When the man waked up he said, “What is Wild Dog doing here?”
And the woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog anymore, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.” – Rudyard Kipling
As I remember, Kristin and Anthony had been in Kentucky on a photo shoot for Ranger Boats and the family that they were staying with had Great Danes. Both of the kids fell in love with the giant dogs and before they left they had decided that they wanted one of their own. Dante was a pup only a few months old when I met him for the first time. But, by then, he was already twice the size of our Cocker Spaniels.
I can remember wondering whether getting such a big dog was a great idea. After all, soon or later they were going to have children and having a Great Dane share a house with a baby or toddler seemed to be an idea filled with potential problems. I knew that Great Danes were generally well behaved, but they were just so huge. What if Dante sat on a baby or accidentally knocked it over. But, the deed was done and, for better or worse, Dante was a member of the family. As it turned out, my fears were empty.
You would be hard pressed to find a dog of any size that had a more caring disposition than that gentle giant. When Laken arrived a little over a year later, she found a friend and protector waiting eagerly to meet her. When Laken was little, he was so careful with her and as she got older and began to play roughly with him, he was so patient. But always he brought a captivating sense of comedy to their play. More than once, I can remember watching in amusement as Laken and Dante delighted in trying to steal a stuffed animal or toy from each other. He usually won, but he always let her make a game of it.
Girls and dogs are a perfect match, but boys and dogs have a special bond. Neither is truly complete without the other. So, when Cruz was born, I knew that he and Dante would be a team destined for greatness. I wasn’t wrong. I remember babysitting once and laughing until tears rolled down my cheeks as Cruz, sitting in a riding toy, held onto Dante’s tail while being pulled in a circle through the house. Moving from room to room, Cruz would giggle as he held on for dear life while Dante kicked his behind just enough to cause Cruz and the toy to slide sideways through the turn. All dog, all boy, all the time.
Dante didn’t limit his affection to children. Once he knew that you were an accepted part of the family, you became, like it or not, his new best friend. Friendship with Dante carried with it grave and serious responsibilities. A friend was expected to hug him tightly when entering the room. After that, a friend was expected to rub his side for several minutes while Dante nuzzled your leg and engaged in a unique game of “who can push who over first?” Dante always won. Finally, when you sat down, Dante would worm his head under your arm and patiently wait for you to give him another long satisfying bear hug. After this final hug, he’d typically sit on your lap for a few minutes to be petted. Then and only then, he would retire to his massive dog bed in the corner, where he and his collection of stuffed and semi-stuffed animals slept. As a dog, Dante had high expectations of his humans.
Dante wasn’t perfect though; he had a mischievous side. Anthony is very particular about his lawn and he doesn’t like brown spots. Early on he trained Dante that the proper place to relieve himself was in the pine needles that surrounded the bushes and trees around the house. For the most part, Dante was content to comply…except when I was watching him and the children. I think, in his mind, the “bathroom in the pine needles” rule was optional if Dad wasn’t around. More than once, I’d let him out in the morning and watch as a prodigious stream or large clump landed on the carefully cropped grass. If I saw him soon enough, a loud, “DANTE,” would catch his attention and the objectionable activities would immediately stop. He’d glance up at me, give a sheepish look as if to say, “My bad,” and then move to the pine needles to finish. There’s a lot of truth to the phrase, “Boys will be boys.”
You didn’t have to be an actual family member to be brought into Dante’s inner circle. Kristin and the grandchildren often go along when Anthony competes in a bass tournament. Unless he was staying with his second family, Jimmy and Renee, Dante usually went with them. Over the years, folks from Texas to Florida to New York met Dante and became part of his extended family. He always made an impression and I’ve never known anyone who met him who could resist letting him worm his way into their heart.
Great Danes are wonderful dogs, but they have a heartbreakingly short lifespan. Typically they live six to seven years. Dante was headed for eight. Last week he developed pneumonia over the weekend and the kids took him to the emergency veterinary clinic. Despite heroic efforts, his heart finally gave out and he passed away at five AM. Never will a dog be loved and missed by more people than that funny, good natured pup.
One of the perks that come with writing fiction is that each new novel gives you an opportunity to build a new world. Someday I’m going to write a fantasy novel where a brave warrior saves a deserving kingdom from an evil warlock. Every warrior needs a loyal, fearless companion. My hero will travel with a gray Great Dane that has a white circle on its chest and a wicked sense of humor. His name will be Dante and, on my world, dogs will live longer than people.
“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.” – Unknown