The Dog Years

It started as a conspiracy; four members of my family plotting behind my back, devising their manipulative plan while I was at work. The plan hatched into the open one night at dinner, timed perfectly amidst my giant bite of spaghetti so I would be rendered helpless to respond without spewing food. 

"We should get a dog," Karen said.

"Yeah, Dad, we should get a dog," echoed three smaller voices in unison--big, hopeful smiles on their cherubic faces.

It was January 2004. We had lived in Walkersville for three and a half years. The boys were 12, 10 and 6. Our lives were full of family, church, and sports. Our home was simple but warm. Life was good.

I chewed my spaghetti and looked at the four sets of eyes staring me down, their pleading smiles reaching into my chest to tug on my heart. I stayed calm. "No way," I said after swallowing. I played it cool, as if I had known about their secret whispers all along. 

"Why not?" asked Karen with that look that always gets what it wants from me, the one in which emotion defeats logic.

Why not? I thought to myself? Why should we? It seemed wrong on every level. I'd never had a dog. Dogs are work. Dogs are dirty. Dogs are like children, only worse. And by golly, they are expensive, with their shots and food and vet bills. We were a one-income family in a tiny house with barely enough money to buy name-brand cereal. We already had three boys running around making messes everywhere. We didn't need another source of chaos. 

With self assurance, I assumed my role as PD (Practical Dad) to squelch the uprising. I suggested these reasons, and others, and gave a firm, "No."

All of which fell on ears as deaf as a doorknob.

"We've all discussed it, and we think it's a good idea," said Jonathan, the oldest at 12, speaking for the conspirators.

I responded with my trump card, holding out hope that perhaps my supreme logic would draw the lone other adult in the room to see the foolishness of this idea. "You know who would end up caring for it, don't you?" I said to all involved. "Your mother." I dropped the words on the table like Thor's hammer, certain of victory.

Two weeks later, a smelly and excitable puppy ran around our kitchen as the boys squealed with delight. Jonathan named her Treble.

Treble had quite a backstory. Her mother was a Jack Russell who had been featured in the Frederick News-Post because she had been running free on the base of Ft. Detrick, escaping capture for a number of months. During the winter, she had three puppies, all of whom took on the characteristics of their part-husky/part-beagle father. It was hard to imagine the exchange, but the result was an extraordinary mix of true dog snout, beautiful markings, and poor behavior. 

The poor behavior was nearly enough to drive us insane. Daily garbage shredding. Leash-straining so relentless we thought she was going to choke herself. She gained a reputation as a runner, jumping over our fence and running off to herd the cows in the field behind our house. More than once the whole Anderson family was seen chasing her across the train tracks into the park. She once broke her leash and ran off into a lake, only to return soaking wet and sheepishly unrepentant. She was blacklisted from one kennel for her behavior, and once bit a veterinarian to the tune of three stitches. We soon learned it was nearly impossible to take her to ballgames or picnics because she would not settle down. We tried to expend her energy in the backyard, chasing her in figure eights until we were panting harder than she was. 

And the eating! My goodness, that dog would eat herself to death if possible. She once stole four double cheeseburgers off the counter. She devoured a pan of delicious breaded chicken Karen had lovingly made for dinner. She ate butter, cream cheese, tampons, socks, and cat poop. When she wasn't eating, she would groke--relentlessly groke. 

Groke (v) origin unknown: To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them.

During every meal, every snack, every bowl of cereal, Treble would stare at us, eyes fixed with a look of entitlement and inevitability. 

Treble was a bad dog. I was so right. Getting her was the most impractical thing we'd ever done

But as you've probably guessed by now--I was also so wrong.

She nestled into our family routine like a warm, comfortable blanket. She would spend the evenings in the middle of wherever people were gathered, even though it meant we had to step over her. She would allow each of us to be in her face, her ears back in total submission and trust as she rolled onto her back for a "rubbing of the tum." She would let Tim hold her snout and blow in her nose like a balloon. She gained the surprisingly neat habit of only pooping at the fence line of our property so that we didn't have to clean up after her. She stopped running and became easier to manage. And when we would return from being out of town for a few days, we would be greeted by a jumping, dancing and yelping of joy so inexpressible and thick, it would bring tears to your eyes. She loved us. And we loved her.

A few years ago, she tore her ACL. It eventually healed itself, but it slowed her down. She gained some weight, mellowed out. She became the most docile, loving creature you could ever imagine. People could do no wrong to her, and her gentleness was a gift to us.

Karen indeed ended up being the one who did most of her care, but I'm convinced I am her favorite. She is my "other girl." In recent years, as Karen returned to work, I received the privilege of being the designated walker. Our trips around the neighborhood in the morning have been a blessing to me. I lovingly chatted with her as we walked, and dutifully picked up after her like a bridesmaid carrying her train. I loved giving the "Poop Wave" to my neighbors as they drove to work. (See March 12, 2014 blog). I adore my dog, and she adores me.

Now she is dying.

About four weeks ago, Treble awakened us in the middle of the night, whining and scratching. I found her pressing her empty water dish up against the wall. We had already filled it several times that day. We knew something was wrong. Lots of tests have followed, with a variety of vague diagnoses. Doggie Diabetes was one of them, but our training in giving insulin proved to be in vain. She has stopped eating altogether. It seems to be a matter of days now. I have seen each member of our family taking our private moments with her, and girding ourselves for the difficult day that will soon be here. I'm glad all five of us are here to say our goodbyes. We should have no regrets, only sadness and gratefulness.

The dog years began 11 1/2 years ago, and though I got a late start, they now represent 1/5 of my life. They began with no teenagers in the house yet, and will conclude with only one remaining. The fact that her life coincides with the raising of our sons causes me to reflect upon the brevity of life and the quick passing of parenthood. Wasn't it only yesterday Treble chased Jonathan, Timothy and Thomas as they played whiffleball in the backyard? It's too much to bear if I think about it too long, my heart both full and achingly wistful at the same time.

Mostly, I am grateful. Though once I was blind, now I see. Treble has made sure of that. I am a full-fledged dog lover. In the bigger picture, Treble has helped me realize how chaos and expense are small prices to pay for the richness of relationships, human and canine alike. Practical Dad needed to be defeated, and he was. And as I grieve her impending loss, I wonder if perhaps I'll see her again in God's perfect future, for surely paradise includes everyone's Treble. "In this world you will have Treble, but take heart, I have overcome the world."

The dog years have been the best years of my life.