Never having had a dog, I had no idea what that act actually entailed. A boy and his dog just seemed like such a cool, mythic thing – like an Old West gunslinger with his faithful steed. The sight of a boy scampering alongside his bounding companion felt ripped from legend. Iconic – and something I definitely wanted a piece of.
Never having had a dog, I had no idea how much responsibility they add. How you need to be real cognizant of their needs when giving the affirmative to every party Evite that comes your way. And weekend trips require particular sleight of hand to insure someone is nearby to feed them, let them out, and most importantly – spend some quality time just “shooting the breeze”. Human companionship comforts these canines.
Never having had a dog, I had no idea how closely they become part of your life. How they define family. How they look at you, the second you walk through the door with all the love in the world – just grateful that you exist. Beyond grateful actually – a good dog is literally sent to the moon when you darken the doorway.
And then there are those days, where you catch their eye at just the right moment, and you swear they’re about to speak their mind. Silly, I know – but there is an intelligence at work in these pups, the best of the great beasts that share this great Earth with us. And there are times where you just know they are aching to join the conversation. Of course, they’re likely to simply offer up “So, when are we eating?” but it’s intelligent thought all the same.
Never having had a dog, I had no idea how good they could make you feel when it felt like the whole world conspired to bring you down. That sharp intellect is matched only by their massive heart – easily three sizes too big for their small frame. A good dog can lap those tears away. And protect you from the Big Bad Whatever that stalks us at those disparate and desperate times in our lives.
Never having had a dog, I had no idea how quickly all felt right with the world when you caught them, rolled tighter than a ball – asleep and adrift on pleasant puppy dreams; their twitching feet, the only movement betraying their fantasy fox hunt. Spying your pup contentedly snoozing – and knowing that this good life they live is only made possible by your own pure love and devotion – well, that’s all the evidence you need to know that you’re doing something right in this life.
Never having had a dog… I never had to bury one.
But that’s exactly the lot I faced this morning, as our family said goodbye to one of our own. And though there was a time when I could barely imagine the unbreakable bond that exists between a boy and his dog, that time is no more. It seems impossible, actually.
Ten years ago, Andi and I welcomed a baby yellow lab into our fledgling family. Abby was AND is my very first dog.
A year later, we decided there was room to grow – so we sought out the most precious second pup we could find. My first memory of Chatham is of a little inquisitive black lab puppy, standing atop a file cabinet drawer nosing around at everything on the breeder’s desk as he discussed the particulars involved in owning one of his prized labs. This was the same breeder we had gone to when we first met Abby and we knew we had found the perfect place to add one more mouth to feed.
When we brought Chatham home, Abby had just hit her one-year birthday. Though Abby was AND still is, a puppy at heart, Chats took one glance at the mammoth yellow lab living in her new home and from that day forth, looked at her like her mother. That bond evolved as they became “sisters” and “friends” – and in the context of our entire household, as we soon added a young human boy and girl to the mix, they were pack mates and above all else – family. There was no “Us” and “Them”. Just “We”. All of us, one in the same.
One big happy family.
I remember taking Chats to obedience class – a course taught by a woman described as “the best of the best”. It was rumored that she had trained the FBI’s finest canine cops. We were bound to get the most obedient lab in history by the time that final exam finished.
Instead, we got a world champion cheese hound. This woman would cap each class by erecting a hurdle and having the dogs leap over the line to grab a cheese ball in mid air. Chatham may not roll over on command but she could leap a building in a single bound if it meant a Cheeto might be snatched in midair on the other side.
We may not have received Best in Class but what we had living in our home was so much better. One of the sweetest, most gentle dogs a person could ever own. Sure – she had a reputation for wandering our house parties like a shark below the surface, skimming along until her mouth found an errant sandwich or Tostito dangling from a person’s relaxed paw. They’d retract their hand back up to take another bite and find they were noshing on air. Chats would be nowhere in site – slicing below the waves in search of her next smackerel.
And if you ask Andi what her favorite time of day is – it has to be 10:00 p.m. when Chatham rises from whichever perch she’s settled down in to roust Andi’s sleepy head and point her nose towards the bed upstairs. As I’m the night owl, more apt to come to bed much later in the evening, Chatham would steal an hour or two of bed time in my spot – waiting for Andi to get herself settled under the covers before Chats would hop up on the bed, take one or two passes in a circle around the surface, and then smash all 70 lbs of her weight into Andi. Then she’d wrap herself into a cozy, little ball. We call it “The Slam” – and once Chatham was down for the count, Andi would hug the world’s biggest teddy bear real close and drift off to sleep.
It’s what she misses most of all now.
And there’s a million other traits that I’ll miss each and every day, from here on out. Tricks that no other dog will repeat.
It’s a hard thing to say goodbye to a human. When one of us passes, it’s crushing – shattering – the world just doesn’t seem as full. Sure, we move on. We live our lives. But a tiny void opens – one that only fills with tear-tinged memory. Memory of how good things once were.
I find – now that I have buried a true friend and family member – that the same holds true for these precious pups. Their lives are so brief yet so full of everlasting love. They desire nothing but pure happiness.
And in Chatham’s case – a weekly waffle.
Rest in peace, Chatham Humphries.
Goodbye, good friend…