Handsome. Gentle. Athletic. This is what we’d all like to be, eh?
I know such a guy. He’s lying on the floor next to me, snoring. He’s a 10-year old Bracco Italiano. He was born and raised in Aiken, South Carolina, where I found him when he was just a few months old.
I brought my friend Wilkins to the farm to show off my new adopted son. I pointed out that this cute white-&-orange hound had a splotch on his rump that looked like tight little shorts. Ecstatic with my new friendship, I giggled, “I can’t decide whether to name him Jesus, Killer, or Hot Pants!” After a long silence, Wilkins suggested that there might be a more appropriate name for a pedigreed Italian hound. In response to my impatient stare, Wilkins suggested, “Doge.”
The Doge was the chief magistrate in the republic of Venice, the civil officer charged with administration of the law. And my boy came to embody that lucid christening.
From his first day, he lived to please others. He never fought or even squared off with another being. He played. He ran. And he had a penchant for standing next to a person and hanging his head with a pointed humility that begged a hug.
If a dog can be humble, Doge wears that label. When he’s good and right, he hangs his head with an eye lifted to mine to say, “I was doing what’s right…. right?” When he’s naughty or clumsy, he sidles up to me with the same dropped head to beg forgiveness.
This big lug has traveled all over the east cost with me and he knows every inch of the neighboring 2000-acre Woods. He has sat calmly with the sick, walked peacefully with strangers, and learned his tricks. He has manners.
And – funny thing – he could smile. Doge’d open his mouth slightly, jowls drooping, teeth shiny and wet, and cock his eyes at me. Then with his tongue hanging out a little, he’d pant out a good-ol’-boy laugh.
Ten years old now, he began to have breathing problems this year. His vet recently diagnosed cancer. Doge has big tumors in his abdomen that are growing bigger. They press on his heart and his intestines and his esophagus, and just get bigger.
A few weeks ago, Doge experienced a severe bought of breathlessness. I sat with him until 2:00 a.m., massaging him and retelling him our history. We were both calm. I believe we were trying to reassure one another.
We can’t go on our walks anymore and I try to keep his activities simple. In return he is stoic, reassuring, and gracious to me. Doge’s brother, Lido, stares at him and cries sometimes. We all know Doge is preparing to leave.
Some days, my tears come and I collapse in sobs: I want Doge to stay, I want him to be healthy, I want to protect him, and I want him to live without pain.
But if he had gone quickly, died overnight, I’d certainly be racked with questions and regrets. I would wonder if he knew how much I love him and I’d wish for one more day. He’s breathing hard now, struggling to stay with me. God bless this little man for staying around, and now - after these dear troubled weeks - God let him know it’s all right to go. I know he’s delaying because he knows he’ll take my heart with him. He’s a fine little man. A handsome, gentle and athletic gentleman.
In honor of my boy Doge, try to hear Waylon’s song as Rita Coolidge sang it:
I can hear the wind a’blowing in my mind
Just the way it used to sound through the Georgia pines.
And you were there to answer when I called.
You and me, we had it all.
Remember how I used to touch your hair
While reaching for the feeling that was always there.
You were the best thing in my life I recall.
You and me, Lord knows, we had it all.
I know I can’t relive those times again,
So I just let my dreams take me back to where we've been.
I'll stay right there with you just as long as I can.
Ooh, it was so good, yes it was so good,
Oh it was so good, when you were my friend.
I never stopped believing in your smile.
Even though you didn't stay, it was all worthwhile.
You were the best thing in my life, I recall.
You and me, Lord knows, we had it all.
Oh yeah, you and me, we had it all.
Mmmhmm, you and me, we had it all.
Sail on my sweet little boy.