I made up a song for my dog this morning.
It went like this: “I have a dog of black and white; his collar fits; it’s not too tight. He has a tongue that’s pinky rose; he’s cool and wet around the nose.”
I wouldn’t risk personal humiliation by quoting this poem if it weren’t for the fact that I wasn’t really thinking of Pip when I sang it. I was thinking of my daughter and son-in-law’s dog, Fritz, who left this world 10 days ago.
Most dogs who are adopted as adults come to their new homes with baggage. They’ve passed from shelter to shelter or maybe from home to home. Pip did time in prison, where an inmate taught him manners.
Fritz’s baggage would have cost a fortune in airline charges. We suspected he had been abused by a man wearing work boots, since for months he was especially frightened by men – especially by men in boots.
When my daughter and son-in-law brought him home 11 years ago, Fritz hid under a table for days. Every few hours, they’d drag him outside to do what dogs do, and when he returned, he’d huddle in his hiding place again.
In time, Fritz did venture out – at least out from under the table. It took weeks, but he became something like a normal dog, as long as the only people around were his two humans.
Gradually, they introduced him to others – my husband and me, my son-in-law’s parents, their friends. He learned to recognize those he trusted and he never forgot a pal, no matter how long the spaces between visits.
A dog whose life once had depended on his ability to spot his enemies now used his perception to identify his friends.
When we visited his house, he’d skitter down the stairway, toenails sending him skating on the wood floors, teeth bared in a joyful rictus and making weird, high-pitched sounds. So great was his happiness, we couldn’t greet our own children until we had flung our arms around Fritz, told him what a good dog he was, and admired his trick.
He had only one, but it was a winner. He would sit down and raise his front paws so that his solid terrier body was upright – sometimes so upright he would fall over backward. We called it “the prairie.”
How Fritz learned the prairie we couldn’t know, of course, but it was clear he knew his trick was as reliably popular as a never-fail pie crust, and he traded it for attention, praise and treats for years.
He continued to be terrified of strangers, even strangers who appeared as tiny dots at the far end of the block. After several outdoor excursions ended with Fritz having to be carried home in their arms, my daughter and son-in-law resigned themselves to owning a dog that would never be normal.
He often stayed with us while they traveled. When their home underwent renovations, he cowered in the basement, away from the workmen (who no doubt were wearing you-know-whats on their feet) until Emily and Jim delivered him to our house for two untroubled weeks.
That might have been when Fritz, frenzied with impatience, jumped out of the back-seat window while the car was still moving down the driveway. We feared he was a goner, but he was fine, not even bruised.
But time passes. During one of Fritz’s weekend visits, we realized he could no longer climb our stairs. While Pip zoomed around the yard, Fritz slowly ambled, and when he ambled alarmingly close to the road, impervious to our shouts, we understood he was profoundly deaf.
He developed a cough. It persisted, and the vet took X-rays. Cancer.
He might have rallied for a few months, but he didn’t. He coughed up blood. He fell down the stairs. After a last long and awful night, our daughter and son-in-law called the vet and said the two necessary words:
Fritz was an unusual dog. In some ways, he seemed hardly doglike; he was more of a small, damaged human. But he was happy, he loved and was loved, and I’m sure he was the star of countless poems.
Some of them I made up myself: “Fritzie, Fritzie, little guy; brown of fur and round of eye. You’re a little scared, of course, but prairies are your tour de force.”
Good dog, Fritz.