We drove to Atco, of all places, fifteen years ago to get our first dog Satchmo. He was barely the size of a coke can when we saw him, stumbling around in a cardboard box with three other baby Bostons, and we had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t know how to pick out a puppy, how we were going to find the time to walk him every twenty minutes, how much money we would spend over the years, and how much he would change our house.
Judging by the number I dogs I know named Marley, lots of people have a ‘first dog’ experience. We lived in Philly when he was young, in the center of everything, and he was raised by the neighborhood as much as he was raised by the two of us. Everyone knew him – kids would plop down on the sidewalk to say hello, restaurants would give us leftover bones from osso bucco, and when they built a new playground a few blocks away, the let him put his paw prints in the wet cement and carved ‘Satchmo the Cornchip” above them. For fifteen years he would stretch himself out against my leg to fall asleep, and stand directly over my face, just staring at me, until I woke up in the morning. He was fearless when he needed to be, gentle when he had to be, and next to me whenever he could be.
In the last year or so, he lost a lot of things. His sight, for one, which didn’t slow him down at first. Then one after another, new problems came – his heart, his spleen, his kidneys – then after a while he stopped getting up to see me when I came home, and would wait on his bed till I came over to him. In the last few days he was lost, and wasn’t our dog anymore, and it was like a thick fog rolled over the house… and then, on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, when we woke up he was barely able to move. I took him to the vet, she held my hand while we talked about him, and when he stopped breathing I slipped his collar into my pocket and walked down the steps alone.
Since then, I’ve started and stopped this post more than a dozen times. What I’ve discovered is that I just can’t write this post well. I could go on for days, and pages, and none of it would be what I really want to say. He was just a dog, after all. Just a dog that somehow over the last 15 or so years managed to steal my heart when I wasn’t paying attention.