They all have their quirks. Ours is obsessed with shredding tissue every time he can get his paws into the bathroom wastebasket. He is oblivious to rabbits and squirrels in his own backyard, but attacks the same wooden deer in the neighbor's front lawn at Christmastime. He has my biological rhythms down so well that he meets me at the foot of our bed every night just as I need to answer nature's call, so that I can lift him onto the bed and he can snuggle up to the owner he truly loves. When I return I have to shove him out of my spot.
Because we own no sheep, our Shetland Sheepdog, named Calvin, performs no useful work around the house. All attempts to teach him to do even a little dusting or to prepare a light lunch in order to pull his own weight have come to nothing. But he is charming in his own way, and he's got his co-owner right where he wants her. I'm useful to him at walk time and, as I mentioned, at three in the morning.
Calvin's neighborhood pal for the last decade couldn't have been more different. Eagan, was a big black dog with a white snout and white "socks" on his feet. He was large, and part retriever and something else and something else.
But he had a sweet and noble temperament. If Calvin were a person, he'd be Robin Williams in the Mork & Mindy years. Eagan was to dogs what Walter Cronkite was to people -- amiable, comfortable to be around, but also with a certain sense of dignity. That's hard to find in a dog, and virtually impossible to locate in a person.
Eagan lived next door and called the Burke's place home, but he was really the dog of the neighborhood. He had friends and devotees, who would stop by and visit him on his front lawn and sometimes go for walks with him. You didn't really take Eagan for a walk, he accompanied you as a friend. There was never any need to keep him on the straight and narrow. He just did that naturally.
Dogs are the most heartbreaking of friends, because they become part of your family and then they always leave you before you're ready. But they are ready at some point. And it's being able to recognize that moment when they've given you all they can, and when the most you can give them is release, that is the trick.
The Burkes came to recognize that moment about a week and a half ago. The neighborhood is quieter now, but not because of what you'd think. Eagan almost never barked. It's quieter because the passers by have no reason to stop in the front yard next door and catch up with their old friend and maybe accompany him on a walk around the block.
There's something missing around here. But it's the kind of thing that you're grateful you had to lose in the first place. These guys give you their lives for the cost of some kibble, but you pay a high price at the end. And you know what? It's still a bargain.
So long, old friend. We'll see you on the other side of the block.