My Dog Fred, One in a Million
I once had a dog named Fred. He’s been gone now for almost seventeen years and I still get an ache in my heart and a smile on my face when I think about him. He was a pound puppy I adopted by default when my husband encouraged me to choose this relatively older black lab mix – at four months – over one of the younger eight-week old lab puppies I thought I wanted.
My husband traveled for his job, and I was going to school to get -- my yet unfinished -- English degree, so I spent more time with Fred and did most of his training. I was diligent, especially in the first months and he trained easily. I’ve always said that I gave Fred six months of my life and he gave me the next twelve years of his. He never wanted to leave my side. My husband would come home off the road and Fred would greet him enthusiastically. When my husband hugged me, over his shoulder I would see Fred jumping up and down -- ba-boing, ba-boing -- making sure I still knew he was there. I knew. I knew he would always be there. And he was.
He was cautious with strangers but loyal and affectionate to them once they became his friends. He was good with kids and other dogs, but his greatest affinity was with cats. Maybe he got along so well with them because we had a cat, Gertie, before we got Fred. She kind of showed him the ropes. He respected them, protected them, kept them in line, and they absolutely loved him in return. One of our cats, Theda Bara, whom we adopted as a teacup kitten, tried to nurse from Fred. That was disconcerting for him, and darned uncomfortable, but it gave her so much comfort, he tolerated it. Even as an adult cat, Theda would nuzzle her nose into Fred’s chest and knit on his stomach. I would see Fred wince with each knit, but he never pushed her away.
One or another of them was always cuddling up to him or crawling into his bed with him. The cats gave him no end of aggravation; but they were his aggravation. When we scolded the cats for being on the kitchen counters, he assigned himself the task of alerting us when one of them was misbehaving. He’d come rushing into the living room whimpering with a sort of the-sky-is-falling look on his face. Sure enough, when I’d go into the kitchen, one of the cats would be on the counter. It got to be rather a nuisance. Finally, when he came running into the living room tattling to us that, “The cat’s on the counter. The cat’s on the counter,” I said, “Well, go get him off the counter.” Fred disappeared back into the kitchen and I heard a gentle thunk , and I knew somehow he had figured out what I meant and had given himself the job of counter patrol.
Of course, he would greet me as if I had been gone for a month any time I left the house. I was working an office job once and Fred stayed inside with the cats all day. I would rush home to let him out and take him walking. I could always hear his nails clicking on the linoleum and his tail thumping against the cabinet just before I’d enter the house through the garage. One day, there was no nail-clicking or tail-thumping. There was no Fred. That was utterly out of character and I began calling for him thinking the worst, that he was sick or even dead. I walked through the kitchen calling his name, peeked into the living room then continued down the hall to the bedroom where Fred’s wicker dog bed sat beside our pedestal waterbed. (What can I say, it was the eighties . . .) There was Fred, sitting upright and stock-still in his bed with his head tilted slightly but rigidly to the side because one of the cats -- who, unlike counters, were allowed to be on the bed -– had apparently leaned over the side of the bed and harked up a sloppy wet hairball that landed right on Fred’s head. I slapped my hand to my mouth to stifle a laugh because I could see he was already mortified by this indignity. I got some tissue and removed the worst of it from his head and it was all cold and coagulated. God only knows how long he had been sitting there with vomit on his head, desperately trying to keep it from messing up the floor.
That was Fred.
There came a time unfortunately, when my marriage ended. I left Fred with my husband and moved into a small apartment that didn’t allow pets. I visited Fred and the cats a few times, but I was a wimp. It was too painful.
I felt I needed a fresh start and decided to move back to Upper Michigan to the house on Moccasin Lake, where I grew up. It was sitting empty since my parents had moved into town. They were getting older and it was just too hard for them to live there, especially in the winters. I asked if I could spend some time at “Camp” as everyone has always called it. They said yes. When I told my now officially ex-husband I was moving from Oregon back to the U.P. he said, “You should take Fred with you. He needs you.”
So, in July of 1994, I boxed up my life, quit my job, packed my car, and my dear friend Fred and I drove back to Michigan.
Moccasin Lake is a dog’s dream. We took walks in the woods and around the lake and when the snow came, Fred romped like a puppy in it. After Christmas, we closed Camp up and Fred and I moved into my parents’ house in Munising for the winter.
Early in the evening on a Monday night that February, Fred started panting excessively, then having trouble breathing. He was restless and hot, wanting to be outside in the cold to lie in the snow. We were an hour away from any veterinarian, and there was no emergency vet available at all. My Mom and I kept vigil late into the night until Fred seemed to be calmer and more comfortable. As an evening ritual, I would reach down beside the bed and scratch his ears just before we went to sleep. I did that for the last time that night.
I woke up with a start at about five a.m. and reached down to pet Fred. He wasn’t there. I rushed into the kitchen, and turned on the light. He lay peacefully on his side, but the warmth, the sparkle, was not in his eyes. He was gone.
I had left him to start a new life. But the only time he left me, I’m convinced, was to spare me the pain of having to see him die.
He was truly one in a million.
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