It was a cold spring day. The year before was my first serious year of competitive archery. By some miracle I ended up finishing third overall in the Northeast Triple Crown. It’s still one of the accomplishments I’m the most proud of. I came from nowhere to finish near the top. On this spring day in April I had spent the day in Massachusetts shooting the first leg of the Northeast Triple Crown. Since I had done so well the year before I expected I would do the same in the new year.
I’m not sure if it was the cold temperature or just a lack of preparation which caused me to finish lower than I had expected. The ride home was quiet. Although I finished in fifth place, I was let down because I was 20 points lower than the first place score. I knew I would have to be at the top of my game in the next two legs to come close to accomplishing my goal of being the overall champion.
A few hours after leaving the tournament I rolled into the driveway and unloaded my gear. Instead of organizing it and neatly placing it around my workbench, I threw it in a pile next to my bow press. I shuffled my feet across the cold cement floor and trudged up the stairs. When I got to the kitchen I noticed a large board across the entrance-way. Not sure what to expect, I slowly peeked over the top of it and there he was!
A tiny black dog resembling a pot-bellied pig looked up at me. I loved him at first sight. One ear stood erect, while the other drooped. His little tail was docked and his face resembled that of a fox. He was a pure-bred Schipperke from a breeder in Schuylerville. He was the dog I wanted. To this day he’s the best gift I’ve ever received. A lot of things have changed in my life since that day, but he was always been the constant. That spring day was 19 years ago next month. It still seems like it was just yesterday.
The first few months I tried crating him, but he had no problem letting me know that he didn’t want any part of a crate. When I put him in it for the night he would cry and bark the entire night. Since he was so little it was easy for me to make the decision to let him sleep in bed with me. Since he was so small he couldn’t jump out of bed in the middle of the night. Before long he was sleeping with his head on the pillow beside me or he would settle in between my head and the back of the bed. Although I would never let kids sleep in my bed if I had them, I didn’t mind having him in bed. It seemed like he was just as comfortable with it as I was.
Since I lived in the country I didn’t feel it necessary to tie him up or keep tight reigns on him. Before long he was walking through the woods with me behind the house. I’d let him out to go to the bathroom and he would run back to the door when he was done. He was surely an inside dog, but he also enjoyed being outside with me. One day I was outside clearing some brush out of the shooting lanes of my archery range. When I cut a pine branch, it broke and hit my hand. I knew I was injured when it struck my hand. When I looked down I could see blood running out of the back of my hand and dribbling down fingers. Instantly, the hand began to swell. Within a few seconds I was having a hard time walking and began to vomit from the pain. That’s when I saw him. I could see the look in Theo’s eyes that told me he was worried. As I started toward the house he stayed ahead of me and guided me through the woods. He was aware of the situation and he kept turning around to make sure I was following him. When I got back to the house I put ice on it before heading to the emergency care center. In that hour of time I realized the two of us were made for each other. That was the day that bound us for the next 17 years. It was easy to see that he was concerned about my welfare, just as I would be the one to care for him for the next two decades.
Time passed quickly as I moved into and out of a few different places. Each time he settled in nicely to his new surroundings. Although he liked to bark he was always a good dog. I experienced some things with him that I’m absolutely positive could have only happened to the two of us. When I got him I drove a full size Ford truck. I’d say “Ride” to him and he would run as fast as he could to the truck and jump right in. Before we got out of the driveway he would leap over the back seat, run lengthwise on the bench and return to my lap. Once he was on my lap I knew it was okay to begin our journey. After we were on our way he always stood on my lap with his rear feet and braced himself against the window with his front feet. He loved looking outside.
I usually cracked the window for him so he could let the wind brush against his face. However, one day in the middle of the summer I decided to roll it all the way down because it was so hot. Since I was driving down Quaker Road at about 50 mph I figured everything would be fine and it was…………until we stopped at the main intersection of Quaker and Dix Avenue. Before I noticed what he was doing he jumped out the open window and headed for the middle of the intersection. Without thinking I jammed the truck into park and began my pursuit. Car horns rang in my ears as I chased him around stopped cars from one side of the intersection to the other. Every time I thought I had him he would dash under a car and go to the next one like it was a game. For the most part I have unlimited patience, but on that hot summer day he was testing every last bit of it.
As people became increasingly more impatient with the comedy act in the middle of the intersection I could hear foul language echoing off the stopped vehicles. Finally I got him in the clear and bolted after him. He ran straight ahead and jumped onto the leg of a motorcyclist who was stopped. To my amazement he began humping the man’s leg, which made it even worse. I smiled at the man under the helmet, excused myself and my dog’s bad behavior, then snatched him off the man’s leg. As I marched back across the intersection to my vehicle with Theo under my right armpit people began honking their horns and cheering. I’m not sure, but somehow I think he knew he was the hit of the show. I put him in the seat next to me and drove away.
