I had a dog, and his name was Laddie.
His middle name was “A.D.D.”
He was a trial, a joy, and sometimes a baddie,
and sometimes he even paid attention to me.
“You, dog, were a pain in the ass. Sometimes. And all through your life with me. At intervals. But, you were also the happiest, most exuberant animal I have ever known. Which is why, sometimes, you were a pain in the ass. Stubborn, occasionally blatantly disobedient, independent, lovable, loving, terrific, sometimes adorable, unforgettable pain in the ass.”
Just a small aside to my recently departed dog. He was a great dog; not necessarily a good one all the time, but great indeed. He had an independent streak that never went away. Which was operative today when he went to check out a dead deer — across the highway.
Aaron, J., one of his many friends, invented the verb “Laddied” for moments when he — carrying a full pack — would push past a hiker on a narrow trail. It could be applied to other times, as well. Against my protests, he greeted all cars enthusiastically, as if the driver — who he may or may not have known — was his favorite person in the whole world. He would lay down in front of one of the FSPW trail crew with not a care that he was blocking progress and a Pulaski. Laddied.
He was a born-again mutt, as my buddy Chris T. calls rescue dogs, and 12-plus years old. For the last few years, he had a lick wound on his left back leg. In that time, he learned (almost) not to lick it. He could go all night without the cone — sometimes; and often all day if I was there to harass him about “No licking, goddamit!” For all that time, and the time before that when the OTHER leg had a lick wound, he submitted gracefully to the cone. He didn’t like it, but he also didn’t let the cone alter his behavior a lot. He was, in fact, wearing it when he went to check out the dead deer.
Ironically, the dead deer was not where he remembered it to be. It had been hauled away by my brother and the brute force of a John Deere tractor, but Laddie remembered where it had been the last time he saw it.
There are questions in my mind about all that. When disaster strikes something or someone you love and are responsible for, I think there are always. Mine tonight are rather vague (could be the whisky), and I can’t quite articulate them except one: “What might have been done that would have prevented it?”
And the answer is, “I don’t know.” Period. And, I still won’t know in a couple of days when I finish this.
A thousand images of this one creature are stored in my cerebral cortex; some, maybe a little deeper. And then there are a couple of thousand stored on my computer. He presents himself perpetually in my desktop pictures. It’s funny how I can see him in all his iterations in the same instant. Young dog. Old dog. Happy dog. Bored dog. Fast dog. Slow dog. Dog with cone and dog without.
We had a good last walk, up trail #999 to where the old road section starts, and then a bail down the rocky ridge, through the cliffs and talus to the trail below us. We skipped at least 6 switchbacks. He was in doggie heaven, and laid down in Little Eddy Creek while I was retrieving a cold can of beer from it. He was, indeed, a trail dog. But, especially, an off-trail dog.
He was not really fond of the pack he Laddied fellow hikers with, but he figured out quickly that if he was wearing it, he got to go cool places. He also had a personality change when he put on his pack. He became very business-like — in a happy-Laddie sort of way. When he had a pack on, he was on a mission. On the morning of leaving for the back country, and throughout that day, he would balk a bit when I put it on him, but after that, he would present himself as we got ready to go. Like Buck, at the head of the sled line.
On almost every backpacking trip I took him on, he sprained his tail from wagging it so much. No kidding. Sometime during the second day, his tail would “break” about half-way down, and for the rest of the trip, the end of his (still-wagging) tail would droop. After a few days of “normal” wagging at home, it would heal. Until next time.
He was a valiant dog. Over his last month, at age 12, he kept the neighborhood bear out of the garbage. Most of the time. But Sunday a week ago, he sent the bear up a tree and then packing, hounding it into the woods west of the house. It was his eighth confirmed bear treeing — not including cubs. I’m sure there were more I did not witness.
He was a guileless beggar. No subterfuge or coyness for him. He would settle into a sitting position and pay very close attention to his subject with great expectancy. “I know you are going to drop something,” was his mantra. And even if they didn’t by accident, his victims often acquiesced. “Awe, he’s so cute.”
At some point, I gave up trying to get people to quit feeding my dog. And joined them. We had the morning apple ceremony (he loved apples and carrots), the evening pistachio ceremony and the anytime popcorn ceremony. In each ceremony he would worship me while and until I stopped tossing him treats. He came to know that he was only getting about a third of the pistachios, and after the 10th or 12th piece of popcorn, I was done tossing them. With apples, he devoured the pieces of core, and always lobbied for more.
He loved to swim after “the ball,” but the water seemed to aggravate his lick wound, so we didn’t swim a lot this last summer. I will never let that happen again. Wound or not, the dog will get to swim.
He was, as I said, a great dog. Not necessarily good all the time, but great all the time. I will miss the ceremonies and his joyful and disobedient greetings of visitors. I will miss him “throwing” the ball back to me. I will miss his love of any iteration of snow, from a few fresh inches in November to a cornice or leftover pile in July. I will miss the sudden rush to the door when someone knocks — or he hears a bear or moose rumbling around outside. I already miss hearing him clunk up on the porch when he returns from wherever he has been, dead deer on his breath and a doggie grin on his face, knowing that I will let him in in almost any condition. And, I keep thinking it’s time to take him for a walk. For a while, I will miss him.
I put all of his personal belongings in a cardboard box today. Heated water dish; food dishes both metal and folding fabric (for his pack). His orange pack and harness, traveling dog food bag, leg guards (which he was very good at removing). I put the box on a shelf by the door into the shop where I will see it regularly. I wrote on it with a Sharpie, “Future dog.”
There will be one. When the time and the dog present themselves, there will be one.
I hope that dog heaven is FULL of dead deer. And no highways. And absolutely no goddam cones.