To this day, we don't know who his previous owner was, and we never discovered his true age. The vet placed him somewhere between six and seven years. Then, a spray of white fanned across his face and chest, and suddenly he was older.
He had a quick energy despite the greying muzzle. All it took was for him to catch sight of one of us winding up to throw and he would fly across the grass. He didn't even need to see the ball. And then came the afternoon when he hesitated before the open door of our car, a quizzical look on his face.
His hind legs shook. He was trying to propel himself into the backseat, a small synchronicity of muscle and will, easy as breathing, which had worked countless times before. It was the onset of arthritis, or so we all thought. We lifted and pushed from the back and, with a little loss of dignity on the way up, we finally got him onto the seat that day. Thankfully, an open window in a moving car works magic on ruffled fur. In less than a minute he forgot about his wounded pride.
He loved cars, and car trunks, and he especially loved the backs of pickup trucks. I got a call from someone into whose truck he had jumped. Who knew he had dug his way out of the yard?
Given half a chance, he would walk to the park two blocks away, and make his way through the parking lot and down the road. A dog setting off alone, a ball clutched in his mouth, purpose in his gait-it was a seriously funny, charming sight. And it broke my heart. I believe he was looking for his missing owner. I have a feeling he saw him in the empty bed of most every pickup truck he passed. We thought that perhaps his owner worked in construction. Maybe the dog stayed on-site in his truck. When he was found he wasn't hurting for food by any means. He was groomed, with a collar. No tags.
So, how did he end up aimlessly wandering by the side of the highway?
The shelter left a message for us, and we picked him up in Los Osos. Their parting gift to him was a chewed, hollow, orange rubber ball, flapping open from a tear in the shell. He never let it out of his sight. Our daughter was four at the time. He was our first dog as a family.
His favorite hangout was the park. His addiction was chasing balls. We bought a ball thrower, two, several. They're still in the garage. Along with his old leash, any number of ragged balls. His bed. The devastation of an empty collar.
"He's a dog. He belongs outside." Those were the first well-meaning words of advice we received, and we followed them to the letter. He slept outside and came indoors only for food. He could tell time. The screen door would bang once to announce that it was five o' clock.
He never barked. We wondered if his vocal cords had been removed, and one night, a week later, he decided he didn't like the local possum. He had a confident bark, full-throated, loud. We couldn't get back to sleep. We worried about the neighbors. He came indoors. He made peace with the possum.
He claimed the couch behind my desk. My kid helped herself to the other half of it. Sometimes they made room for me.
The neighbors adored him, as did the people who ran the kennel where he stayed when we were away. Random dog owners walking their charges in the park; fearless toddlers running anxious parents. He had a special way of approaching people, never straight on, never hurried, rarely walking up to little kids. He took his time, and came at strangers a little sideways, lowering his head as he walked. His ears would soften even more. His tail never stopped moving. He looked up at them, brown eyes, soft, wise, and as quickly he looked away. He stayed while he was being petted and didn't wander off, content to sit and quietly mediate the conversation.
I discovered that he'd endeared himself to one other person, who had never met him. My co-worker in San Francisco checked on him daily over AIM, and never tired of hearing about his exploits. Bob died of cancer, and at his funeral I found our dog in his sketchbooks.