The first time I said goodbye I felt like Dodger knew what was going on. My mom told me on the phone that he might die soon. I expected the news eventually, but the words caught me off guard. It’s sad to think about losing anything, but a childhood dog packs a special emotional wallop.
A week or so later I came home and spent some time with him. He was still himself, but he was hobbling more, seeing and hearing less. He barked outside at something no one else noticed. Late one night I sat with him while he slept and reminisced about old times. He listened. He was always good at that.
Dodger walked me up to my car when I was leaving and so about halfway up I sat down on the ground and held his face in my hands. I thanked him tearfully for being a great dog. He licked my face. I got into my car and watched as he disappeared in the rearview. I never expected to see him again....
Six months later he was waiting for me to come home with that stupid look on his face. I greeted him with surprise and excitement. He galloped away into the woods “Well he wasn’t quite ready to go,” I thought to myself. We said goodbye again two more times. I laughed the last time my mom told me he was doing better. “Tough old dog,” I said.
I named him Dodger because when I first met him my mom brought him to a Little League game I was playing in. I hit a homerun. (The only one I ever hit.) It was clear to me that this little fella was going to be good luck. I was on a baseball team called “The Dodgers” and the name seemed to fit.
He was part golden retriever and part chow. He had long blonde soft hair and a blue tongue. He had a floppy ear and a stupid look on his face that resembled a grin.
I always thought of him as lovable but dumb. He could sit and he would usually come when you called, but that’s about it. Catch was a fairly one-sided endeavor, as he would never let go of the ball. He was also unable to go through a half open door; he would look at it and bark. I tried to teach him—opening the door a little more, a little more; he always waited until it was all the way open. Maybe he was just patient.
Dodger was a gentle being who loved kids. He loved walks and adventures. I like to imagine that our huge yard was heaven to a dog. In his prime, he would bound around full of endless energy, gathering sticks and bones. Often the sticks were too big for him; he’d grip one end hard and drag it around lopsided.
Sometimes he would get up to Route 97 and a neighbor would find him amidst the traffic and bring him home. I was certain that a car would spell his end one day.
My mom called me early this morning and told me that she was taking Dodger to the vet and that it was time to put him down. It was long overdue, but still cut me up inside. He was 17, and I was 12 when we got him. He’s been a presence in my life for basically as long as I can remember; and one of the last remnants of a childhood that these days feels so very far away.
Goodbye, old friend.