One Last Ride for My Big Puppy

It’s a darn shame for a man to cry so much over a dog but I started crying when I woke up this morning and it looks like I’m just going to cry all day.

This morning was the first time in almost two years I wasn’t up early throwing on clothes so that I could be outside by sun up. That was the way it had to be every day. Freckles, our Beagle, might not mind sleeping in, but Big Boy just couldn’t wait to take his walk.

That’s over now. Big Boy got hit and killed yesterday. I found him just across from the house on the side of the road.

Now in the morning I can walk in my office and sit down and start writing, at least my first burst of thoughts – and to be honest, morning is when I’m most creative. I always wanted to write first thing each day but Big Boy wouldn’t have it. He had to get his walk.

Big Boy was a German Sheppard mix; probably Border Collie. He had the look and body of a Sheppard but the small, droopy ears of a collie. He was a little small for a Sheppard and a little big for a collie – but he was just right for our small house. He was big enough to have a ferocious bark and small enough to sleep on the bed and rest his head on my legs.

I’ve made my favorite picture of him my computer’s background scene. It’s the way I’ll always remember my big puppy: he’s sitting on the concrete walkway with two of his tennis balls beside him. His eyes are bright and friendly and happy and I swear he’s got a smile on his face.

I just took him for his last ride. It’s poignant that it was to the same place I took him for his first: to the cremation service. But that’s the way it was destined to be. The first ride was when I dropped off his partner, Little Bit. I had found her in the road the night before. At the time they were just two strays palling around the neighborhood. She had been around for a couple of months before he showed up. At first I think he was her protection but I think they ended up a couple. If you saw one then it was just a matter of minutes before you saw the other.

 That day, I wasn’t going to take Big Boy with me to drop her off for cremation but for the first time since he had been around he started chasing my car as I drove off. We had driven off numerous times before and left him and Little Bit sitting in the yard and neither had bothered to follow the car but this time he was not only chasing my car but he wouldn’t give up.

I didn’t want to see him get hit so I pulled over and opened the passenger-side front door. He jumped in and took a seat like he belonged; and the entire drive to the facility he looked back at the little box that Little Bit was in. When we got to the building I opened the door to let him out to use the bathroom if he needed to. I was worried he might run off, but he just walked to a bush, did his business and came back and got back in the car.

I brought him back home, opened the front door and let him walk in.

Not that it was always easy. One night shortly after we first took him in he beat up Frek and punctured his ear. You can still feel the spot. Then, one night, as wifey put her face to his as she tried to play with him, he lunched at her. Maybe he didn’t like people getting in his face. Maybe he was almost asleep and she had startled him. She was angry and wanted me to get rid of him then but I ignored her for a few days and she got over it. I have to forever give her credit. She didn’t want Big Boy but she let me have him and she tried to keep her grumbling to a minimum.

Though Big Boy showed up a stray, you could tell he had been someone’s pet and a house dog. He was just so well behaved and comfortable with people.

Someone had taken the time to teach him the commands sit and stay but I also always suspected there had been some abuse based on the way he responded to even the threat of being hit. Any time I even threatened to hit him he would just rollover on his side and brace himself.

It was surprising how sensitive he was. One night he actually went and sat in the corner like he was pouting because I yelled at him.

I had made up two back stories for Big Boy. I decided he had been specially trained by the U.S. Army but had suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome and so the military had decided to put him down but he escaped and made his way to my house and a new family.

Maybe he had belonged to someone who had died and Big Boy had been turned out by a relative who didn’t want the expense and investment of time necessary for a pet. One recent morning I was lying in bed motionless and saying my prayers. Big Boy started whining and touching me with his paw until I told him I was OK.  

Or maybe a cruel owner had used Big Boy to guard a building at night and turned him out because he really wasn’t a mean dog. When he first got to the house he was so scared of the dark and the quiet that we had to leave the television on for him all night. He eventually got to the place all he needed was a nightlight.

Whatever the truth and whoever he belonged to before, I feel sorry for him. He missed a few great years with a great pet. That’s why I keep looking out on the deck and wishing he was there waiting to come in the house.

I’m less brave without him. Freckles is reluctant to go up the road for his daily walk without Big Boy accompanying him. I guess I am too.

Big Boy was gleeful as he walked in front of us. Sounds and motions that would frighten Frickles and make him freeze in his tracks wouldn’t even catch Big Boys attention. And when Big Boy would just keep walking, Freckles would take off and follow him. With Big Boy I was like a kid with his little plastic gun: I had no fear and I couldn’t be stopped.

To save money I was going to let the Virginia Department of Transportation pick up Big Boy’s body and dispose of it, but wifey said he had been too good a friend to me to let that happen. We went across the road that night and I wrapped him in plastic, put him in a flat sheet and stuffed him in a plastic storage box. Fortunately he was starting to come out of rigor. That’s the only way he fit. It was the biggest storage container I could find and we made a special trip to Wal-Mart to get it.

Big Boy hated to be left behind. Sometimes he wouldn’t even come in the house when I called him if he thought he was being put up so that I could go somewhere without him. More and more I let him ride with me. At first, he would sit in the front passenger seat but eventually I started putting him in the back seat so that he would have room to stretch out. Most of the time he would do just that but sometimes he would sit up and look at everything there was to see that we went by.

I thought about all of that as I drove down the road, glancing in the backseat at the blue storage tub. I’m not going to get his ashes back. That was what I had always said. I tell myself that the ashes of Big Boy and Little Bit will find each other and they’ll be together again. Still, I couldn’t keep myself on the way back home from looking in the rear view mirror expecting, hoping, to see his face.

I’m still wondering why God let this happen.

Am I being punished? Freed up to get a job? Freed up to spend my most creative moments actually at the computer? Maybe Big Boy sensed something so bad is about to happen to me that he didn’t want to be around to see it. Then again, maybe this wasn’t even about me. Maybe Big Boy’s death somehow saved somebody else, taught them compassion, made them slow down, forced them to pay closer attention as they drive. Maybe Big Boy was just tired of being limited to the yard and the two walks we took and he just wandered off and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe. Maybe I’m making too much out of it and trying to apply structure and logic to the randomness of life.

My eyes are swollen and tired from crying. My nose is sore from the wiping, and I’m just tired. You can be sure about your decisions when you see it turn out well, but you’ve got nothing but doubt when all you can see is miles of road ahead.

Maybe I’ll be an old man lying in my bed thinking about the good times and good life I had; maybe there’s be a sudden pain or an accident and all I’ll see is a flash of light. Whatever the case when my time comes I think I’ll find myself on a long dirt road. Not the one we live on but one a lot like it. And out of the woods or across a field will come running Big Boy, and he’ll be as happy to see me as I’ll be to see him. I’ll pat my chest and he’ll stand on his hind legs and rest his front paws on my chest and bring his face as close to mine as he can and I’ll rub his head, just like I used to do. Then we’ll just start walking. He’s run ahead of me some, off into the woods to chase the occasional squirrel and into the occasional patch of tall grass in a field. But he’ll always come back to walk with me.

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