By THOMAS G.M. SHARPE
“I talk to him when I’m lonesome like, and I’m sure he understands. When he looks at me so attentively, and gently licks my hands; then he rubs his nose against my tailored clothes, but I never say naught threat. For the good Lord knows I can buy new clothes, but never a friend like that.” –W. Dayton Wedgefarth
When I was growing up my family always had a dog. My wife’s family never did and after we got married she was pretty resistant to us having one because she thought it would be too much considering we both were focusing on graduate school and our careers.
One day after we moved to the suburbs, and had finished having our children, I came home from the train and my wife was waiting on the porch with the kids. Smiling she said, “I have an early Father’s Day present for you.” She handed me a gift. It was a box and in it were a collar, a bone and a leash. I looked at her surprised. She said, “The kids and I are driving to Iowa tomorrow to get him. He’s a Brittany named Flick who was abandoned, and then rescued from the floods. You got yourself a dog again.”
When we first got Flick he was a runner. As soon as he could find a way through some screen door or the garage he would take off. He was chipped and we would get calls from the animal control office saying that we needed to pick him up from the pound. He did this fairly routinely in our early days together. One day when I went to pick him up I said to the clerk, “For crying out loud. My dog is like Otis, the drunk in the Andy Griffith show.” After awhile the animal control officers didn’t take him to the pound anymore. They just brought him home, because they knew who he was, and where he lived. Eventually he settled down but in very strange ways.
Flick was always an interesting dog. He never barked. He refused to play dog games like fetch or to do tricks of any sort, which annoyed my oldest boy because he had romantic visions of what it would be like: “A boy and his dog.” Flick was also gun-shy, which is why he was abandoned, and therefore hated loud noises. They sent him under the bed. He was afraid of geese and other animals. He would run when any of them came into the yard. I once found him, whimpering in a corner at the back of the house, cornered by two squirrels who sat licking their paws and looking very proud.
He was a large dog who thought he was a small dog. He always tried to curl himself up in your lap or to wedge himself into small spaces. He used to climb up on the top of the living room couch and stretch out to bask in the sun. Thinking about it, I’m not sure Flick thought he was a small dog. I think maybe he thought he was a cat.
Despite his non-dog tendencies, everyone in our family grew to love him very much because he was very affectionate. He had an innate sense of who needed comfort and gravitated to them. I wouldn’t say I loved him the best in our family but I do think he and I had a different kind of relationship. On weekends he and I would take long walks around the neighborhood or down by the river so he could swim. Flick liked swimming. I would often get calls from my neighbor, John, laughing, saying “Tom, Flick got out again and he’s in the neighbor’s pool.”
In the days when I was traveling a lot and working long hours, sometimes late into the night, I used to come home, eat dinner by myself, and then go up to my home office and get back on my laptop. Flick would always follow me and lie under my desk at my feet until I was done. I used to go into the kids’ bathroom to brush my teeth and change so I wouldn’t wake my wife. Flick would again always follow me and curl up next to the bathtub waiting until I went to bed. Some nights when I was really frustrated, overwhelmed, and maybe feeling like I was coming a bit unglued, I would lie on the floor next to him and tell him what was on my mind. I’d tell him things I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone else. Flick was a odd and iconoclastic dog, but he was my dog. He was one of my best friends and someone I loved deeply. That’s why it hurt so much when he died.
Flick’s death came swiftly and unexpectedly. We don’t know what happened exactly. One day he was fine, slowing down, but fine, and then the next he wasn’t. The first we could tell that something was wrong was when he started licking his paws. He was constantly doing it and eventually they started to bleed. We took him to the vet and she told us he might have some type of fungus or virus. She gave him some medicine, put a cone around his neck and we took him home. He was miserable. That week I would let him out in the yard and all he would do was lie in the shade of our catalpa tree and sleep. Later on his breathing became labored. The pads on his paws started to fall off. We took him back to the vet and when she saw him she said to us, “Guys, a week ago I felt differently, but right now I would have no qualms in letting Flick go. It’s your decision.” Flick was three when we got him; we had him for over ten years.
I looked at my wife and she said, “I don’t know.” I said, “We agreed that when the time came, no suffering.” She started to cry, nodded her head, and said, “Let’s call the kids to see if they want to come and say good-bye.” They chose not to and I understand that. Why would anyone of their age, or any age, volunteer to watch someone they love die, if they didn’t have to? The vet went to prep things and I laid down on the floor with Flick.
I petted his head and told him that he was a good boy, but that it was time to say good-bye. I told him, “Thank you.”
When you euthanize a dog it is a two-step process. First, they inject the dog with a sedative that will make them calm down, and hopefully go to sleep. The next thing they do is inject the drug that will kill them. I continued to hold Flick when the doctor came back with her tray of deadly cocktails. I started to sob. As she administered the first shot I pulled his head up close to my chest and I told him that I loved him. He licked my face and let loose with a big tired-sounding sigh. Relief and release. He put his head down against me and then he died. We never had to go to step two. It was the first time I ever had to be the one to do that and it was heartbreaking.
We waited quite a while until we got our next dog. Although Lexi, our American Bulldog, is different, more doglike, than Flick was, she is equally affectionate. You can’t sit down or stretch out on the sofa without expecting Lexi to come and find a way to be close to you. I don’t have the same relationship with Lexi that I had with Flick, she is my daughter’s dog, we did find times when I started working out of the house full-time when we could walk and play together or just stretch out in the sun.
What inspired this piece was when one day I went to get a dish out of the glass-fronted china cabinet in our dining room. Aside from dinnerware we also keep a lot of treasures there, antique watches and books. Two of those things are an imprint of Flick’s paw in a plaster disk that our vet gave us and his ashes. As they caught my eye I thought about a Byron quote I once read.
“Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity; Strength without Insolence; Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices. This Praise which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of … a Dog.”
That sounds a lot like my friend, Flick, and what I took from being with him. Some day he and I will wade in the river again.
Thomas G.M. Sharpe is an author, artist, teacher, and an advocate on behalf of many causes but especially the Parkinson’s Disease community, of which he is a member. He was raised in Chicago, but currently resides in Iowa. His work has appeared in Chicago Poets, Chicken Soup for the Soul and other publications. He occasionally does live readings at the Giving Tree Theater in Marion, IA, and other venues.