Monday, May 4, 2009

The Bob

Our culture--and I suspect most others--is rich with dog stories, and for good reason. Our species and theirs have been intertwined since long before written language, since before even the spoken word. All dog stories, though, have one thing in common. From Where The Red Fern Grows to Ole Yeller to Marley And Me to Rescuing Sprite, in the end, all dog stories are sad.

This is a dog story.

The night I picked up my now-wife for our first date, she cracked open her front door to tell me she'd be right there, but she had to take her dog out first, and went back inside to get him. Standing on the doorstep, I did the mental arithmetic: "Single girl, apartment. It'll be a poodle."

Then out bounded Bob, who was decidedly not a poodle. He was a black mostly-Lab, stubby legged and long-haired. Bob was a pound dog, saved first by the shelter employees who named him (and if you ever met him, you'd know it fit: he just was a Bob) and couldn't bring themselves to euthanize him. They kept him around for weeks longer than the usual policy because they knew he'd make a great pet.

When Beth found him at the Atlanta Humane Society, she'd gone in looking for "a brown hound," in her words. She'd promised her then-landlord that her new dog would weigh no more than 30 pounds. When she found Bob in his kennel, aquiver with excitement over meeting a new person, she said, "Roll over!", and he did. She chose him on the spot, despite his rarely weighing less than 50 pounds on his lightest day.

Bob never rolled over on command again for the rest of his life. He was not a show dog or a highly-trained canine genius, but he did have a great sense of timing.

All Labrador Retrievers are inherently nuts. Bob was Lab-plus. Bob was definitely a Lab--he loved everybody, instantly, and the biggest danger he held to a burglar was being licked to death. He was a goofball who loved to dash around with his tail wagging at 90 miles an hour, and for most of his life his idea of heaven was being in the same room with more than one person and a heavy chew toy. When he was particularly happy--say, when the dog food bin was opened--he'd run around in tight circles. When we got up to take our dinner plates to the kitchen after a meal, he'd circle around at least half a dozen times.

But Bob was also weird. He was a Lab who wouldn't swim (he'd just lie down in the shallows, or better yet, a puddle), and who hated to get his paws wet after a rainfall. He once chased Alaskan bears across our television screen, then looked expectantly up the stairwell (after all, those bears just walked past the window--they must be coming inside!). When our vet examined Bob for the first time, he pronounced the dog "perfectly normal." I told him I wanted a second opinion.

A couple of years ago, Bob went counter-surfing and ate a half-pound of coffee grounds. Have you ever seen a 14-year-old Lab with 24 hours of coffee jitters? Take my word for it, it's quite a sight.

Bob lived a long, weird, mostly happy life. He was about two when Beth adopted him, and eleven when we got married and he became my step-dog. He was youthful for most of that life; when I took him over to Alabama for a family visit, my aunt (who is to dog people what Jay Leno is to car collectors) asked how old he was, maybe four? Bob was actually twelve at the time.

My oldest nephew, who was only two himself and barely able to talk when he met Bob, took to him immediately, dubbing him "The Bob." At Christmas, Collier would be outside our door at the crack of dawn, calling, "Boooob!" over and over in his little voice. We were on vacation when we called Collier last year to congratulate him on finishing kindergarten. He immediately asked where Bob was. When I cracked the old family joke about Bob being in "puppy jail" (shorthand for boarding at the vet), Collier and his little brother both started crying. It took a while to convince them that Bob wasn't really in jail.

I don't know how I'm going to tell the little guy that he won't be able to play with Bob again.

Bob lived to be well over sixteen, an extraordinarily old age for any dog, and particularly so for a larger breed. He reached fifteen before his age began to show; it was roughly a year ago when he just collapsed while eating his breakfast. X-rays showed that Bob suffered from the bane of so many breeds, hip dysplasia. Put simply, his hind leg bones just didn't fit properly in their sockets, and years of romping had worn down the joints. Every step hurt, and eventually even standing up was a chore.

Canine painkillers brought him close to normal for many months, but by the end of last summer, he was tumbling down again, and by fall we had to carry him up and down the stairs. Bob went deaf, and started to lumber around aimlessly in the middle of the night. His housetraining went south around Christmas. We adapted, and got to be very practiced with the carpet steamer Beth providentially bought several years back.

Bob's personality changed along with his infirmities. While we were dating, I told Beth that I'd never seen a dog as relentlessly happy as Bob, and I meant it, but in the last years of his life, he stopped being happy, and that might have been the cruelest loss of all. Two years ago, I couldn't have imagined Bob biting anybody, least of all Beth or me, but he became snappy, and drew blood from both of us. We had to warn visitors to watch their hands, and couldn't leave him around children any more.

