It's just so damn quiet in this house these past few days. Last Saturday, I awakened to the sound of ferocious barking. There must have been barbarians at the door, or squirrels on the telephone line that crosses my yard. My dog had a hair-raising bark that gave fair warning to any who stood on his property. I miss the noise. I particularly miss the nightly ear rubs and his quiet moans and sighs of contentment. Oh! This is so hard that at times, it takes my breath away. My routines with him are broken, and so is my heart. For a couple of hours at a time, I'm OK, then I see something that reminds me of him, like these photos on my camera, and the next thing I know, I'm blubbering like a baby.
When we got Duke, it was really a poodle I wanted. A standard sized, fluffy black poodle. I'm not one to dress up a dog, or shave its hair in odd ways. I love the look of standard poodles with their fur all grown out, and generally speaking, this is a smart breed and easy to train. My son, who was a shy 11 year old at the time, told me, "if you get a poodle, I won't love it." I believed him, and researched hard for something else. I didn't want to risk getting a dog he couldn't love-or break an 11 year old boy's heart. It wasn't long before we were all piled in a car driving west to go meet our newest family member. He was from a large litter of very active pups, all of them barking, scratching to get out of their barn, and taken as a group, a little overwhelming. My son, delighted by all of the racket, sat in the middle of this melee of puppies, and was completely bewitched by the pup who climbed onto his lap and promptly fell asleep. There was no bartering, and no begging; it was a done deal from that moment forth.
Training this dog was difficult. He was not one to tolerate a crate, and when jailed in this manner, the entire neighborhood could hear his complaints. As much as I researched this breed, for some reason, I must have missed the part about their genetic issues. I think he had most of them. I missed the part about the chewing too. It was incredible to watch him chew toys and watch him use his paws like he had hands with opposable thumbs. He could untie the thickest of dog ropes with his teeth. He didn't chew the ropes until he had them untied. This boy chewed anything and everything in his path, but had a special hankering for expensive shoes. Not everyone's shoes, just mine. One day, I remember yelling at him over one particular shoe he chewed, long after the deed was done, and just like that, he never chewed another pair. It was as though something clicked and he finally got the message.
In his prime, this dog reached nearly 150 pounds. He was huge. When he was about 8 months old, I went out of town, and when I came home, it was like I was seeing this giant with new eyes. It seemed that overnight, his chest had become massive in size, and finally looked to be in proportion to those long, long legs. Maybe I was just seeing him with fresh eyes after a trip, but truly, I think he grew to immense size while I was away. With his great stature, this dog was almost regal in his behavior. He would go for walks around the neighborhood as though he owned it, and one of the few dogs he ever barked at was the Great Dane who lived a half a mile away. It was no coincidence that the dog he chose to bark at was the only one bigger than him. With the exception of Mr. Farmer's Kerry Blue Terrier, Duke never barked at other dogs. He hated that terrier, almost as much as he hated the farmer behind us.
While other dogs avoided her, Duke loved Rachel unconditionally. They had a symbiotic relationship-she had the food, and by default, so did he. If she had something in her hand that he wanted, he would just take it from her. He never snapped at it, he just pulled it away from her, then she'd pat him on the head and go and get them more to eat. I was unsuccessful breaking the habit of him taking advantage of the weak. These two worked well together. Even though she was unpredictable with movement, he was never skittish around her and trusted her implicitly. He taught himself to tell me when the bus was at the end of the drive. He'd yip, not really bark, and this heralded Rachel's return home from school and thus, snack time. I don't know how Rachel feels about his absence here, or that she even notices it, but I think she does. When she came home from school Wednesday, I told her Duke had died. She came up to me and held my face in her hands, and hugged me. I think she knows, and just like the rest of us, she misses him.
Two years after I got this dog, I lost my dad. I went through such a terrible depression during those months that followed his death, that if not for this dog, I don't think I'd have weathered that time well. It was for him that I even got up every day. I had to see to his needs even though I didn't care about my own. When I was feeling really down, I'd go lie down in bed, and the next thing I knew, I was being snuggled by a great big dog. Eventually, he'd fall asleep, and push me out of bed with those long, stilt-like legs. When I got up, he'd instantly awaken as though kicking me out of the bed was his plan all along, and now we had to go do something for him. Even up to last Sunday, his favorite thing to do was play hide and seek. I'd hide, and he'd search me out. No matter how hard the hiding place, he'd find me-as long as it didn't involve stairs.
With all of these big life changes upon me, I don't know how I'll weather these storms without my buddy. I've lost 4 pounds since Wednesday and also, most of my joy. My sister and I had a long talk the other night. Neither one of us think my Duke could have tolerated a big move and all the upheaval associated with leaving here. Perhaps the timing of all of this was meant to be. It doesn't hurt any less, but does ring true for me.
Duke's remains are ready to be picked up at the vet's office. I've been in touch with Debra (From Skilled Hands), and her husband is going to make an urn for Duke's ashes, and personalize it for me. Bless her little artist's heart, she's even offered to place his remains in the urn if I send them to her. I've never felt compelled to do this for a dog before, but I feel I owe it to him. This way, he will have a prominent place in my next home, and this new chapter in my life.