Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Requiem for a Friend

My family has been blessed with great dogs over my lifetime, and of these dogs Mars was the greatest. He was a black lab, and sadly he died yesterday at 13 years of age (like 91 in dog years).

He was an amazing dog. He was loving and affectionate, but could be fierce and protective when he wanted. While he was certainly an obedient dog by most measures, it was an obedience that I felt we, as his human caretakers, had earned from him; not an obedience born out of shaping him to our will (although there was an early tussle between him and my dad that erased any doubt in Mars' mind who was boss around the house). He was, in all of the truest and best ways, a friend.

Mars was the first dog I knew as an adult. He came to my parents and brother while I was in college. Although I didn't live with him on a daily basis until after law school, I felt an instant bond with him of mutual love and respect. He was always there when I needed him, and he always knew how to make me feel better.

Mars was a family dog, but there can be no denying that he was my brother's dog first, and my father's dog second. My brother was not yet in high school when we got him, and of course the two instantly fell for each other. They never tired of one another, and when my brother had the opportunity to get a place in Portland to be nearer his grad school, he opted not to, so he could be around for Mars, who was showing signs of his age.

My father was not at home when Mars first arrived, and as I mentioned earlier there was a bit of a challenge of the wills between them. But once that was sorted out to the mutual satisfaction of both of them (dad knowing he was the boss, and Mars knowing he let dad be the boss) they got along famously. My dad is a captain of an oil tanker and so he would be gone for long stretches of time, but then he would be home for long stretches as well. When he was home with Mars he would spend hours throwing tennis balls, sticks and even rocks (truthfully, Mars' preferred play thing) for the dog. Watching Mars run down something tossed for him was a truly beautiful sight, like watching poetry in motion, and dad could never get enough of it.

As for mom and me, Mars never discriminated in his affection or love. So while dad and my brother got most of the face-time with Mars, he had plenty of himself to share and was more than happy to give us what we wanted and needed.

While Mars was great to my family and our friends, in the dog world he would definitely have been a grumpy old man, even when he was young. For some reason, he did not like other dogs at all, and would not hesitate to let them know it regardless of how large or small. There were exceptions, most notably the two other dogs we had during his life (one died a year after we got Mars, and the other showed up on my parents' doorstep roughly a year after that). Then in his later years we (my parents) got a bona fide neighbor (a person who's house was closer than 100 yards from ours). He had a couple of small terriers and to my great surprise Mars seemed to get along with them. Now by "get along" I mean in an "I acknowledge your right to exist" sort of way. But woe betide any other random dog who saw fit to trespass upon (or within sight of) our property. At best such a hound would leave (quickly) with a severe tongue lashing.

In his younger years Mars himself was something of a wanderer. There were close to a half-dozen times we went to bed having shouted ourselves hoarse calling him, not knowing where he was, and fearing the worst. Somehow, each time he made his way back to us. A few times he wandered back as happy as a clam at high tide. A couple of times, though, he wore the cuts and bruises of some altercation we could only speculate about (coyotes were the #1 suspect). But we could tell that he gave as good as he got, all (we believe) in an attempt to keep us safe.

Truly he was a great dog, and he will be sorely missed.

Mars, we love you.


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