Dec 1, 2004

eulogy for Billy

I had a shock today when my mother called and told me that my dog died. He was a golden retriever named Billy, and he died from a ruptured spleen and other complications at the age of twelve. I knew this death was coming, because he was getting old, but I'd thought he'd live another year. I'd hoped to visit him one last time and let him know that I hadn't forgotten him. The last time he saw me was in August 2004, three months ago. I'm writing this now because Billy was a dog who deserves to be remembered. He was the finest example of a dog that I've ever known.

He was born from a family of golden retriever show-dogs. My family adopted him in the winter of 1992, when he was three months old. I was thirteen at the time, and nervous around dogs, having had a few unpleasant experiences with them. Billy was a surprise. I came home from a winter camp to find that we had a puppy in our house. But he was gentle and innocent, so I found it impossible to be afraid of him. My parents caged him in our basement at night, but he cried, and soon I let him sleep in my bedroom, on the condition that my sister and I take full responsibility for training him. Billy was extremely intelligent. House-training him took a few weeks, and he learned every conventional doggie trick in a few months. He slept at the foot of my bed until he grew bigger, and then he slept under my desk. Eventually he slept downstairs with a dog we bought to keep him company, a female tri-colored collie named Layli. Billy had a lot of funny personality quirks that I'd never imagined in a dog. For instance, he would try to smile by holding in his lips so his teeth showed, but his face was relaxed, not like a growl. He had superstitions about robotic toys and floating balloons; both were things to be avoided, probably because of the weird way they move. He also learned how to communicate with people by shuffle-dancing (when he wanted something), making noises in his throat (he made low whining sounds that were almost like questions or comments), and pointing by looking back and forth between the object and the human. He had a bin full of toys, and he assigned each toy to a specific person. If he wanted to greet me, then he would search though his toy bin and find the human-doll. If he wanted to greet my sister, he would find the duckie-doll. He had a toy for each family member, and different toys for friends. I thought it was cute that he always greeted people with a toy, no matter what. There were a few times when he rooted through his toy bin to the bottom and whined because he couldn't find the correct toy to greet someone with. Usually the toy had been left under a cushion or in another room.

While the dog-tricks are cute, Billy's best trait was his compassion. He was a companion to my grandmother, who lived in our house for a year, and who disliked dogs until she met Billy. He offered comfort to people in pain by resting his head in their lap, and by giving them extra attention and sympathetic looks. Although he was energetic during his puppyhood, and he grew to be 90 lbs, he knew when to be gentle. He never jumped on anyone aside from healthy family members who could handle it. He never knocked anyone over. He never bit or growled at people. At one time, my mother (a social worker) brought him to her patients as a therapy dog. And I can't neglect to mention that Billy was a wonderful friend to me; he was a being whom I absolutely trusted, and who trusted me unconditionally. I'm not sure I would have survived my teenage years without Billy. At the very least, he kept me from slipping into a pool of self-loathing. He kept me sane. The hardest part of leaving for college was leaving Billy behind. During my first or second semester away, I heard that Billy had run past the dog-gate and into my bedroom, leapt onto my bed, and wouldn't leave for a day. I wish I could have taken him with me to college. The first few times I returned home to visit, he cried more than I'd ever seen him do before. After a few years, he got more used to it--but I wish my long absences didn't hurt him. I noticed that he grew more lethargic and took to barking at night, both traits that he hadn't had until after I left.

I have a lot of happy memories of Billy. I'd like to share them all, but I could go on for pages. I'll mention a few highlights. Billy liked to play squeaky-under-the-rug. This would involve me (or anyone) hiding one of his squeaky toys underneath a small rug. I'd press the squeaky so he could hear it. Then Billy would pretend he was stalking it. He'd rear up and leap upon the rug like an attacking bear. I'd move the squeaky around so it wasn't where he'd expect. Eventually, he would throw the rug aside and grab the squeaky, then do a dance of triumph. He would prance around in a circle, snorting, tossing his head, and squeaking the squeaky. In later years, he'd do the triumph dance with the rug in his mouth instead; I guess he considered that a bigger trophy. He also liked to play fetch, and he would chase balls down flights of stairs and swim after them as well. He knew every variation of the terms "walk" and "food", and how to spell all of them, so our family was eventually reduced to using code phrases like "Let's do a W" (take Billy for a walk) or "Is it time?" (to feed Billy). If he understood what we were talking about, he would expect us to carry through with it immediately. If anyone said the word "walk," he would run and get his leash. If anyone said "dinner", he would look at the kitchen and make noises until he was fed. Of course, if we failed to carry through, he would look dejected and sigh a lot. Yes, he could actually guilt-trip humans into walking and feeding him. He had very expressive eyes and eyebrows.

I've missed Billy for eight years now--that's how long I've been gone from home--but he was always close in my heart. I will continue to miss him now that he's gone, and mourn him. This is the best I can do, and I know that it's less than he deserves. He's earned the respect and love of this particular human.

b. October 15, 1992 -- d. November 30, 2004
Rest in Peace. I will never forget you.

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