|Tucker joined the author’s family 12 years ago.|
For a beloved member of the family, in memoriam
My husband used to joke that he knew his place in my eyes: the kids, the dog, then him. There may have been a grain of truth in that: Tucker was the beloved baby of our family. A pointer mix of dubious parentage and personal grooming habits, he was the family favorite, the only one no one ever yelled at. Our children picked him out when they were 12 and 7 - more than half their lifetimes ago. He was a black-and-white puppy with soulful eyes in a small kennel at the Northeast Animal Shelter. It was love at first sight.
In the Harry Potter novels, wizards believe that the magic wand picks out its owner, not the other way around. I think there was a reason that the kids fixated on Tucker from the start: He was fixated on them. Something like love at first sight was in the air for all parties.
For those who scoff that humans anthropomorphize our pets, I’ll just say this: You have never loved, nor been loved by, a dog. The old cliché, “If you want unconditional love, get a dog,’’ is true. It will be the purest, most uncomplicated love you’ll know.
I held back for awhile - maybe the 45-minute ride home from the shelter. Tucker was sweet, funny, affectionate and loyal. Whenever any of us came into the house, we were greeted with a tail-wagging, butt-shaking whirling dervish who whimpered and barked and ultimately rolled onto his back for a belly rub. An alpha dog he was not.
Tucker knew our moods better than any shrink could. Once, when I’d had a bad day, I came home, buried my face in his fur, and cried. Tucker lay there until my sobbing subsided, then licked my tears away, something not even the sweetest husband would do.
Dogs ask for so little and give so much. They only want food, exercise, and a pat on the head, and they’re yours for life. If you go beyond this and make them an emotional part of your household, you’ll be richly rewarded. Nick was 7 when Tucker arrived, and until he went off to college 11 years later, Tucker slept either on his bed or on the floor next to it every single night. After Nick was gone, Tucker still sat on his bed, looking out the window, waiting for him to come home.
They were puppies together, playing chase and catch and Frisbee, though Tucker was too lazy to catch much. He did, however, have a 3-foot vertical leap when treats were tossed, leading to his nickname, Tucker the Wonder Dog.
The last time my son saw him was last fall. Tucker was sitting on Nick’s bed, looking out the window as he pulled out of our driveway. Tucker was being treated for cancer. He died in early December, and a piece of our family died with him.
I was in a serious bicycle accident last September and was hospitalized for two weeks. Tucker had just been diagnosed and I was anxious to see him. But dogs weren’t allowed in the hospital. Thanks to the kindness of the man working the desk at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital, my husband and son were able to bring Tucker into the lobby, where I met him in my wheelchair. It was hard to tell which of us was happier to see the other. When I was discharged, Tucker and I lay around at home for weeks, recovering together.
At least, I hoped he would recover. Last October, Megan, 24, came home for a month from Vietnam, where she was working, to help me and Tucker. Heartbroken that Tucker could no longer make it up the stairs, she made him a soft bed of quilts and slept with him on the floor every night. After a month, she had to return to Hanoi and she wept in the airport because she knew she’d never see him again.
If Nick was the fun “brother’’ to Tucker, Megan was like an adored older sister. It was she, at 12, who worked tirelessly with him, in a gentle voice, on what he’d learned in obedience class. He’d listen to her, not to me, though he soon learned that she was a pushover, too. If anyone tried to hug her - or me - he would bark incessantly until he had our attention.
Tucker was old, 12 1/2, when he died, and was sick. You know when you fall in love with a dog that you are in for heartache some day, but none of us could ever imagine the day. Note to dog god: Please change the actuarial tables. We need our dogs longer.
I cried more over Tucker’s death than I did over some of my relatives’ deaths - and I loved them. But Tucker was a daily presence in our family for 12 years.
Last week, the four of us went on vacation to Maine, where Tucker had accompanied us many summers. It’s our favorite spot, and it was his. He loved sniffing the trails, scrambling over the rocks, swimming in the lake. He loved the muddy tidal pool at Sand Beach in Acadia National Park, which he would loll in until he got a good mud bath.
So we scattered his ashes here, on his favorite trails, and saved a few to scatter around his beloved duck pond in Milton, which he circled, nose to ground, thousands of times.
At one of his favorite places, boulders that overlook the ocean, we stopped and each of us said something about Tucker, about how lucky we were to have had him, and how much we miss him. I brought a scrap of yellowing paper I had cut out years ago and taped to the refrigerator. I don’t know who wrote the words. I read: “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.’’
With that, we released Tucker’s precious ashes to the wind.