April 25, 2011

A Salute to Lieutenant

Our family dog was named BJ. She was an adorable mixed breed puppy who turned into an ugly dog. We loved her fiercely.

After I left for college, BJ was my brother Billy's constant companion. When she grew old and died, as dogs do, we were sad but old enough to understand. My mom, who was tired of barking and messes and the general inconveniences of owning a dog, swore she'd never have another.

When Billy's brain tumor returned, and aggressive surgery left him with extreme left-side weakness, he had to move home. He was in his early twenties. When "for a while" turned into "long term," he was understandably depressed. He asked for a dog.

There were rules: no puppies, already housebroken, not too big. Something like a beagle, we agreed. My brother, now motivated to get out of bed in the morning, would surf the internet researching dogs. In January 2000, Superbowl weekend, we drove to Beagles & Buddies dog rescue.

The four of us wandered the premises, greeted by the many dogs playing in the yard. I fell instantly in love with Beauty, an elegant fox hound who followed me our entire visit. Shiloh the puppy, was still recovering from injuries sustained at birth, and would not be available for many months. We asked to see the back kennels.

Billy spotted Lieutenant right away. Louie, as we would come to call him, is a "lemon" beagle mix, with light brown markings on white fur. He was young but not a puppy, playful and energetic, but jumped up on a bench to sit with Billy when he needed a rest. Louie came home with us that afternoon.

Lou, as is common with rescue dogs, had some behavior issues. It took many weeks to get him to do his business in the dog run rather than on the grass. Several times, he sprinted out the front door and we almost lost him. He was incredibly affectionate, but could turn aggressive toward visitors, though he never once even curled a lip to a member of our immediate family.

Louie stayed with Billy for the next two years, as my brother slowly descended further into his illness. Lou was the first dog my father ever allowed on a piece of furniture, and to this day, nine years after my brother's death, Lou still naps on Billy's bed.

Louie's aggressive tendencies are now gone. When I visit, if I'm the first awake in the morning, I sit on the floor with Lou cuddled in my lap. I always notice how his spots go all the way to his skin. He creeps slowly like a hunter when a tablecloth brushes his back. When you open the back door for him, he dashes out, sprinting counter-clockwise around the pool, before going to his designated potty spot. He still cheats sometimes and goes on the grass. Louie's elbows are calloused from chasing lizards up the side of the house. Sometimes he catches them. He pounces like a puppy when chasing a ball.

Lieutenant is old, at least 13 but we suspect older, his beagle's puppy-face and bounding nature betraying his true age. He was recently affected with a strange loss of balance, and although mostly recovered, we are reminded that he is not going to live forever. His death, when it comes, will be significant. He is one of the few things we still have that my brother also loved, and we are scared to lose that connection. My dad will take it the hardest.

We will be sad, but we are old enough to understand.

This week's RemembeRED prompt was to write about a time something terrible happened, but looking back, it brought something wonderful.


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