In August of last year, we adopted a 150 lb. behemoth of a dog. This, despite the fact that we already had three dogs (and three cats), and we live in a small house. I will be the first to admit that doing so was insane (like, “They-only-allow-you-crayons-to-write-home-with” insane), but there were a several reasons why:
- I love GREAT BIG dogs, especially Newfoundlands, which this fellow was a mix of (the other being Lab);
- He was older (8 years) and all black; sadly, most people don’t consider these dogs as prime adoption candidates;
- He had eye, ear, and skin problems, which would need daily care; and he was severely overweight, which would require exercise and a careful diet. There aren’t a lot of casual dog-owners willing to put in the effort;
- His previous owner had lost his job and his home, and had been living in a car (in the summer) with the dog before turning him in. And that was not his first owner, either: this dog needed some stability.
On top of that, the dog was very calm but affectionate. We brought him home and he got along well with our other pets, although for the first two weeks, my daughter Ally’s little cat Pimineta was terrified of him and would run and hide whenever she saw him. She lost her fear after she realized that though he tried to chase her, he was much, much too slow, and would never be able to catch her.
The dog’s original name was Degas, but somewhere along the line, it got changed to Diego, which I wasn’t wild about. I wanted his new name to be sound similar, so Ally found “Daegan” (a Gaelic name meaning “black-haired”) on Google, and so Daegan (it’s pronounced like “Reagan”) settled in.
Daegan may be mellow, but life with him is not dull. As you might imagine, he eats quite a lot (even on that strict diet), and yes, he produces quite a lot out the other end. We’ve cleared up the gooey eyes, infected ears, and scaly skin, but he’s still drooly (though not quite so much as before).
He sleeps a great deal, often in doorways or the hall, which requires us to step over him. When it’s feeding time, he gets very excited, jumping and carrying on—there’s a tone to his bark that’s actually, physically painful to listen to.
He walks well (albeit leisurely) on a leash, huffing and panting as he goes, and I’ve lost count of how many times someone walking or driving by will stop and say, “That’s a BIG dog!” It’s like living with Clifford, only in black instead of red. When he’s tired of walking, he’ll just plop down on his belly, and it’s difficult to persuade him to get back up before he wants to.
For a Lab/Newfie mix, he’s not wild about water: he’ll wade into the Bay if I go with him, but he would prefer not to. He doesn’t like strolling along the beach because it’s too much effort to go across the sand. But he likes to go for rides in the car, and he LOVES trucks. Whenever one comes down the street when we’re out, he tries to wander into the road to get a better look—or to climb inside.
He is also—and I say this with love and out of honesty—the dumbest dog I have ever had. He knows his name, he knows all of one trick (“Lie down”), but most everything else eludes him. Still, he’s very well-behaved: doesn’t make messes in the house, doesn’t hassle or fight with the other pets, doesn’t run off, doesn’t bite or growl, and is very patient about being bathed and medicated. He’s just a good dog, very gentle (though clumsy), and very lovable.
And then there was Tequila. Tiki, for short. We’d had him since 2008. For a long time, Ally had wanted a Chihuahua, but my wife and I don’t buy from pet stores or breeders, not when there are so many unwanted dogs in shelters. We told her that if she found one at a rescue, we would take a look, and each week for well over a year, she combed through the local newspaper, until there he was.
Tiki was a mix (maybe with Boston Terrier?), and pretty big (13 ½ lbs.), all things considered. Short-haired, black everywhere except for a white strip on his chest. When we went to visit him at the pound, they warned us that he was not friendly, but he loved Ally and my wife as soon as he saw them (our other daughter Beth, and I? Not so much).
Chihuahuas seem to come in two types: nervous and trembling, or fearless and mean. Guess which type Tiki was? He moved into our home and announced himself as the Alpha, which our other dogs—Cookie and Cecilia—couldn’t have cared less about. Tiki’s default setting was to hate everyone on sight: if you tried to pet him or (even worse) pick him up, he’d growl, snarl, and yes, bite. Repeatedly. Joni named him Tequila, she said, because “a little bit will do you in.”
But not even she was immune to being bitten, though it was under circumstances we called “a tragic misunderstanding.” He had rolled in some wet, rotten leaves, getting thoroughly disgusting, then run inside and secured his reeky self under our bed. When Joni reached in to get him out and into a bath, he cut open her palm, which later got infected thanks to all the gunk on him. They swiftly made up.
Tiki was smart, well-behaved, and often cuddled with Ally and Joni. As the years went by, he warmed to me, sometimes sitting next to me on the couch and letting me pet him (but still not pick him up). Inspired by Tito from Oliver and Company, I’d often say in character what he might have (if he were human) in any given situation, and he always knew I was talking about him. I don’t think he minded.
Tiki ruled the house for many years, and he wasn’t impressed with Daegan when he arrived. Back in January of this year, Tiki seemed to be in pain, not eating much and yelping whenever Joni went to pick him up. We were worried that Daegan had stepped on him, or that Tiki had hurt himself jumping down from our bed, where he spent every night, snuggled under the covers between me and Joni.
We took him to the vet several times, and she prescribed him muscle relaxants and steroids. He would seem to get better, and eat a little more, but he lost a lot of weight, and the pain persisted. Last week, he started having trouble breathing, and I was worried that he suffered some kind of internal injury, so Joni took him for an x-ray.
He had fluid around his lungs and a huge tumor inside him, squeezing his lungs. We thought he had been hurt, not that he had cancer. There was nothing to do but put him down, and because he was in so much pain, Joni had it done right there. Ally and I would have liked to have been there, but there was no time.
Tiki’s death hit Joni and Ally hard, and it was a few days before they lost that shell-shocked look. I cried quite a bit, too, even though he wasn’t “my dog.” At first, I hadn’t been sure about adopting him, but I agreed because he and Ally immediately hit it off so well.
I’m glad I did, because he and became buddies. In my novel Lost Dogs, Poppy the Pomeranian acts like and insists that he’s much bigger than he actually is, and I got that from Tiki, who, despite his size, was moy macho. I find myself absently looking out for him as I move around the house, and I’m still careful when I sit on the bed so that I don’t sit on any lump of the covers that might be him, curled him and staying warm.
I don’t know if dogs comprehend anything about death: it doesn’t seem to have registered with Daegan and Cookie and Cecilia that Tiki’s not home anymore. To them, he and Joni went somewhere one afternoon, and only she came back. He’s not here when they get their breakfast and dinner, and he doesn’t come on walks, like he used to.
I’m sure it’s easier that way. If you’re a dog owner, you know what we’re dealing with all too well: you bring a dog home, you grow to love them, and then—invariably—they break your heart, through no fault of their own.
And then—invariably—you love another dog again. Because everything that comes before is much greater than the hurt at the end.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is In Lonely Lands, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in fall 2016.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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