I’d never wanted a fluffy dog, but my mom decided to adopt Tucker from friends. And so, suddenly we had a five-year-old fluff-ball that looked like an Ewok. Or a Wookie. An Ewookie? A Wookiewok? I was horrified to discover on the mantle of the previous family’s home a framed photo of Tucker with long, luxurious hair tied back with a pink bow. I like to think we rescued him from a life of constantly being preened and fussed over.
He was not a normal dog. He never learned to whine — no matter the emotion, he expressed it with a growl or bark. The only exception was when he was flopped over trying to scratch his back… then he’d make grumbling, chattery noises like an Ewok. He always looked perplexed, his brows furrowed as his little pea-brain tried to suss out the situation.
He never listened; you had about a 50 per cent chance of success at having him come when called. In his more spry days he bolted through the front door whenever it was opened. He once made a break into a rainstorm on the day of my sister’s wedding as everyone was preparing to leave for the church. My boyfriend had to chase after him while the bridal party tried not to water-stain their silk dresses on their way to the van. When Mike finally caught him, everyone had, to his confusion, left the house.
Tucker perennially wandered away while off-leash. While I sat on the dock last September at the cottage (as seen above and below during our 2010 visit to the Brig), he slunk off. I eventually found him sweaty, confused, panting and wild-eyed, halfway up the hilly driveway to the main road. It was clear that if we’d never found him, he wouldn’t have made it home. That, as I later recognized, was when his dementia started showing.
Despite his size he wasn’t a lapdog. He didn’t like cuddling, though for most of his life he’d greet anyone at the door by flopping onto his side, expecting a belly-rub. Everyone obliged.
He was possessive over food. He once ripped holes in the crotch of my sweatpants after I shooed him away from the plate of eggs I left on the table.
He ruined my parents’ living room rug (an outrageously expensive Chinese one) and basement carpeting with pee. And then there were the teak Chinese couches — they were right by the living room bay window, which offered a view of the front walk, where he could watch the comings and goings at 44 Rubin Street. He made the couches his bed, scratching the delicate red silk cushions into shreds. I think my mom was secretly happy about that; they were my dad’s idea and she never liked them.
He once ate a homeless man’s poop. I saw him scrounging under a bush while we were at the park (n.b. to other dog owners, it was the lawn west of Osgoode Hall on University north of Queen); when I pulled him out by the collar I got it all over my hands. On our way home I had to open the doors to my apartment with my elbows.
Still, he was my dog. He lived with me the last seven years, and I came to love, really love, the eccentricities of a grumpy old man stuck in a dog’s body. We sunned ourselves in the backyard. He once (only once) let me use him as a pillow when we sat on the couch. He was an excellent walker. Some dogs pull to get to the destination, others pull to go home, but Tucker took in walks like a true flaneur. Like an old man going for his afternoon stroll. He enjoyed the pleasantries of it. He loped, his ears bouncing floppily in a way that befitted his shaggy mantle, with a smile. He was good company.
To the end he was an excellent walker, but it was his mind that got him. He didn’t sleep at night. He peed, puked and pooped as the darkness ratcheted up his anxiety. He paced endlessly, panting, wild-eyed and confused, until he either fell asleep from exhaustion or micturated in frustration. The slightest noise would awaken him, and the cycle would continue over and over until morning light came. I had to rescue him after he got trapped behind a table leg. He got so skinny I could feel every vertebrae, his hips, his eye sockets. On our last walk through High Park, the other dogs in the park bullied him, as if they sensed his weakness. I saw his personality disappearing. I knew it had to be done. I didn’t want to wait until he had no good days left.
At least he had his health, and a long life. I credit the raw food diet for that.
On Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012, I took him for his last walk around the block. He was slow, but he was good. He took in the morning sun, lingered on a scent deep in a hedge. And then we drove him to the vet. He died at 12:15 p.m.
Never take your pets for granted. They are always there for you. Don’t push them away. Always take the extra five minutes to give them belly rubs, to walk a little slower or further, to wait while they sniff out the lamppost. And seriously, like Ghostface says, brush their teeth. Tucker had two dental cleanings/extractions in his later years, and they are expensive and painful.
In the end, Tucker had 17 years — 12 with us — and it didn’t feel like enough.