My dog is getting older. He's almost twelve. He's a little slower. He's more deliberate. He sleeps much harder now. That's pretty much me, with the exception of the sleep. I'm up at 3am thinking about how much time Mr. P and I have left. Mr. P is Paco, a pup we rescued when our neighbor said we couldn't play with her dog until we got our own. It was harsh, we thought, but she was simply pushing her indecisive young neighbors into a direction she knew we needed to go.
Before I go any further, I should tell you two important things:
- Paco is still alive and
- I’ve made the most amazing discovery.
First, however, the neighbor. Her name is Verlene.
It was about 6am on a weekend morning of June 2006 when she sang a whisper, "We older people get up early, you know!" I jumped and twirled and used the Denver Post to hide my nether regions. I was on the front lawn in my boxers. In an effort for efficiency, I'd tiptoe sprinted out the front door to get the newspaper. I was in full retreat when Verlene came around our maple tree and scared me into a pirouette of fear and curse words. She told me she'd seen it all before and then continued to talk far beyond an acceptable time for me to be standing on a suburban street in my underwear. She was telling me about some puppies that some friends of hers had ended up with. They were affiliated with a dog rescue organization and someone brought them a stray in from the rain. Turns out that girl was pregnant and delivered a surprise litter of seven to an overwhelmed couple of doggie do-gooders. It wouldn't have been so bad had the mommy dog not had a mammary gland infection that kept them (Bill & Lynn, doggie superheroes) staying up 'round the clock bottle feeding starving dog babies.
I quickly agreed to at least visit before prancing back into the house.
Two weeks later, we had our first child. He wasn't the strongest of the litter, but he was the most determined. We're still not sure with what his mom intermingled. The alpha of the pack was an all black lab looking pup, and the rest were a mess of speckles and dots. Paco ended up with a diamond on his head and a large spot on his butt. I'd get an up close look at the bum spot when, while sitting among a mound of writhing puppy cute, the little guy ran up to me and buried his head in my crotch. Sarah swears this is when the decision was made.
Back in 2006, Sarah and myself were crawling out of the depths of my mom's death. As I pieced together a livelihood working out of the house, Paco and I became partners. He slept next to me as I began a business in a converted shed. We went to the park twice every day. We slept as spoons. He rode on my lap as we drove around town…until he got too big and once got stuck between me and the steering wheel for a very scary instance on Hampden Avenue. It was one of our first truly frightening parenting moments.
He never isn't out-of-his-mind excited when Sarah comes home, teaching me the sweet simplicity of a friendly greeting. She and Paco are tight. Although she still has some grasp on the human connection. Once, while on a road trip, Sarah suggested that I speak not only to Paco, but to her as well. I lasted about twenty seconds before I announced that I had a special surprise for someone. This wouldn’t have been so bad had the surprise been for Sarah. It was a chew toy and it was for Paco. No one said anything for a while.
Soon, there would be even more people to talk to. Kids were showing up. Kids that people were worried about with a dog “like Paco” in the house. They were right. Paco is such a softie that he did not drive them out. They’re still here eating all of our food and taking up my dog’s space in the car. That first night we brought our newest son home, Paco curled around him like a quarter moon. From then on he became their flustered nanny, following them closely hoping we'd stop letting them do dangerous stuff like walking. He’s been the warmth and their protector. He’s their eyes and ears and often the most annoyed when they cry too much. Not at the kids, really, but with us. Do something about your kids, he says with a little dance and a desperate stare from deep within his doggie soul.
He’s been just about everything a best friend could be. And now, years later, I’m up and thinking about that terrible phrase: the inevitable.
Inevitable rarely seems to be associated with good things that are bound to happen. Cake on birthdays is pretty close to inevitable, but it's never described as such. Football in the fall is inevitable, but anyone painting it that way isn't being positive. The inevitable. But there is one such thing I overlooked. All the most outstanding specimens leave a legacy. A good one. And that’s when I found Paco's will. In stumbling upon it I've discovered that, inevitably, he’ll one day leave us more than I could ever imagine.
Here, take a look.
Last Will and Testament
Paco “El Perro de la Gente” Dotsero Ewy
For the bald one.