We lost a little bit of Bob every day, until finally all that was left was a very old, tired, beaten-down hound who had to be held up to eat and to do his other business. He could only walk a few steps before collapsing, and couldn't keep his feet at all on a smooth surface. He was rarely comfortable, and panted incessantly, regardless of the temperature. It must have been his way of expressing the constant pain from arthritis. In his last months his paws started dragging over the wrong way when he stumbled around, leading his vet to believe he had either a brain or spinal tumor. We went from fearing that we'd come home and find him dead to quietly hoping for it.

Today we stopped waiting. Bob was too obviously miserable for us to hang on to him any longer, even in the moments when he was able to rest, and his old sweet nature reasserted itself. We took him to the vet for the last time, and we held him, and we cried, and we went home without him.

We'll have other dogs, and if I know my wife, it'll be sooner rather than later, but there'll never be another Bob.

I take one thing back, though. I do know what I'll tell my nephews: Bob's gone to where the good dogs go.


  1. Sorry about your loss. We just got our first dog from a rescue in Tennessee. Good luck to the both of you.

  2. My condolences. It's the one drawback to dogs, they leave far too soon. I'll give my dog extra belly rubs tonight.

  3. Bob's story is pretty much "Blackie's" story, with the exception of the fact that when Blackie adopted us his tail was already clipped, so he didn't have the normal Labrador ability to clear coffee tables with one quick swoop.

    Time heals. When you're ready, it heals quicker with another "saved" dog.
    Bob would like that.

  4. Oh I prayed to God to spare my dog as he laid dieing in my arms.I even told God to take one of my relatives or even two in exchange for my pups life.
    But God saw how wonderful my pup was and took him instead.
    We all have our hearts nicked when they die.
    Kindest regards.

  5. You stayed with him when he went. Good for you. Staying with your friend until the very end is the good dog-parent's last, worst, and most important duty.

  6. Even Jake is feeling the loss today. Love you guys!

  7. Aw, what a sweet wonderful companion. I'm very sorry for your loss.

  8. My brother, well said. Our hearts go out to you. Our dogs lives are too short. I'll be sure to give Romeo and Angel extra "stick" time today. We loved Bob and he will be missed.

  9. I'm sorry for your loss Will. Damn you for reminding how difficult it was to say goodbye to Sandy!! Just kidding.

  10. Mr. Collier, I strongly suggest that you and your wife check out a shelter soon and adopt another dog, or two. I have found this to be the best restorative for when my wife and lose one of our cats. We have few friends that are closer to us than our pets, and they truly become part of the family, in a way that non pet owners cannot understand.
    Time will cause the memories to fade, but I still miss my little girl Smokie, who had to be put to sleep about twelve years ago because of cancer at the age of 18.
    Good luck to you and your family.

  11. I hate it when I tear up at the office...
    I'm so very sorry for your loss. I tend to agree with most commenters here that you should find yourself at your local shelter sooner rather than later (you're both obviously true dog lovers), but don't rush out right away. Take some time to remember Bob and to mourn him. You'll feel less guilty when you are loving your new puppy.

  12. "If tears could build a stairway...
    and memories a lane...
    I'd walk right up to heaven...
    and bring you home again"

    This is carved in stone at my mother's pet cemetary. In that place lies Ms. Muffett, Nanu, Wolf and Gomez and Morticia...

    Bob was great! I remember when Beth got him. Hell... I remember chasing him through the Mexican Barrio actually afraid for MY life!

    Please accept my heartfelt sympathies.


  13. My condolences.

    I don't feel your pain so much as I remember exactly my own feelings with my own long late dog.

  14. I fear the day when I will loose my girl Britney. She is my child and my bestfriend. We have been through everything together for the last 6 years. I know I have quite a bit of time longer with her but I do cherish every day. She is my true companion.

    My condolences.

  15. I found this story hard to read, but not for the reason you might think. Not to be critical, but you waited far too long to put your dog to sleep. He was obviously in serious pain for a long time before you took him to the vet for the last time. I've never had to make this trip, so I can't judge. Condolences to you.

  16. He was your best friend for a very long time, and though it always a very difficult, by making that hardest of decisions you proved in the end that you were his as well. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  17. I got lucky and got my wife her second dog before her first went. Like you, I married a woman and her dog. And like you, that dog became my dog. We danced with her at our wedding and she is ubiquitous in our wedding photos, a thin, graying rat terrier. Now she lives in a live oak tree.

    The best thing we ever did was to get a second dog before she passed. So, get that new dog quickly. Don't dither and don't feel guilty. Mount the pictures to the way and keep the camera going with new material.

    We're up to 5 dogs now.

    Insurance, baby. I call it heart insurance. And it works.

  18. Geez, T:
    Not to be critical, but you waited far too long to put your dog to sleep. Um, you're critical.

    I've never had to make this trip, so I can't judge.Call us back when you've made the trip. Until then, you are judgmental.

