Our Dog Chance

Chance.

Chance was a terror of a puppy. He came to us when he was eight weeks old. My sister Mary--Dr. Mary, the veterinarian-- found him for us. We’d been mourning our great dog Eli for a year. She knew it was time for us to get another dog. So one day, she called me and said, “I have a dog for you guys, Marg. Out of all the puppies in the litter, this one was much more alert than the others. He kept coming over to me and wanted to visit while the others slept. He was interested in me.”

This was Chance in a nutshell. Everyone was his friend. He had no enemies, including other dogs. (The one possible exception would be our backyard squirrel who he had a healthy fear of and tended to keep at a distance. He would have been that squirrel’s friend, though, if the squirrel wasn’t such a jerk.)

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The first night with Puppy Chance, he mostly slept. He was so calm. That calm lasted exactly twenty-four hours. (Most likely he was just tired from the long car trip from Oregon to California.) The next day, we found him to be exceptionally active and veeeery bitey with his tiny puppy razor teeth. Chance soon became well acquainted with rolled-up newspapers. (This was after the Coke can full of pennies, shaken to capture his attention when he was doing some puppy nonsense, failed. Apparently, after the first time, the noisy can wasn’t interesting anymore.)

As Steve liked to tell people, Chance finished last in his dog obedience class. (In his defense, and since I was the one taking him to his lessons, out of the original twenty dogs who started the class, only five remained. And the dog who came in first place was a little puppy who didn’t even seem to know he existed but merely let his owner drag him around, creating the illusion that he was obeying commands.) Second and third place awards were given, then two certificates of completion. Chance received his certificate last.

During the classes, he had this endearing little habit of flopping down and rolling onto his back, exposing his belly, any time I tried to get him to do something. This little trick maneuver of his would completely neutralize any of my feeble attempts at training. The first time he did this, the whole class happened to be watching. I wanted to disappear, silently cursing this six-month-old pup who was sooo much smarter than I.(In dog training, you really need to be smarter than the dog. With Australian Shepherds, this is a tough requirement. There are no guarantees here. I’m convinced that the world will one day be owned and operated by Australian Shepherds who will be our overlords. Hopefully, they’ll be good owners and won’t smack us too hard with rolled-up newspapers when we mess up.)

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Chance discovers socks. Chance was a notorious sock thief. When folding laundry, I’d have to work fast and practically sit on the socks. Any sock within his reach or left unattended would soon disappear. Where did he take them? Straight out the dog door and into the backyard. What would I do? Run after him. “Chance. Give me that sock!” After pausing to laugh at me, he’d be off like a shot, sock in mouth. And since Australian Shepherd puppies move at the speed of light, and being future herders, there was no way he could be caught. Socks continued to be re-washed once we’d find them muddy in the yard after he’d released them from his puppy jaws of steel. This continued until one day, Andrew happened to pick up a purple broom handle, brandishing it at our thief. Miraculously, he dropped the sock. Henceforth, the broom handle became known as the Purple Dog Staff of Justice. The PDSoJ was a sure thing, and we have it to this day.

Chance looks up. Chance was the first dog I’d ever known that noticed things that happened up high. He barked at helicopters, the contrails of jets, and parachutists from the local 4th of July show. Balloons. Large birds. Squirrels. Chance was a noticer.

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After Chance’s Terrible, Terrible Twos, he became a truly great dog. He knew so many words that we learned to either spell w-a-l-k or say things like: “perambulate,” “outing,” and “constitutional” so he wouldn’t lose his mind with excitement, racing around the front yard before we could get him on leash. It sounded so sophisticated when we’d say to each other: “Do you want to take a constitutional?” At ten years of age, his enthusiam for his walks hadn’t waned. Each time was like the first. I finally had the realzation, around his tenth birthday back in September, that the day he didn’t wag and jump and bark would mean that his walking days were coming to a close. I give thanks that that never happened. His very last walk was greeted with enthusiasm and the usual tugging on the leash. He had plans and couldn’t be delayed.

Since Chance left us, our house is much cleaner now. No tufts of white and gray hair clinging to baseboards and under chairs. Everywhere. No constant sweeping. No dog eyes watching us eat, sending those laserbeam-focused thoughts: You gonna eat that? Can I have it? No insta-Hoover sucking up the food we drop. (I didn’t realize what messy eaters we are.)

Memories everywhere. The dog block is in the dog door because there is no dog to go in and out. All day long.

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Our hearts are full. Broken bodies; broken souls.

One day, we will get another dog. Probably a puppy, Lord help us. Because that’s the tradeoff: unconditional love. Boundless, bottomless joy. Endless happiness, sometimes frustration. A family member who is always happy to see you at the end of long, tiring days. Someone who makes you get out of bed, even during the most trying pull-the-covers-over-the-head days. True gifts from God (and not a coincidence that God spelled backwards is Dog. But you knew that.)

Our house is clean(er), but we’d rather have our dog.

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