I need to take a break from my usual humorous overtones to pause and reflect on the passing of one of my best friends, and probably the best dog a family could ask for; Rookie. I didn’t expect to feel so emotional over his death. I realize he was a 16 year old dog, but there’s something about Rookie and what he meant to us that deserves such a reflection, an obituary of sorts. So please help me in remembering a faithful old friend, a gentle, loyal soul, who’s breath was so bad you preferred his flatulence, but we loved him anyway.
We were driving home from a family camping trip when my parents turned back and asked if we wanted to get a puppy. What?! A puppy?! Were they serious?! After years and years of pestering them for a dog was this their idea of a sick joke? What kind of parents would toy with their children’s emotions like this? Alas, they weren’t joking, this was real. We were going to get a puppy! I was ten, my brother eight, and my sisters six and three.
What followed over the next month was an arduous selection process whereby we had to choose what type of dog we were going to get. My dad was gunning for a giant, masculine, Man’s-Dog: the bullmastiff. My mom was promoting a smaller, allergy-friendly type: the miniature schnauzer. We visited breeders of both types and had so much fun playing with the adorable eight mini schnauzer puppies. Their mother and the other adult schnauzers were exceptionally friendly dogs too! I wish I could say the visit with the bullmastiffs went as well, but unfortunately it resulted in four children deathly afraid to get out of a minivan. When it came down to the vote, despite my dad hijacking my youngest sister’s ballot, the miniature schnauzer was overwhelmingly preferred.
Choosing a name for our new family pet wasn’t quite as difficult. One day when we were visiting my grandparents my Grandpa suggested “Rookie” as he was watching the Toronto Jays game. Rookie, eh? That’s sounded about right. After all, he was going to be our very first dog. Taking Rookie home plays back in my mind like some sort of 90s family movie. Sunshine, laughter, and frolicking around the yard. Rookie fit into our family like a glove. He slept in his little crate at night, not making a peep, had a few little accidents in the house, but was otherwise very much housetrained.
As the years went by Rookie’s presence just became a fixture in our house. He grew up with us, loved us, and we loved him. I remember the way my little sister forced him to be the Toto to her Dorothy, that time he grossed us all out by eating a dirty diaper, how whenever we started tearing down our campsites to go home he jumped right into the van, as if he was afraid we would leave without him (silly dog). When I started dating my future husband, Rookie would jump between us whenever Howie got a little too close to me on the couch. I always wondered if Dad trained him to do that…
When he was about twelve my family added a second mini schnauzer as a Christmas gift to my sister Laura. Andy was a cute little rascal with curly black hair, Rookie was like an older, wiser grandfather. We were so amused by the way Rookie patiently allowed Andy to tug away at his grey beard, never getting angry, just issuing the occasional warning snap when Andy went too far.
Soon, Rookie’s age began to show. His fur became whiter, his eyes started developing cataracts, and his hearing pretty much disappeared. We made adjustments to suit our elderly friend because, well, that’s what he needed. We bought him sweaters to keep him warm, gave him food tailored to suit his aging body, continued to cuddle him even when his breath made you want to die, and carried him home when his feet got cold in the snow.
In the last few years Rookie spent most of his time snoozing on “his” chair, broken by an occasional burst of energy, usually in the mornings. Despite his declining energy, he was a special part of the family, we became quite accustomed to the quirks of having an old dog. When his back half started weakening, Rookie developed an amusing little walk whereby he had to trot three times with his front legs for every long, slow, back leg step. To help him out, we created a little stool so he could still boost himself up onto that beloved armchair.
By the end, Rookie’s back half got weaker and weaker. The usual things like loss of bowel control, unbalance, and general agitation afflicted him. It was hard to know if it was the “right time” to put him down. My mom tried googling “how to know when to put your pet down” but the truth is, there isn’t a clear cut answer. Somewhere between loving your pet and never wanting to say goodbye is usually where you find it.
We all drove up on Monday evening to say our final goodbyes, hoping that somehow he understood we loved him, and didn’t want to have to say goodbye. On Wednesday night my parents brought him to the vet. They pet him, fed him lots of treats, and then held him as he fell into that permanent state of sleep. Then, Rookie was gone.
I think one of the hardest things about saying goodbye to a beloved pet is that in saying goodbye to him, you are closing a chapter of your own life. From school-aged children to adults that got married and moved out, Rookie watched us grow up, and he was always there at the door to greet us when we came home. Logically, we all know he lived a good, long, life. We know that 16 years is more than what most people get to enjoy their dogs, but it still sucks to have to say goodbye.
Rookie, you were the best kind of dog our family could have ever had. You loved us, made us laugh, provided so much joy, and asked for so little in return. You were loyal, affectionate, and could pull off a sweater like no other dog. We love you little buddy, may you forever rest in peace.
“Dog’s lives are too short. Their only fault really.”
– Agnes Sligh Turnbull