Farewell to an Old Friend
Those expecting to see something related to the Wisconsin sports scene can save yourself some time and stop reading this now. This post is going to be even a little more self-indulgent than normal. You see, I lost one of my best friends yesterday as I had to take my dog to the vet for the final time.
It was quite by accident we got him in the first place. We were visiting my brother in Phillips, Wisconsin as we used to do every 4th of July. After the parade, we went to a craft fair they held there during the weekend. As we walked in, we saw this teenage girl carrying a 4 week old dog. She asked me if I wanted to hold him and I said ‘sure’. Then I made the mistake of asking what they were doing there and she replied, “Oh, we’re giving him away.” I looked over my shoulder at the huge smile on my wife’s face and knew immediately we were making the 3 1/2 hour drive home with a little black puppy.
It was a decision I’ve never regretted.
The family we got him from called him ‘Chubby’ because he was the fattest one of the litter. But even though he eventually grew to be over 100 pounds, that name would never really fit him. Early on I inadvertently referred to him as “Chompers”, which was a character in the “Land Before Time” series of cartoons that my son was fond of at the time, and the name stuck.
My wife and kids are actually more partial to our other dog but to me Chomps was always special, if only because he was the first dog I ever had. My parents had owned dogs before I was born but we never had one while I was growing up. Their excuse was that it wouldn’t be fair to have a dog in the city. I suspect that the real reason was in raising four boys, they figured they already had enough animals to deal with. And once I was on my own, I figured I wasn’t home enough to take care of one myself.
To the outside observer, there was nothing remarkable about Chomps. He was just a ‘mutt’; part Black Lab, part Golden Retriever and part Dalmation. We jokingly referred to him as our ‘flat-coated retriever’ as he bore a striking resemblance to that breed that we often saw on televised dog shows. He was housetrained fairly quickly and was willing to sit or shake if properly motivated by a treat. He wasn’t particularly disciplined, however, probably mostly due to our lack of patience with training. He was a little high-strung, which we always blamed on the Dalmation in him. He could be loud; people rarely came to our door unannounced by Chompers’ barking. And when we put him on the leash, he usually took us out for a ‘pull’; at least until the point where he got tired.
He was a handsome dog, though. When we used to go camping, it wasn’t unusual for other campers to stop by our site and compliment us on how ‘pretty’ he was. True to his nature, he loved chasing things and he loved the water; interests which we used to combine by throwing his tennis ball in the lake and having him swim after it. Of course, we then either had to play tug to get it away from him or stand there until he got bored and dropped it. If we had let him, he would’ve done that until he passed out from exhaustion. He was also a great frisbee dog. It became something of a game between us to see if I could throw it farther than he could run and catch it. And unless I accidentally threw it into the ground, I rarely could.
When we were in Alaska, part of our tour included a presentation at the compound of Susan Butcher, who is a four time champion in the Iditarod sled dog race. I remember her saying that it took two days to teach her dogs to “go” and two years to teach them how to “whoa”. That was Chompers to a tee. Except that it wouldn’t have taken him two days to learn to go and he never would have mastered the latter. But I always believed he would have been very happy as a sled dog.
Even as large as he was, he was a gentle soul. He was by far the biggest animal in our household but, if one of the cats was between him and his dish, he would whine for us to shoo them out of the way though he could easily have chased them away himself if he wished.
It may sound silly to non pet owners, but I’ve always considered dogs to be the modern day manifestation of angels. They give us unconditional love even when we may not deserve it and make us feel better about ourselves. For almost 14 years, Chompers filled that role for me. He was last one I saw before I left for work each morning and the first one to greet me when I came home, even on days when the rest of my family acted like they couldn’t care less. With a couple of notable exceptions, other than family Chompers was the oldest friend I had. But that’s actually a misnomer, because Chompers was family. And will be mourned as such.
Rest in peace, my big boy. You will be forever remembered and forever missed.