Rookie

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Rookie was my dog, and my dog once almost hung himself from a 20-foot loft, so I shouldn’t be surprised that we ended up here eventually.

But still.  Damn.  To borrow a closing thought from Stand by Me: I’ve never had a friend like my 18-year-old dog.  Jesus, does anyone?

I have euthanized a dog before.  Or put him down.  Put him to sleep.  Whatever flowery language is supposed to best massage the fact.  I was too scared to be with him for that one, but then, he wasn’t my dog.

Rookie was my dog.

He made it to 18.  I know I should be thankful for that.  That’s long.  That’s damn long for a little dog.  That’s damn long for a little dog who did so many impossibly stupid things throughout his life, who was afraid of so many things, who would have lasted all of five seconds in the wild.

Still, I feel cheated.  Don’t we all?

When you put your dog to sleep, it’s one of those things people get but they don’t really get.  And I’m glad they don’t try to, because, I mean, I’m rambling here, but you didn’t know Rookie, so you couldn’t.  Rookie wasn’t a story, or anecdote.  Rookie was an 18-year-experience, beginning the same time I started the fourth grade.

Rookie was the dog who woke me up if I slept in too long.  He was the dog who ate my Pop Tart crumbs while I scrambled to start the homework I never did the night before.  He was the dog that was always so unfailingly there, and happy, and curious, and loving.

Rookie was the dog I brought in to show-and-tell in elementary school, winning major style points with the rest of the class because he was just so…damn…cute.

Rookie was the dog who was there when I moved in seventh grade, and didn’t know anyone in my new city and school.  No matter how anxious I felt that first semester, how much I worried about finding a seat at a lunch table or not walking cool enough or whatever dumbass things a 13-year-old boy worries about, he was always there when I got home in the afternoon, waiting to be walked, wanting to play, genuinely thrilled I existed even if it took a few months for anyone else to warm up to the fact.

Rookie was the dog who barked at all my friends as we started up Halo sessions whose duration only seemed governed by the soda and pizza fueling them, but never bit one of them.  Unlike my other dog.  Who bit everyone.

Rookie was the dog I probably ignored too often in high school, as I (d?)evolved from the 13-year-old struggling to enter some new orbit, to the teenage philosophy that the world did, indeed, revolve around me.

Rookie was the dog who was there when that philosophy was disproven by the astrophysics of junior year.  He was unfailingly loyal when so many of those people once considered friends were anything but.  Dogs have a funny way of avoiding high school drama, and being your best friend when your best friend won’t be your best friend.

Rookie was the dog who was happy to see me when I came home from college, who remembered me no matter how long I was away for.  Made no difference to him.  He still jumped onto the chair next to my bed, then onto my bed, and curled up next to me all the same.

Rookie was the dog who didn’t understand anything about the world I dreaded entering every day when I was post-grad and had a meaningless, soul-sucking call center job while I was looking for something more in line with my degree (or ambition to, you know, want to get out of bed every morning).  I loved him for that.

Rookie was the dog who spent my first day of work at Bleacher Report with me, waking up at the foot of my bed, following me in the office and to the kitchen for every break punctuating the day.

Rookie was the dog who a vet once told us, stone-cold serious as cold be, was probably retarded.  Not in the offensive, caustically-used derivative of the word, but the medical sense.  He was the dog who would get his head stuck in things, or find himself cornered by a paper bag, or completely surprised by an oak tree in his path.

Rookie was the dog who licked everyone and everything, the latter part probably making that reality quite unfortunate for the former.  It may have been out of fear, or anxiety, or a desire to “friend” everyone in existence so as to render them an ally.  I choose to believe he really just operated with a purity that reads totally foreign to human counterparts.

Rookie was the dog that could never be house-trained, so wild in his ways.  But everything that made him so frustrating, so destined to ruin carpet or tip over trash cans, also made him beautiful in that same way.  The way he was just an ever-present life force, a simple energy announcing himself every day, no matter if that was the best or worst day of my life.

Rookie was the dog who eventually got a cough.  One that could be managed at first, with enough medication and veterinary bills.  But eventually, one that wouldn’t go away, and kept both of us awake at night.

Rookie was my dog.

God, I miss my dog.

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