My house smells like a pet store. Or maybe a dog kennel. It is the smell of three dogs who dislike baths but love to play, shed, and nap on top of each other. I’ve gotten use to the smell, mostly. But when I’m away for several days and then come back through my front door, the doggie aroma stands as thick as sea fog. But it is a smell worth living in to have my three doggies greet me at the door, shaking their tails, all doggie smiles.
Amy Dog’s best friend was our first dog, Walker Dog, who is sometimes called Wok Wok or Walkie Talkie; her legal name, if a dog can be said to have a legal name, is Walker Percy Livingood because she’s as Southern as Tennessee Williams and sweet tea. Amy Dog’s greatest admirer was our oldest dog, and most recent addition, Smudge. The three dogs formed an unlikely pack of bacon-loving, sofa-sleeping, pizza-delivery-man attacking companions.
Walker Dog is a treeing walker coon hound dog, which according to our vet is an actual breed. She came to live with us when I took my dear-departed cats, HouseCat and GoodKnight, to the vet many years ago. The vet had found Walker Dog sauntering along the local highway, near famished. She asked me if I would consider adopting her. Walker took one look at me and vomited. Her hungover, doleful eyes looked up at me in shame, and then she vomited again. I immediately knew I wanted her.
Amy Dog was our next dog. Six years ago, we went into Pet Smart to pick up a bag of dog food (or cat foot). And there was Amy Dog. She was an excited dog, bouncing around her kennel, smacking her tail against the metal cage. Who could say what kind of dog she was? Was she part whippet? Part hound? Angela, my wife, pleaded with me to bring her home. I didn’t want to. One dog was enough. But Amy Dog was so excited to see us, I caved.
Smudge’s immigration to the Livingood house happened when my wife’s aunt passed away. Smudge, a miniature Australian sheep dog, suffers from small-dog syndrome, that lugubrious proclivity towards never-ending overcompensation. But he loves to have his back end rubbed, which means he is just as likely to bark at you as he is to stick his butt in your face and ask for a massage.
Long before Smudge came to live with us, Amy and Walker Dog became best buddies, taking napping together, playing with each other, going on long walks on retractable leashes, sniffing everything and everyone they met – staring in movies together. Walker Dog was no scholar, though she was the brains of the two. Amy Dog was the sweet dog, the Forest Gump of dogs: “I may not be a smart dog,” she would bark, “but I know what love is.” And she did. She would put her head in your lap, lick your face, put a paw on your chest. Just walking in the room caused Amy Dog to start thumping her tail.
GoodKnight and HouseCat never really cared for the dogs, particularly Amy Dog. It wasn’t that Amy Dog was mean to the cats, quite the opposite. Amy Dog wanted to play, and the cats just wanted to walk around the house without being pounced on. But I suspect they were leery of Amy Dog more so because they could tell that Amy Dog was barely in control of herself: more than once Amy Dog ran straight into the sliding glass door because she saw a rabbit outside.
Last year when Smudge moved in, GoodKnight and HouseCat had already gone on to glory – which is a good thing because I’m pretty sure the cats would have bullied poor Smudge. Smudge, though, changed the Walker-Amy Dog dynamic. Walker became more content to be her own dog, while Amy took little Smudge as her protégé. Amy taught Smudge how to bark at passing dogs and joggers and how to plead for table scrapes and how to sleep through the night in a kennel. When I took our dog family to the backyard, Amy Dog would take off, running as fast as she could in great big circles, and somewhere behind her was Smudge, running as fast as his little dog legs would go, trying to keep up with his adopted sister.
I’ve thought a lot about why we have dogs. These dogs serve no practical purpose. They don’t guard the house. They aren’t hunting dogs. Despite their wonderful noses, they can’t or won’t find my misplaced keys. There’s nothing for them to herd. They are completely unemployable.
And then they expect to be fed every day, exactly on time. They want to go outside several times a day to use the bathroom, lie in the sun, or chase rabbits. They require neighborhood walks for the same reason I wanted to go to the mall as a teenager. And when we take them for walks, we have to pick up their poo.
If Walker Dog gets off the leash, she goes running through the neighborhood for hours. Once, she visited folks on the golf course a little too much and got thrown in dog jail. Like a failed cotillion schoolgirl, Amy Dog has this thing about burping. She’ll burp in your face, over your meal; she’ll burp while she’s sleeping. And Smudge snores like a 300-pound man with sleep apnea.
Why would we have dogs?
