Dogs. Am I right? I love animals in general, but dogs man. To me, they're the greatest creatures on earth. And I've been lucky enough to have a few of the best ever in my life over the years.
We always had a dog growing up. Crispy was the first one I can remember. We were little then, so I don't recall a ton about him. I think he was a him. Whatever, doesn't matter — he/she was a good dog. He'd sit with us at the top of the driveway while we waited for the school bus every morning. And be the first to greet us when we got back home. He sadly became the first victim of the busy highway we lived by. That was my first experience with death and loss. I was a kid, so I recovered fast, but it's a feeling I'll never forget.
Then there was Scamper. He had the greatest smile. And so loyal. Almost every sunny day in the summer I'd ride my bike to a fishing hole about three miles from the house. That darn dog would follow me the whole way. No matter how hot it was he was right there, tongue hanging, legs never stopping. I'd tell him to go back home so he wouldn't overheat, but he always insisted on running alongside me as I clumsily tried to balance my 65 pound body on a bike with 20 pounds of fishing gear in tow.
He too met an untimely end on the busy road. We found his lifeless body when we walked up the driveway to wait for the bus. I cried the rest of the day. He was a good, good dog.
After Scamper, Jessie. She was Jessica, aka Jessie, because my youngest brother was supposed to be a girl. When he came out a Justin, we decided we still wanted a little sister, so Jessie it was.
My parents brought her home as a surprise from the humane society, our first true rescue pup. As soon as she walked in the house, she shit on the shag carpet. We fell in love with her from the get go. The sweetest, kindest, most loving living thing I've ever met. She had the biggest heart, but was fiercely protective. She lived a good long life. Had a few litters of puppies. After too many puppies she went to the vet to get spayed. They botched the procedure. Morons. She suffered a major infection from the surgery and had to be put down. Again, broken hearts all around. Even my hard-ass dad had a tough time. But as much as it hurt to lose her, it was worth every second we got to spend with her.
Boomer was next. If I've got my story right, he was named after Boomer Esiason, my brother's favorite NFL QB back then. Boomer was a Blue Tick Healer. Strong and wide. Built like a truck. But sweet as could be. I moved out of the house a few years after he showed up, so I didn't get as close to him as I would've liked. My dad, aforementioned hard-ass, was an old-school thinker who thought dogs were outside animals. That meant Boomer lived in a barrel filled with hay in the back yard and spent a major portion of his life chained to a tree. (My blood pressure is rising as I type this.) I hated my dad for chaining that dog up. So many years wasted staring at a fucking tree. When my dad passed, Boomer found his freedom. He never spent another day with that tree. But as strong as he was, he was just as dense. His life cut short by taking his freedom too far and losing a battle with a car. Three out of four dogs lost to the highway. There was no such thing as an invisible fence back then. Knowing Boomer probably did just as much damage to the car brings me some peace. My brother, now the man of the house, buried Boomer in the woods. And if there's a doggie heaven, I hope he's still running today, fast and free, no tractor chain around his neck, not a care in the world.
Enter Patch. A stray who found his way home in 1999 or 2000. (That part of my life is kind of a blur, so not exactly sure when he showed up.) Again, I didn't live at home, so although I loved the little fella, I wasn't as close to him as I could've been. Until 2005. That's when that dog saved my life.
I hit rock bottom around the end of May that year. Anything and everything that could've gone wrong, did. I was going through some major life shit, lost my girlfriend, lost my job, lost my entire sense of self. It wasn't pretty. It was a deep, dark, hopeless time. I don't wish that feeling on my worst enemy. Not trusting myself to live on my own, I holed up on my mom's front porch for what seemed like a month. I was stuck to the uncomfortable couch unable to do anything other than stare out the window and take long naps. Patch never left my side. He would lie right next to the sofa, always there to make sure I was still breathing. We'd go for long walks in the woods and sit together on what is now referred to as "Jason's Hill." He knew I was hurting and wasn't about to let me try to get through things on my own. He was my best friend, by far. He never judged me, never gave up on me, and he took his role seriously. He knew I needed him, so he made sure he was always there. It's not even a question — I owe that dog my life.
I eventually got through the bullshit and came out the other side a better person. At least I think so. And Patch lived another 10 years. The bond we had stayed strong. I'd call home several times a week and the first thing I'd ask was "how's Patch?" I drove home to visit him almost every weekend. It was nice to see my mom, too.
