The Biggest Little Dog
His name is Skipper. When Mom and Dad got him in 1990 at the age of six weeks, they (Dad) wanted to name him Spunky. Well a direct and animated campaign by we three kids and Mom and Dad saw the wisdom of not scarring a puppy with an inane moniker, and Spunky blessedly became Skipper. Dad wanted a toy fox terrier like the one he had at age ten (that terrier was named Jo-Jo). Well, Skipper was a fox terrier, not a toy fox terrier. Regardless, a terrier is a turbo-charged dog. A terrier puppy is turbo-charged on nitromethane. A seemingly inexhaustible supply of nitromethane. I became convinced that the root word for "terrorist" was "terrier". And it occurred to me "I'm going to have to put this dog out of everybody's misery". Well, like grandparents with grandchildren, I could walk away. Good luck Dad!
I've always believed that dogs grow to be like two year olds...forever. When Skipper reached late adolescence/young adulthood, he had become a great dog. Dad died in 1993. And Skipper became Mom's great friend and companion. He always followed Mom around. Was always where people were. Never underfoot. When my brother or I went to Mom's house, Skipper became so excited to see us that he lost bladder control. My brother commented what a great feeling it was to have someone so happy to see you that he wet himself. I agreed.
Skipper was also a guard dog. He had two barks. The bark I heard when I came to visit and rang the doorbell four, five, six times quickly. And then there was that other bark. If it could be described as a bark. More like the soul chilling warning from a hell hound. I heard it a few times. When a stranger rang the doorbell. You would never believe that that bark came from a thirty pound fox terrier. It was a bark that sounded as if that dog you heard on the other side of the door was going to come through the front door and screen door to tear your throat out and spit it back in your face as you crumpled to the ground. And then for good measure kick dirt in your face as he walked away. Good dog, Skipper!
Just what Mom needed.
And Skipper was a face licker. The boy next door (who is now an adult) described Skipper as "lickety". And he was.
I had many nicknames for Skipper: Skippy Flips, Skippum Flippums, Skippio Flippio, Nipwads... The one I landed on was Muttzoid (with an occasional Nipwads. I'm a sentimentalist after all). Don't ask me why I settled on Muttzoid. Probably a consequence of playing rugby for twenty three years. Last Saturday my Aunt Karen was at Mom's. I stopped by to do a couple things around the house. I came upstairs and said "Muttzoid!" and scratched Skipper's chest. My aunt said to Mom "He calls him Muttzoid. Not Buttzoid." I was crushed. Crushed! How could my Mom think that I could or would call Skipper "Buttzoid"? Yup. That sealed it. Now I know what I had always suspected: I'm adopted. The evidence is in.
When I stayed at Mom's house (to take care of Skipper) when she needed to go to the hospital or went on a short vacation, Skipper was quite clear that he was always going to sleep with me. I called, he came a' running and jumped on the bed and curled up behind my legs. Or jumped up and layed down beside me on the davenport.
But, we all grow old. So it was with Skipper. He started to lose his hearing a few years back, but not his playful spirit. He still ran around the house when I showed up. And we played with his rope toy. Then Mom noticed that he was slipping from time to time on the stairs going up. And then he fell backwards downstairs a few times. Mom had to help him upstairs last year. This winter we took him in for evaluation. The vet thought there may be some neurological failing. And I asked about a small lump on his shoulder. It was cancer (that was successfully removed). We took Skipper to get acupuncture from Dr. Rachel Stephensen at Plymouth Heights Pet Hospital. There was some remediation. But, we all knew that as Skipper's weight fell and he became less and less mobile and that there was evidence he might very well be experiencing canine dementia, that the end for this wonderful dog was approaching.
I had brought the subject up twice, obliquely, very gently, with Mom. My brother and I were very clear, that when that decision needed to be made, only Mom would make it. My brother and I were now silent, and listened to what Mom had to say.
Skipper needed nearly constant care. He was not getting better, at all. He hadn't been outside in two months. And Mom made the heavy, the unwanted decision last week. She called Dr. Stephensen and set the appointment for Thursday, yesterday.
We took Skipper on his last car trip and his last visit to Dr. Stephensen.
I asked what to expect. Dr. Stephensen said that she would administer an anesthetic overdose. That Skipper would go to sleep. And then his heart would stop and he'd stop breathing. I gently picked up Mom's, my brother's, my friend Skipper and put him on Mom's lap. My brother sat close nearby. Mom held Skipper. I sat on the floor and stroked his nose and rubbed him between his eyes as he so quietly left us. And then our life began without this wonderful little dog. It is so hard. Dr. Stephensen cried. Dr. Stephensen was so kind, gentle, sensitive. Skipper touched so many lives. Even people who had never met him.
Skipper will be cremated and his ashes will be at Mom's.
But, I now know why people who go through this say they will never get another dog.
Last night I could not get to sleep. I was so tired. I had dreams this last week about the coming Thursday, and now couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned. I kept trying to find that cool spot on the sheets and that calm spot in a dark night. I kept replaying the scene at the vets. But, then I also found myself thinking of ringing the doorbell and hearing Skipper barking and Mom saying "Skipper-who is that? Who's here?" Mom's opening the door and Skipper pushing himself out , tail a' wagging. Then running up the stairs to push his nose out between the wrought iron railing at Mom's to lick my face. And running around and barking, wanting to play. Down on his elbows, haunches up, tail still a' wagging. And I caught myself smiling at the thoughts. That Skipper hasn't been there for about two years. But, young or old, playful or paralyzed, Skipper loved and was loved. By many. He was loyal to us. And we to him. All the way to the end.
We are the ones who love Skipper enough to put us through this emptiness of pain. We're the ones who are left behind.
I'm reminded of a statement from the pastor who presided at my Grandma's funeral a quarter century ago. I've repeated it's essence and sentiment at all the funerals and memorials where I've spoken:"Your relationship with your mother, your grandmother, your friend didn't end three days ago. It just changed."
And so it is with Skipper. My, our relationship with Skipper didn't end yesterday...it just changed.
I once heard it said that you don't own a dog. He owns you. That statement is well supported by Skipper.
My Mom commented we've survived and lived, and lived well through losing others. And so it will also be with Skipper.
I've said over the past years that if anyone ever challenged me to name evidence of God's love and wisdom, it would be Skipper. Dad, you thought you were buying Skipper for yourself. Nah. Not at all. Not even close Dad. God was guiding you to buy Skipper for Mom for when you left us.
You are the biggest little dog.