Well, it’s been about 10 days, and I guess I’ve put off writing this long enough. It’s a tough story to write, but if you’re a dog person, you’ll understand.
My wife and I have always been dog people. We both had dogs growing up, and shortly after we got married in the early 80s, I struck up a conversation with the neighbor’s golden-german shepherd mix. We had a deal. When I got out of my car (where we lived you parked on the street) “Happy” would let out an adorable half-growl, half-bark, and I in return would come to the fence and hug her head.
Over the next few months, snacks and conversation got mixed into the deal, and her owner seemed to notice. One day there was a knock on my door and the owner asked a favor. She was moving, she explained, and could not take the dog with her. Would I like to be Happy’s new Dad?
For the next six years, Happy was our dog. Her passing was one of the sadder days in our lives, but a month later, we got a call from a friend who had a fraternity brother who had just graduated college. He had a 1-year-old black lab, and he too was moving to a place that wouldn’t allow dogs. So “Butch” came to our home and quickly healed a few broken hearts.
Butch came to us well-trained. Tell him to stay, he’d not move for hours. He had been raised in a fraternity of guys, so he immediately reacted to my male voice. You could walk with him without a leash because he was so obedient, as a simple expression got him to do what you needed him to do.
The perfect dog.
Well, until I started to travel. Butch found out when I wasn’t around, my wife – also known as “the great enabler” – didn’t seem to mind if he got up on the sofa, did what he wanted, or even helped himself to a snack or two off the kitchen table. Butch became my wife’s “son,” and quickly learned that all he really had to do was watch out for me. If I wasn’t around, the rules didn’t apply.
I noticed this one day when we were going out for a walk, and Butch uncharacteristically started drifting away from me. With dogs, I’ve found there are two ways to make them obey. One is a particularly tone you use in your voice, that if your dog has bonded with you, communicates now is not the time to be messing around. The other is food. Few dogs can resist the “Do you want a treat?” question and usually come.
Butch wasn’t responding to my voice, so I reached into my pocket to entice the big pup back toward me. Butch stopped as if in thought about what he wanted to do, when you could hear a voice from the upper reaches of my house yelling “Don’t do it Butch! It’s a trick!”
I wasn’t kidding about her being an enabler.
We had 12 great years with that dog until a cancerous growth dictated our time was over. I volunteered to take him to the vet, had them put him on the table so I could put both my arms around him and kept telling him he was a good boy as he crossed the rainbow bridge.
My wife swore there would be no more dogs, and for five years, there weren’t. But as my daughter was about to turn 8, we decided she needed to grow up around a dog. My wife studied all the breeds and determined a Bichon Friese would be the perfect choice, so on one hot August day in 2003, we headed out to a farm that had some.
My wife immediately locked on to one, and I thought our day was done. But while her choice was the perfect-looking, well-coifed Bichon, I noticed another rangy rascal over in the corner, barking at me as if she thought we were making a mistake. This one was the runt of the litter, had a hairstyle you normally only acquire after sticking a finger in an electric socket, and clearly seemed have in personality what she lacked in looks. It was not a mystery as to why she was still available.
I got down on a knee and it kept barking at me. It seemed to be telling me we weren’t leaving without her, and at that point my daughter came over. She giggled as the little pup tried to impress her as well, and she was well on her way to winning us over.
Only problem was Mom had already picked out the dog. But when Mom wants one dog and your daughter wants a different dog, there is only one way to resolve the issue.
We came home with $1,200 worth of dogs.
They tried a variety of names on these two hounds for the first few days, but none stuck. In all their research, the other breed that got a lot of consideration was a Schnoodle, mainly because the name made my daughter laugh when she said it. “Why not,” I suggested, “Schnoodle and Doodle? When their names get called out at the vet, I’ll bet nobody else will have those names.”
Thus began the adventures of Schnoodle and Doodle. Schnoodle was the pretty one, and we soon found while she was a beautiful dog, she didn’t particularly like people. She did like food, however, and spent every waking moment thinking about what she’d be eating next, something I found I could respect. No matter where Schnoodle was in the house, she immediately jumped up and came running when I cracked the seal on the refrigerator door. She knew my act. She also knew I’d share.
Doodle decided after a few days around the house that she was the Alpha Dog. She lorded over Schnoodle like she owned her. If there were two treats to be given, she believed he should get both and Schnoodle should do without. When they were fed, Doodle had to check out Schoodle’s dish to make sure she approved of the portions. If Schnoodle was on your lap, Doodle would nose her off of it so all the attention went to her.
She fell in love with my wife on Day 1 and those two became inseparable. Wherever one would go, the other was one step behind. This emboldened Doodle to do whatever she wanted because if you’re tight with the great enabler, you’re never going to get punished. They both learned to come visit me and watch ball games (because I usually have snacks) but a clock would always go off in their heads that after so many minutes, they had to get back to mom and fight over who got the prime position in her lap. For 15 years, it was quite a show.
But then came Columbus Day, which started like every other day. My daughter was visiting, everyone had a cup of coffee, and Doodle jumped from one lap to the other to say good morning. She even jumped up on a chair, looked out the window to the backyard, and barked at two people walking on the bike path. As she aged, she became a grumpy old man, barking at people to get off her lawn.
She then took a few steps across the floor and froze. Wives have a certain tone in their voice that tells you well before the details are revealed that something horrible has happened, and she used it when she called my name. She came to my office with a limp dog in her arms, and you could see it was over. We rushed to the vet, they took one listen to her heart and immediately said she needed to be put down. In the span of an hour, we went from having a long-time companion saying “good morning” to a vet saying “she’s gone.”
Much like with Butch, I held her in the final minutes, along with my wife and daughter, and we all told her what a great dog she was. My last words were “go see Happy and Butch and trade stories. One day we’ll be along to hear them.”
It’s pretty much been a tough week since. Back in the days of Happy, we might have taken one picture of her. With Butch, maybe 5. With cameras in our phones over the last 15 years, we probably have 800 of Doodle, more than we have of me, my wife or daughter combined. She’s doing exactly what we asked her not to do in 537 of them.
Some days they help. Some days they don’t. The picture you see at the top is the view I had many mornings while trying to write something or get something done on my computer. She probably rode shotgun on hundreds of stories I’ve written in the last 15 years. It only seemed fair I write one more for her.
So Doodle, this one’s for you. It’s not the same without your head pushing up on the keyboard trying to see if I’m eating anything. Be kind in your story telling when you see Happy and Butch.
One day, we’ll see each other again….
(UPDATE: A little more than 9 months later, Schnoodle joined Doodle in crossing the rainbow bridge. They’re now back together again.)