The Daily Breeze, Torrance California
June 24, 2009
Little Dog, You Will Always Live in My Heart
The veterinarian was uneasy telling me that Zack, my dog and companion of 11 years, had at most, a few weeks to live. “He has prostate cancer,” she said, “We can’t save him.”
In 1999, I yanked my spouse and pre-teens out of the suburbs of Washington, D.C, and displaced them to Palos Verdes. The transition was tough for our young family, but I had softened the prospect with the promise of a first family dog.
During Zack’s puppy-hood, to establish my alpha-male dominance, I held the little white fluff-ball in my hands, looked him deeply in the eyes, and growled. The expression on his face is unchanged after 11 years. He is still my master.
He hunted butterflies and garden lizards with impunity. Bevin, Conor and Teague were his litter-mates. He loved to just stay in the yard and smell the flowers and sleep. He gave us great happiness.
Our canyon had coyotes and foxes, and at sunset, a hunting pair of red-tail hawks would swoop into the evening. Zack would often escape from the house, dash headlong into the canyon underbrush, wedge himself several hundred feet deep into the thick briars, and cry for help. My sons spent many hours extracting him.
His life is a relentless pursuit of food. My then eighth-grader attempted to pry a stolen cheeseburger from his jaws. One snap and no one ever tried that again. One night I arrived home and found Zack practically unconscious, asleep in a pizza box, covered in tomato sauce, and stuffed like a calzone.
For years he was the Peninsula High School unofficial mascot for the Water Polo and Lacrosse teams. He was often poolside, or field-side, with one ear dyed yellow, and one black, expressing his Panther Pride.
Zack the Wonder Dog knows many tricks, and is smarter than most people, which Mark Twain would say isn’t saying much. His signature routine is to flop on his side when asked the question “Would you rather see Hillary Clinton elected President, or be a dead dog?”
Imitate a cat sound and his ears and nose are immediately at full alert. A tomcat wouldn’t want to test him. This is a dog which was bred to kill vermin on damp Scottish farms. He once ripped a gopher in two before the intrigued eyes of my children. Good dog!
Zack and I are alone now. My wife and I sadly divorced a few years ago, and the children are grown. Walking with Zack on the beach beneath the Palos Verdes cliffs fills a compelling but indirect human appetite, like reading good literature, or experiencing a work of art. At Trump beach one recent Sunday, Zack romped and wrestled in the surf with a female Golden Retriever twice his size, the white waves crashing over them like a scene in “From Here to Eternity.”
It doesn’t help to think how much I am going to miss him. It’s probably not healthy to love a dog this much. But I cherish and appreciate every moment I had with this little courage teacher. When I called Conor in San Francisco to tell him Zack was dying, he said that the passing of a loved one, dog or not, reminds us of our own mortality and the necessity of love.
My dream is that Zack will somehow tell me when he has had enough. It is my responsibility to do what is best for him. I have no doubt, were the situation reversed, that he would want equally to know how I feel.
I will wake up every morning with his little white body stretched along my flank, or tucked into his dog bed on the floor next to me, and I will ask him. If he doesn’t want to go for a walk. If he takes no pleasure in chicken. If his ears don’t perk up when I say the word “cat,” then I suppose I’ll know he’s ready.
We have a place for Zack on the hillside, down the slope from my former house, in the sunshine. He can escape forever into the canyon, in the valley of the red tail hawks. What I cover with earth will be soft and downy-white, but Zack will soar.
When he is gone, his unconditional love will continue to wash over all of us. Like rocks on a beach, separate or together, my family will be smoothed by the waves of love from this small majestic creature, who gave us so much consolation and so much joy. As he recedes, we will remain.
Zack is resting at my feet. Right now, neither of us knows how this will all end. That’s a fairly universal statement. But he will know at the end that he is a good dog.
Yes he is. Yes he is.
Jeffrey A. Smith
Rolling Hills Estates, California
Such a beautiful,heartfelt sentiment. I appreciated every word. thank you
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