Friday, December 06, 2002

Today I killed the only friend I’ve ever had that never talked back to me. I gave the order and he was executed. The politically correct way to say it is, “I had him put to sleep,” or “I put him down.” No matter. I looked him over, judged that he was unfit to continue to live, and I had him put to death. His name was Bear. He was a Golden Retriever. He trusted me up to the very last minute and I betrayed him.

It would be easy to say, “Bear was just a dog.” That is what I usually think when other people tell me that they killed their family pet. Usually I’m right. But Bear was not just a dog. You see, if being good would get you into heaven, Bear would be the first one in. He obeyed better than anybody else in my family.

I know you’ll find this hard to believe but it is true. If I told Bear to go get in the bathtub… he went and got in the bathtub. I didn’t teach him that. Nobody did. He figured it out after his first few baths. Bear took great pride in only going to the bathroom in his dog run. It is a simple concrete slab encased in a chain link fence. The dog run has a gate, which I never locked. It still managed to swing shut on it’s own though it did not latch. When Bear wanted to go outside he would walk to the kitchen door and run around in circles. A wise man would pay attention to that signal. Then he would run out of the door, make a courtesy lap around the back yard, and then he would open his own dog run with his nose and his right paw. If I am lying I will use the dog run myself for the rest of my life. I have had neighbors come to me and ask how I taught him that. I could not take the credit. Bear was a self-taught dog. When we would take Bear on trips I always thought he was going to explode until he finally decided, out of desperation, that any concrete would do in a pinch. Bear would sleep by my side of the bed every night. Every night I would get up in the dark to go to the bathroom and I would step on him. He never complained and he seldom moved. We had this working relationship. He knew it was coming and I knew he would still be there when I got back. He would forgive me for the first time and I would avoid him on the second.

One night Bear woke me with an unusually stern bark. It was a bark that said, “Hey, somebody get up. This is for real.” I crept into the living room where he was staring at the front door. I trusted his judgment and peeked out of the window. There was a police car on the street sweeping my house with a spot light. I decided to wait the situation out. After a few minutes the doorbell rang. I peeked out and a policewoman was waiting on my porch. As I opened my door Bear ran by me at the speed of sound. In an instant the officer was on the curb trying to decide whether to shoot him or hire him. It turned out that my chimney was putting out an inordinate amount of smoke and she was checking to see if we had a chimney fire. She should have called Bear first.

But perhaps his proudest moment came when I taught him his famous “Milky Bone Trick.” You see, Bear loved Milky Bones. He was especially fond of “Old Roy” Milky Bones from Wal-Mart. I use to hand them out to him for free whenever he wanted one. I kept them in the laundry room and when I was down there he would come and just stare at me. His penetrating eyes told me the story of his stomachs desire. I would almost always toss him one and he would trot away happily to eat it under the kitchen table. And then one day I realized that I was doing all of the work and Bear was getting all of the fun. And so I waited until he came for a Milky Bone. I hesitated and then said, “Bring me a dirty sock.” He looked at me like I was from Mars. And then I walked him to Scott’s room, picked up a dirty sock off of the floor, and handed it to him. He took it in his mouth and together we walked back to the laundry room. I said, “release” and he dropped the sock. (I don’t know where he learned what “release” means either.) I picked up the sock, praised him, and handed him a Milky Bone. We repeated this little escapade 3 times… and he had it down. For the last few years of his life he would find me in the laundry room and start staring me down. Sometimes I would toss him a complimentary Milky Bone and sometimes I would say “Bring me a dirty sock.” When I said it… he always complied. Oh, he might bring a bath towel. He might bring a tennis shoe. He might bring underwear. But he would always run to the kid’s room and bring me something. I decided not to press the “sock” issue. I always rewarded him with the almighty Bone. Eventually he learned not to wait for the command. He would show up in the laundry room with dirty clothes in his mouth, effectively cutting out the middleman and about 30 seconds worth of waiting. One day he actually came to me with three bath towels, a pair of underwear, and a tennis shoe, dangling from his mouth. I gave him three bones. I knew he was smart but I didn’t know he was so athletic.

I have a vision. I have never believed in a doggy heaven. I think that God gives us animals as gifts. We are to take dominion over them. We are also to care for them with love and respect. This is especially true of domesticated animals that God has given us as personal pets. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe… just maybe… there IS a doggy heaven. If there is I fear that I am in deep trouble. My vision is of Bear arriving at the gate this afternoon and meeting doggie St. Peter. He is immediately asked why he has arrived early as he was not due for a year or two yet. Bear replies, “My owner had me killed.” As doggy St. Peter opens the gate allowing Bear in he promises to pass this bit of information along to the human St. Peter. The vision goes downhill from there.

I called Bear, “The King of Canines, The Prince of Pooches, The Duke of Dogs.” I miss him tonight. I keep hearing his choker collar clinking against his dog tags. I ate pizza for dinner and caught myself just before I threw the crust on the floor. Bear was sick. He had a seizure this morning and I held his head in my lap until it passed. His hips didn’t work anymore, and they were not going to get any better. He was having trouble controlling bodily functions. I think … if he is still out there somewhere… he is probably pretty ticked off at me. He was my friend and I loved him. But I think… had the shoe been on the other foot… he probably would have done the same thing for me.

I miss ya, buddy. Sleep good.


Melanie Davis said...

Bear was a great dog! I know you still miss him!