I’m taking a little detour from our usual chitchat about Decorating to share a story with you. It’s not edited to perfection and certainly not grammatically correct. It’s not anything but the story of a girl and her dog.
For those of you who’ve ever loved a dog…
I was 20 years old and looking for love in all the wrong places. I knew that my neediness and insecurities were natural boy repellants, yet I felt this desperation to love something outside of myself.
And then I looked in the right place…the SPCA.
There were eight puppies in the pen. 8 black and tan puppies born on Boxing Day 1999. I sat on the ground outside the pen and stuck my hand in to receive a fistful of puppy slobber from 8 wriggling bodies. After a while, they all wandered off to drink water, play with each other, and nap – all except one.
This one little puppy didn’t go. He sat down on the other side of the chain-link fence and let me pet him and talk to him. After about 1/2 an hour, he tried to get closer to me, got his head stuck in the fence, and started yelping for dear life. I knew he was the one.
I took him to my Mom’s house, and she opened the door to a smiling girl with an armful of puppy. ‘This is my new dog – isn’t he great?’ In my emotional and financial situation, getting a dog wasn’t the best choice I could have made – but once he and I found each other at that chain link fence, there simply wasn’t any other choice. I was his – he was mine, and his name was Bowser or Uncle Bowser to those who knew him well.
In his young years, he ate everything. He ate 12 pairs of shoes, a couch, candles, books – you name it. Anytime I left, he would go into panic mode (similar to what I did with my boyfriends – minus the shoe-eating). He wanted to be with me at all times, so he became my sidekick – where I went, Bowser went.
We visited every beach and every park, and on those just perfect days, I would bring him to work with me in my Tracker (convertible). The top would be off, the breeze would be blowing, and for my 4-6 hour shift as a waitress, Bowser would sit in the car and relax. I didn’t need to tie him up; I didn’t worry about him – he was waiting for me and wasn’t going anywhere until I was. I would sneak out strips of bacon and burger patties as often as I could and give him a pet and a tinkle break. Some people would think that’s odd, but I knew he would rather wait where he could watch me through the windows than sit at home staring at the door.
He slept in my room every nite. I bought a chair for him, a human chair, as I didn’t want him to sleep on the floor. I painted his nails pink, dressed him in clothes with my girlfriends, and laughed until I peed my pants as Bowser would lay about in his ‘loungewear’ – clearly pleased with his transformation.
Bowser was also my radar – my boy radar. ‘If you don’t like my dog, I don’t like you.’ In fact, Bowser was my first serious, long-term relationship, and I was fully committed. I laughed with him, cried with him, and went on dates with him. He was the boy who stuck by my side as I learned the ins and outs of my anxiety, ADHD, and OCD (it’s a lovely trifecta). Never judging, just listening.
And then along came Tim. On our first date, I went through the McDonald’s drive-thru (super romantic – I know) and ordered a two-cheeseburger meal. I opened up that first cheeseburger and passed it over to…Bowser, who was waiting in the backseat for his requisite burger – it’s just how we rolled and Tim was okay with it.
I guess I haven’t mentioned what type of dog my Bowser was. Well, it’s anybody’s guess, but we settled on Doberman, Whippet, and Shepherd, and MAN, could that dog run.
I remember taking him out to Biggs Rd, as 15 years ago, there wasn’t any traffic on it. I’d let him out of the car and slowly (and carefully) drive away, and Bowser would giddyup and rip on down the road behind me. He loved it; tail wagging, he couldn’t wait to jump out and get going as he had some serious energy to burn. We clocked him at 40km an hour.
We took him up to Rutherford Mall once in the evening to throw the ball for him. He ran so fast that when the ball bounced off the wall…so did he, as we heard his yelp echo across the parking lot.
We went up to Coombs one day, another beautiful day, as I would never leave him in the car if it were hot or cold. We were parked on the side of the highway, which is what you do in Coombs, and I was worried about him, so I tied him with his leash inside the car. As I got to the other side of the road, I looked back to see him teetering on his four skinny legs on the top ledge of the roof and proceeded to watch him jump…and hang himself. Luckily a quick run across the road and a boost to the old butt got him back into safety.
Bowser was also a frequent visitor to my Mom and Dad’s house as I would use them for ‘babysitting’ now and then. At the end of the day, I pulled into the driveway and saw Bowser waiting for me on the front step, tied to the doorknob. The next thing I saw was Bowser bounding down the driveway with the doorknob trailing behind him. All I said was, ‘Hey, I would NEVER tie him to a doorknob’.
Bowser was also afraid of fireworks. He would shake like a leaf and cower in a corner. I was at a girlfriend’s one time, just hanging out, and Bowser was in her backyard because, naturally, he came everywhere with me. I heard some booming and banging and thought, ‘Hey, fireworks – cool…wait…not cool…BOWSER!‘ But he was already gone. I searched for him all night and continued the next morning, and the whole family came out. Even my Grandpa wandered around the streets calling his name and in fact, swore he ‘had Bowser’ but was actually trying to convince a random dog to get into his car – luckily the owners never saw this apparent dog-napping.
