My best friend is dying.
I've known him 13 years. He knows most of the things about me that I hide from others, because they're parts of myself that I hate. None of them have ever affected his love for me. He's seen me at my best and worst. Thankfully, he's more forgiving than anyone I know. We've fought each other and cried together. He's permanently scarred me, and I'm a better person because of it. He is my dog, and I'm losing him.
Baron is one of the four beings on this earth I've called 'Best Friend,' and he epitomizes the title in dozens of ways. He is loyal and faithful and loving and gentle. He's been a caretaker, watching over our family for what has amounted to almost 54 collective years. Our children grew up with him, and he was always the first to meet each new child whenever we'd bring them home, even the ones that weren't babies.
Baron's been called the most relaxed person in our house, and I never realized how true it was until now. Through all the emotional dysfuction and marital stress and diminutive bullcrap that goes on day after day, year after year in our house, he has remained the same, and he has loved us through every long hour of it. He has an old, passionate soul, and we were lucky to have him with us for so long.
But now his body is old, too. He hasn't been up or down more than two stairs in over five years. For the last year, he's been unsure on his feet, especially on uncarpeted floors, and prone to accidents around the house. (It's embarrassing but true. If your grampa made the house smell bad, you wouldn't put him out, would you? Neither would we our dog.) Now he can't walk at all. He barely eats and even then only because we insist. He goes through spells like seizures where his left side tightens up and his jaw locks shut. His body is failing him. Though he doesn't express pain, I know he is miserable. In two days, our vet comes back to town, and will help Baron escape the prison he's trapped in.
Baron is the reason that, for the rest of my life, loyalty and friendship will always be symbolized by a yellow dog. He will be sorely missed, and deeply mourned.
I know general Biblical wisdom is that animals don't have souls, et cetera, but I think that's all divine manifest destiny talking, and Baron has been more than just an animal or a companion. In truth, we didn't own Baron any more than we own our children. He was just part of the family, and he loved and cared for us in his own ways as much as we did for him. I don't know what anyone else will call it, but he has something inside him, something that will live on, something I hope to see again.
Memories of Baron:
Right after we bought our house, we got our dog. Baron came to us from a stray rescue organization. It was cold outside as we walked from pen to pen, looking at dozens of animals of every type. I don't know how many pens there were, but when I got the pen where he was, I was done looking. We approached the fence and every dog inside ran to meet us, some wagging, some barking, all excited. Every dog but one: a beefy yellow lab mix. He stood back and watched us, and I knew I had to meet him. Soon after, we took him home. Knowing his approximate age, we assigned him a birthday of July 4th.
We don't know what his breed is, other than the yellow lab part. That seems a minority, given his body shape and short hair. I always wondered if it was pitbull because of his barrel chest and the shape of his head. He also has a curious upside-down-Y shaped ridge atop his skull that goes from the top of each eye socket to the back of his head, so Rhodesian Ridgeback has also been suggested. Whatever the case, he looked menacing in his day. His big teeth and loud bark kept would-be punks away from our house and out of our yard. Many people crossed the street when I walked him, rather than pass by us.
Baron was a runner in his younger days. We think he ran away from his first family. This is likely the same family who spent thousands of dollars on him as a puppy. He was 1½ when we got him, and his first trip to the vet revealed very faint scars on each side of his back end. An x-ray revealed that he'd had reconstructive surgery on both hips. Many times he'd see an open door or gate and run for the hills. When we'd go after him, he treated it like a game. The Wife has a fantastic story involving a slushy winter night and a Toys 'R Us shipping dock. Twice, we thought he was gone for good, but just like all the times we found him quickly, he'd simply followed his nose slowly through everyone's backyards.
I will always remember exploratory walks in the empty fields across our street after the state hospital was torn down. I will always remember telling him to stay off the loveseat all day, then coming downstairs each morning with him fast asleep at the end of it. I'll always remember when he was left alone for longer than he liked and stripped the end of the couch down to bare wood. I will always remember the look on his face after being caught--many times--eating crayons and the multi-colored poo we always found a couple days after. He still loves crayons; I caught him as recenty as a month or two ago.
I'll never forget the time he bit me, and the lesson I learned. He knew my mind that day, and he was right to come after me. He put me in my place. (Thinking about it now, that incident started with the discovery of a pile of crayon crumbs.) After I put him out of the house and wrapped my bleeding (and soon-to-be infected) arm, he and I had a talk on the deck, and I said I was sorry, and he said he was too, and we were best friends again.
Santos called him "Big Boy" and Dhiara called him her boyfriend. Both my boys have used him for a pillow, a footrest, a comforter, and a means of locomotion. My daughter hugs him and his head is bigger than hers. He graciously lets her drape him with stuffed animals and use him as a prop in her games. He loves these little creatures who came into his house well after he was an established resident, and they love him.