I hope you’ll indulge me, everyone. My dog, Bullwinkle (we always just called him, “Bull”) was put to sleep today after thirteen years of friendship, and I think he deserves a little public acknowledgment. I know that all of the animal lovers out there will understand.
- His alien head: when Bull was a puppy, his head was a little too big for his body—scratch that, way too big. It was kind of freakish, but in a really cute way. He was just run along with that head sticking out like it didn’t even belong on his body, but it never slowed him down for a second. Dogs aren’t self-conscious about being different like people are. They just embrace life with joy and do their thing.
- That’s another thing I really love about Bull. His enthusiastic pursuit of…well…everything. I wouldn’t even throw balls for him once his legs got bad, because I was afraid he would get hurt when he chased it—and he would chase it. Even though he could hardly walk, he would chase that damn ball all the way down the yard if you threw it for him. He chased a great many balls over quite a bit of distance in his lifetime, but the task never grew old to him. He chased every single one as though it were the first—and most awesome—damn ball he’d ever seen in his life. I learned a lot from him about embracing the simple experience of living without even realizing that he was teaching me.
- His love of jackrabbits: When my family moved from San Diego to a small town in Northern California, Bull and his brother, Rocky, spent a lot of time cooped up in the mobile home (and, being big dogs, this can’t have been easy for them), so my Dad would occasionally pull over in an open area and let them get some energy out. On one such occasion, Bull spotted a couple of Jackrabbits in the brush and lit out after them before my father had a chance to tell him, “No.” I didn’t see the race, but I imagine it was a much more enjoyable challenge than a rubber ball bouncing on a driveway.
- His blanket: When Bull was a little alien-head puppy, he and Rocky used to sleep in the garage. Every night, we would take them outside and put them to bed, and they’d carry their blankets out in their mouths. Bulla was so small that the blanket dragged along behind him on the ground. One of my favorite memories of him is of a little guy happily dragging a blanket behind him without ever noticing that it’s too big, plodding along toward his goal and forgetting to complain that it isn’t easy enough to reach.
- His Bark: Now, I want to be clear about this one. Bull is one of those dogs that have a rather annoying bark, which he uses. A lot. It’s high pitched and loud, surprisingly yippy for sych a large breed, and it has a propensity to come right the hell out of nowhere. (That dog made me jump so many times that I should be sufficient trained to compete in the Olympics by now). Even so, there was something kind of joyous in his bark—it was loud and irritating, but, like everything else about him, it was also sincere and unassuming. He wasn’t barking to irritate you; he was trying to do his job and protect you, or he was excited to see a friend coming to visit you, or he was welcoming you home. He was annoying at times, but his spirit was always good.
- His faithfulness: Everyone needs a good guard dog at least once in their lives, and if there was one thing Bull could do, it was guard. Anyone or anything breached the perimeter (as defined by Bull as anywhere on the street within hearing distance of his house) and he charged the gate barking with a vengeance. He may have given us his share of trouble, but he loved us, and damn it, anyone who came anywhere near us would be duly warned: mess with my family and you deal with me. Dig?
- His Weirdness: No, I’m serious. Bull has some odd habits, most particularly an insatiable appetite for paper products of all kinds. I never quite understood it, but that didn’t stop me from making a point of giving him my napkin on several occasions. Sometimes you do weird things in order to make someone you love happy…even if you don’t exactly get why it makes them happy. (Another important life lesson from a very odd, but very good, dog).
The beautiful thing about animals is their simplicity. My friendship with Bull wasn’t always easy—I got mad at him when he ate my cat’s food or went through my trash for something non-edible to eat; I was afraid of him knocking me down accidentally when I was hurt and in an immobilizer—but even with all that, I was still his defender, because he was well worth defending. He was a good friend and a good dog. A very, very good dog.
Thank you for all the lessons and all the love, Bull. I love you, and I hope you get to chase lots of balls and Jackrabbits in Heaven.[i]
[i] Yes, I know there is Theological debate about animals in heaven, but they have horses, and God is gracious, so be quiet.