A little more than a week ago, I took Amy and Walker Dog to the vet. If I had known Amy Dog wouldn’t come home, I would have canceled the appointment, locked the door, and stood sentry-like over old Aims. But I didn’t know.
The appointment at the vet was routine: Amy got her rabbis vaccination and a check-up, and Walker had a little blood work done and a check-up. They both got about $600 worth of flea and heartworm pills. Amy and Walker were far more interested in the other dogs and cats than they were their medical conditions. So, when the vet said they both looked good, Amy and Walker tied me up in their leashes trying to have a sniff-and-greet with a lab and a German shepherd. By the time we left, Walker Dog brayed stand-up comedy for those in the waiting room, getting a good number of laughs, while Amy Dog excitedly went from one person to another welcoming them to the vet. Everyone in the vet’s office knew Amy and Walker by name and was sad to see them leave.
We loaded up my truck and started home on Highway 17. Angela called on the way and asked me to stop by the Circle K to nurse our Coke Zero dependence. As I was talking with her, I noticed Amy Dog was a little bothered by having a heavy retractable leash hang from her neck. Since Amy Dog isn’t a very good shopper and would be staying in the truck (with the air conditioning blowing), I took her leash off without much thought. Amy Dog sat nicely in the front seat enjoying the ride, looking around, inspecting passing cars for canine co-pilots.
When I parked and opened my door, Amy Dog bolted over my lap and out into the parking lot before I realized she was moving. She looked panicked and confused. “Amy Dog,” I said, “get back in the truck.” But Amy was looking around frantic. It was as if she thought we were home but didn’t recognize anything. She ran off behind the Circle K towards McDonalds. I looked at the bumper to bumper traffic on Highway 17, grabbed her leash, and went after her. Others in the parking lot started to help me. Amy Dog ran faster and harder in the opposite direction, and then she ran in the other direction. She was out of control, running, frantic. I called Angela and told her to come help. Amy Dog was now missing. Out of sight. Sprinting wild near congested roads.
I came back around the Circle K and a lady said Amy was running along Highway 17, going north. I got in my truck, pulled out onto the highway and knew something bad had happened when I saw a police car blocking one lane of traffic.
A man in a green, button-down shirt held Amy in his arms. Amy wasn’t moving; her head was folded over the man’s arm. I rolled my window down and said, “That’s my dog.” I parked in the turning lane, got out of my truck, and asked, “Is she dead?” The cars blowing passed kicked up sand and pebbles like little storms spewing debris. Walker Dog looked out the rear window. The man in the green shirt explained to the police officer that I was the owner. The officer stopped traffic. The man carried Amy Dog over to me. I lowered the tailgate and he placed her in the back of the truck. Her little body was broken. Tears of blood were still wet underneath her eyes.
“She didn’t suffer,” the man said. “I stayed with her and loved on her until she took her last breath.” He paused. “It was fast.”
I just looked at poor Amy Dog. My mind refused to comprehend how this crushed body was the same dog that just minutes before was poking the vet’s door open, wagging her tail, delighted to discover a cat in the back room.
“I’m so sorry,” the man in the green shirt said again. I hadn’t realized he had been talking to me. “She just came out of nowhere.”
“It isn’t your fault,” I said absently. “It isn’t anybody’s fault.”
The man again said he was sorry, shook my hand, and returned to his car. The police officer asked if I was okay. I lied and said I was. I drove Amy back to the Circle K to meet Angela. She took Amy Dog back to the vet to have her cremated.
Why do we have pets when they break our hearts? I don’t know. I believe, though, that you can best know your heart by knowing what breaks it. Amy Dog left a need in the house. Walker Dog has been braying and looking out the window for no particular purpose except to see if Amy Dog is outside. Smudge can no longer sleep through the night because Amy Dog is not beside him. There is, now, an empty dog dish, a leash without purpose, a kennel without a tenant. The chew toys and squeaky toys remain unmoved on the floor and I can’t bring myself to pick them up; the quiet and near stillness of the house; the missing eyes following me from room to room; the joggers and dog walkers now pass without being shouted at; the pizza delivery man wasn’t attacked with elated howls and yelps. Amy Dog is gone.
Amy Dog is gone.
God saw that Adam was alone, so God conjured up the company of animals. God’s first plan didn’t solve the crisis, so God took up a contingency. But it strikes me that Adam’s first relationship with someone other than God was with animals. Maybe that is the greatest gift our pets can give us. Our ability to be human by having a friendship with a pet, a way of definition and self-awareness by the otherness animals naturally are; to have that first relationship, that first try, and the gift of a broken heart.
We will miss you Amy Dog.