The first time I met Dudley, I was afraid. Boxers are formidable looking dogs, built like backroom prize fighters from the rough parts of the last century. They have long muscular legs, deep chests and thick, powerful necks fitting their savage-looking faces—faces that whisper “pug” and scream “pugnacious.” They look like they could run down a wild boar, pin it to the forest floor and hold it there until a German aristocrat arrived with a thick spear. Which is, I imagine, what they were originally bred for.
In the absence of wild boar to subdue, most boxers become very sweet, goofy and altogether lovable pets. They have a coherent and untroubled temperment to match their healthy, naturally proportioned frames. They are great dogs for young families, wandering bachelors, single ladies, junk yard proprietors, nice suburban couples or yes, German royalty. They are an excellent choice for enthusiastic first-time dog owners as well as lovely additions to established domestic packs. One could make a strong case for boxers as the best all-around breed. I’ve known boxers since I was a child, seen them raised up from puppyhood and come to love even their faults. The greatest of these, as far as I can tell, is that they make you love them dearly, convince you that you’ve found a loyal friend forever, and then, one day, without permission and contrary to everything you’ve come to expect from so vibrant and optimistic a creature, they die. Last week my pal, Dudley, passed away.
When I first walked through his door and saw him slowly sit up on the far side of the room, I wondered what it was going to feel like when he tore my arm off. Bad, I thought. Real bad. I wondered, will it
be the right arm or the left? Will he give it back? Should I just leave it like a lizzard leaves his tail? Will I still have to walk
him? It was my second day on the job and I was suddenly convinced it was far different from the one to which I had applied. That job seemed fun, whereas this job seemed underpaid by several million dollars an hour, with a bit more terror, gladiatorial combat and impending death than I’d noticed in the description. Dudley just stood there waiting for me to approach. No barking, no wagging, just statue posing. As I came near I struggled not to stare into his amazing ghostly white and unblinking eyes; eyes that made me wonder if he was either completely blind or if, in fact, he could see everything, from the sweat beading on my forehead to the fears in my heart. He seemed to leer like the coldest most inveterate judge, sizing up my past and future iniquities, waiting to devour my the
tender soul like a milkbone. The first time I met Dudley, I was scared.
How could I anticipate all the good times we’d have? All the long
walks, long talks (one-sided though they were) and many dateless
memories; the seasons turning in the background but the gladness and
ease of our time together unchanging. My daily visits with Dudley
seem to run together as I look back, moments merging through months
like a beam of light piercing through a calendar folded accordion
style. When I’d come in he’d either pop up like a gopher from the
same spot where I first saw him, or he’d remain in a snoring lump
until he heard my voice or felt my approaching footfalls. Sometimes
he’d only wake (with a wag) when I held my forearm near his nose to
let my scent draw him back to earth. We had our little routines.
Dudley would come back from a walk and instantly begin to drool in
anticipation of the treat he knew I’d give him. Every day he would
crane his neck and kick-kick-kick his paw when I scratched his neck
just the right way, and over time it seems I could only ever scratch
his neck in just the right way. Sometimes he’d kick his paws without
my even petting him, as if my very proximity tickled him. He’d snort
with the deepest animal satisfaction as he wiggled like a trout on the
grass, and when weather permitted, I’d wiggle on the grass right
beside him and try to glean some of his strange rapture. All these
moments, built one upon another, day after day, looked forward to and
fulfilled and missed and regained and missed again. And now only
Dudley was very old for a Boxer, and his health had been in a gradual
decline. I can’t say I was surprised when I heard the news.
Sometimes when I came in he’d be slow to rise. The effort of getting
up would bring on coughing fits which shook my hand as I gently pet
his back in a frustrated attempt to soothe. Sometimes he’d slip on
the last stair descending to the street, and I’d have to hold him and
guide him. His ‘accidents’ were becoming almost daily occurrences for
which he was never scolded, nor ever repentant. He made massive lakes
that started in and formed tributaries and bays on their way to
the living room; lakes that took up half a roll of paper towels and
plenty of precious walk time.
Then our walks got shorter and shorter. Captain Dudley faded quickly
enough that I thought it could come any day, yet just gradually enough
that I wondered if maybe he wouldn’t be the one to finally overcome
that one great Boxer character flaw.
Some dogs are so loving, so happy to be around people and so eager to
please, that you swear they’d live forever if you could only train
them how. Just keep saying “stay,” and they’ll never ever go. I’ve
long thought that I would live my life with a series of dogs, and I’ve
already buried five of my own. I know Dudley’s people were prepared,
and I’m sure that he had the best, most comfortable end possible.
Still, I keep thinking of new titles for Dudley that I’d like to share
with him next time I see him. He started out as Captain Duderly, but
every day brought new accomplishments and ribbons on his lapel. He
was Lord Duders the famed collector of rare flowers; Herr Dudermeister
the foul-mouthed and brilliant theologian; Dudely-dee, retired air
force pilot and amateur clown; and Vice-Chancellor Duds, gambler and
confidant to the king of Monaco. He wore every hat with good humor.
Who is going to fill in as Secretary of Agriculture? No one else is
qualified. He was my pal. I know he looked forward to our walks; I
hope he enjoyed them, the neck rubs and treats, enough to offset his
troubles and aches. Considering how scary he was to me at first, I
really can’t imagine a gentler dog. I never once heard him bark,
never growl, never anger. I still have both my arms, and with them I
type: Bon Voyage Capt. Dudley, you will be missed.