We found him the next afternoon, about one block from home. He had run across town. He ran from downtown Nanaimo to almost the north end of Nanaimo, and BOY, was he happy to see me – but not as happy as I was to see him.
I remember taking him to my girlfriend’s house, whose mom kindly let me bring Bowser into the house on one condition – that he NEVER step foot on the glorious and plush white carpet in the living room. So, we were hanging out making gingerbread houses one day, and I realized that ‘hey, gingerbread sure does look an awful lot like poop.’ I proceeded to make a nicely curled pile, which I carefully placed on a wee piece of paper towel on her lush carpet. A few minutes later, we heard footsteps going up the stairs and a moment later, ‘KYLIE…BOWSER!’ I ran to the living room and, with a dropped jaw, claimed that it just couldn’t be Bowsers. She asked me how on earth I could know that, so I bent down, picked it up, smelled it, took a bite, and said, ‘Nope, definitely not Bowsers’.
Bowser also loved to snuggle. I would sit on the floor, and he’d mosey on over, park his butt on my lap, and flip himself back so that he was belly up, with his head tucked under my chin. We could sit like that forever, just being together like the best friends that we were.
As he got older, it got a bit more awkward as that old back didn’t bend the same way – but he always tried.
He also liked to sit his bum on the couch like a human with just his front legs on the floor – it was kind of like his ‘party trick’ and was always good for a laugh.
The years passed, and Tim and I fell madly in love and got married. Bowser loved Tim and accepted him as one of the family and even shared his morning ‘air hump’ routine with Tim. We’d wake up and look over to see if Bowser was sleeping to see him air-humping. It’s the kind of thing that is so disgusting that you beg for him to stop, but is so funny that you hope he doesn’t. It was just so ridiculous. Some dogs like their stuffies, some like their beds; Bowser just stood there and humped the air with a goofy look on his face.
And then we had Cassie.
I think Bowser was happy enough that a kid had joined our little family but skeptical about how long she would last.
It was at the 10th month that he realized, ‘Well, crap, that little pink thing is still here,’ and when she crawled up to him, he bit her.
He could have bitten her anywhere, but it happened to be her face. I heard the rumble from him (which was rare) and rushed over to pick her up as she burst into tears with blood running down her face. I just called my Mom, threw her into the car seat, and drove to the doctor’s office.
After the dust settled, we joked that we should have gotten her a nose ring and lip ring as he had punctured her one nostril clean through and her top lip (not funny at the time, however). She also had little shiners from the impact. My heart broke in two. One half for my baby girl and one half…for my baby boy. What were we going to do?
It’s like the heavens heard my prayers and sent me saviors in the form of Rob and Bobbie – Tim’s parents. They knew that Bowser wasn’t a bad boy. They knew he didn’t have a vicious bone in his body – he just didn’t want to share me with kids.
This is what the vet said when I took him there the day after the incident, and I said through a veil of tears, ‘What am I supposed to do here? I can’t get him put down.’ He said there were two types of dogs: the vicious type of dog that doesn’t just bite but shakes and shakes – the type of bite that results in stitches and skin grafts. And then there was the type of dog who was simply saying, ‘I don’t do kids.’ He said that what Bowser did was similar to what he’d do in the wild and had a pack of pups, a kind of ‘hey, get outta my face, kid.’ He said the kindest thing we could do would be to find him a new home without kids around.
And my heart broke for the first time.
All those boys, those failed attempts at love, and nothing…absolutely nothing hurt more than this. Goddammit, I would miss him. After 7 years of literally being attached to each other, sharing snuggles, car rides, walks, swims, vacations, death-defying jumps out of cars, late-night crying sessions, and many cheeseburgers – I had to say a small goodbye.
Rob and Bobbie live close to us, so I always got to see Bowie, and I could not have dreamed up a better home for him. Every time I went there, he’d go through his whine and wiggle routine, and I’d plop my butt down on the floor, hop into my lap, flip himself belly up, and just hang out. And while my guilt at having to do this was at times overwhelming, the reality is that I did not have another choice. He was happy. He wasn’t with me, but he was healthy, he was happy, and he was loved – that had to be enough.
I couldn’t have had him put down. Not in this lifetime. I couldn’t re-home him to an anonymous person – I couldn’t. And I count my frickin’ lucky stars every day that Bowser found a wonderful home that would clearly love him as much as I did (minus the cheeseburgers).
Bowser adjusted well to his new home, having visited it many times over the years, and was overjoyed to go on a 5km walk daily. If that walk was delayed or missed, he would walk down to the beach and undoubtedly find a dead fish or something equally as disgusting to roll in. This was relayed to me by my in-laws, and I would just laugh and laugh – good old Bowz.
