To Zeke *tearjerker warning!*

By Lynn –

Mom told me that she had to bribe me to go shopping with her that day, back in June 1998. She had to promise that if I went with her, we would stop by the humane society to “take a look.” Unfortunately, when we turned the corner and found you in room C pen 7, we knew we found The One. You looked so sad sitting there in that pen, but the moment we knelt down and offered you our hands, your eyes brightened and you said “There you are! I’ve been waiting for you this whole time!” Your tag read “Name: Tre, Age: 7 months, Reason for leaving: Owners were moving and could not take him with them.” Your adoption fee was $72, complete with shots, neutering and lisence.

When we took you for the recommended “test drive,” you showed us something of your previous owners: even at 7 months, no matter the excuse they gave when they dropped you off, they loved you and put so much time into you that you didn’t pull on the leash once. You also dropped that sad, “poor me” face and suddenly came to life outside those kennels. We had our name card on your cage and you knew we would come back for you once we convinced Dad to come with us. When we returned, someone else had their name card on you and had moved ours onto another dog. No dice, we got to you first.

You were so happy on that ride home. Sure, you knew to lay down and ride quietly, but you were so excited…that poor old Peugeot quickly learned the meaning of dog hair inside and out, even before it learned to put up with frat boys and the things that accompanied them. We debated for hours what to name you. Mom wanted you to be an Oscar, but a niggling memory of a guinea pig from fifth grade made me adamant that you were a Zeke.

I remember when we were both young and stupid; you didn’t know that I meant it when I said “drop the ball,” and I didn’t know that you were just as determined to not let go. You gave me two good punctures on my hand that appeared so fast I didn’t even have time to cry! (Of course, there was plenty of time for that while I was being stitched up…even with local anesthetic, I could still feel the thread being pulled through my skin.) What you didn’t know was that we gave you an ultimatum: you shape up or go back to C7. How the “shaping up” would work, we didn’t know…but it had to happen.

Well, we know Craig wasn’t your favorite person, especially when he made it plain that he expected to be listened to, even more so when he wanted that darn ball back. You even tried to bite him, but he knew better. Sometimes humans CAN be smarter than dogs.

You learned a lot of things about us those first few months, just as we did about you. You loved your red rubber ball, and even though you couldn’t quite catch it all the time, your Frisbee was also a favorite. You seemed to find any item that was textured to pick up and carry, especially when someone came through the door. You also grew to love the farm and the rich cornucopia of scents out there, plus there was a LOT more room to chase that red ball than the back yard. You showed us that you weren’t scared of guns, and you quickly learned the rules of the target range to the point where we didn’t even need to say anything: we’d just point to your spot to lay down while we were shooting, and when we took off our earmuffs and walked forward to check our targets, you knew it was time to play.

But then, you decided (oh wait, that was me who suggested it!) to star in my 8th grade play as Nana, the dog in Peter Pan. You did awesome with everything, until the performance night, when you didn’t listen to the off-stage call to “Come” and instead decided to wander over where Dad and I were playing in the orchestral pit. So sure, you weren’t stage material then, but everyone still loved you and the fact that you were such a sweet boy and listened off-leash.

Throughout the training, you earned your Canine Good Citizenship. This wasn’t so much of a stretch as it was actually trying to help you get along with other dogs, just so you wouldn’t cower when they so much as sniffed you. I don’t think Cera helped with that, though…of course, you DID come into her house first without letting her know, so sure, she was technically right to charge you and give you the what-for.

We heard your true calling when we had you certified as a therapy dog. The one organization didn’t want you, just because we were both young and stupid…apparently that one little mistake put you on some doggy-FBI blacklist. Thank goodness you never flew anywhere, or else they’d detain you! TDI decided you were worth a shot, though. They signed you up to go to a local hospital, and every Tuesday became your work day. You wore that red collar and yellow tag with pride, but when it came time to work, you became serious. Maybe someone needed to play and de-stress a bit, and you romped with them. But then there would be someone who was crying because a loved one was dying, or a patient would be depressed because of a diagnosis or extended hospital stay…and you knew just who they were and what to do. The hospital staff came to know you, and they’d also know which rooms you visited even after you left!

The years flew by, and I had to leave for college. I’m sure you wondered what all the fuss was about, seeing everything out and being packed up…wondered why there wasn’t room in the car. I was also told about how you became depressed after I didn’t come back home. Turned out that whenever I moved anywhere, you needed to see where I was staying, see that I was OK, and only then would you stop chewing your feet raw. Sure, seeing the other students in the dorm was a plus (I’m sure the long hall with doors reminded you of the hospital hallways, so naturally you went into Visit mode), but you always brightened up a bit more when you skipped those last few rooms to come into mine.

I took a year off school and moved into another apartment where I was only 5 minutes from the house, but working all the time so I couldn’t see you much. I was horrified the one time I went over and was told that you were in surgery, because you had a tendon in your shoulder that had gone wonky. Your arthritis was also a factor in that, but that was our fault really…we should’ve known better than to play Frisbee with you on our concrete driveway.

Throughout all this, we put up with you. We kept asking why you put dog hairs on our floors and clogged up the air filter. I’d pull entire mats of hair out of the filter vent when I swept it out. You really were like a small child, leaving your multitudes of toys all over the house. Sure, we tried to teach you to put them away, but we gave up…not that you couldn’t have learned, but we enjoyed the reminders that you were around, you were always there…plus, whenever you needed one of them to carry around, one was always handy. You never knew when someone was going to come inside the house, and of course you, as the primary greeting party, would give us all you had until you realized “Oh no, I don’t have anything to give them! Where’s the closest toy?!” You learned most of them by name, no matter how silly the name was, just so you knew to bring whatever we asked. You gave Dad company whenever he went out to the farm, and I know you gave his arm a workout throwing that red ball or Frisbee around.