To you I leave the ability to get what you need. I can help you with that. Because the only thing you need is to go to the park on a regular basis. When it's time for you to go outside, don't settle for anything less. Don't fold in on yourself and pretend you’re fine. Use your communication skills. Talk. Gesture. Whip your leash around dangerously. Stand at the door and dance. Fart a lot. Do what's necessary to get outside, get fresh air, and patrol your neighborhood. it's good for you. Besides, I've seen you when you haven't gotten outside and, well, you need it. I haven't taken you to the park every day for over a decade for nothing.
When you're done you can have treats.
Quin. I thought you'd be the only one they'd bring home. It was not easy when you showed up. You were loud and your parents had no idea what they were doing. You hatcheted apart the loving trio I'd had with the bald one and the cuddler. But you've grown up to be smart, strong and caring. For you I leave bravery. Sometimes you just have to throw yourself into things. You might fail. So what. I do all of the time. The mail carrier keeps coming to the house. But I never don't try.
Otto. After you showed up and were pretty persistent about staying, I realized that there was no turning back from this kid thing. But you immediately demonstrated many dog-like traits. Most predominantly, the ability to simply sit and chill. You have a gift. To you, I bequeath perseverance. Sometimes things go wrong, but be you and be strong and you’ll succeed. I mean I was castrated by the very people I can’t seem to live without. Honestly, I can’t think of a rockier start, but with time and an undying desire to have someone to take me to the park, things worked out. So, yeah, there’s compromise, but don’t give up.
Eliot. When they brought home a third puppy, I was pretty sure I was toast. I thought I'd just walk to the park and right on through until I woke up in Pueblo. I'd have a new family and a house full of cats. I didn't know how I was going to cope. But you, Eliot, as soon as you could crawl, would hug me and cover me in blankets. It’s nice to have an ally in comfort, even one as persistent as you. To you I give strength. If you want something grab onto it and growl. Don't let anybody take it. If it turns out they're just playing, well let them be clear with their intentions. Be strong, little one.
Oh, and Cho Cho.
You’re insane. But you’ve earned it. If my nose is correct, your anxiety seems to be a clear connection to a jacked-up past. So, to you, I’ll give confidence. You need to know that they’ll always come back. I wish I could be stronger than to emotionally buckle whenever the bald one gets out the suitcase but, after all, we’re only canine. Just know these people are, well, suckers for dogs. They’ll be back.
The best for last
Sarah, the Cuddler. To you--unwavering in principle and fireside warm in loyalty--I give heat. Don't settle for a cold bed. That bald guy is right over there and if he's not keeping you warm, then remind him that there are dogs out there who are like I once was: a puppy who needed a home. Warmth is everything. Think about those times you're unsure or nervous or haven't been fed in a while, you become cold. No longer. Wherever you go, take me, an actual hot dog at your side and in your heart.
Demand that others do more than just say they love you. Make them show it. But you must show them how to show it. Get up, grab them, and take them to the park. And if the park isn't enough then give them treats. And if treats aren't enough well then let them sleep on your leg while you watch Netflix. If they don’t get it, well then it may be time to move on or rip the most insidious gas ever known to nostrils. If they stick around, well then you have something to work with.
And stop moving so much. Get comfortable, breathe, rest. Put down the rectangle. Take it in. Inhale the moment, even if someone less experienced is tugging on your leash like the ground’s on fire.
Twirl around your nap target a few times. Relish the pre-slumber protocol. Oh, and smile. Smile all the damn time for no apparent reason. It's worked great for me. All the right people were charmed by it and all the rest stayed away.
I found these final wishes scribed by his tired head. A block of muscle and affection and, apparently, much thought into attaining the good life. He was breathing tenderly. Rhythmic. A puppy forever. Soon he'd be dreaming and I'd be half awake scolding an actual sleeping dog about making too much noise. We always wonder where he goes in his dreams. I've thought of a machine that projects holograms of what they're seeing as they squeal and sprint in place. I'd like the same thing right now, what with time being the way it is. Things will change. We'll have to move on. And that's when I found one last bit of guidance...
It’s weird that we’ve connected in this ever-expanding off-leash experience of whirling particles, explosions and dust clouds and galaxies and squirrels. Endless squirrels. Somehow we came together and we're able to provide for one another. As unique and amazing as that sounds, you can make it happen again. And I hope you do.