For nearly 11 years, he was my best friend.
He could make me smile, even chuckle, merely by looking at him. Whenever I was feeling blue, he'd lie down on my chest, stare at me with his big, brown, blood-shot eyes and give me a kiss on the lips. In those 10 years and nine months he called our home his home he never snapped at me, ignored me, turned his nose up at the food I fixed him, threatened to leave me for another or asked for money he knew I didn't have.
He was, in every way, the perfect companion.
Alas, a week ago he left my daughters and me, surely for a better place, though he's left our home a far sadder place, the loss of a loved one of such age, grace, sweetness and beauty difficult to accept.
My friend's name, by the way, was Milkbone, a rescue basset hound that joined our family in the spring of 2010, hanging around until old age — he was close to 95 in dog years — and failing hips forced us to send him heavenward.
In a year in which so many have lost so much more important things than a family pet, it seems that gratefulness and perspective for the gift of those 10 years and nine months should soften, if not all but erase the hurt my daughters and I are feeling right now.
After all, we had Milkbone — he was already named when we adopted him due to the dog biscuit-shaped patch of white hair on his otherwise black back — for more than a decade. I'd never previously been able to hang onto a pet for more than six-and-a-half years before he arrived.
He was the star of every Christmas card. He quite forcefully alerted us on those rare occasions a stranger came to our back gate. He never shredded a pillow, gnawed on a table leg or brought a dead critter into the house.
Like I said, a perfect companion.
Not that he was necessarily perfect. Though he never broke skin on those two or three souls bold enough to challenge him at the back gate, he did leave a few teeth marks in blue jeans. Milkbone could beg for people food with the best of them, and if rebuffed, he was known to take matters into his own paws, once eating an entire pack of hot dogs and often stealing a sip or two of my morning cup of Starbucks French Roast.
Owing to a ridiculously low center of gravity — my friend Alex delighted in describing him as "two dogs long and half a dog tall" — you could never coax him where he didn't want to go. He could easily have been named Stubborn or Obstinant.
Because my younger daughter accidentally let him loose one night, my ex-wife wound up in the emergency room after chasing after him and stepping into a small hole that nearly broke her ankle. The next day, while she propped up her injured limb during my older daughter's birthday party, Milkbone somehow managed to sink his teeth into a corner of Julia Caroline's birthday cake.
Those weren't his only instances of bad behavior. He broke at least three fragile Christmas ornaments with his wagging tail. He nearly had me calling for an ambulance for myself after chasing him a good ways down Lookout Mountain one morning before carrying him back in my arms, huffing and puffing the whole way.
Nor did he apologize for these actions. He did master the art of lowering his head and slinking off into a corner so as to make sure we knew that he knew he'd screwed up.
Then again, my occasional temper tantrums during sporting events — especially anytime basketball officials mess up a block-charge call, which is basically every time they blow their whistles — could send him running for cover, along with the rest of my family. If I wasn't perfect, why should he be?
He did seem to have good taste in the sports teams he followed, seemingly drawn to the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Celtics, Green Bay Packers, Kentucky Wildcats and Crimson Tide, though perhaps he was merely angling for an extra doggy treat.
To recycle an old joke, I have no idea how he felt about Tennessee beating Alabama in football. He only lived 13 years.
On his final afternoon on Earth, we fixed him a last supper of mashed potatoes with a bit of bacon, a chocolate chip cookie covered in peanut butter and a couple of doughnut holes. He wagged his tail for the first time in weeks, licked his bowl clean as bits of potatoes stuck to his endless ears and fell into a swine-ish sleep. My daughters and I then thanked the Lord for our time with him and said our individual good-byes to Bone (my preferred name for him), Boney Man (Julia Caroline's favorite greeting) and Bone-eeta (Ella Beth's nickname for him). Three hours later he was gone.
In the days since, JC and EB have almost convinced me we need to find a basset puppy as soon as possible. They're already arguing over names and which of them the dog will love most. They've promised to do the bulk of the potty training and dog walking, which I once promised my parents I'd do around their ages before failing miserably at both tasks.
As for me, I just wish every time I've reached to pet Milkbone or look out my back door to see him sun bathing this past week that he was still there.
We'd never adopted a rescue dog before Milkbone. But over the last seven days, I've begun to wonder if we rescued him or he rescued us.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.