Friday morning I walked our dog Pippen along our familiar Chicago riverwalk. I walked differently, the leash limp, no tugs, no behind the back twists, stops and starts. My steps felt hallow, too quick with no purpose save forward progression. Everything the same, as every other morning except Pippen was not on the end of the leash. He lay dead in his doggie bed, the first morning in almost 16 years he failed to charge out the door barking in fierce territorial warnings…, I live here, here I am. But this morning he wasn’t. Although I tell myself he was “just a dog” it now feels like some the air has gone out of our lives.
We brought our Cairn Terrier home June 12, 1993, a three-month old shaggy pup who couldn’t hold his ears up yet. Our seven year-old son named him Pippen, for his favorite Chicago Bull, Scotty Pippen, and a Cairn being of Scottish ancestry…bred to flush out rodents from the cairn (stone) fences on Scottish farms.
He lived adventures that most dogs live. As a pup he almost drowned in a fish pond in Columbus, Ohio; delivered proudly a rabbit’s head, a raccoon tail and various animal parts to our back door. Ate a half pound block of grandmother’s Parmigiano-Reggiano she had hidden in her suitcase just back from Italy. Transferred to our house on two occasions fresh skunk spray. Sat still and silent for a day and a half without eating or drinking to stalk a chipmunk hiding in the wall of our backyard tool shed. He got it. Chased a thousand squirrels without a moment’s hesitation or doubt that this time he’d catch it. Pulled our kids through the snow in a sled; chased and jumped forever catching snowballs or water from the lawn sprinkler. Patrolled our kitchen floor incessantly for any crumb and what his tongue didn’t find his nose captured and savored the essence of whatever we cooked. He was a dog. And I often heaped human expectations unfairly on him. Jokingly called him a HUB…hairy useless beast; cursed his shedded fur clustered like dust in every corner. And he lived up to my expectations more often than not; in sixteen years barely an accident in the house; obedient to a fault. Can a dog exhibit a quality such as considerateness? Pippen, rarely sick a day in his life, died suddenly (and to our observations, painlessly), not lingering, mitigating any inconvenience and worry. A good dog to the end.
We buried him Saturday, a cold crisp sunny day in Michigan, where every summer he enjoyed and reveled in the scents of the wild. We never expected him to live this long. We never expected him not to. We never knew how much we would miss him.