I rarely post personal essays. I thought about writing this one, then decided not to, until yesterday, when I read Neil Gaiman’s blog about his dog, Cabal, and what it was like losing him. The blog was titled “The Power of a Dog” and it’s a poem by Rudyard Kipling. I shivered when I read Gaiman’s blog, and the poem, which I had read long ago, but forgotten.
Brodi is 11 today. Brodi is my hundred pound, Rhodesian ridgeback. Since I work at home, he’s been with me every minute of every day for most of his life. I rarely travel, maybe once a year, or a quick weekend away, since we have to board him when we leave. Winter is hard on an old African dog.
I had never had a big dog before. Our last dog, Meggie, was a basenji, a twenty pound African breed. She was short-haired, smart as whip, aloof, loving when she wanted to be, but grouchy in ways that sometimes didn’t agree with us. Basenji’s aren’t for beginners. She taught me a lot, and lived to be 16. I let a year pass before getting another dog.
Meg’s African ways, little shedding, easy to house train, clean about themselves, agreed with us, so I went that direction when I started searching for a new dog. We had moved into our new house, in a neighborhood with miles of sidewalks, and I knew I wanted a dog to walk. I was working a lot, and I needed a dog to get me away from my desk. To make me move. A big dog seemed to make sense. It was probably the first time in our married life that we really had room for a big dog.
So I studied the breeds, stumbled on ridgebacks and thought they were a possibility, but I wasn’t sure. Weimaraners and Great Danes appealed to us, too. It wasn’t until a chance meeting of two ridgebacks while walking the trails at Eagle Creek Park that I was completely smitten. These dark red energetic dogs were an enigma with their sweet nature, and the ridge on their backs that constantly stood at attention. They looked fierce, like their hackles were raised, but their hair really grows in the opposite direction. All well and good for dogs used to hunt lions. But they were happy, and playful, and full of joy. Turns out these two were brothers, and needed walked to help keep the edge off. Perfect.
I went on a serous search for knowledge. Bought books, studied all I could find about ridgebacks, and finally started searching for a breeder. And then we saw an ad in the paper for a litter of ridgebacks in Greenwood, thirty miles south of us. I know, I know, backyard breeders, right? Lecture me some other time. We were just going to look, to go see whether the puppies were a possibility. Right.
There were ten puppies in the litter. A few of them were spoken for. Muzzie, the stud, was a huge dog, a hundred and five pounds. He stopped me in my tracks. He was bigger than the Eagle Creek pair, more muscular. I knew he was bigger than the breed standard, but I didn’t care. He was awesome, and I wasn’t interested in showing a dog anyway (I know, I know, I encouraged breeders to continue on breeding “bad genes"—again, lecture me later—or not at all—maybe I’ve learned something in the last eleven years). I don’t remember the bitch’s name, but she circled us, never coming close to being petted. But she finally sat down in the far corner, giving her approval of us. The breeders let the puppies out of the pen then. Rose sat down in the middle of the room, and nine of the ridgeback puppies piled onto her lap. I wish I had taken a picture. Rose glowed with happiness, and we were pretty much screwed at that point.
The tenth puppy circled Rose, then just sat down outside the pile of writhing, happy puppies. He didn’t whine, didn’t look put out at all. He just watched, observed in a confident, but aloof way.
“I want that one,” I said. And a week later eight pound Brodi came home with us. We showed him his crate, showed him the door that he would go out to potty, and that was that. He whined a little the first couple of nights, never peed or pooped in the house, or chewed anything that wasn’t his. If I wanted him to do something, all I had to do was show him, then ask. He’s still pretty much that way, as long as whatever it is that I ask of him is in his best interest.
And, yes, we have walked. Twice a day most days, three times when I wasn’t working as hard as I should have been. I figured out recently that we have walked from Maine to California and are nearly halfway back again, all in our neighborhood in the last eleven years. There are countless stories. Too many to tell here. And we’re nearly at the end of the story. But not quite yet.
We still walk. Five years in, we got another ridgeback, Sunny, who has stories of his own, and is more Rose’s dog than mine. Yes, he came from a proper breeder, four hours away, and he came with his own challenges. Brodi’s “breeder” is long gone. Brod was pissed at me for a year for bringing Sunny into the house. He tolerates him now, but some days, I’m still not quite sure that I’ve been totally forgiven. Anyway, we still walk. When it’s not too cold or icy. Brodi’s still programmed for the two-a-day walks. He nudges me at my desk, pesters me to go, regardless. He’s been persistent, faithful, caught a burglar, thought about chasing squirrels but never had the heart to catch one, and exercised a recognizable Buddhist nature if there ever was one. Trust me, I could write a book.
He’s still in pretty good shape. His hips are still good, though the right one is arthritic, and he can run if he wants. He’s never been an athlete, so running is rare. But he’s always had gastro problems. At first we thought it was a food allergy. No chicken, because it made him vomit. Diarrhea at certain times of the year. Regurging his food. We finally figured out he had megaesophagus. Food would flow into his lungs and he’d get pneumonia. So, it was a congenital disease, and he’d been dealing with it since he was a puppy. We liquefy his food now, and there are additives we put in, etc. He’s been a great dog and deserves the best, so he gets it. His weight loss has stabilized, and he hasn’t had pneumonia this winter.
Secretly, I wasn’t sure that he was going to see 11. I’ve been preparing myself for the day that will come when he will tear at my heart, and leave. But today is not that day. And, I can’t tell you how happy I am about that. We’ll celebrate with a walk. A normal day. Brodi, Sunny, and me, like there are an abundance of tomorrows, the three of us out in the world, like all is right.
And it is… Happy Birthday, Brodi, you’re the best dog a guy like me could ever have.