I’m sitting on our back patio this afternoon, watching our 17-year-old puppy, Benny, make slow, difficult laps around our dining table. Tears stream down my cheeks.
“What type of dog is he?”
This question has been asked a thousand times in his life, across four different continents, and in just as many languages. Everyone in the world is pleasantly perplexed by Benny’s stumpy frame, jet black coat, and head two sizes too large for his body.
“He’s a Basset-Newfoundland mix,” we reply amusedly; the proud parents of a one-of-a-kind love puppy.
“He looks so young,” is another phrase we’ve heard often, especially anytime his coat is trimmed short.
Today though, it’s impossible to look at Benny and see anything but the signs of old age taking over.
He walks at the pace of a snail and sways so badly that he’d instantly fail any field sobriety test. He also poops and pees uncontrollably, adding a sense of adventure to any late-night barefoot stroll around the house.
It might all be comical if we weren’t putting Benny down tomorrow.
Putting down. Who came up with that phrase anyway? Police put down riots. Dictators put down rebellions. Bad bosses put down their employees.
I find it a horribly poor choice of words as I sit here dreading the voluntary loss of my most innocent and loving life companion.
I remember our last run together
Benny had always been a runner at heart. From the time we brought him home from the shelter he was always racing off somewhere, usually without our permission.
One fall morning, my wife received a call from an unknown number.
“Hello… are you Benny’s owner?” the kind voice on the other end of the line inquired.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” my wife offered. “Where is he now?”
“He’s on the tram,” the woman answered.
“The tram?” my wife repeated, assuming she’d just misheard the Benny was speeding towards downtown.
“Yeah, it was the oddest thing,” the woman went on. “I was sitting at the stop when this little dog came walking up to the ramp. He just sat and waited for the tram to arrive. As soon as the tram pulled up and the doors opened, he just trotted inside.”
Escape artist antics aside, Benny was a great running companion. He could pitter-patter next to me for miles, wiggling his hot dog body the entire time. He must have taken ten strides for every two of mine, but he never seemed to mind.
Our last time out together started no differently than any other. Benny, now 15 years old, had slowed a little in recent months, but he still leaped from his dog bed and nearly knocked over two dining table chairs when I jingled his dog leash.
We were running one of our tried and true paths through the French countryside that late spring afternoon, which included a slow climb through the neighbor’s vineyards, a weave through the alleys of the nearest village, and one big hill before finally wrapping back home. It was a heavenly six-mile loop and we were anxious to get out.
Midway through our run, I could tell Benny was struggling. His breathing was heavy but he kept pitter-pattering along, his nails clicking on the asphalt just behind me.
Then, four miles in at the base of our big hill, the pitter-pattering stopped behind me. The sudden silence startled and I turned to find Benny just standing there, staring up at me and at the hill, his feet characteristically turned outward in his Basset ballerina pose.
“What is it, boy?” I asked, but in reply all Benny gave me was a slow blink, a lick of the tongue, and five heavy pants.
No matter. His message was clear: “There’s no flipping way I’m heading up that hill.”
Knowing we still had two miles to go, and with no other plausible solution, I lovingly picked up Benny and cradled him in my arms as I ran us both up that big hill in the late afternoon light.
It marked the end of an era, and we both knew it. The next time I jingled the leash, all I got was a longing glance in my direction before he turned back into his afternoon nap.
Tomorrow will be another last run together
This time, however, it’s me standing at the base of the hill, not wanting to take another step, unwilling to give up on the pitter-patter that has accompanied every step of our family’s life the past seventeen years.
The afternoon sun has now set behind the picture-perfect rolling hills of our life together, Benny and all that is left is to say is goodbye; goodbye, and thank you.
Thank you for being the perfect escape artist, oldest sibling to four hyperactive boys, running companion, best friend, garbage disposal and a million other things we took for granted.
Thank you for coming with us on the journey of our lifetime. You followed us across four continents on planes, trains, boats, and most other imaginable forms of transportation including a moped. We like to think we did it for you, but we all know we couldn’t have made it without you.
How I wish I could say “There’s no flipping way I’m heading up that hill,” tomorrow but I know it’s no longer fair to expect you to run, or walk, or be carried.
It’s time to let you go romp through your own heavenly fields. We’ve reached the end of this road together, and, in a cruel twist of nature, the rest of us still have miles to go.