You were an incredible dog.
We knew pretty early on that you were special when we tried to teach you to play “fetch.” One gorgeous summer night, we were out in the backyard with you, throwing a rawhide bone across the grass. You’d happily run after it and pick it up, but then you would not come back. At all. You’d plop down and chew, or wander around the yard a bit, sniffing things, but at no point would you head back to any of us for another throw.
I guess it didn’t bother you that this behavior wasn’t exactly in line with your breed standard. You were born a Labrador Keeper. Champion lineage, be damned.
When we’d be out walking you, people driving by would roll down their car windows to comment on how handsome you were. They were right, but what they didn’t get to see was your snaggletooth. Even when you were being your most salty and insistent about something, it was hard to be stern with you because your upper lip was all caught up at your gum. You looked ridiculous and it didn’t deter you in the slightest.
One of the things I loved, and will always love, most about you is that you had an insatiable taste for butter. I never knew cold butter straight from the fridge had a smell, but you showed me otherwise. You could smell cold butter from clear across the house and you never missed an opportunity to angle for a pat. Foil wrappers were of no consequence to you; you’d swallow those sticks whole, aluminum and all, if given the opportunity. Having done that “chew on a foil gum wrapper” myself when I was a kid, I have no idea how you did this. Your passion for butter specifically and food in general was matched by few. I like to think you would have given Jeffrey Steingarten a run for his money, had you ever had the chance to compete head to head.
I’ll always cherish the photo of you with your head stuck in a cereal box, your butt backed up into the cabinet in a half-sit as you’re trying to extricate your head from the Multi-Grain Cheerios. It’s on my bedside table.
Sandy and Liz and I knew when getting our breakfast that we always had to select from the rectangular boxes as the rounded ones bore your mark as much as if you’d been able to put pen in paw and sign them.
Of course, you couldn’t. You didn’t have opposable thumbs. Man, we really loved to make fun of you for that.
Is it ridiculous that I’m crying as I type this?
My very favorite memory of you was the week that Mom & Dad left to go to Yellowstone and put me in charge of the house, you, and our sisters. You kicked off that week by snatching half an avocado out of my hand and swallowing it whole. You thanked me for that treat by puking in the middle of the night all over the kitchen floor.
Not to be outdone by yourself, a couple of days later you ate a small box of Godiva truffles. I still can’t figure out how you got them. When we found you, all that was left of your dirty deed was the plastic wrapper and a small bit of cardboard. I guess you didn’t find cellophane to be an appropriate amuse bouche.
I was panicked, Rocky. The parents were unreachable off in the woods and I was so worried the chocolate would kill you. Your bright and cheery demeanor, tail wagging aggressively, did not fool me. I was sure you would die on my watch and I was absolutely terrified. I called the Emergency Vet (because you were thoughtful enough to pull this stunt on a Sunday night, of course), and we assessed your condition. Thankfully, because you were so fat, the Emergency Vet was cautiously optimistic that you’d be fine.
I know that sounds mean, but really, you were seriously fat. At one point you weighed more than me. That’s why we started feeding you baby carrots. I’m sure that for the rest of my life I won’t be able to look at a baby carrot without thinking of you. Because of you, in our house, “the ‘C’ word” took on a whole new meaning that had nothing to do with nasty words for lady parts.
Anyway, on the Emergency Vet’s advice, I cooked up a large pot of plain boiled rice and ground beef. I fed it to you, and, in your typical manner, you ate as if you were coming off some sort of prolonged hunger strike. You ate every meal that way. I love you for that.
As it turns out, you were fine. You didn’t even get sick. I was amazed, but mostly I was relieved. You were okay. You were happy. You were hoping I might give you some more boiled beef and rice.
While your approach to food endeared you to me early on, I have especially always admired your approach in making new friends. The less someone liked you – and it’s hard to believe anyone would not like you – the harder you tried. You would not leave their side. You would be a constant companion at the foot of their chair. You refused to accept anything less than love from everyone, and you weren’t afraid to work for it if you felt that person needed convincing. You were a very insistent, very persuasive guy. You converted many a dog-hater. You were just that charming.
I love how you were afraid of the floor vents in the kitchen.
I love how when I once accidentally stepped on you in the dark and simultaneously poured a glass of water on your head, all you did was look at me with shock and mild irritation.
I love how you’d grumble from the back of your throat when you wanted to “talk” to us.
I love how you would sit like the Sphinx, with one paw tucked under.
I love how you’d never bark unless someone came to the door, and then you’d let out a single, deep, intensely scary woof.
I love how you’d chase rabbits in your sleep.
I love how you’d walk around a puddle rather than through it.
I love how you’d snatch food tossed in the air as if you were an alligator.
I love how we had a shared passion for fine leather goods. And shearling. Me for wearing, you for eating.
I love how every time one of us would come home, no matter how short the trip, you’d run immediately in search of a toy to bring us.
I love how you brought so much joy to all of us, especially Liz.
All dogs go to heaven, Rocky, and you’re no exception. I hope when you get there, you find a gigantic doorless refrigerator stocked with an unending supply of baby carrots and Plugra butter. You deserve nothing but the best because you really are the best dog who ever lived.
I love you.