By RJ Bardsley
A good luck dog is a dog that brings happiness and love to a family. He is a magical creature because he teaches you about yourself and about love and commitment and honesty. The name is not really a good one, because a good luck dog really isn’t about luck at all – unless it’s about the luck it takes to end up with one in your life. A good luck dog is about patience and friendship.
Dana and I brought Fred home from the pet store some time during the summer of 2001. I can’t remember exactly what the date was, but I’m pretty sure it was on a Saturday or Sunday because we did it during the day. Like almost everything else those days, we couldn’t agree on what kind of dog to get, and to be honest, I think I wanted a dog more than Dana did, but I’ve never really been sure about that. We didn’t exactly think things through or research breeds or breeders. We went to a pet store and sat with four or five different puppies to see which one we liked. Fred came in and he was instantly our favorite. He was a long and floppy Basset Hound with ears that dragged along the floor beside him and the biggest, most beautiful eyes you ever saw on a dog. He looked up at us and then just pushed and nuzzled his way up onto our laps; I’m almost sure he peed on us that day, but the memory is foggy. He peed on everyone when he greeted them for the year or so after that, so I can’t imagine that he missed us on that first day.
Fred proved to be cute looking and affable enough, but also a terribly rambuncious puppy. He was difficult to train and chewed almost every piece of furniture he could find. But through it all he remained lovable, with a patient stare on his face that let everyone know that while they might be frustrated at finding the rug half chewed and mostly digested, he was fine with it. Fred brought a lot of love into our house, but also required us to learn a lot about ourselves. I was 27 and I was extremely selfish – with my time and my energy. All of that had to change when we brought Fred home. I didn’t always do the best job with him – I will admit I lost my temper several times and in training Fred to come, sit, stay and lay down, we went through a battle of wills that can be most generously described as epic. In return he trained me to think about someone else before myself, contain my temper and be a little more generous with my time. I dare say neither one of us was 100 percent successful, but we made each other a little bit easier to live with.
A couple years later Dana and I moved to San Francisco, at first it was only supposed to be for a year. We left Fred with my parents on their small farm with their three other dogs. It was hard for me to leave Fred with my parents, but it didn’t feel like I was losing him – it felt just like leaving my little brother with them when I went to college. He was part of the family and somehow – in my head – it was fine to leave him with the same parents who had raised the rest of that family. I realize now how immature that thinking was, but if I’m honest that’s what it felt like at the time.
But during the time that we were away, my Dad’s bout with cancer intensified and eventually Fred was too much for them to handle. So he went to live with Dana’s father, Harold.
Harold was not a new acquantaince for Fred. Fred had known Harold since his earliest puppy days and the two had always been best friends. It was hard for me though – that change meant that my Dad was very unwell, and his prospects weren’t good. Fred seemed to sense this, and when I finally dropped him off at Harold’s house, I lost it and broke down crying uncontrollably. The dog just looked up at me and nuzzled me the way he usually did when he wanted me to calm down or relax. “It’s OK,” he seemed to be saying to me. “I know it’s hard, but you’ll be OK and I’ll be fine here. As a matter of fact, Harold’s going to let me up on the furniture and feed me snacks all the time, and those are two things you never let me do, so go back to California and I’ll see you at Christmas.”
When our time in California changed from one year to two, I made plans to bring Fred out to join us. But by that time he and Harold had settled into something of a routine. Harold worked at Governor’s Academy high school, and Fred spent every day outdoors with him, running around and hanging out with the kids. I think these may have been some of Fred’s favorite times; he loved kids and he loved being in the middle of things. It seemed like a bad move to try and bring him all the way out to San Francisco to sit in an apartment all day and wait for Dana and me to get home to let him out for what would be a mostly-cement walk. Why break up the good thing Harold and Fred had going?
So for the next few years Dana and I saw Fred on holidays and vacations when we would come home for a few weeks. During that time we’d take him with us for the duration of our stays. I liked spending time with the dog and I think he liked being with me; we had a lot of quality time together. While I did miss having him in my everyday life, it was clear that he was living a much better life than I could have provided for him. The time we spent together was good time – fun time hanging out on the farm or driving around in the truck. I learned a lot from Fred during these years. While our first years together were spent in a wrestling match to decide who would pee in the house and who wouldn’t, these years were spent just hanging out together. He still took every opportunity to roll in smelly things, and that still drove me crazy, but it drove me a lot less crazy that it had before. Harold had more patience than Job, and he worked with the dog in a way that calmed him down rather than taught him to heel.
Years passed and Harold gradually began to have trouble breathing. It was an illness that he eventually passed away from. But Fred was with him almost until to the end, sitting by him on his bed. When I would visit during Harold’s last days I could see a worry and a compassion in Fred’s eyes when he was next to Harold. When we were alone together on walks or in the truck during those days I could imagine Fred telling me about how sad he was but that he knew this was the way of things. Then Fred would lay his head on my lap, nuzzle my leg just enough to get slobber all over my pants, and then fart.
When Harold got very sick, Fred had to go back to my parents’. By this time Dana and I had been in San Francisco for four or five years and Fred was far too old to make a move across the country. My father had passed away, as had the three dogs that had been living with them years before. Fred loved my mom and life on the farm with her was not so bad. She had a dachshund named Willow, who had been pretty lonely until Fred got there. They continue to spend most of their days lazing about on the back porch or taking strolls up over the knoll and down through the fields.
A few weeks ago Fred was diagnosed with Lymphoma. He isn’t in any pain, but he doesn’t have a lot of time left- maybe three or four weeks at the longest. I was lucky to spend a couple of weeks with him earlier this spring before that diagnosis. I had a feeling something might not be right, even before any official word. So I spent a lot of time with him, foregoing a couple of nights in Boston to see friends, even though I would have liked that. I wanted to spend the time with this creature who had become such a close part of my family. I am so glad I spent that time with him.
This weekend, I flew home again, knowing that time is short for Fred. We spent the couple of days hanging out down by the vegetable garden or driving around in the truck. He is still doing OK, but slowing down a little bit. The lumps all over his body are getting bigger and a trip to the vet on Saturday morning let us know that things are winding down for him.
As I packed up my things to go, I kneeled down to say good bye to Fred, possibly for the last time. He nuzzled my leg and groaned just a little bit, as if to say I love you and I’ll miss you. I said the same thing to him and just sat there with him for a few minutes. Fred has been such a good friend and a family member, I cannot express how much I love him. Dana and I didn’t know, when we picked him out at that pet store nearly 12 years ago, that we were picking out a dog for so many people. He has truly brought our family together in many ways and enriched all of our lives. Fred was truly a good luck dog.