A Thank You Letter To My Dog
Bennington Richard "Bubbies" "Bubs" "Smelly Jeff" "Damn Dog" "Mr. B" Shields died May 14, 2016. He was born in rural Arkansas on November 22, 2004, to his overbred mom, Pink, and a deadbeat dad, Blue, whom no one ever saw or heard from again in what can only be considered a puppy mill.
His human mom saw this ball of wrinkles and appendages in the pet store window and stopped to see what it was all about. She instantly fell in love, and I knew I was getting a puppy, whether I wanted one or not. I had sworn off pets after the loss four years earlier of my childhood dog, Scruffy. He had lasted 16 years, which made his death all that much harder for me, as I did not remember life without him in it.
Dogs are funny like that. It was the pain in your stomach, that hole in your heart, that only the loss of a pet can bring that I was trying to avoid.
George Carlin said it best: "When you buy a puppy, you are buying a tragedy." Armed with all that knowledge, we started his lifelong journey as best friends - a friendship that lasted nearly 12 years.
He was a wild and out-of-control fledgling whose very existence required more exercise than advertised for a bulldog. Nightly we went hiking in the Las Vegas desert and would finish up at the dog park, where his stubby legs were too short to run with the pack.
Instead, he chose the catlike pose of the sneak attack as other dogs came running by, only to get mowed down by the thundering herd. He was the life of the party everywhere he ventured. Everyone was entranced by his goofiness and friendly spirit.
His life was full of adventure but short on talent other than his insatiable ability to love. The adolescent eventually turned into the adult who found purpose as a constant companion, protector of the realm and lover of people. He was the friendliest dog whose curious greeting was to roll over and turn on his spigot of pee. It was part embarrassing, part abominable, part funny that he loved so much that all of his faculties would turn toward the encounter with his new friend, forever abandoning inhibition. Passing guests who knew him only briefly in his state of delirium did not want much to do with him or his incontinence. It was their loss at a chance to know unconditional friendship.
The winter of his life was mostly spent comatose in that perfect heap of bulldogness: the gurgle of air over the shoe-string slobber, being sucked in a slow, rhythmic cadence occasionally interrupted by the brassy horn of the unmistakable bulldog toot; the frightening velocity and shrieking timbre of which would scare him enough to stir and move from window to window in search of the searing Las Vegas sun.
Once found, he would soon collapse grunting the whole way down as the peeking sun cast its warm glow on the carpet and bulldog, heating his old bones and baking the hurt away.
Wednesdays were the days the gardeners came, and as it turns out was his once-a-week exercise. It was on these days I questioned his reasoning skills and my opinion of his above-average intelligence. It was though he had been entrusted with the solemn duty of master protector from the leaf blower. What I saw was a nice man tending to the garden, keeping the yard beautiful and clean. What Bubbies saw was a terrifying alien agent of death wielding an unmistakable weapon of destruction which must be stopped at all costs.
This toll inevitably included the paralyzing pain of his arthritis that would surely return once the adrenaline and rush of dopamine from a job well done would escape his body. Upon completion of chasing the gardeners off and his singing the song of his people would cease, I would congratulate him on a solid plan fully executed, and he would return to the warm embrace of his perch in the sun and spend the next 23.5 hours recovering.
Why do we have dogs? I do not know. They cost money. They eat ... a lot. They smell. They shed. They really provide no tangible benefit on the surface. But spend those last moments with your dog before he slips the fetters of this world, where he ceases to exist in your moment, and you find exactly why.
He taught me a lot in his short years here on Earth: When you are young, make lots of friends, but when you grow up, stick with the ones you know love you back; when you do love, do so unconditionally; when your spidey sense says something is wrong, it probably is; play hard, but sleep harder; never grow up, just grow older and slower; never care enough to discover conclusively the things you don't like; enjoy everything in life (except nail trimmings and ear cleanings, which are debatable); and, finally, when someone is having a bad day, licking their face instantly makes them forget what was so bad.
So I owe a big thank you to my silly boy for teaching me all of these things. Thank you for giving me my first taste of unfettered paternal love and responsibility. Thank you for your constant, unwavering companionship. Thank you for demonstrating the power of loss and the emptiness of despair at your passing.
To my sweet, Smelly Prince, do indeed go softly into that dark night, sleep hard, snore loud and toot often. I love you dearly, friend, and will always miss you!