Today, he shared something deeply personal and totally non-political.
I lost a very dear friend last week. Once one passes the signpost of 70 years, the obituaries often write about someone you know or knew. But this friend was special. His leaving was as difficult a loss as I have ever experienced.
There wasn’t one moment when our friendship was in doubt. Caleb was always there without question, much like a one’s child or brother. He was 15, a very old age for a dog that was sizable, and Caleb was a big dog. At the risk of sounding morose or self-indulgent, I request a few minutes of your time to tell you about Caleb.
I’ve always believed that it’s important for children to have a dog. The children learn from the dog and the dog is there to learn tolerance and devotion from the children. We had just put down our dog when I suggested to my youngest daughter that we go to the pound “just to look around.” My wife’s immediate response was “don’t you dare get another dog.” “Of course not’” I said. “We’ll just look.” And off we went.
Visiting the pound is difficult at the very least. A lot of dogs, very few potential owners. Most of the dogs are puppies that will grow into large dogs, but most never get that far. There are very few small dogs. We walked up and down the cement row looking at the puppies. My daughter and I did not say a word, but we knew that we were not going home without a dog. We just couldn’t. I started talking to one of the volunteers. She explained how few large dogs get adopted. I walked over to one cage where there was only one puppy. It was obvious by the size if the pup’s paws that this was going to be a large dog. The volunteer told me that the puppy had been at the pound the time limited to each dog and was going to be euthanized the next day. I looked at Sarah and she looked at me and we both said “you’re not going to hurt our dog.” Caleb was on the way home with us within a half an hour.
When we walked in the door with Caleb, my wife’s response was “I knew it.” As if on cue, Caleb walked over to my wife and started licking her toes. Caleb became family.
He was almost 15 when we took him to our Vet. He had been having trouble getting up and occasionally was in pain. A few days ago, he couldn’t get up without our assistance and was hurting almost all the time. I called our Vet and made the appointment. When we got there, I knew what was coming. Knowing didn’t make it easier.
Caleb was the kind of dog you would call “sweet.” He never hurt anyone, but there was that sense that you did not harm his family. When we had a gathering at our house, I would suggest to the visitor to have Caleb sniff his (or her) hand. Caleb did the duty and then walked away as if to say “OK, come on in.”
The only time Caleb was threatening concerned a time when I started receiving death threats because of a rather benign letter that was printed in the newspaper. We would come home from work and there would be messages on my answering machine verbalizing their opinions of me and what I could do with my opinion. And then one day, a car parked in front of our house and a man opened the car door and started walking toward the front door. The look on his face told me he wasn’t coming to praise me for my literary ability. Without my speaking or motioning, Caleb was by my side. We have a screen door, reinforced with wrought-iron. There was a slight hesitation when the gentleman saw Caleb. (Caleb was a wolfhound weighting over 100 pounds.) Then I heard a low, guttural sound from Caleb that I had never heard before. The man slowed down, but did not stop. Caleb’s posture and the depth in his voice became more intense and spoke volumes. The man was back in the car and driving away within minutes. Caleb didn’t move until the car was out of sight.
With tears in my eyes, I say goodbye to my friend and thank you. I will miss you and your presence. You were not just a good dog, you were family. There is an emptiness in our household that cannot be replaced. While your leaving has been painful, your friendship gave me something I will always cherish.