I hardly even know where to begin. For, you see, once upon a time, I begged my husband for a dog. We'd been married for three months and I was desperate for a puppy. We drove several hours north and bought a puppy for a bargain $300 which was impressive considering he was AKC registered.
I wanted his brother.
But this one pup--the one with the white foot--just kept jumping and yapping and trying desperately to get my attention. When I ignored him and continued to give my undivided attention to the better looking puppy, the feisty one hopped and howled and stared me down with his big chocolate eyes. "Pick me!" he screamed. "Pick me! I'm worth it." Finally, as a sort of afterthought, I bent down and scooped him up. Instantly, he snuggled into my arms and closed his eyes. He sighed, content. I cradled his muzzle in my hand, stroking his face.
Last night, I cradled his muzzle, smothering it with kisses, one last time. Eleven years, six months, 27 days since I'd first met the puppy who picked us.
On our way home, we stopped at the pet store and let our boy pick out a toy. He ran immediately to a soccer ball, pulled it off the shelf and pranced around the store with it hanging out of his tiny mouth. We named him Beckham.
He came to us when our marriage was brand new. Before all the tears we would shed over building our family, when we were wide eyed and optimistic about everything the future would hold. Save for a few handfuls of weeks, we've never done our life together without the pup who clamored for our attention and said, "I want to be a part of whatever this is going to turn into."
As golden retrievers are prone to do, Beck remained a puppy for years. He tore the ruffle off my second hand couch when a new couch was far from budgeted for. He shredded any stuffed animal he could get his jaws on. He ate rat poison and we had to wait around to see if he'd live or die. He ate his body weight in ice and we had to warm him internally so he didn't die. He jumped off a cliff. That all happened within a year and so we called him the suicide dog.
Despite his apparent death wish, he just kept living. He chased balls but was incapable of catching them. He ran like the wind but, though he loved to swim, he did so as though an anchor was attached to his rear end, never beating another canine in a water race but having the time of his life losing.
Our Beck was terrified of thunder, fireworks and vacuum cleaners. He shook. He shivered. He tried to climb into our laps. He hid in basements and bathtubs and, once, he even bolted through our friend's fence to, thankfully, be recovered by some kindhearted people who stored him in their garage on a particularly noisy 4th of July.
He was the happiest near water. Lakes and rivers and streams and even a stagnant pond that gave him infections in both ears. Never was he happier though than when we took him camping or to his favorite of all places, Lake Tahoe.
Beck, still very much a puppy, calmly sat by my side day after day as I sobbed my infertility tears straight into his soft coat. I walked him and threw the ball for him and cried about how desperately I wanted a human child for him to play with. He was wise beyond his years and, perhaps, beyond his species. Gently, he licked away the salty stream as it flowed from my eyes.
In the absence of a child, ten years ago, we got him a cat. And the two were inseparable for a decade.
When he was nearly three, he patiently watched my ever expanding mid section with eyes that suggested he knew that something was up. When we brought Garrett home, we stuck his car seat right in the middle of the floor. Beck crouched down, belly flat against the carpet and began to sniff. He became increasingly more excited and, finally, he swiped the baby with a giant lick of approval.
Finally, the dog had a boy. Albeit a very small one that didn't do much at first.
But the boy got bigger. And the dog became best friend, horsey, and a source of endless entertainment. The boy and the dog were inseparable. They played together, shared popsicles, and loved each other in every way that a boy and a dog should.
He was happy always. Gentle, always, never so much as snapping at anything bigger than a fly. He loved every single person he ever met and he loved them big.
With the exception of completely ignoring us when he was off leash at Lake Tahoe, he was obedient and easy to train, fearing rejection from us more than even the thunder. He aimed to please 99% of the time. That 1% reserved for paying a little too much attention to the lady dogs on the beach if you know what I mean.
He was always happy to just be where we were. Never jealous for a minute, even when he went from being our pride and joy to the canine friend of our pride and joy. It was enough to just be a part of something--the family he'd fought for. I like to think that, somehow, he saw what we would become and he wanted in.
Life was an adventure for Beck. Sniffing and frolicking and having a generally dopey approach to existence, all the while being deeply intuitive. Once again, he watched me with those eyes and caught my tears with his fur when we thought, for 14 long months, that we might lose Matthew. He loved that second born kid deep, unafraid that he was investing too much.
And always, always, he wore this goofy grin that told the world he was friendly and approachable. Neurotic, certainly. But ever ready to make a new best friend.
At night he would curl up at our feet, or with the cat, or in front of the fire and sleep deep. Until very recently, he still slept on his back sometimes, just like a puppy. He never stopped laying with his legs straight out behind him in the flying squirrel pose or bent up sideways like a frog. This gave the illusion that, despite his graying face, he was actually only a fraction of his years.
Still, he was gray. His black nose turned to brown and we began to wonder how many years he had left. He was older and wiser and we were hoping that he would defy all norms and live to be 14 or 15 years old.
Once again, he caught my tears, so very many of them, when we lost Kate. Then his stiff joints survived the winter, and we assumed he'd be around until at least 12. We hoped he'd live to see the daughter we're so desperately longing for.
You see, we all loved him so dang much. He was there for a third of my life, a fourth of my husband's and all of both my sons' lives. They don't even know how to live without their dog and I can't say that I much remember either.
Last night he ran and jumped and fetched. We were having a BBQ and he snacked on greasy drippings. He climbed half into my friend's lap, giving a hug to the woman who takes care of him when we're gone. He was so very happy. Troy came in as I set food out on the counter and remarked, "Beck looks twenty years younger right now." He was smiling and, as always, pleased to just be alive.
Troy and our friend, Jeremy, were discussing the fact that the turkey burgers were mushing oddly on the grill. I pulled the ball from Beck's mouth and absentmindedly lobbed it. He didn't run. I looked at him. Drool was dripping off his tongue. His body was shaking and he was panting uncontrollably. Concern flickered across my mind just before he collapsed to the ground, heaving awkward breaths. His gums turned white.
We tried to give him water. I handed him a treat. Something was really, very wrong. I cradled his head in my lap and cried.
My friend called our vet.
Minutes later, Beck was lifted in a blanket by Troy and our friend, Tibbs, and placed, for the last time, into the back of our vehicle. As we rushed to the emergency animal hospital, Garrett gently stroked him and detailed his breathing to us.
When we arrived, Beck was in critical condition. It was as our vet had suspected. A ruptured splenic tumor. He was bleeding internally. Our options were surgery to remove his spleen which would be $3000 dollars and would buy him, at most, a couple more months, or euthanasia.
He was in such pain. His eyes were glassy, his breathing labored. He lost control of his bowels. It seemed impossible that less than two hours before, he'd been fine. We all shed volumes of tears over our guy. But in the end, we couldn't support a risky surgery in hopes of buying a handful of weeks. So very suddenly, it was time to say goodbye. No real warning, just an instantly critical dog.
He tried to get up, tried to walk like nothing was wrong, tried to say, "Let's go home. Please stop crying. It'll all be okay." Tried to hold us all together as he's done for more than eleven and a half years. We laid him back down and told him how much we loved him, explained what an incredible boy he'd been, wept bitterly.
And then he was gone.
In many ways he was my best friend. The keeper of all my deepest secrets. My first baby. My heart. I will remember the way he frolicked just moments before an undetected tumor took his life. The way he wore his signature smile. The way he picked us. I'm sure glad he fought so hard for this family.
I will remember him just like this. Ever, always, content. The perfect dog 99% of the time.
As for that other 1%, well, it was certainly worth it. Thanks for the memories old boy.