I wrote a eulogy for an old friend, but he didn’t die.
Some of the children he helped to raise — they’re grown now with dogs of their own — came home for the holidays, partly to say goodbye. But the holidays came and went, and so did they.
He was on the porch when they drove away.
If it is true that a dog year is the equivalent of seven person years, Tyson is 105. Maybe 112. We have never been sure. In his prime he was athletic and powerful. His jaws clamped like a vise. You could not win tug-o-war with Tyson.
He was conscientious about his perimeter guard duty responsibilities. Every evening, during dinner, neighbors walked their dogs down the sidewalk that borders our yard. Racing to the fence, Tyson warned unsuspecting dog-walkers that they had wandered into a no-other-dog zone. I considered posting a sign that read, “Beware of dog 5-7pm.”
In his younger, more adventurous days, Tyson ran away a lot, usually to the downtown fire station. The firefighters knew him by name. We suspected they were a second family that he kept secret from us.
Once, when the children were old enough to look after themselves, their mom left them on their own when she went out of town. She left a set of instructions: “Don’t burn the house down, and don’t let Tyson run away.”
Tyson ran away. And he wasn’t at the fire station. He wasn’t anywhere the kids knew to look. They were beginning to get concerned, not just for Tyson’s welfare but for what their mother was going to do when she got home, if he wasn’t there.
They printed flyers that they distributed throughout the neighborhood. Across the top, centered and in 36-point type: “Lost Dog!!!!!” Lots of exclamation points to convey the gravity of the situation.
The flyer identified Tyson as a “Pit bull/Spaniel mix.” His exact parentage has always been something of a mystery. The pit bull part was right, but the spaniel part was purely speculative. Pit bull and unidentified sperm donor mix is closer to the truth.
He “weighs fifty pounds,” the flyer said, and is “extremely friendly, and very bouncy. He is tan with white spots on him.”
Then the reason for the urgency: “We need to get him back before our mother gets home Thursday November 10. Please help if you can.”
To aid with identification, the kids added a photo of an alert young pit bull and unidentified sperm donor mix with a caption that read, “This photo is not him, but he looks very similar to this.”
Tyson came home on his own a day or two later — before the Nov. 10 deadline — smug, not letting on where he had been or with whom.
Tyson outlived his pals, Parkway and Ruby. It happens when you live too long. Together they spent many pleasant summer afternoons splashing in the Yadkin, courtesy of Parkway’s person, John Newman.
A few years ago, we got Tyson a new pal, Rigby, a Boston Terrier who sometimes drives Tyson to distraction, wanting to play when Tyson is trying to get a nap.
In return, Tyson mentors Rigby on how to be the new dog in a multi-dog household. Rule no. 1: the old dog eats first. Rule no. 2: when it’s time to go outside and pee, stand at the door and wait till the old dog gets there.
In the past year or so, Tyson’s once powerful body has weakened. Hips that in earlier years launched him higher than my head to grab a stick out of my hand can’t lift him on to the sofa.
But all things considered, he is handling aging well. It isn’t that our old dog can’t learn new tricks; he just doesn’t see the point. All he asks is a little more time to get where he has to go and do what he has to do. He doesn’t complain or try to do things he can’t do. Neighborhood dog-walkers are no longer challenged at fence-side; they receive strongly barked warnings from the deck.
It is a time of learning. Tyson is teaching us how to cherish memories without judging the present by the past. He’s teaching us to appreciate him for who he is and not for what he can do.
The time will come, of course. We have a spot picked out in a shaded area out back where wild violets bloom purple in the spring.
But that time and the eulogy will have to wait.