He taught me so much about life. He was a fighter and survivor and put others' needs before his, every time. He lived to be about 16 and stayed around as long as he could — I think he stuck around so long because he knew how much we all needed him. The day we put him down is one of the worst days I've ever been through. But it was his time. He had his subtle ways of letting me know it was going to be ok, even with him not here. Miss you buddy. Every day.
Now, there's Belle.
I was in a much better place when I met her. I had fixed some things about myself and been though the stuff I needed to go through. And it lead me to where I needed to be at exactly the right time. I stopped by to pick up my now wife for our second date, and there she was, staring at me with an uncertain look in her eyes through the open door of her little crate. I think she barked when Melanie introduced us, a little jealous maybe, but we warmed up to each other fast. It's been nothing but love ever since.
Belle was a rescue, abandoned and left to fend for herself on the streets of Milwaukee. (Melanie found her at Underdog Pet Rescue in Madison. I highly recommend that place if you're looking to adopt.) She's little, but she's tough. And there's not much that can keep her down. A scrapper with a heart of gold, she loves almost everybody. If she doesn't love you, it's you, not her. And her sometimes goofy, often annoying, always persistent personality can make you laugh and yell profanities at the same time. But again, I think it's the traits in our dogs we wish we had more of in ourselves that make us admire them the way we do.
She's a professional beggar. And a lover of long walks. When she wants something, you're gonna know about it. An aggressive push of the snout into the side of your leg means get off your ass and get me a treat. A non-blinking staredown means I gotta poop. A kick of the back legs post poop means I'm the boss around these parts. And a gentle nudge of her nose at about 9 p.m. every night means I'm tired and it's time for everybody to go to bed.
She has a vice-like grip on my heart. And I can't imagine life without her.
I never had kids. I chalk that up to choices, chance and circumstance. But she's like my child. She relies on me/us to stay alive. She counts on us to keep her safe. And she puts her faith in us to give her the love and respect she deserves.
Belle isn't a spring pup anymore. And with age comes a long list of ailments and medications. She's officially in heart failure according to our vet. But what does she know, right? She coughs a lot because her enlarged heart is pushing on her other organs which in turn put pressure on her esophagus. And she's about 90 percent blind, her eyes clouded over by cataracts. But she perseveres. She's still the best beggar I've ever known. She still jumps halfway up the door when it's time to go outside. And she still somehow knows exactly where she is no matter where we are on our walk. She's pretty incredible. And doesn't care who knows it.
I mentioned this to Melanie just the other day — when I look at Belle, my heart is happy and hurts at the same time. I'm filled with gratitude for these last several years with her. But I know our time together gets shorter with every passing day. I can't even think about how empty this house will feel when she's gone. I piss and moan when it's my turn to take her on her 27th walk of the day, but can't imagine a day when I don't get to walk with her. She's such a little thing, but she's filled so many peoples' lives with so much big joy. Sappy, I know. But true.
When Belle does decide her job here is done, we'll take time to grieve and give her the respect she's earned by waiting to adopt another dog. But we will certainly adopt again. Because even though life will never be the same without her, it just wouldn't be right without a dog around.
I admit it, I relate to dogs more than I relate to most people. I say that not to come across as a disgruntled old man who can't get along with his neighbors (although there might be some truth to that.) I say it because it's a fact. Dogs love unconditionally. They're always honest, never fake. They're loyal. They listen. They don't have shitty opinions or screwed up beliefs. They don't talk behind your back. They stand up for what's right. They don't judge. They love you even when you fuck things up. Their main wants in life are love, food, walks and naps. And they take their responsibility to be there when you need them seriously. People with all those traits are few and far between. But dogs with all those traits are pretty much the norm.
So, if you have a dog, tell him or her how much you love them. If you don't have a dog, think about getting one. A rescue of course. They'll change your life for good. I just wish they lived as long as we do, because the pain of losing your best friend never goes away.
Here's to Crispy, Scamper, Jessie, Boomer, Patch, Belle, Koda, Chewie, Pearl, Pickle, Seamus, Boo, Bailey, Alex, Aspen, Dubs, Thome, Benny and every other dog everywhere. Thank you all for everything you do.