What we all knew would one day happen to the Rodney Dog happened Tuesday night: he got hit. It didn’t kill him, and we took him to the vet the next morning, where we learned that a heartworm condition was so far alone that it precluded us having the leg amputated … So, between the heartworms and the badly broken leg we decided to have him put down.
It was only for approximately a month that he was in the house and part of the family, but he was easy to like. He was a very, very sweet dog with a wonderful temperament. The vet said he was approximately four years old. That surprised me. He seemed more like a puppy in attitude, enthusiasm and lack of coordination.
Rodney Dog was the uninvited guess who would not leave and ended up becoming part of the family.
He showed up a stray and started following us home one morning. His ribs were showing and he looked awkward as he walk. At the time, I thought his nails were so long that he hadn’t been groomed in a long time, but now I think it was probably just that he was malnourished.
“You can come on down to my house and I’ll feed you, but after that I’m turning you over to animal control,” I told him.
As soon as I said that, he just turned and walked off into the woods. My German Shepherd-mix Big Boy was hit by a car and killed in December and I didn’t want another dog around. Once I got home I felt sorry for the dog and took some dog food and sprinkle it down the road where last I saw him.
A few days later, I saw him again, this time in the neighbor’s yard. They had taken him in. I was glad for that. I had prayed for someone to take him in and that he get a family. For the next month or so we would walk by and he would be in the yard. Sometimes he would ignore us, sometimes he would bark at us. Then, one day, as we walk by, he ran down to the road and joined us on our walk. He followed us up the road and then back down and to our house. He didn’t hang around very long, maybe 10 minutes or so. Usually, he would leave as soon as I walk in the house.
We followed this routine for a week or so: I would walk in the house, stay for 10 minutes and walk out to find the Rodney Dog gone and my dogs ready to eat.
Finally, one day I walked back out after my 10 minute hiatus and Rodney was still there … so I walked back in the house. Ten minutes later I walked back out … and he was still there, again. After an hour I realized he wasn’t leaving. So I brought my dogs in the house and fed them. The next day, the same thing happened. One day I hit him with a stick and told him to go home. All he did was step out of reach of the stick and stand there staring at me.
Rodney Dog started saying longer and longer in the day and staying later and later at night. For a week I would walk him back to my neighbor’s yard and watch him start up the walkway, only to either hear him bounding up behind me or look off to see him walking off to my side.
It was the wifey who named him Rodney. We had to call him something. It didn’t matter. He only came when he wanted to and did whatever he wanted. It wasn’t long before I decided we should have called him Lumpish. He was so uncoordinated at times that I assumed he was a puppy and still growing into all his big parts.
From the start he was preoccupied with getting in the house and becoming part of the family, and he got more and more determined with each day. At first, I would use the door and my body to shield away his efforts to get in, but it got harder and harder as he would push his head into any opening he saw, between my legs, to the side of a leg trying to cut him off – just anywhere. He was never aggressive or mean, just persistent. Finally, one day, as I leaned down to take our beagle, Freckles, off his run-line and let him in the house, Rodney saw his opening and hurdled Freck. He was in. He was in and big enough that he wasn’t going to be put out easily. He ran through the living room and kitchen and settled in Freck’s box of bones. I should say discarded bones, since they had been there for probably a year and he hasn’t touched them in that time. Rodney Dog buried his face in the box, grabbed a bone and ran back out the door. He lay in the yard, and the sound of the bone cracking made us think about the power in those jaws attached to his big, terrier-shaped head. He looked ferocious. Whether or not he was didn’t matter. He looked the part. He was approximately 80 pounds with a muscular built and a black and white body (though mostly black) and black eyes that seemed to fix on you. We were always worried about what he might do to Freckles if he ever bit him. In fact, the Rodney Dog was the sweetest big dog I’ve ever seen. EVER!!! Freckles would steal food almost out of his mouth and Rodney would just look at him. He yielded to Hounde over every bone or anything found on our walk. We marveled at how calm he was and, though we always fear that one day he would snap, he never did.
It wasn’t much longer that he was coming in invited. He slept in the house for about a month. My wife kept saying it was just a matter of time before we gave him away. I wasn’t so sure – and I don’t know if the wife was, either. She’s usually afraid of big dogs, but not Rodney. He just wanted to belong and was just happy to be there. He ate the treats that Frek and Honde turned their noses up at – he ate them so gleefully that Frek and Honda started eating them, too. In the house, his tail dusted some furniture and pounded the wall.
Rodney Dog was big and strong and even as he struggled to make it to the car so that we could take him to the vet the morning after he got hit, he was … well, happy. Maybe not happy – maybe just resolved. It was like he didn’t want to go to the vet not because he didn’t need to go, but because he didn’t want us to learn what he already knew: his health wasn’t good. We already knew that. He had a cough and sometimes you could look in his face and see that he had some pain. It was just a perfect-storm of bad luck that led to him being put down.
We went and said goodbye to him. The vet opened the cage and Rodney, though crippled, tried to come out. I grabbed him and held him in place. He didn’t push against me. He was always submissive like that. We stayed like that for a few minutes, my arms locked around his neck and his head resting in my arms. I told him everything I had to say … and I said it several times until I could get the words out as I struggle to get the words out as I chocked up: “It’s all right, Rodney” … “we love you.” I always tell myself that everything happens for a reason. Maybe this one was to teach me that of all the things we can say to a body, there are no two more powerful than those. And in the time he pressed his head into my arms it was like he was saying, “please just take me home. Just let me go home. I just want to go home.” And I wanted to let him, and I would have … if his leg hadn’t been so damaged, if he could have just made it through the simplest task of walking up and down the deck steps and going into the woods to relieve himself and take his daily walk – I would have … but he couldn’t and I couldn’t … and I pushed him back into the cage and watched the vet lock the door; and after I turned to walk away I heard a dog moaning and I hoped it wasn’t him … that’s what I’ll always hope …
The way I see it, he got the family he wanted, though probably not nearly for as long as he would have liked; certainly not as long as I would have liked, either. The night the got hit we lay him in the spot he usually slept in in the living room. Throughout the night I would check on him, and every time I did his big tail would beat on the floor excitedly. Even Frek was worried about him and stay in the room much of the night.
The truth is we live on a very busy road, and the Rodney Dog was most certainly sick when he showed up. We never wanted to admit it but we all knew he was part of the family … and I take comfort that in the end he got to spend his last night surrounded by his family, and on his last day I was able to put my arms around his neck and tell him he is loved.