Can’t wait for Spring to really arrive! Racine, WI, March 6, 2013
Look closely, and you’ll find the answer to all the mysteries of life. Just think how wonderful life would be if you — with your huge brain (when compared to a spider) — could create something proportionally as wonderful as a spiderweb.
The too-short life of a dog named Cody
My dog Cody died this week. Those of you without dogs, who are already thinking, “Just get another one,” may leave the room. Now!
The rest of you, thank you for your sympathy and concern.
Ever since I’ve been an adult, I’ve had dogs. But this is the first time a family member / dog has died. Well, the second time; Gracie died just before we moved to Wisconsin 12 years ago. That was hard, too. And Cammie, who moved from New Hampshire to East St. Louis, IL, with us (and protected our first-born from the Visiting Nurse), died in Carbondale. I miss all of them, still.
But Cody, ah Cody. We will be a long time getting over Cody.
Gracie died when we lived in North Dakota, and although my wife wanted another dog, I couldn’t face going down that road again. Gracie had a tumor, and was in distress, and yet I couldn’t face putting her down, and I’ve felt guilty ever since about my own weakness, and the extra pain I put her through. She died by my bed, her final gesture of forgiveness.
After we were here awhile, my wife dragged me to the humane shelter any number of times, to look for a dog. And to pet stores. But I kept repeating the mantra, “I don’t want another dog.” And then Saturday would roll around, and she’d drag me to the shelter and pet stores again.
One Saturday we were in a bookstore in Evanston and she paged through the dog breed books, and showed me a picture of a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, a breed that originated in Ireland. My wife’s one-quarter Irish, so that meant something to her. Plus, the write-up noted, wheaties don’t shed. “I don’t want another dog,” I said.
The next day, with our younger daughter visiting from college, my wife said, “Anybody want to go to the pet store?” The two of them outvoted me, and off we went. And wouldn’t you know, my bad luck, the store had a wheatie pup. My wife and daughter took the dog into one of those little cubicles pet stores so thoughtfully provide, and the dog carefully untied each of their sneakers, a sure sign of compatibility, I was told. “I don’t want another dog,” I said.
I almost got out of it, too. My wife thought the dog cost $350, far too much to pay for a puppy. But she and our daughter were obviously smitten — and so, even when they realized the price was really $850 (more than my first car!), I didn’t stand a chance. Besides, the pet shop “gave” us $50 worth of leashes and treats to ease my sticker shock.
We named him Cody, short for Dakota from whence we had recently come. He was a purebred, AKC-registered Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. Which, if you know anything about wheaties, means that he was a bundle of energy. He could run up the stairs, down the stairs, around the dining room table, then through the living room, and back … again, and again. If he were an Olympic skater, his routine would be described as a repeating series of Triple Axles, Flying Camels and Double Salchows. He would stop only to chew on something. Anything.
Eventually, he went to doggie obedience classes. I’ve forgotten whether he flunked two times, or three. No matter how often, or loudly, you would say “Sit!” or “Stay!” he always understood the words to mean “Run anywhere you want! Now!”
As a puppy, of course, he was beautiful. We couldn’t take him anywhere without a crowd forming. “Oh, what a beautiful dog. What kind of dog is that?” men, women and children would say. They weren’t just being nice; he truly was a beautiful and personable puppy.
As he grew older, he garnered fewer compliments, though he still was adorable. Wheaties have another trait: they love to greet strangers with the “Wheatie Welcome.” Simply put, Cody liked to say hello by jumping up and licking your nose. Not everybody appreciates this. After years of training, however, he managed to convince us that people who don’t like having their nose licked aren’t worth having as friends.
He had other tricks, too. He could tell time, for example. No matter what he was doing, he would wander out at 6 p.m. sharp to remind us it was his dinner time. (He did not observe Daylight Savings Time, however.) We have a number of old clocks that chime according to their own schedule. He ignored them; we never saw him counting the chimes before ambling out for dinner. He never begged at the table, but when someone was snacking on nuts or carrots or what have you he would just sit quietly nearby, watching attentively, his demeanor clearly communicating, “You gonna eat that? I’ll eat that.”
When he was younger, even just a few years ago, he provided an early warning system to whoever was in the house. Five minutes, maybe ten, before someone drove up, he would start to bark a greeting, checking the front door and the door to the garage, more effective than anything Homeland Security has contrived. In those days, we would get up, thinking someone had arrived, open doors to peer out, only to find nobody there. But then five or ten minutes later, there they were. We never did figure out how he did that.
More recently, when someone actually would arrive, park the car, ring the doorbell, enter the house. whoever was already home would have to call out, “Cody, Mom’s home!” or “Cody, who just rang the doorbell?” to get him to come from whichever sleeping spot he had been occupying and give the new arrival a proper welcome. Which he was always happy to do, albeit late.
The only exception to that scenario was our daughter, Kate. On days when she was coming to visit, we dared not mention her name too early, for fear of setting off an explosion. The words, “Kate’s coming,” no matter how softly stated, would set off paroxysms of joy not seen since V-E Day in Times Square.
Friends who only knew Cody’s whirling dervish persona can’t imagine his other side: the loving dog who’d put his head on my knee until I put the paper down and invited him to climb into my lap for a back or tummy rub; or the dog who’d lie quietly for hours by the side of my quilting wife, content with an occasional pat. The dog who would interrupt spousal cuddles in the kitchen by pushing his nose between us, asking only that we make room for him and create a Cody sandwich. He filled our empty nest.
But now the house is quiet, the silence marred only by a muffled sniffle. Cody died in his sleep Friday night, at age 11, somewhat less than the 12-14 year average according to the books that purport to know all. We’ll never know the cause of death; we’re reasonably sure it wasn’t from any of the tainted pet food in the news, killer of so many, because he only ate dry dog food. But when some doggie biscuits were lately added to the recall list, we checked all those too. Who knows?
Not that it matters. He’s gone. That’s what we have to deal with. A death in the family. Don’t anybody dare say, “He was just a dog.”
Nobody bounds down the stairs with me in the morning, to run outside when I get the paper, or in the afternoon when I would say, “Cody, want to get the mail?” His bed by the fireplace is gone; his basket of toys put away; the doggie treat tin by the kitchen coffeemaker is gone; the pillow on the floor by my bed that he used; the pawprint quilt (with kittens on the back!) my wife handmade for him — all packed away. Even the enameled metal sign by our front door, has been put away: No more Chien Bizarre lives here.
It’s too soon, of course, for my wife to even think of suggesting a visit to the humane shelter. But she knows my firm position: “I don’t want another dog.”
(This was written five years ago; after a year and a half Cody’s pawprints were filled by Cally, another wheaten terrier who has wiggled her way into our hearts.)
Thanks a million, Racine!
Recall petition circulators celebrate the one million signatures collected to get rid of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Racine, WI, Jan. 21, 2012