I didn’t have to say a word. He hunkered down in the seat, lowered his ears and looked at me like he expected to be punished. Although he couldn’t understand human language I lectured him about the dangers of doing something like what he had done. I thought the lecture hit home, but a few years later I realized it didn’t when we went through a similar situation in another place.
It was things like that incident which made me love the dog even more than I already did. Occasionally he would get mad at me. Sometimes it was for a good reason and other times it was just because he felt like having an attitude. The year I put hairspray down his back on Halloween was probably one of those times he had every right to be pissed at daddy. Since he was pitch black it made him look just like a skunk. The hairspray came out perfectly white on his fur and the strip was from his head to his tail. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a picture, but looking back at it I wish I had. It was probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
One other day I left him in the car while I went into Cumberland Farms to grab a soda. When I got back to the car and opened the door an atrocious smell slapped me in the face. I had only been gone for about two minutes, so I couldn’t fathom where the smell was coming from. I was pretty sure he pooped, but I couldn’t see it anyplace. He didn’t look sick, so I continued the search. Then I found where he had thrown up a small mouse. I began to dry-heave when I saw it. Between the smell and the looks of it my stomach was spent. For the rest of the ride home he sat in the back seat and devilishly smiled at me in the mirror. His tongue was hanging out as he panted. His pointy little teeth, pointed ears and cute smile were too much for me to handle. I patted him on the head and told him I loved him.
There wasn’t a day that went by over those 18 years that I wasn’t thankful for having him in my life. When I hit a few bumps in the road when he was heading into his teen years he knew I was hurting inside. He would follow me all around and lay next to me. If I was sad he would get closer to me and if I was irritable he would lay a few feet from me just so I knew he was there. I’m not sure how animals know, but he just knew. I could sit here all night and write about things he did that made me laugh or made me feel alive.
Having your own dog who knows you, understands you, and loves you is something that can’t be truly understood unless you experience it for yourself. Although there were many times I wanted him to be able to speak, I was glad that he couldn’t. When I got home every day his entire body would wag from excitement. Most larger dogs wag their tails, but he was was so small and had a docked tail that he wagged his body. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and surely something I will never forget.
I’ll share another story before closing this out. I had moved into a new home and was getting used to everything in the house. One night I was exhausted, which usually means I will snore when I fall asleep. I fell asleep quickly that night. A few hours later I could feel someone nudging me and telling me to be quiet. Half awake I said, “What?” My wife said, “Will you quit snoring?” Still unsure of what was going on I could hear someone snoring. I looked at the pillow next to me and there Theo was laying on his back, sound asleep and snoring just like a human. To this day it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed with a pet.
As the years began to pass Theo’s overall health remained good. He was always a healthy dog and very rarely got sick. His hips acquired some arthritis and his rear-end became a little less mobile. At first the doctor prescribed some pain pills for him. They pills worked well for quite a while. Finally it got to the point where I had to think about Theo rather than myself, so I decided to make the call to the vet. I made his appointment for a Friday night, so I would be able to deal with it over the weekend on my own terms.
I felt like a child when my mother asked to go with me. She held Theo on her lap for his last ride. “Ride” the thing he probably liked the most out of anything. I wanted to drive right past the office, but I knew it was time. I also know how much Theo hated going to the doctor’s office. He always showed his teeth and did the mean growl. This time was different. When I checked in the staff sent us right to the room and told us the doctor would be with us shortly. My mom and I took turns petting him and comforting him. He looked sad. I know he knew why we were there. I could feel it. I’m not sure how or why, but I could feel it through his interaction with me.
When the doctor came in and began shaving his leg, he never even glanced toward the doctor. He had always growled in the past and showed his teeth……….not this time. I gently held him under my arm and ran my hands through his fur. I loved that dog with every last bit of blood in my heart. A few minutes later when he was lying lifeless on the table I was deeply saddened, but relieved. He looked like he was relaxed. He was lying on the table peacefully without any pain running through his body. It was January 11, 2013. He was only a month shy of his birthday.
A few weeks passed before I went to pick up his ashes. When I went to get them I made sure I went in the daylight. When I walked out of the building with his ashes I talked to him like I always did. I’m not sure if he could hear me in the spiritual world or if I just did it for myself. Either way it comforted me to have him with me again. Since it was daylight I held his ashes on the door at the bottom of the window as I drove down the road. I did it so he could look out the window like he always did. After a few miles, I put the can on my thigh and left it there until I got home.
I’m not sure where the time went. I do know that I loved every single minute that I had Theo in my life. He listened to me when I needed to babble. He looked at my in a blank stare when I complained. He snuggled up next to me when I needed to cry. He barked at me when I needed a little redirection. He followed me when I didn’t feel like leading. He led me when I wasn’t able to find my way. He was there for me the entire time. He loved me unconditionally and I loved him the same. Pets make it so easy for us to do things the right way. It’s too bad more of us couldn’t learn from this and love the people in our lives unconditionally. I’ve tried my best to do that and having Theo in my life has helped me with it.
…………..Until we meet again……………….Farewell little buddy. I love you Theodore Northlander Mead.