He made a lot of friends on his walk. Bobbie had a walking partner who would take Bowser out when Bobbie was away. She wasn’t even a dog person, but there was just something about Bowser that you just couldn’t help but like. I don’t know if it’s because he’d sit his butt down next to you on the couch, front paws on the floor, or the goofy way his gangly old legs would amble up to you looking for a pat on the head and a ‘good boy.’ He was just an easy dog to be around.
As Bowser got older, the vet would remark on how healthy he was and how good his joints and heart were. At his last vet check, the vet still claimed that he rarely sees dogs his age in that condition – a 15-year-old dog on NO medication. That wasn’t due to the good food (as I fed him whatever I could afford and cheeseburgers – he had a dumpster gut), and Rob and Bobbie just gave him regular cheap ‘dog food.’ It was all of that walking. All of that walking and a whole lot of love.
If that dog could have lived on love alone, he would have lived forever.
I knew that our time was running out. The last few years, every time I saw him, I’d sit down and chat with him and tell him how much I loved him. How he was my best friend, and I loved him, knowing that maybe there just wouldn’t be a next time, and lucky for me, there always was. It was a few weeks before that Rob and Bobbie came to the girl’s soccer game, and I said, ‘How’s Bowz?’, and they both said in unison, ‘he’s slowed down…’
(And I simply can’t edit at all from here on in; please excuse any errors.)
And then the phone rang. Tim picked it up, and Tim’s Dad, Rob, said that Bowser had to go to the vet. He likely had a stroke in the night, and couldn’t move his back end. Tim couldn’t even tell me without bursting into tears.
We hopped in the car and got there as soon as we could. He was lying on a soft bed in the garage. He tried to get up when I came in, but he couldn’t and before I could even say anything, I curled up on the bed next time and just held him. He was still here.
Rob said that Bowser had seemed a bit disoriented but clearly regained a bit of energy when we came in – he undoubtedly recognized us. We couldn’t get into the vet until 12, and it was 9 – so I knew we had some time. If he had been in pain, I don’t know what I would have done; I would have done anything to fix him. Luckily, he was just lying there, taking big breaths with that big, strong heart. He looked at me, gave me two licks, and then his focus drifted off.
We lay there for hours. Tim got him and me a blanket as it was cold in the garage, and we lay there under that blanket on his old dog bed and talked. We shared stories. We talked about all of the good times we’d had. Seeing him close his eyes and drift off to sleep felt good. It was clear that my presence was calming for him, and we just lay together, and I rubbed those old bones and that lovely, thick old coat.
And then it was time. We took him to the vet and laid him on the floor on a soft blanket the vet had readied for us. I curled up on the floor with him and held him as much as I could.
The vet gave us a bit more time together. Rob and Tim came in and said goodbye – which I know was so very hard for them. Tim said I didn’t need to stay. There was nothing in this God-given world that could have stopped me from staying. I would not leave him – he never left me when I needed him, and I would not leave him.
I told him he was my best friend.
How he saved me from me.
He gave me something to love unconditionally, something that reflected that love and devotion back. I talked about how I would miss him. I told him he was a good dog, the best dog, the best dog a girl could ever ask for – I probably said this a dozen times so that he would hear it for the rest of his days.
The vet came in and said that it was clear that Bowser had a strong mind and a strong heart, but his body was done, and the kindest thing we could do would be to make this process easier for him. He gave him a tranquillizer to relax him. In the few minutes it took to kick in, I held him in my arms as close as possible. When his head started to wobble, I held it close to my chest and held him tight to me. I wanted his last thoughts and breaths to be of me, smell me, hear me, that girl who has loved him for so long – his soul mate.
The vet gave Bowser the last needle, and in a matter of seconds, it was done. I heard this ringing in my ear that very instant, and I knew that it was done. I kissed his velvet-soft ears, kissed his sweet puppy-smelling forehead, and wiped away the tears that had rolled down his face – yes, tears.
I stood up, looked at him, bent down one more time to absorb his Bowser-ness, and then walked away.
The vet said he doesn’t see a bond like that very often.
I…can’t…tell you…how much I loved this dog. I can’t tell you what we had, how we were together. I simply can’t even put into words what this sweet, gentle creature was to me. He picked me. He saved me. To say his pawprints are etched into my heart is an understatement. To say that they are embedded in my soul is as close as I can come to doing any justice to my sweet Bowser.
Good God, I love you, Bowser; you were a good dog.
I belong to you, and you belong to me – on Earth and in Heaven.
Uncle Bowser December 26, 1999 – March 06, 2015
Well if you made it this far, thank you. Thank you for reading my story. I’m sure you’ve realized that, unlike my other posts, I didn’t write this for you. I wrote this for me.
Rob and Bobbie…thank you