We lost our dog Junior last week. Not lost like we couldn’t find him. Junior would never wander very far from us. We lost him the other way. After 16 years of near perfection, Junior died. One hundred and 12 years of spectacular dog life, and Junior died as expected. He died a perfect death.
Junior wasn’t a rescue dog. Neither was his father. Bear sired two litters of 10 puppies each, at the same time. Eddie went with his sister Leah to pick a puppy for her friend. Eddie came home with Junior.
“You picked a hell of a dog,” I told Eddie the other day.
“I didn’t pick Junior,” Eddie said. “He picked me.”
“Out of 20 puppies, he followed me around and he jumped in my lap,” Eddie continued. “And by the way, Junior picked a pretty good family.”
Because he was perfect, Junior had advantages over other dogs. He got to go places.
He spent summers swimming and fishing the flats in the Bahamas. I’d swim long, straight distances and Junior would swim inches off my shoulder. Not once did he scratch me. He never even bumped into me.
Twice, boats with tourists approached—too closely—while we swam. I stuck my head out of the water when I heard the props.
“We weren’t sure what we were seeing,” they said. “We just came to check it out.”
Junior loved the water. Once when we were out of town and my mother was watching Junior, he disappeared. She hollered for him and drove up and down Calhoun Avenue looking for him. It was getting dark and she called Chatham.
Chatham came to her house. It was getting dark. He went on the dock and scanned the bay. A half mile out he saw Junior’s head. Junior was swimming away from the shore.
Chatham got on a paddleboard, paddled out to Junior and got him on the board. Junior had been chasing a school of mullet. Just for something to do.
Junior ran the trails in Red Bay. He’d join in with a trio of Australian Shepherds on trail rides. Junior would lope along, sometimes right under the horses. Like everything that got to know Junior, the horses loved him..
Occasionally the dogs would jump some deer—they’d give chase and leave the horses and us. We’d get back to the barn and Junior would be passed out. But his tail still wagged.
His tail wagged for the past 18 months even after two strokes left him deaf and virtually blind. He got around the yard and the house from memory. He took care of things and never had an accident.
Junior was intact (as they say) throughout his life. But he was never lucky in the romance department. He had a longtime friendship with a 15-pound ball of white fluff named Zoe. And while he showed affection to a 10-pound miniature brown poodle named Izzy, the attention was never returned.
Our daughter Jane was eight years old when Junior joined our family. She and Junior were close. Close in part because when Jane would visit from New York she made sure Junior slept in her small bed. I have a feeling she fed him cookies and ice cream.
She was also Junior’s official photographer.
He never met a stranger. He never growled at another dog or person. He would have been a total failure as a guard dog.
Last Thursday, I was heading home from Mobile. Carla called in tears. Junior was sick. We both knew he was sick for the last time.
It took two hours to get home. Eddie and Chatham were leaving the house with tears in their eyes.
I joined Carla and Junior on his favorite blanket on the living room floor. He could barely lift his head. Fifteen minutes later and after three really deep breaths, he died.
I think he waited for me to get home. Of course, I like to think Junior was my dog. But he wasn’t.
Junior was everybody’s dog.
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