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A Dog’s Life

We knew he belonged with us before he even had  a name– all floppy-soft ears and big clumsy paws and lovable curiosity. The litter was big and the puppies tumbled over each other in the grass or dozed in the sun or snapped at passing flies–except for one. The little yellow male with the pot-belly took an interest in us, wanted to play. He came home in a wicker laundry basket and we named him Caleb.

Big on heart, short on brains, Caleb grew up with us and entertained us and sometimes exasperated us. But mostly he loved us with that open, faithful, patient Yellow Lab loyalty that forgave us for the days that no one took him for a run and for all those steaks we barbecued right under his nose without ever offering him one. Caleb died peacefully in his sleep Friday night. I hope someone was waiting for him with a grilled steak in one hand and a Frisbee in the other.

I tap away at my keyboard this afternoon and cry for the pure-hearted companion who watched us hopefully through the sliding glass door, went into spasms of joy when he heard the rattle of the leash, and believed for twelve years that he was a lap dog. (What? Seventy pounds isn’t a lap dog?) As corny as it sounds I learned some pretty deep things from that goofy perennial-puppy-in-a-big-dog’s-body:

  • Enjoy life’s simple blessings. Caleb faced a bowl of the same kibble every single day for twelve years. Gross. But to see him come bounding joyously around the corner of the house when he heard the food clatter into his dish you would think that I had just laid out a six-course meal personally prepared for him by Emeril. He would thump my legs with his ecstatic tail and point his wet nose at my  face for a kiss (“Wow! Kibble! Is  it really kibble? For me?! Oh boy, oh boy, I was hoping it would be kibble. . . . “) before he pounced enthusiastically on the his IAMS. Attitude can make the same-old same-old into a banquet.
  • Give every creature the benefit of the doubt. Caleb liked everyone who crossed his path–canine or human or bovine or feline. He just wanted to play. On our long runs together we often encountered snappy, snarly dogs who acted like they would love nothing more than to eat us for lunch. Caleb never snarled back. Ever. That big old tail would just wag the faster and he’d go in for the introductory sniff. He seemed so surprised and bewildered when he got a nip or a bark, but he would trot away from the confrontation without so much as a growl.
  • Dream big and then chase your dream. Yes, Caleb loved to retrieve pretty much anything. Frisbee. Tennis ball. Stick. Then he discovered the cord of split almond firewood along the fence and sticks became mere child’s play. He would run to the back door dragging a log and drop it at (or on) my feet expectantly. Those things weigh about eight pounds. I would huck it for him and he would bound after it, practically unhinging his jaw to get his mouth around it and come running back to me triumphantly. Who says you can’t play fetch with a large log?
  • Watch over the people you love and lick their faces when they need it.   ‘Nuff said.
I once saw a bumper sticker that read “Dogs are just little people in fur coats.” Forgive my frankness, but that’s ludicrous. Dogs aren’t little people in fur coats. If they were, we wouldn’t like them nearly so much. They are dogs inside and out–loyal and unconditional and present in the moment, like we should be.
Goodbye Caleb. I will miss you. The carpets will stay a little cleaner, no more “land-mines” in the back lawn.  But I’ll always have your paw-prints on my heart.