I'm in another country on our nation's independence day, which is not quite as strange as the time I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean in who knows what time zone when the clock struck midnight in a new year.
This day is actually more significant to me because it is my dog's birthday, or at least the day we picked as such. We got him when he was a little more than a year old, so we just guessed, really. By our count, he is 15 years old today.
A few years ago I wrote about how we almost got a dog when I was seven or eight. After the Commodore 64 debacle, we were successfully stonewalled for the next decade. We just accepted that we were not a pet family. The question was hardly ever raised, and on the rare occasion that it even began to surface, my mother squashed it quickly.
The story of how we finally got a dog is somewhat remarkable in its unremarkability. In September of 1996, our family went to a local orchard to go apple picking, an annual tradition. My brother happened to see two dogs in a cage on the property. I have no idea what possessed him, but I guess he just decided the time had come for us to have a dog. As we walked through the orchard he lagged behind slightly with Mom. I still don't know how he did it, but by the time we left the orchard, we were on our way to the pound to get a dog. I still think Mom might have thought that she hadn't fully committed to anything, but she had stepped out onto that slippery slope, and we were going to take full advantage.
We found Radar at the shelter. He wasn't too big, and he was already house-trained. It was almost my birthday, so Matt decided that he would pay the $20 shelter fee and get me a dog for my birthday (then Mom and Dad payed the $200 vet fee, and all the subsequent vet fees, and for all his food, and so on. Matt still gets credit for buying the dog). It's still the best birthday present I've ever gotten.
Mom was still determined to keep control of her clean house, but like I said, it's a slippery slope. First Radar was supposed to be just an outside dog. Then he was supposed to live in the garage. Then he was only allowed downstairs. It wasn't long before he ruled the house.
The irony is that I think Mom ended up loving that dog the most. When he hurt his shoulder, she was the one who gave him his physical therapy. When he got out during that fluke snow storm on April Fools Day, and we couldn't find him for an hour, she was beside herself. Even after she broke her leg tripping over him, she still loved him.
Yesterday I got an email from Mom letting me know that tomorrow, they are putting Radar down. He's no puppy anymore. His legendary house-training has long since left him. The dog that once could leap over the wall in our driveway can hardly climb stairs, and usually falls down them. The cruelest joke of all is a dog named Radar that can't even locate a doggie treat dropped directly in front of him. So I guess the time has come.
We had hoped that perhaps we wouldn't have to make the decision, that his sleep would take him one night. I told myself that if we had to do it, that I would be the one to take him, but that is now impossible. Once again, I entrust him to the care of my parents.
I always said that someday, when I got in the right situation, I would come and take my dog to live with me. Deep down, I knew there was no way that would happen. But whenever I would go home, Radar was my dog again. Uncle Clark once described him as "the most hand-lickingest dog in the world," and I would sit with him and just let him lick my hand for half an hour or so, until he was satisfied. I'll miss that.
I know he's just a dog, but after tomorrow, our family will be down by one. We had one shot at this pet thing. Radar made it count.