I have a Great Dog. His name is Tank. The moniker was aptly bestowed upon him by our vet when we took the litter of day old puppies in to have their tails docked and dewclaws removed. ‘Tank’ was the biggest of the litter by far and he eventually grew to be twice the size of a normal Patterdale Terrier (he ended up looking like a miniature lab). The name also fit his personality: he is a lumbering oaf, a big bloke, and will bulldoze his way through to anything, especially if it involves food. Tank will do anything for food. My boys always say that he has only two interests in his life: food and me. I have a picture from when they were puppies. Six little black bodies with short, snipped tails, gathered around a big shallow feeding dish eating one of their first mushed puppy food meals. Well, five of them really since Tank is the big one standing in the middle of the big shallow feeding dish. We have a ritual that involves his undying attention to every bite I take of dinner or sandwich or salad until that last one, he always gets my last bite. One time I had a counter full of cookies cooling. I came round the corner to see Tank propped up on his hind legs with his head twisted sideways in a compromising reach to get the nearest cookie. Another time a hot cookie, right out of the oven, slid off the baking sheet onto the floor. Tank gulped it down in seconds and didn’t even seem to notice the temperature. He has strange taste for a dog foodie. We were camping once when I discovered that he likes dried cranberries. He loves watermelon. Children are his favorite since they drop food everywhere. He’s great with toddlers. He’s just the right height for them to pet and hug and Tank dutifully stands still to receive their affection. Fetch and tug of war cannot be played enough in Tank’s opinion. We had an old torn up football once that entertained him for hours. We would throw it in the pool and he’d go in after it, time and time again. Fond memories exist of countless trips to the creek where I would throw a stick in the water so he could swim after it. Tanks loves to swim. In his prime I saw him outswim a dog twice his size. He’s a great hunter: if I threw a toy and he didn’t see where it went, he would sniff and look and search until he found it. On our hikes he was always digging for moles or squirrels, he was often successful. Thanks to Tank, no mole ever found refuge in our yard and if they did he quickly ended their lives. Bad Karma dude. Car rides are the bomb. Especially if the window is down so he can stick his head out to smile at the wind blowing in his handsome black face. His most endearing quality is that he is loyal. As I said, my boys would say that Tank had two loves: food and me. He is the epitome of a momma’s boy. When he looks at me sometimes, with those adoring eyes, the only thing that comes to mind is the priest in the movie ‘The Princess Bride,’ “Wuv, twue wuv.” He MUST be by me at all times. When we take our afternoon nap, he curls up behind my legs and rests his head on my hip. His head is always elevated when he sleeps, whether it’s on the arm of his favorite chair, a pillow, or someone else’s leg or hip; not unlike a human. Tank’s adoration means that I feel completely safe. I spent some time as a homeless car camper one spring. On a late night I was pulled over by the Sherriff. It didn’t occur to me that Tank wouldn’t take well to a strange man approaching my car. He didn’t take well to it all and lurched out the window in a frenzy of growling and barking and teeth. The Sherriff pulled his gun on Tank out of initial reaction. Yikes! To. The. Death. – that’s how loyal Tank is. Was, really. He defected after our seven year relationship; trading me in for a bromance with my new husband. It was if they were long lost friends that finally caught up with one another. Whatever.
Tank is getting old. He’s got a few years left in him, but he is nine now and has a grey mask around his eyes so that he looks like a funky raccoon. His warm brown eyes still speak love and affection, but they are getting a bit cloudy. There are times that I can see a tiredness in them that wasn’t there before. He can’t jump up on the bed anymore. Some days are especially difficult for him. He has a knee injury, reminiscent of a tug-of- war- match- gone- bad and on his worse days he lays in his chair (yes, he has his very own chair), head propped on the arm, and a forlorn expression to match his feelings. I hate it when he does that. Sometimes instead of springing from his chair when I come out with my hat and walking shoes on, he merely looks at me; like, “I wanna go ma, just not today.” Occasionally we’ll start on a walk and he is slow and I realize I have to make it the short route for him. It breaks my heart. I worry because slowly his bad days are getting closer together – and sometimes he’ll have a few in a row. I cherish each and every long walk we have now because I never know when the last one might be. On such a walk recently I was lamenting Tank’s age and feeling the pang of his eminent departure. I know I’ll never have another dog like him. He is indeed a Great Dog.
If we’re lucky, we’ll have one or two Great Dogs in our lives. An animal that is completely trustworthy, with a profound soul that is both intelligent and deeply loyal. A being that makes us laugh and smile and only requires our mutual, unconditional adoration. There is a certain connection, a tender attachment that exists between human and canine; it really is as if two long lost souls have found one another. There is no other bond like it among our relationships. And so they are truly Great, these dear friends of ours, these endless wells of affection and welcome heat on cold winter nights. Our time with them enriches our lives and nourishes our souls as nothing else can. We are fortunate that Nature saw fit to allow us to cohabitate with a few of her wilder creatures. I always feel like it fulfills an innate desire we have to remain intimate with the rest of the animal kingdom, merely a step away from the wild, reminding us on a sub-conscious level that we’ve supported each other throughout thousands of years of mutual dependency
So, here’s to all Great Dogs…we are better humans because of them.
‘Wag more, bark less’, and be well…