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I picked him up and took him in the bedroom, where my wife, Alix Felsing, was sleeping. (He has one big spot in the middle of his forehead, like an Indian bindi dot.) Whatever’s in there, he’s a scent hound to the core, plowing his snout into bushes and down holes, checking out the crotches of every creature he meets. We kept him in the garage while we made arrangements to build a fence. Instead we ran him to the closest vet we could find that was open on a Sunday morning. She hit the garage door opener and Fred took off outside. Alix chased him around the yard, hollering at him to drop it. After a minute or two, Alix ran back in the garage and grabbed a dog treat. It was almost as deep as a football field, and he’d go way back there and sniff around the edges of the brush. Years later, on his good days, sometimes his tail still spins like that when he sees us. Nobody ever put up signs in our neighborhood looking for him. When we first started to walk him on a leash, he’d turn around every 20 feet and beg for a snack. He’s got some hunting dog in him—besides the Lab part, we think he’s part German shorthaired pointer, because of his thin back end and the tan speckles on his cream coat. His favorite snack was poop from the Canada geese who hung out at our little pond. We’d steer him away from the droppings, but he’d always find one we missed. Years later, when we were renovating our bathroom, we took our shampoo and toothpaste and stuff and put it in a box. We Googled “dog ate bar of soap,” and the Internet told us everything from “he’ll be fine” to “OH GOD HE’S GONNA DIE.” We were getting ready for church. The vet said that sometimes, dogs that eat soap end up farting bubbles. One morning Alix saw them gathered outside the garage and decided a dose of Fred might scare them off. At the old house, I used to let him out every morning to roam the backyard. He cowered at the sight and sound of trucks and, for some reason, white vans. He was about two months old when he showed up at our house, and we always wondered what happened to him in those two months.We hope to remember what he has taught us: *** THREE WEEKS after I wrote the words above, Fred passed peacefully as the sun went down on an autumn Thursday.
I’ll take him outside on a beautiful night and he’ll just stand in the yard and look around. They make you deal with death and loss before you’re ready.
It got me really frustrated until I realized the problem: I was mad at him for dying on us. Alix and I are having a hard time imagining a life without Fred, but we’re going to have to live it.
(Yes, Mama, we also fed him bacon.) The food perked him up.
In his last weeks, he didn’t have enough strength to take his normal walk to the end of the block and back.
We took him to puppy training a couple of times, but the main thing he learned was that people have treats in their pockets. He ate about as much plastic as he did dog food in those days. After all that trouble, we thought we deserved at least a fart bubble. They’d poop all over the walkway between our back door and the carport.
One day we came home and found the top half of the bucket chewed off, the snake sprawled on the floor, Fred dancing in the garage with glee.Make sure he knows how lucky we are that he showed up in our life one day.My other hope is that up there, we’re all young and strong again. We’ve spent so many nights standing in the cool air on this street we love, staring at the stars, listening to the neighborhood owls, or just watching Fred prance around the yard and catalog the smells. I didn’t know what to do on that first night without him, so I walked out in the yard and stared at the stars and thanked him again for coming into our lives. One thing I hope is that we’ll be able to sit down and have a conversation with Fred.Have him tell us why goose poop tastes so good, where he really liked to be rubbed, whether we did right by him at the end.When she found out he was sick, her advice was to give him some bacon. For the first few years of his life, he pulled us down the street. I’d yell at him for not eating his supper, or not wanting to go on his morning walk, or eating some random thing off the ground.To be honest, that’s her advice in a lot of situations. (These days he has a taste for dirt.) I’m not proud to say this, but even now I get mad at him sometimes.It happened like this: After a walk in the park with a friend, I saw a young woman sitting in a car talking to a dog.Even from a distance, beneath the hard glass of the windshield, we could tell this was an exceptional animal.Mary Fluke, who had cared for him since he was a puppy.We told stories and laughed and cried like children. We discovered right near the end that he liked tuna fish, and he must’ve eaten half a tuna’s worth.