Saturday, September 8, 2012

Good Dog, Walker

Several years ago, when the book "Marley and Me" was published, my husband and I were eager to read it. After all, we had a yellow lab puppy who bore a striking resemblance to the rambunctious canine on the cover of the book. But about a quarter of the way into the novel, I found the author's story and life drew a longer parallel to our lives than simply our lookalike pets.

 We brought Walker home when he was barely old enough to leave his litter-mates. And his arrival into our family came on the heels of a miscarriage early in my first pregnancy and early in our marriage. To mend my broken maternal instincts, I cared instead for a little fur ball of white haired energy.

 His paws were enormous, and people who knew much more than we did about projected dog growth began warning us within the first few weeks we had him. "Uh... how big was his father?" "Is he a lab, or is there something else (like Great Dane) in him?" "That dog is going to be HUGE!"

 They were all right. Our Walker-dog ate everything in sight(dog food, underwear, dish towels, rocks), and grew to gigantic proportions, much bigger than a normal yellow Labrador should be. His size and breed got him into a lot of mischief during his first few years of puppyhood. I remember calling my husband in tears after many harrowing "walks" around the block. Thank goodness I had a strong background in water-skiing. My skills kept me upright MOST of the time, as Walker drug us full-speed ahead towards mud puddles, neighbors, other dogs, and the occasional frightened cat.

 After a few of these traumatic experiences, we decided our humongous puppy needed some training. We found a great trainer, and began spending our Saturdays learning how to manage our 120 lb beast. But just like Marley, our boy also failed Dog Training 101. I was mortify and nearly hopeless. My husband, however, was up for the challenge and kept re-enrolling Walker in training class after training class after training class. Over the next few years, that dog grew up a little both physically and mentally, and became the most obedient and even-tempered pet we could have ever asked for.

 He was ours for four years before children entered our family. He was affectionately referred to by my parents and in-laws as their "Grand Dog" long before we gave them "Grand Kids". He was my husband's running partner and loyal companion. He was both my babies' soft, hairy affable jungle gym. He was my "first" kid and my foot warmer.

 And after twelve years of devotion to our family, we said goodbye last week to our beloved dog.

 Towards the end of Marley & Me, the author recounts the last few days of Marley's life. I could barely read the words on the book's pages so many years ago. Hot tears spilled so heavily down my cheeks that the print was just a blur. But I recall the sentiment that Mr. Grogan whispered to that big dog in his last few moments of life.

 "I got down on my knees and ran my fingers through his fur, the way he liked. I ran my hand down his back. I lifted each floppy ear in my hands - those crazy ears that had caused him so many problems over the years and cost us a king's ransom - and felt their weight.... Then I dropped my forehead against his and sat there for a long time, as if I could telegraph a message through our two skulls, from my brain to his. I wanted to make him understand some things. "You know all that stuff we've always said about you?" I whispered. "What a total pain you are? Don't believe it. Don't' believe it for a minute, Marley." He needed to know that, and something more, too. There was something I had never told him, that no one ever had. I wanted him to hear it before he went. "Marley," I said. "You are a great dog."   (From "Marley & Me" by John Grogan)

 That, is perhaps, where our stories diverged most evidently. Although Walker's life started out so strikingly similar to Marley's, somewhere along the way, he became a great, great dog. The days of exasperation have been long gone from our memories. The antics and accidents and property damage a thing of the far distant past. For nearly a decade, Walker was a great dog. And we told him that.   A lot.

But, there, in the vet's office last week, we found ourselves on the familiar path worn by Marley's owners (and countless others, I know...). There we were, kneeling on the cold tile floor, saying our last goodbyes. Stroking a yellow Lab's furry back, rubbing behind his ears, tracing those gigantic paws in our hands, and wishing those last few goodbyes could somehow slow down the inevitable end.

 And all I could think to say were those same words I'd read all those years ago. I told him goodbye. And then I told him, one more time,

"Walker, you were a great dog."

Walker the Great


(Ri)Charmed said...

It's always heartbreaking to have to say goodbye to our furry family members. =(

Christine Taylor said...

=( I know how hard it is but knowing he is at peace! =)