I didn’t want a new dog. Then my wife Mary Jo brought home Crash.
He was tiny. “Dinky,” we called him. He had a cropped tail that shimmied like a little fur-covered metronome when he was happy, which was often. His default position was one ear up, one ear down. He had a bark that was from something three times his size.
Crash was the tug-o-war champion of the block. When he was maybe four, my son, Luke, had a pillow shaped like Winnie the Pooh, and he’d lie on it while Crash—10, 12 pounds at the time—pulled him across the floor. Once the baby brother of one of Luke’s friends came over. He grabbed one of the millions of rubber balls we had lying around, and Crash dragged him across the floor by that little rubber ball, with the kid giggling all the way.
Crash could sit like a champion and rise up on his back legs to beg, speak when commanded, and roll over like he was born to do it. When we yelled “come,” though, he sometimes had a little problem. “Off,” usually reserved for one chair in particular, was performed only with hesitation and a nearly audible sigh. But those were easily overlooked.
Oftentimes, Mary Jo would hug Crash—he allowed it in the early years and became pretty fond of it later on—and whisper to him: “Remember,” she’d say, nodding my way, “Daddy didn’t even want you.” Truth be told, though, I was hooked the moment we carried him through the door.
Crash was there for Luke’s first day of preschool, for his walk down to the bus stop in first grade. He was there when Luke was sick—often right next to him in bed. He was there the day Luke took a baseball bat to the forehead. (I wasn’t.)
Every morning, when Mary Jo woke up Luke for school, she brought Crash in with her. He’d jump up on Luke’s bed, or Mary Jo would toss him up there, and that’s how Luke got up. Every morning.
When Luke had a bad day, he’d come home, lie on the floor, and Crash would crawl on top of him. If Luke would drop facedown, Crash would climb onto his back.
Just about every night when Mary Jo settled in to watch TV, Crash would crawl into her lap or next to her in a chair, put his chin down, and settle in, too. And every night when we’d go to bed, he’d be there in his bed under the window, with his pink blankie, curled into a ball.
Every once in a while, he’d want to get up into bed with us, and every once in a while, we’d let him. I’d turn onto my back, and invariably he’d burrow down between my knees. It was, in truth, more than every once in a while.
To say he was part of the family is, of course, painfully cliche. But what do you call someone who lives with you every day for years and years, who sleeps in your bed, who eats in your kitchen, who is the de facto baby brother to your only child, who watches every episode of Friends or Seinfeld with you? Or at least sleeps through them?
Crash was always much more game for play than he actually was healthy for it. Early in his life, after we saw him limping around the backyard a little too often, he had to have a ligament in his knee fixed. It didn’t completely do the job. We had to watch how much he ran, or he’d start hobbling. He was still faster than all get out. When we moved to our house in Alpharetta, I’d take a tennis ball, toss it high in the air, and bounce it off the deck. Crash loved chasing it down, sore or not. I still had to wrestle with him to get it back.
Not long ago, we discovered that Crash had gone mostly deaf. Things (including our new dog, Brodie) could sneak up on him. He didn’t come running when the security beeps signaled a door opening. He still would recognize the vibration from the garage door opening, which meant someone was coming home. But thunderstorms, a former bugaboo of his, started passing mostly without notice.
For as long as I can remember, we had to watch what he ate, too. He was diagnosed years ago with irritable bowel syndrome, which meant special foods and, I’m sure, not as much food as he’d like. Then in the past year or so, it became worse. We had to start trying all sorts of different foods, supplemented with medicine. He wasn’t putting on any weight. But he was still, every pound of him, a fighter.
Then in February, Crash’s health problems got worse. He couldn’t keep any food in his system. Mary Jo often caught him standing in the middle of the room, gazing off at nothing.
We visited our veterinarian at the Hollyberry Animal Hospital in Roswell in early April and faced the question that no pet owner wants to face. We—the vet, Mary Jo, and I—decided to try him on a couple of new drugs (steroids, some stomach-coating stuff, and whatnot) and revisit The Question after we returned from a trip to Texas.
But when we came back a few days later and picked up poor, skinny Crashie from our dear friends’ house, he seemed no better. Mary Jo called the vet on Friday, and they talked. He told her that if Crash was still having trouble with all the drugs in his system, his situation was dire. It was time to seriously think about letting him go.
We talked. We weighed the idea of giving him more drugs and maybe another few days of pharmacological relief. We wondered if we were being selfish. We hugged him. A lot. He let us.
It is strange, I think, to call this humane. But I think that’s exactly what it is. As Mary Jo and I talked through our decision, we thought of Luke. We thought of us. But most of all, we thought of Crash, leading a life in which he clearly felt more miserable every day. A life in which he couldn’t eat, couldn’t play, couldn’t even sleep without some amount of discomfort. It was, as near as we could tell, agonizing for him. And for us, too.
So Mary Jo and I took the Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived back to the vet clinic on Friday afternoon. I drove. Mary Jo cried and hugged.
We sat in a little room while Mary Jo covered Crash with kisses and told him, with as much of a smile as she could muster, “Remember, Daddy didn’t even want you.” I looked into his eyes and told him something different. I told him, several times, out loud, that he was a good boy. I understated it.
The vet gave him a quick shot of sedative, then left the room. We hugged Crash some more. Mary Jo cried. And then Crash, just short of 13 years old, let out a sigh—we felt it was a great sigh of relief—and drifted into a sleep. Mary Jo held him tighter.
At 4:42 p.m. on April 10, we laid Crash—Luke’s little brother, Brodie’s older brother, our boy, a family member, dammit, in every sense of the word—onto the table in that little room at the Hollyberry Animal Hospital. He was wrapped in his pink blankie.
I have told Brodie more than a few times over the past several weeks that he has some big shoes to fill. That he will never be the Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived. That he is no Crash, and he never can be.
And, of course, he can’t. But Brodie—a goofy, gangly border collie who lives to please Mary Jo, who loves to gnaw on Luke’s fingers and wrestle with me—will be a good dog as Luke enters his senior year of high school, as he leaves for college in little more than a year, and as Mary Jo and I move on to whatever we do next.
While I’m writing this, Brodie sits at my feet in my office. Outside, the sun is shining through the April pollen. The grass is greening up. And there in the middle of the backyard—I can see it through my window—sits a lone tennis ball.
I think it’s time to teach Brodie to fetch.
This article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.