When my youngest son was 10 he wanted a dog. All his older siblings had decamped and he didn't much like being an only child. The cat didn't count.
There were stipulations. He had to take care of the cat for a year before he could have a dog.
He did. He got a dog.
The dog, a great big three year old Golden Retriever, called AJ
, had a head like Rushmore and a personality like a saint. He is responsible for the procession of dogs who have come through our lives since.
It is a tribute to AJ, truly a god among dogs, that we have opened our hearts to so many others since he arrived.
When AJ died the week after my son graduated from high school, there was a huge hole in our lives.
No matter that the cat and the two remaining dogs were still here. Lovely as they were, they weren't AJ. No one was.
Gunnar wasn't AJ, either. Not even close.
He was small and he was black. He was a retriever, yes, but a flatcoat -- at least mostly (even a flatcoat breeder said so).
He walked like a flatcoat; he talked like a flatcoat (I have him on video giving a speech); and like most flatcoats, if you told him what to do, he had a better idea.
The first day he arrived as a four and a half month old puppy, he jumped through the dining room window. It wasn't ope
n at the time.
To say he brought joy and challenge into our lives was not to overstate the case. He was noisy, rambunctious. He grew, but he was always lean and somewhat wiry. He was also tough and opinionated and he had legs like springs. You should've seen him bounce.
He never met a tennis ball he couldn't shred in two minutes flat -- but he'd much rather make you throw it nine hundred times first.
He was something of an intellectual. For example, he was a student of nature. He and Goliath, the cat, spent countless hours lying on the bed in the guest room, staring out the window at the birds. We used to call them The Audubon Society, though I'm sure they were more interested in recipes involving avians than in counting and identifying them.
He was a student of human nature, too. He loved everyone except the mailman and boys with skateboards -- and the man in our neighborhood with the green umbrella.
What precisely annoyed him about the man with the green umbrella, I don't k
now. But whenever we saw TMWTGU on our walks, we had to cross the street. Otherwise Gunnar acted like he was giving serious consideration to going for the throat.
As Gunnar was a good judge of character, I have always wondered what he saw the rest of us didn't.
Suffice to say, Gunnar made life interesting. To echo my son's words after AJ's advent into our lives: "He really did improve the quality of life around here."
So did they all.
But especially Gunnar.
Gunnar has spent the last twelve years at my feet while I wrote books and blogs. He tucked himself in under the desk and hummed while I worked.
He was there this week while I worked on my revisions -- up until yesterday when it was too much of a struggle to climb the stairs.
Last night he slept downstairs. This morning he climbed up on the sofa to look out the window, then he lay down and watched me do my 35 minutes on Wii Fit (which he found endlessly baffling -- why is s
he stepping on and off that plastic board? Why is she tipping and tilting and teetering and tottering? Especially when we could be going for walks).
But the past two weeks we haven't been able to go for walks. And this morning, on the sofa, he closed his eyes and breathed his last.
The quality of life dropped fast.
It will improve again, I know. There are ups and there are downs. And there are days like today which really are the pits.
But I would go through today again -- and again -- for the joy of having him i
n our lives for so many years. And he will be in our hearts forever. We might not have him here anymore, but we will always have that.
He trained Micah and Mitch to do the contests (a forward thinking dog, our Gunnar). He taught them how to sit under the desk or behind my chair to trip me when I get up. He taught them the fascination of watching me twist and turn and step on the Wii balance board.
He taught them to look suspiciously at the mailman, the FedEx lady and the UPS guy (though neither barks with quite the warning he did). And heaven help the man with the green umbrella should we happen to see him out walking.
Mostly, though, he taught us all about love. He gave it unconditionally. I hope in turn we gave him the life and the love he deserved to have.
God speed, Gunnar. You were the best.
Labels: dogs, Gunnar, life