It was a Saturday in December of 2012. I went to the Mountain Dog rescue near the camp where I worked and lived. I was nervous when I walked in. This was to be my first dog ever. And how would I know if I was choosing the right one? I was looking for a medium sized dog. Relaxed in nature and able to work around a funky-footed human. The woman inside said they had no medium dogs currently, but that two little guys had just come in from New Mexico. I walked back with her and laid eyes on a little black chihuahua mix that would become one of the best friends I would ever know. I picked him up and he melted back into my arms like a baby. It was a great feeling.
I brought him home for a trial run and never brought him back. He was my poochie. I named him Banjo and we started down the road to the past 6 years. They have been great years. He gave me my first tastes of fatherhood. My first unbelievable joy when everyday coming home from work, I find him excited as though he’s won the dog treat lottery. I got my first dose of unbelievable anger when I stepped in the crap he took in my closet and proceeded to unknowingly track it across the living room. He helped to take the sting out of my being single into my forties. He learned my rhythm and found his place in my routine and at the center of my heart. He welcomed Megan into my life and somehow made her believe that he loves her more than me. (Which is undeniably true, by the way). And for years now, he has been a snuggle buddy, guardian of our property, total pain in the ass, biter of many of our dear friends, and the distributor of more unconditional love than any man has the right to ask for.
And yet, last Sunday morning, a new chapter was written in the story of this adorable stoic poochie. Megan and I were walking Banjo in our neighborhood. We were many blocks from home when we came upon a fenced yard with a large and mean-looking dog. The dog barked large at Banjo through the fence, which Banjo ignored completely, his signature move when on a walk. We kept walking and two steps later came to see that the gate was wide open. Within seconds, the dog ran out, jumped completely on top of Banjo, and started to bite.
It was sheer chaos. Megan was screaming and pulling on his leash. I was screaming and in total fear for Banjo, my pregnant wife, and my disabled ass. The owner of the dog came running into the street, screaming at his dog the whole way, and proceeded to kick his dog in the midsection with the force of an NFL punter. The dog was knocked off of Banjo. Megan scooped him up. He was screaming like I’ve never heard from him before. Megan was shaking; I took Banjo from her. He felt wet; it was blood. The owner took his dog inside, and returned shaking, apologetic, and ghost white. We got his information and started to walk home, all three completely freaked out. Megan walked ahead to get the car and come back for us. I walked as quick as I could, holding my buddy, telling him that he was going to be OK, and feeling my heart tear in half.
Megan picked us up and we went straight to the emergency vet. We walked up to the desk out of breath and crying tears of exponential concern. They put him under sedation, took x-rays and found nothing broken, stapled the worst of his wounds, and cleaned the other seven. We spent this time in the waiting area. Catching up to what had happened. Calling our folks, and communicating with the other owner who was concerned about Banjo and offering to cover his medical bills. They brought Banjo out to us wrapped in a towel and looking totally out of it. We took him home and placed him on his dog bed by the fireplace. And proceeded to spend the day staring at him, crying, and trying to gently meet his basic needs.
He was dazed, clearly in pain, and, as evidenced by the look in his eyes, completely freaked out. Even though there was nothing we could have done to prevent the attack, we both felt like we had let him down. Like we had failed to keep him safe. And it was heart-breaking.
That night I slept out on the couch to be close to him. He was whining in pain. He hadn’t had anything to eat or drink and therefore we couldn’t get any pain meds into him. Somewhere around 2 am he sounded so sad. I got up and crushed one of his pain pills into some peanut butter. I sat down next to him on the floor and held out my finger with some of the butter. He stared at me for a full minute and then finally his tongue came out and he started to eat. I was so happy I cried and laughed at the same time.
The next day, he laid by the fire for 10 hours straight. I was wondering how he was feeling and what he was thinking. I worried that he would be scarred emotionally and lose his personality. I was in palpable pain knowing that he was in pain. It sucked.
That night, I had to go teach a class and Meg was at work. My awesome friend Natalie came and sat with him so he wouldn’t be alone. I couldn’t get home fast enough. I wanted to walk in the back door and go plop down next to him by the fire. I opened the back door and there he was, standing! His tail was wagging, and he was limping over to me. I couldn’t believe it. Meg had received the same greeting when she had come home a while earlier. It was the first dose of his old self. And it hit me with a joy that is light-years beyond my ability to describe. Every day since then, he is getting better and better. Jumping up into bed or on the couch. Barking at passersby through the window, and snuggling every chance he gets.
Last Sunday sucked. Every bit of watching the pain of a loved one was agony. And yet, it opened my eyes and heart to just how much I love this dog. How deep that love runs. And how loving something that much is wonderful, vulnerable, difficult, and always worth-while. Kind of an interesting lesson 5 months before our first kid arrives.
Go hug your dogs my friends.