We became aware of your age when we started seeing the gray around your eyes. You tried to act young still, but we knew better, and you reached your limits a little sooner than usual. You still had your puppy moments, especially when we’d play mouth games: who knew that such a sweet, gentle therapy dog had such large teeth that made such a loudsnap when they were playing! Those moments just didn’t come as often as they used to.

We noticed you’d slip and slide a little more than normal, and we knew with your bad hips and shoulders, we’d need to take things a little easier when it came to activity. You also started showing a little bit of hearing loss, even though you still claimed you could still hear Mom crunching the lettuce for salad and Dad peeling his after-dinner banana. But when you finally started stumbling a little bit and walking in circles (well, we all do that sometimes, if not for the same reason as you!), the vet told us that you had some spine problems. The prognosis was guarded, but that was the first time we realized that we might lose you. You pulled through that and gave us reason to hope you would be with us forever.

You were such a puppy on your last Christmas. We panicked when we couldn’t find your stocking, but you stayed calm and knew it would show itself. Indeed, when it did, you picked it up and carried it so proudly to everyone. “Look what I have! It’s that time of the year!” It was the one time of the year you were allowed in the “dog-free” zone, and the worst damage we’d have to worry about was your tail sweeping off ornaments and icicles in its excitement. Every year, you searched–rooted?–through your stocking, looking for that new toy that you could smell through everything else. You broke your puppy stocking hanger more than once trying to get your stocking onto the floor, but he was always fixable. We never did find that one front leg, though.

And then you went downhill, at just enough speed to let us realize that you couldn’t be with us forever. First, you were a little bit stiff and couldn’t sit or lay down. We didn’t realize that you were holding some gas and your bowel was horribly swollen, nor did we notice that weird curvature on your spleen until the vet Xrayed you. She gave you some medication and prescription food, and within a week you bounced back, just like your red rubber ball. I got the call about that at a friend’s house while preparing dinner. I told Mom that no matter what, no matter what the time was, no matter what class or work I’d have to miss, if anything bad happened to you, I’d drive the hour and 20 minutes and make it just to be with you.

I did have to make that drive today. You woke up this morning and couldn’t stand. You couldn’t even go outside to potty and your gums were pale. Even though you were a puppy the night before, sometime during the night, something decided to let loose and bleed horribly inside you. I got the call at 9:20 this morning, called off from work, and was on the road soon after that. I cried the whole way home, all for you. You were my boy, my dog, my best friend…you weren’t invincible though. We knew you were in pain, you were about to die, but you waited. You waited that long hour in that exam room just so you could see me walk through the door, when you could finally wag your tail and close your eyes, knowing that everyone you knew was together. Your feet were going cold and your eyes didn’t quite want to focus, but you still looked at each of us and we knew what you were saying. We knew it was time.

It hurt to bury you. Ashes are something we can keep with us, but we knew you always wanted to be at the farm. We gave you your red ball and your blankets, and also a banana to snack on…Dad felt guilty eating one earlier and not saving you a piece, even though you weren’t there, ready to help him with it, so we had to give you a whole one. We’d never have done it without the help of friends who’ve gone through this loss before…plus having a backhoe helps when the temps are in the teens and twenties and the ground is otherwise frozen.

I don’t think I’ve cried this much, and I know there’s a lot left in there, all for you. People say you were spoiled to be with us, and you were…but the truth is, you spoiled us right back. You didn’t pee in the house, you didn’t jump up on anyone, you didn’t chew anything, you didn’t even want to be up on the couch or the bed. Sure, you never turned down an invitation to share a lap on the couch, but you didn’t push the issue and assume you could get up without one. You rarely turned down offers for walks, and a lot of neighborhood children will be sad to learn that you are gone. Your best dog-friend Rufus knew what had happened, even before we opened the car door to show him your body. How we’re going to tell Tasha and Clancy, we don’t know yet.

It’s empty here in the house without you. It’s almost cold now, almost echoes a little bit. No one stood and watched Mom make her salads, and there was no familiar gold-furred blockade at my feet during dinner. The door will open and there’s no one to greet them. No one brings toys anymore, and there’s not any click-click-jingle as you walk around the house. Your familiar flag of a tail that announces your soon-to-be presence in the family room isn’t there. Your toys are still scattered around the house; where will we put them all now? Square Ball is still by your dishes, Green Bone is under the counter with the hair you’d recently shed, Tasha Toy is at my feet, Bump Ball is still in the basement…what to do with them all now?

There are still many tears left to cry over you, I know. I don’t mind so much the fact that you’re not in pain anymore, you’re a healthy puppy again, it’s your presence I miss. You may have made me sneeze and my nose run (OK, more than once), but I didn’t care. I know we made your life miserable, making you listen to everything we made you do. I mean, when it comes down to it, all that “down,” “sit,” “COME HERE DAMMIT” stuff really was all obedience…you did great at it, but what mattered more was the relationship we were honored to share with you and the boundless love you gave us. We always did joke about how that bump on your head held your brain, all two of them gray cells…but indeed your heart held it all and then some. If only we can be half as good.

Here’s to you, Zeke old buddy. Go chase that red ball in the sky.

Adopted June 17, 1998; euthanized January 31, 2009. Never a dull moment in between.