    Here's a clue bat for you ... dogs are not entities to be tossed in the garbage at the first sign of the challenges of old age. We all have to draw our line.

    Judging other people for drawing theirs too far out is unspeakably cruel.

  19. Any one who has loved a dog, grieves with you today. It's rare in life to find a love as pure and unconditional as a dog's. We "train" our dogs, and they teach us about life. My deepest sympathy to you and Beth.

  20. Will,

    Anyone who can read about Bob without shedding a tear (or two) on the keyboard ain't no dog lover!


    My wife and I dread the day when we'll have to say good-bye to Bogie, our boxer mix pound rescue. He's beginning to turn white around the muzzle, at the ripe old age of 8, and it gave me quite a pang to buy the first bag of "older dog" nuggets.

    A friend of ours won't get a dog, because of the pain he suffered when his childhood pup died. It seems a terrible thing to deny yourself the joys of sharing your life with a hound because of the finite time you get to share.

    Thanks for telling us about your pal.

  21. I can see him now, bounding through the fields in dog heaven. Maybe he has found Lainie for a Collier hound reunion. He was a lucky pup to have found Beth, and later you. We'll miss "The Bob". Love you both, K.

  22. My wife said she never wanted another dog after our first dog together, a sweet Blue Great Dane developed total paralysis of her back half at seven and had to be euthanized.

    After three weeks of tears I'd had enough. I took her to see a six month old Weimaraner who either had to find a new home or would be euthanized. Misty stayed with us for fourteen years. My wife had to make the call and probably postponed it for several months longer than she should have but one morning Misty "told" her she was tired and it was time to go.
    And then came Samantha, now ten, a Chinook, rescued by my son but unable to live with him at college, whose youthful exuberance probable extended Misty's life at least a year or so.
    And then Fergus the Weimaraner puppy who Samantha adopted as her own. And then Tigger the Brindle Great Dane surrendered back to the shelter at which I volunteer after four months living in a garage. I've worked with hundreds of shelter dogs and always resisted "falling in love". Tigger looked at me with those big brown eyes and was in the front seat of my truck when we closed that day..."just overnight...until we open again on Tuesday." The only thing I took back to the shelter on Tuesday was a large check.

    Every loss leaves a permanent mark on our hearts. Every one of these canines has taught me far more than I ever taught them.

    Samantha will be angel, my sweet baby girl. the special creature who helped me find my humanity again almost ten years ago. There'll never be another like her. Having the other two around (and by then I'll probably have saved another one scheduled for the scrap heap) will help as we morn together but just as she stole my heart so many years ago she will take a pice of it with her when she leaves.

    Knowing "when" is never easy but if you pay very careful attention, the really special ones will look at you one day and tell you it's time. So often they keep "coming back" and then that day comes when they just don't have the strength left to keep on.

  23. There is always one "Lifetime" dog. Bob sounds like he has that title. My husband and I have our baby, Teddy. He's a Pom, pretty laid back for that breed, and just turned 12. He was the light at the end of the tunnel for us - he brought us back from "who cares?" to "Let's go, Shorty!" Okay, he has a thousand nicknames - almost all of them good. We can't even think about something happening to Ted. He is our sweetheart, our baby, our widdle boy (oh, yes, babytalk is big esp. in bed in the morning when he's hiding under the pillows and kicking and tail wagging). The first thing we do when we wake up is check on Ted. A zillion times a day, we carry on with him. The last thing we do at night is make sure he's happy and comfortable. If Teddy's happy, the rest of us are happy. He is our Lifetime Dog.
    Annie P

  24. My Mitzi's been gone since 1983 and I still sometimes shed a tear when I think about her. Now Trottie is growing old.. and she'll get extra hugs tonight in memory of Bob. Bless you both.

  25. Super story Will, gotta thank you for it!
    I'm in my late 7th decade and have a wonderful 8 year old Pit Bull/Bloodhound mix (yes, I did a canine DNA on her)who would seem to be Bob's psychic kid sister. I pray I live long enough to give her the full life she deserves.
    BTW, much to a mass enmity, I expressed, on Amazon,my belief that "Saving Sprite" was a book dedicated to the author's smug self-satisfaction and not the dog. Readers should try, just 2 of many, "Amazing Gracie" & "From Baghad: With Love".

  26. Will and Beth, I am so, so sorry. I can only imagine how you feel. My Sally is getting up there, and I'm just enjoying every single second that I have her now. God bless you both.

  27. Condolences to you and yours, Will. Too short, too short.

  28. Sixteen years! What a blessing! I am so sorry for your loss - and I couldn't help but immediately think of Logan, our mastiff/dane/bloodhound little guy.

    The other dogs still wonder where he is, and our daughter still calls for him once in a while.