Milo is the oldest dog in the family now.
I received an email from my sister. Their dog, Isaac, a big old chocolate lab, died last night. He was 11, or maybe 12. Hardly a tragic age to lose a dog. But at the same time, there’s no good age to lose a dog. They are like family.
Actually, no. They’re not “like” family. Simply, they are family. And ours is a dog family. Someone, among my parents and siblings has literally always had a dog. Before Isaac, there was Shamrock. Before him (in an inexact order, and an incomplete list) was Rusty, Shelby, Bruno, Major, and Colonel. Currently, in addition to Milo, there is Mya, Chet, and Puzzle.
Isaac was a tireless fetcher, and liked to vomit lake water at the top of the ramp.
Shamrock had a barrel for a chest, and a policeman’s baton for a tail.
Rusty chased geese, was always under mom’s feet, and greeted me like I was the prodigal son every time I walked through the door.
Bruno was (in my Dad’s words) a giant teddy bear, and Milo’s 70 lb. doppelganger.
Major was Dad’s favorite, the “world’s oldest puppy”.
And Colonel. Colonel was incorrigible. He was ornery and sneaky. He tipped over kitchen trash cans, and threw up their contents behind the beige chair in the living room. He ran often and would not return until hunted down. He drove our neighbors (one in particular) nearly — or perhaps completely — insane with his barking. He stole food off the table if you turned your back for a second. He was terrified of thunderstorms. He did not come when called. He bit both of my parents, the last of which led directly to his euthanasia at age 12.
My Mom often said that Colonel was like a cat, and perhaps he was. If he didn’t quite have nine lives, he still had several. He was hit by a car when he was perhaps five months old. Much later, he was nearly killed by a two pound bag of Hershey’s Kisses (foil and all). He spent three days at death’s door, lying motionless in the doghouse he almost never used, only his head visible out the door. I remember checking him on the third evening, and a cobweb had formed connecting his snout to the nearby water dish. By the fourth evening, he was back. Acting like nothing had happened.
There were other near misses, other illnesses brought on by something he ate that he shouldn’t have. Even on the day he was put down, it took two injections to do the job. The vet was befuddled; I simply knew that stubborn dog was, for one last time, refusing to die.
My Dad often said the best thing Colonel ever did was sire Major. But my Dad is wrong. The best thing Colonel ever did was be my best friend for just about every day of his existence. I held him the day we brought him home. I held him when he was put to sleep. Nearly every day in between, he slept at the foot of my bed. I was 16 years old when he died, and I cried as hard as I ever had.
It sounds weird, but I hope Nora is old enough to be similarly devastated when Milo’s time comes. He is currently five-and-a-half: 13 months older than Nora.
A few weeks after Colonel died, I got my driver’s license. To this day, I carry his tags on my key ring.
Ours is a dog family, after all.