. Still, I was happy to oblige him and spent extra time with him. Ididn’t know anything at the time, but I wonder if dogs can sense when theirtime is close.
Two weeks and one day after my grandpa’s funeral, I got a text from mybrother while I was eating lunch at work. It said simply, “Better call Momand Dad. Yogi got hit by a car last night and they had to put him to sleepthis morning.” I felt an instant wave of sorrow come over me. I wanted tocry right there on the spot, but I fought it down and spent the rest of theday feeling numb. I figured the grief would hit me when I went to bed thatnight, but I drifted off as usual. The next day, I continued to feeldetached all day. When I got home that night, the following Email waswaiting for me from Mom:
Guys:Last night about 9 Dr. Mason hit Yogi in the middle of the street. Nate andyour Dad took him to the Vet on call @ Riverside. There he was in “ComfortCare” all night, (which means that gave him a shot to keep him comfortable)and would be evaluated this morning. Because of Trauma to his head he wasn’table to move a front or back leg ~~therefore, we had to send him on his”way”.So……. needless to say last night and this morning have been a rough gofor us. Your Dad is taking this event hard as Yogi was the best dog WE hadin the last40 years. January continues to be an emotional month. Maybe my Dad neededhis company. That’s how I have to think, you know !!Love your way,Mom~o
Dr. Mason is a neighbor who lived nearby. My reply was short and to thepoint:Gonna kick the shit out of that prick doctor next time I’m home.Mom answered my message about 20 minutes later:
Well…….. it was going to be “sooner” or “later” with the Yogi dog.It’s just that timing was hard and your poor Dad had to witness the traumaof it all. Life is Life…. and Yogi has gone on to take care of my Dad. …. and it’s”OK”.You know how much my Dad loved that old chocolate dog, too. It’s crazy howpeople get so attached to their animals…. because they are soUNCONDITIONAL and trust us to honor and take care of their well being. Yogiwas a very loved and adored dog in this household. I am crushed that hewould meet his end in a brutal way, but he was pushing it the last year….sick in the night, going on long walkabouts and not minding his orders tocome home. The last days of his life Yogi was able to go very free about theneighborhood and mark his territory. So.. in that respect I think all iswell with his great soul, disposition, and forever I will be happy that yourDad and I finally had a dog that we both loved equally. Yogi was a dreamdog, a loyal and faithful joy to your Dad and me.He was my bodyguard when your dad was gone for days, and he had the mostloving and gentle eyes. Labradors are a gift to humans. Thank goodness Isoftened your dad along the way and convinced him that great water dogs canstill be “house pets”. It was Yogi’s good fortune that I loved him…….spoileddog. He was worth it. Love you, Ryan O and Peace Be With You.MOM ~O
I waited for the tears to come, but still they would not. I crawled into bedand fell off to sleep. Sometime in the early morning, I dreamt that I wasstanding in the street in front of the house waiting for Yogi to come backfrom a romp. A car came along and hit him. I heard his scream as the carwent right on past. I ran over to him, knelt down and felt his blood-soakedcoat. I stroked his head and he turned his nose into my palm, then gentlylicked my hand one more time before his head went limp. It is one of themost vivid dreams I’ve ever had. I woke up and cried for a half-hourstraight. Then I had to force myself to rise, get into the shower and headoff to work.
As it is with the passing of my grandparents, going home will never be thesame again. I won’t come through the front door anymore to the sound ofthose quick clicking toenails on the tile. I won’t get to feel thatinsistent cold nose on my arm, or Yogi’s tongue kissing my hands. But Yogiwas loved and his memory and spirit will live on in my heart and memory. Hewas part of our family and he will always hold a special place in my heartfor the love he gave me when I needed it most. Unlike my grandparents, Inever got to give Yogi a proper funeral. This is the only memorial I cangive him and I hope it serves. I have no idea what becomes of a dog’s spiritwhen it passes from this world, but I hope he knows how much I love him andwill miss his company.
Several years ago, I wrote a scathing letter about the practices of guidedog use by the blind in the U.S. Naturally, this angered hundreds of guidedog users who felt compelled to write me and tell me of their displeasure.The most common charge I faced was, “Boy, you really must hate dogs.” Mostof the charges they fired at me were ludicrous, but none more so than this.I believe that dogs, as well as other domesticated animals, are a symbol ofworldly innocence and love. They serve as a reflection of those emotionsthat they feel from their owners. They stand as a responsibility for us whenwe take them in as pets, requiring our constant care and attention when theyare sick and when they are vital. They return this joyous burden by givingus unconditional love and happiness in all seasons. There is no greaterreward that one could ask for than that. Dogs are harder to house when youare a bachelor living in an apartment, but I know that, if I ever own ahome, the first thing I’ll bring into it is a dark Labrador. He won’t beYogi. I’m sure every dog is different. He will be the first animal who issolely in my care, but thanks to Yogi, my future companion will be thesecond animal whom I refer to as, “My dog.”
Goodbye, Yogi. Thank you for the 13 years you gave me and our family. I loveyou and miss you.
Current mood: sad