Josh died the other day. It's no big deal--he was old. But he was vigorous and playful and seemed healthy until that last week, when he stopped eating.
The vet said he had an infection. He gave Josh some antibiotics and kept him overnight, then a second night and then a third. That's when he first held out the possibility that Josh might not make it ("He's done well for an old dog"), and said he probably would be more comfortable at home where he would have more room.
I forgot to mention that Josh was big. A German shepherd mix--a mongrel--adopted from the pound about 13 years ago to be a companion to a lonely little boy whose father worked too many hours and whose mother had left to pursue other interests.
It was love at first sight between dog and boy. Good thing for Josh. It was his last chance. The pound people said he'd already been brought back twice. He couldn't seem to stay out of trouble, but all he wanted was to be loved and treated fairly--kind of like the boy.
Josh had the look of a junkyard dog, but he didn't have a mean bone in his body. He loved everybody, especially kids. Even the burglars were safe. But that was OK because the boy loved him. He would run alongside the boy's bike and he must have pulled his skateboard a zillion miles.
Josh was always there for the boy. He was always happy to see him and was never judgmental. It didn't matter to Josh that the boy wasn't very well coordinated. It didn't matter to Josh that school--a public school system and teachers who didn't seem to give a damn about him from that first day in kindergarten--was an awful ordeal.
And Josh was glad too, I suppose, when the boy pretended to be sick so he could stay out of the hated school and his father would stay home from work to take care of him. (There were legitimate and serious illnesses too.) Josh seemed happiest having the boy at home.
Boys get older and seem to have less time for their pets. But Josh always waited. He was patient and forgiving--never critical as teachers and fathers are wont to be. Josh would have been a perfect model for that song of generations past: "Old dog Tray's ever faithful; grief cannot drive him away."
Josh was unquestioningly there as the boy struggled to find an identity and to overcome his childhood fears and to separate himself from his father so he could become his own man.
Josh was there for the long-haired, rag-tag, skateboard thrasher; he was there for the bleached-blond surfer-boy; he was there for the youth in the black clothing with the dyed black hair, the multiple earrings (and the nose ring Dad never saw), the eye makeup and lipstick and seeming sexual ambivalence. Josh was there for the punk rocker in the leather motorcycle jacket and an attitude; the skinhead in the Doc Martens and the tattoos; and finally, the handsome but sad-eyed young man in that week before Father's Day almost two years ago.
Josh never questioned the boy those times he ran away from home, or when he'd been in Juvenile Hall. There were no recriminations when the boy left for the East Coast with the young girl who was pregnant with his child, or when he came back alone. And when the boy, just 18, got out of jail after a brief stay, Josh fetched him his ball and allowed himself to be hugged. Josh had a sense about things like that.
Yes, he was a good old dog. The kids in the neighborhood loved him. "Can Josh come out and play?" even the littlest ones would cajole.
But not everyone liked him.
The neighbors hung a note of complaint on the door after he dug under the fence into their yard. It's just that the old dog was lonesome. He'd dig under the fence in other places and make the rounds tipping over trash cans. He had ESP about trash night. I was always filling holes and replacing fence boards and picking up the neighbors' spilled trash.
The back yard with its craters still looks like the surface of the moon. Josh would dig and work up a thirst and then go drink from the pool. The top step at the shallow end was always muddy where he'd step in with his front paws. I finally brushed the last of it away today and thought about him.
I really don't believe in this sort of thing, but if there should be a heaven, I hope he and the boy are playing ball together and that they are happy. I know Josh will be--if he's with the boy.
I promised the boy long ago that I would look after Josh while he was away. That contract is fulfilled. Maybe it's time to start sorting through the boxes of clothes and books and memories and childhood things of 18 short years of life. Something I've been unable to face since the day before Father's Day almost two years ago.