And of course the answer is yes and you try and pour your heart into it because of what he is. You try and tell his story. There is no way to write something entirely true because how can you write in words what he meant to you? You cannot but you try because he deserves nothing less.
It was an early winter in 1997 and in November and December I would take my puppy a street over from where I lived. We'd take a path between two homes and there I would let him off the leash and he would run as I walked in long circles around the field and frozen marsh and scrub brush, beating my hands together to keep them warm, just the two of us under the cold black sky, he a little black blur, running and running, running forever, until finally I would call to him and we would go back to where the two of us lived, just the two of us.
Poop and Puke
I had been dating Jenn for maybe a month when I mentioned that I might get a puppy. She thought it wasn't a good idea. I joke now that I didn't listen because the sex wasn't that good (I lie - it was absolutely amazing) but the truth is that I have always been a stubborn little guy who marches to his own drummer and so a few days later she drove up to my place and found me sitting on my step watching a little black guy with floppy ears and a white seven on his chest chase his tail on the lawn.
Those early days.
She was not a dog person and never became one but he was always a Jenn dog. She would come over and I would take him out and he would look in the apartment window and see her and start to cry and run to the door to see her.
We lived in a complex of a couple of hundred apartments, pretty standard in Clearwater. An inner ring around the pool and clubhouse, an outer ring as well, two stories high. We lived in the southeast corner, as far away from the entrance as we could be. Ben would be lazing about and then suddenly go to the window and sit patiently. A few minutes later Jenn would pull up in her car.
We lived fifteen minutes from the causeway over Tampa Bay and at the western end of that causeway was a beach where you could take your dog swimming. Once or twice a week I'd bundle him into the Neon and we'd drive over and walk up and down the beach. I'd throw a stick into the bay and, as dogs are wont to do, he would plunge in again and again. When the tide was out we'd walk along the western edge of the bay and he'd rush into flocks of seagulls, scattering them complaining into the heat. He would charge about like a madman and a few times I found myself facedown in the shallow water after he had blindsided me like a linebacker, knocking me flying.
One day we took him it was particularly rough when we went. He brought me a stick and I tossed it into the waves and out he went. Again and again we did this, about thirty minutes worth of it, until I realized that if we kept this up he'd drown. Brought him back to the car, he was asleep before we got off the beach.
The Time He Fucked Me
We got married in 2001 and returned to Clearwater to pack up our shit and move back to Canada. Went to the vet and asked for some dope for the big guy as we were to be on the road for nearly twenty four hours and didn't want to deal with him roaming about the car. A few nights before we left I gave him a dose on the vet's recommendation, a test drive as it were. My new bride called and asked how it was looking and I answered that I think we got snookered, he wasn't reacting at all. On cue I looked over and saw him walking, well, leaning against the wall as he tried to get across the apartment. Like a drunk he staggered across the room, stoned out of his mind. Never mind, I told her, I think we're good to go.
After I had showered I ran out and picked up some tomato juice. By the time I was done with him it looked like someone had butchered a cow in our tiny bathroom, there was red splatter everywhere.
A few days after our oldest was born I was up at four a.m. or so doing baby stuff and let the dog out to relieve himself. Thrity seconds later he tore by me, up the stairs and into the room where the baby was, making sure that the skunk that had just sprayed him had somehow not gotten in to threaten the newest member of his pack.
For a month he had been struggling and I had been falling apart, thinking of the inevitable. Twice he looked to be in bad shape and twice he had bounced back with defiant energy but last week he was slowed noticeably. His hind legs were swollen and he struggled to get up even with my help. He was on something for the pain but his panting told us that it was becoming ineffective. I talked to the vet on Thursday and I said that I figured he'd get through the long weekend and then he'd be at the end of it.
Thursday evening I came home with a beautiful sirloin but when I let him out he collapsed in the grass and was unable to get up. I lifted him into my arms and carried him into the house. A month before he had been a load, now he was light as a feather, the cancer having worn him away. I barbequed his steak and we took turns giving him pieces. That night I tried to lift him up and carry him to the living room so I could lay on the couch beside him but he was in too much pain and he wearily snapped at me to warn me off.
Friday I alternated between my laptop, trying to work some, and laying beside him on the floor, holding him close, giving him steak and cheese and whatever else I could find in the fridge. In the morning we had to pull our sobbing daughter off of him to take her to school. When Jenn dropped her off her classmates consoled her as the tears ran down her face still.
I sat beside him in the afternoon, a pint of Guinness at hand as I stroked him quietly. Just before three I lifted him one last time and carried him down the stairs and laid him on the blanket in the wagon. Jenn said her goodbyes and then I pulled the wagon up the street and around the corner to the vet's. Two men standing on the sidewalk looked at him and commented on this old dog, look at him, being pulled about like a king. Then they saw my stricken face and they fell silent and as I went into the vet's I heard one say 'oh, oh no'.
They prepared him and I went into the room and he was anxious, resting on a blanket on top of a table. I calmed him down and I held him and the vet came in and explained to me what was going to happen. I gave him treats and even at the end his appetite was fine as he gobbled them up. I gave him some more and as she pushed the needle he had one, two, three, and then he began to nod and then I laid his beautiful grey head on the blanket and he was gone.
I took off his collar and put it in my pocket, I hugged him and kissed him and I told him how much we loved him and then I said goodbye and walked out into the sunshine.
Our Hearts Are Broken, Where Is Our Dear Friend?
I have been in mourning for a month and so for me I am lost in thoughts of what joy he brought us. His dishes are put away and most of all what I have noticed is that his presence is not here anymore. I turn and expect him to me laying there, grinning at me. I hear him panting or so I think. I keep thinking that he needs to go out or that he has to be fed and all of that is gone.
He is gone.
On Friday night my daughter crawled into our bed. She has not been in our bed since she was two months old. She lay there sobbing and cuddled in as if her heart was breaking.
And Jenn has been stunned at the depth of her grief. She was never a dog person and her relationship with Ben was often an uneasy one and yet she has been tearing up at random times. looking for him, missing him. She never thought that this would rip her apart as it has.
Dear Old Ben
He lived nearly thirteen years, our dear old dog. He was there at our beginning and through everything that has come since then. He never questioned, never grumped, never turned his back. He gave us everything even when we could not reciprocate.
The other night we had a drink and we laughed as we told stories about our dear old friend. We miss him dearly and we are sad now but we also celebrate what he gave to us.
He gave us his all just as any good dog does.
Goodbye dear friend. Rest easy now.