He wasn’t even my dog. He was my parents’ dog, the first to be solely theirs after the passing of Boomer, the dog we brought home from the animal shelter a month after I turned nine years old in 1981. Boomer had lived a good life by any measure of canine existence for most of his assumed 15 years. After Sunshine, the cocker spaniel who became my first dog when I was four, began literally biting the hands that fed him, an exchange of sorts was made – one dangerous, purebred blonde for a sweet, raven-furred mutt of questionable terrier ancestry.
My brother and I initially named him George before acquiescing to my parents’ suggestion of a more doggish moniker. And so George became Boomer and Boomer assumed the role of family dog for the remainder of our nuclear household years. Boomer was my canine brother. From fourth grade through college, he waited for me at the door, jumped on my bed to wake me up and generally did the things one hopes their dog will do. Except catch Frisbees. But his skills at popcorn snatching were fairly decent, so we let that slide, a failed Wham-O endorsement notwithstanding.
Boomer’s health took a turn for the worse about a year after I had graduated college. Kidney issues had plagued him for some time, and when it became apparent that he would not recover from his latest bout of problems, well, you know how it goes. I took the day off from my first job and accompanied my mom to the vet. We said our goodbyes and watched as my longest-tenured friend slipped away. We wrapped him in his blanket, took him home and buried him just off the patio where a statue still marks his final resting place.
The following weekend, Scruffy arrived.
My parents hadn’t told me they had been to the shelter. But I wasn’t surprised that Saturday afternoon when, as I approached their house, I spotted another small, black dog in their backyard running to and fro and to again with the kind of energy only a formerly condemned puppy can muster. He’d been left at the pound by a family who had moved, and was already named and already trained, at least in the one most important aspect of dog life. He was, like Boomer upon his arrival, about a year old. A little smaller, a touch more gray dappling his black coat. And his terrier mix included a bit of poodle, which made him more of a match with the curly haired matron of the property.
(Now let’s be clear that Scruffy did not replace Boomer so much as he continued his role as Ambassador of Fluffiness and Good Times on Masterbrook Drive. Only people are truly irreplaceable, after all. A good dog is a mere 99.9% irreplaceable, and most dog lovers grab onto that .1% and invite a new pooch into the fold sooner rather than later. Maybe it’s not good psychology. But then, who wants psychology when you can have a dog?)
Scruffy, or Mr. Scruf as he came to be known, was not blessed with the super-canine skills of a Lassie or even a Snoopy. No cistern-related rescues or battles in historical World War I aircraft. He didn’t have any misadventures that would eventually lead to a major motion picture starring a Wilson brother. He was just a good dog. A gentle pup. One who anxiously sat on the arm of the sofa wondering if my mom – his mom – would ever return from whatever errand she had abandoned him to run. One who could sit for hours on his master’s outstretched legs as my dad watched TV, read or ate popcorn. A dog who, as my brother’s kids used to say, go bonkers and tear through the house in a mad dash to nowhere. A watchdog of sorts who kept perceived evil at bay, chasing off brown monsters small (squirrels) and large (the UPS truck).
He wasn’t my dog. Or my brother’s dog. But he witnessed many significant events in our lives. He met my two miniature pot-bellied pigs (another story for another day), never barked at my experiments with facial hair (all failed), met and approved of my wife and her cat, didn’t complain when we moved to Dallas and got our own dog, Pancake, and finally welcomed our own three kids. My brother, David, had five kids during Scruf’s time, and I suspect his passing may hit his oldest son the hardest. Alex was only three months old when his grandparents adopted Scruffy. And like Boomer was for me, Scruf was the longest of his longtime friends.
As with the passing anyone we care about, the sadness of the loss comes in two forms. Of course we miss the departed, but their leaving tends to become a signpost for our lives. Reminding us of what we’ve done, what we’ve left to do and with whom we will no longer get to share those moments. In Scruffy’s case, I went from recent college grad to a middle-aged writer and father of three. The fact that he comprehended this evolution not one whit doesn’t matter. He was there. In world of constant change, he was a rock in lap dog form. A tail-wagging spectator who knew no problem was so big that it wouldn’t seem smaller after a belly rub.
I last saw him this past October when I returned home for my 20-year high school reunion. His fur had turned mostly gray and the spring in his step had given way to a shuffle. His hearing had long since failed and a benign tumor behind his right eye made him look just a touch crazier than he really was (which wasn’t much). But he was still the same, lovable pup I remembered spotting in the backyard all those years ago before so much of life had intervened. In the end, it was his kidneys that got him, too. But his sweetness remained right until the final goodbye.
No, Scruffy wasn’t my dog. He was much, much more than that.
Goodbye, Mr. Scruf.
Scruffy ended his run as my parents’ official Wonderdog on April 28, 2011 – almost 16 years to the day he joined the family, and a good boy to the end.