Our sweet pooch left us this week. It was expected. He was old, and even by Akita standards, had long outlived his life expectancy. In recent years we had lovingly started calling him "old man" and granted him grace when he didn't obey as he had in his younger years. We knew it was coming. We talked often to all the kids about it being the end, but that didn't make it any easier when he finally went.
Our Rascal had the same "Walmart puppy" begining that a lot of other families tell, even that guy who-wrote-the-book-which-then-became-the-Jennifer-Anniston-flick "Marley and Me." On a vacation pit stop, our sons, the youngest was just two at the time, begged to get this little fuzzball from a family selling them at the entrance to Walmart (and who had obviously pegged my husband for a sucker from 50 paces away). By the time they came back, out of nowhere, we were a family with a puppy and some very very excited little boys. Our oldest daughter, who was then nine, took a bit longer to warm to him, because 10 minutes into our vacation journey, our new puppy Rascal vomited all over the back of the car. Oh yes, clearly, this was the dog for us.
That's when our story stopped following the freakish, spazzy, and horrifically destructive "Marley's" storyline, and became our own. Rascal was a sweet and blessedly quiet dog. He was patient, constant, and loyal. While playful, he was always gentle, and a calming presence in our home, no matter how filled with noise and chaos--which it always was. He never barked, even at strangers, making our family joke that we could all be brutally murdered, and Rascal would just look at the intruders with his big sad eyes wondering why they did that. Over the years, other dogs came and went in our family, but there was always Rascal.
About a year ago, he slowed down. Well, he stopped really. He wouldn't move from his spot in our bedroom in the open archway that connected to our bathroom. He didn't stand up all day long. When our son, Gastronosh, that little 2 year old, now grown up to a taller-than-his-dad 15, came home that day, I called him in and let him know it might be the end for Rascal. Later when my husband came home, I had them both lift him up to our bed, and we called our oldest sons Wheeler Dealer and Texter, to come home to spend time with him. He wasn't eating or drinking anything. Everyone took turns lying next to him, hugging him, talking to him. That evening was just us, together again, for our pup.
But the next day, he got up. He had a rough couple more days, but then happily for all of us, he returned to normal old Rascal. We decided it must have been some strange canine flu and went about our merry chaos. A few months after, he went down again, and we got all the kids back together to spend time with him, and again he got back to normal within a day or two. This went on every few months for the next year. Every day, I would watch his sleep a little too intently to be sure I saw the rise and fall of his breathing. I tried not to make it obvious to my littles, but I was on watch.
Last week, a new complication started; his breathing got weird. The smalls called me into the kitchen to tell me that he sounded wrong. As I came in, there he was lying down, but looked to be breathing okay. Later, I noticed it for myself, irregular noisy breathing, but it stopped again within a minute or two. Later that day, our now 16 year old Gastronosh called me back to the teen cave and showed me that Rascal was struggling again and wouldn't move. I called my husband and had him come home. Once again, everyone was called home to be with him. And once, again, by the end of the night, he was up and breathing without trouble, back to himself the next day. A few days ago, Saturday, ended up being a crazy day, with everyone out of the house in various directions. I had stopped home for a few minutes for a wardrobe change around noon, then had rushed back out. We had gotten home super late, almost midnight. Our other dog Banjo, was waiting eagerly by the back door, always happy to see his meal ticket. Rascal wasn't.
I found him in the teen cave, lying next to the foot of the beds as he always did. His favorite place had always been with his boys. Three boys who had grown up with him, brushed, fed, and played with him every day for 14 years. He had lived long enough to watch two of them leave home for their own adventures. There, at the foot of Gastronosh's bed, he had gone to sleep.
I stood, as I had so many times over the past two years, hoping, just for a second, for that rise and fall of his chest. No. Just peace. The rest of a good dog who had loved his home and family perfectly. He lived longer than any of the books or vets had predicted. Each of our smalls had gotten to grow up with a great dog, to love him the way the older kids had. I marveled at the blessing he had been to each of us. 10 humans were loved fully and cherished wholly by this sweet guy.
We drove him to Sedona, and buried him in the red clay of our family property. Arizona, which doesn't usually see much rain, got a constant soaking drizzle from the time he went, until we laid him in the ground two days later (a true miracle). I found myself thankful for both the soft ground and the weather that mirrored my heavy heart. Cleansing rain. It has always seemed to appear at the most incredibly needed moments throughout my life. While melancholy, it is heartbreakingly beautiful every time it happens, a mask for the tears, or maybe a mirror. There is never any denying its divine placement from a loving and empathetic creator.
Sadness comes and goes now as we all work through the remembering and the healing that comes in his absence. I find it in the random small things, not hearing the click of his nails on the hardwood as he walks. I strain to hear that sound that isn't there. He was a good dog. The best of dogs. I am going to miss our Walmart puppy. We all will.