Like most folks, I have a handful of friends that I consider “best friends”. Some of them I’ve known for only a few years. Some I’ve known nearly all my life. They’re an eclectic mix but, while I’m hard pressed to identify common characteristics or personality traits between them, I can tell you that there is something they all share. I can remember in detail the first time that I met each of them.
I don’t know why that’s true. I’m fairly sure that I didn’t know when I met them that being one of my best friends was in their future. Then again, maybe subconsciously I did. However it works, I remember the first meeting for each and every one, including a young lady that I met just over thirteen years ago.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was a sales engineer then and I had just made it home after a long week on the road. I suppose that I looked a little like a pack mule, carrying a suitcase, a briefcase and a laptop computer into the house, and it took a degree of talent to juggle all that and still find the coordination to open a door at the same time. The door swung open and there she was sitting on the floor in front of me holding an outrageously large yellow and white stuffed animal. She had wavy blond hair, freckles on her nose, big beautiful brown eyes and a world class smile. Of course it wasn’t easy to see her smile right then because it was wrapped around said yellow and white stuffed animal. My new best friend was a ten week old cocker spaniel puppy and it turns out that she was my Father’s Day gift that year.
She was a mess. I know that cocker spaniels aren’t generally known for having low key personalities, but Casey (she came complete with name) was in warp drive whenever her eyes were open. She also hated to be alone and demonstrated her displeasure with that by redecorating the house whenever left to her own devices. Sometimes she limited her efforts to leaving the chewed remains of a toy on the living room floor; often she was more…energetic. Over the course of the next twelve months we replaced nearly every pair of shoes we had and we measured the lifespan of a pillow of any kind in days. One time—I kid you not—she ate an entire couch. Well, “ate” probably isn’t a totally accurate term. I don’t think that she actually digested it. She did however completely disassemble it and spread the remains over several rooms. We tried a crate for a while, but that had unfortunate results so in the end we just tried to keep anything chewable out of her reach. Fortunately, time and a judicious use of canine pharmaceuticals got us through until Casey grew out of the chewing stage.
Like most cocker spaniels, Casey was a smart dog. Despite that, she never really did embrace the whole concept of training. She would sit, if there appeared to be a near term opportunity for a dog treat. But that was pretty much the limit of her obedience skills. Roll over, lie down, come, and speak…none of those very reasonable requests ever sunk in. She would fetch, as long as what you asked her to get was a ball or “Bird”. Bird was that yellow and white stuffed animal she had from day one. She always kept it and it’s still in her toy box today. There isn’t much left to it except for the covering, but it’s still there. We tried to throw it away a few times, but somehow she always caught us and salvaged the remains from the garbage can. After a while we simply accepted the inevitable and smiled when she pulled her old buddy out of the box.
That happened quite a bit because she nearly always had something in her mouth, especially when she met me at the door. Even in these last few years when she was nearly deaf and couldn’t hear the car pulling in, she never failed to meet me at the door. When she did, her tail was always wagging. In point of fact, it wasn’t just her tail. What Casey wagged was the entire back half of her body. I used to think that it was a shame that she’d been born a dog instead of a person. With the kind of hip action, she’d have been able to get high marks from the judges on Dancing with the Stars.
Casey had three guiding rules. First, people food was the best kind. She’d eat dog food, but only as a last resort. She wasn’t very fussy about what kind of people food either. If it came from the refrigerator, the pantry cupboard or the dinner table it met her criteria for gourmet food. She ate her veggies, especially carrots, and never met a potato chip or cookie that she didn’t like.
Second, furniture existed for the sole purpose of making her comfortable. She’d play on the floor and eat on the floor, but when it came time to lie down she needed a couch, chair or, if it was night time, a queen sized bed. She’d share if asked, but let there be no mistake—it was her piece of furniture.
Finally, the reason that people had hands was so that they could pet, rub and scratch her. It was nice that they could use them for other things too but, when it was time for a scratch behind the ears, she knew exactly how to make that point known. The established procedure was to lie down next to an unused hand and slowly worm her head underneath it. Once the hand was comfortably perched on top of her head a gentle nuzzle was the final hint that it was time to begin scratching. She may not have been a stellar pupil, but she was certainly a world class trainer.
This was a rough year for our little girl. In the spring she developed digestive problems that almost took her. She lost weight, had seizures, had trouble walking and couldn’t quite understand why she was having so much trouble getting around. We modified her diet and added regular vitamin shots to boost her system. In a short while she was back to her normal rambunctious self and we thought we’d have her with us for a long time.
Then, a few days ago, Linda noticed that Casey was having trouble peeing and took her to the vet. They quickly ruled out the less serious causes which left us with the near certainty that she had a bladder tumor. She wasn’t strong enough for surgery and the other medical options would only have provided minimal relief with the likelihood of ongoing pain and discomfort. We made the heartrending decision to help her move on and Linda and I sat on the floor holding her while the vet gently gave her a sedative. She was calm; she knew that as long as she was with us, everything would be OK. As the sedative took hold she laid her head in my hand and looked at me one last time with those big, beautiful brown eyes. Just before she went to sleep she licked my hand one last time as if to say, “I love you too Dad.” Then she closed her eyes for the last time and we held her until she was gone.
We’ve had many pets in our family over the years and each of them carved their own place in our lives. Each of them was unique in their own way and each of them was loved and will be remembered. But Casey was different. Casey lived life on her own terms and there was something about her endearing independent streak that made her special. Most people would say that she was spoiled and untrained. But here’s the thing, she loved and trusted us unconditionally and we loved her the same in return.
I hope that, wherever dogs go when they leave us, it has fridges that open with a gentle brush of a paw, pantries where all the good stuff is kept on the low shelves and dinner tables where the plates are close to the table edge and filed with irresistible people food. I hope the couches are all soft, warm and well equipped with pillows and the yards are all large, filed with soft grass for running and don’t have a flea or tick in sight. Most of all, I hope there is an endless supply of stuffed animals to carry around and someone there to scratch ears whenever the need arises. Our Casey deserves that and more.
This isn’t the best writing that I’ve ever done, but then it’s hard to think about style or structure when your heart is broken and your eyes are misty. I don’t suppose Casey will mind much though. She never really did learn to read.
Where’s Bird Casey, where’s Bird? Go find Bird.
P.S. I never did like that stupid couch.