Happy Birthday, Papoon

One of the best people in my life wasn’t a people at all, he was a dog. Papoon was a Doberman-Shepherd runt. I got him from the Humane Society in Vancouver, Washington. I used to go in there and admire the dogs of all sizes and breeds. It was just something to do. But one day they showed me a female and her new litter. One of the puppies was tiny and off away from the others. “He’s a runt,” explained the worker. “He probably won’t make it because his mother won’t feed him.” I was left alone to look at the dogs and went back to the cage and simply reached in and took him. Thinking myself clever, I walked as innocently as I could toward the door, only to be stopped. “You’ll be needing this,” said the worker. He handed over some infant formula and eye droppers, some canned puppy food and a certificate to have him checked out and neutered. The greatest caper of my life and I got caught.

I fed him with the eye dropper and later the canned food. Within a few weeks he was a happy ball of fur that waddled and rolled around my apartment. At night he slept next to the bed on the clothes I would shed as I went to bed. He was tiny. Most of the time I would carry him in my coat pocket. Riding a motorcycle at the time, I would stuff him in the sleeve with his hear sticking out over the back of my hand as I rode around. When he grew too big, I glued a piece of carpet to the gas tank and he rode there, his legs draped down each side.

He had the most expressive face of any animal, human or otherwise, that I ever met. I would spend hours talking to him as I did this and that. I even took him to work with me in my mechanic days. He’d lay under my workbench and watch the goings on, accepting the pats on the head that my co-workers would bestow. He would growl a warning if one of them was to open my toolbox when I wasn’t there, guarding my tools with a firm yet gentle disposition. He was one of the most human dogs I ever met, and yet he was also all dog all the time. He had a running feud with a neighbor cat, chasing it at every opportunity yet never catching it. The cat’s owner and I were both convinced it was a game, and one he never did mean t win. Sometimes the cat would run up an evergreen tree in the yard, and my dog would follow it up. He could climb as well as I could, perhaps better. But he was only good at going up the tree, finding himself stuck at the point the cat would reverse direction and run back down. Then he would sit up there and whine mournfully until he was rescued. The local paper featured a photo of him in the tree, taken the third time the fire department brought its bucket truck to fetch him. Once back on the ground he’d smile his doggy smile, his tongue hanging akimbo. He knew he wouldn’t be scolded.

Each time I think about him, I think of how he would sit at my side and look at me as though I was the only person in the world. How he would shift his head to the side as if pondering the thoughts I’d share. I am sure that he was the source for many of my thoughts as I would resolve the problems that life dragged to my door. I would share my concerns with him about everything, and he would answer my questions, not by speaking, but in a thousand other ways. When I first met the woman who would become the mother of my children, I looked at him and asked “What’d you think of her?” He waggled his left eyebrow up and down and made a smacking noise with his mouth. “Me too.” I said. And from then on, whenever she came around he would greet her with the same tail wag I would get. So exuberant was his wag it would rock his little body, but he’d only do that for me –and then her.

He lived a total of twelve years before his heart gave out on a Christmas eve, throwing an impenetrable pall on the holidays that lasted for months. Of all the losses I have cried over, none lasted as long as the tears that burned in my eyes when I thought about him. He had become such an extension of myself, that losing him was no different than losing a part of myself. Even now, as I deal with the issues I face these days, I think about him to give myself comfort. In some ways, enough to matter, he’s still with me and I guess he always weill be. He wasn’t a complainer, and faced adversities in his life with a dignity and calm that I try to copy. He may have been a dog, but he was as well a role model, and a good and powerful one. As I write this, the day marks the anniversary of my great canine caper when he came to join my family and become a strong element of my life.

I know in my mind that he has passed his energy back to the universe, and in that way his life reverberates though the cosmos still. But I like to think of him out doing his doggy activities and winding his way deeper and deeper into my heart.