The Very Best Dog

At some point in my 20s, I became fixated on pugs. I was single, living in Manhattan, and working about a million hours a week. I had no business getting a dog.

But on a spring day in 2003, I went to see a litter of pugs that had just been born. Of the eight dogs who were there, most were shy — except for the one who ran right up and chose me. It was as easy as that. I named him Señor, and a short time later he moved into my cartoonish-ly tiny fourth-floor walk-up. When I think about that day — when my sister and my mother came with me to bring him home — it simultaneously seems like yesterday and a million light years ago.

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Last week, I said good bye to Señor, and it was hard. Really hard. Even though he was 15 with declining health, I still found myself shell shocked that I had to make the decision to let him go.

I write about a lot of trivial and everyday things here. And it only seemed right, to me, to use this space to honor one of the very big things in my life. One of the very best things. So you’ll have to indulge my inner Crazy Pet Lady for today.

It turns out that a very spoiled dog requires some adjustment to sharing his spotlight. About a year after Señor arrived, I decided to move in with my then-boyfriend (now husband — we look like babies in this photo!), and the dog had to get used to not just some new city digs that consisted of more than one total room, but also another human in his space.

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And, eventually, another.

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And another.

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And another.

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You know those photos and videos on the Internet of dogs who love their new human siblings so much that it goes viral while melting millions of hearts? Yeah, that didn’t happen with us.

Señor never loved having a baby in the house, but he begrudgingly tolerated the adjustment of sharing his turf with a growing family. Not once, but three times. We always joked that he loved me a little less with each new baby I brought home, and my husband increasingly became his favorite person. This dog would never have, in a million years, shown an ounce of aggression, but I swear he would’ve loved the ability to roll his eyes and flip me off at times. I respected his inner curmudgeon.

When our family ultimately outgrew our Manhattan apartment and our suburbanization was complete in 2010, I always got the sense that Señor, like me, still tended to prefer the city, despite gaining more room in the burbs to co-exist inside together, and a yard to claim as his own outdoor domain. In the city he had been a fixture in our neighborhood — at the local wine shop, the doggie day care place, his little piece of Central Park. In the suburbs, sure, there was wide open space for him. But there were also the indignities of canine Halloween costumes. He had a little something to say about it here.

We allowed him to retire from holiday costuming after this family-themed swan song a few years ago. I think we can all agree that he earned it.

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He excelled at relaxation. Perhaps I was always drawn to pugs because of their like-minded affinity for laziness and weight gain. He was a stalker of food and a snorer extraordinaire. He loved hedgehog toys, neck massages, treats of all flavors, high fives and sleeping — on our shoes, in spare boxes, in the sunshine, in the coat closet. Or in any bag, anywhere.

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Any bag.

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Really — no bag left behind.

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Even though he hadn’t been particularly active recently, our house without him now has a stillness and quiet that it didn’t have before. Even with three kids here and all of their noise and activity. I don’t feel the motion of the dog under my feet when I’m making food in the kitchen — where he always was, at the ready, waiting for the inevitable scrap. I don’t hear him with the one ear I keep open overnight, when he used to shuffle around at all hours going to and from his water bowl. I don’t hear him pacing the family room while I watch TV in the evenings, waiting for him to find a comfortable napping place and beginning to snore. I don’t see him sleeping on the pile of shoes by our front door when I come and go during the day. It’s just different.

I lived with him longer than I lived with my husband. He was here for every day of my kids’ lives. I look at the photos and I see the different phases of my adult life — single, engaged, married, motherhood times three — and there he was, a fixture of what I’ve defined as family over the last 15 years.

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If you have a pet, you understand. You know that the love for a pet is so deep and so fierce — and the hardest part of that love is that their lives are always too short. When he sharply declined on Mother’s Day, it was fitting that my mom and my sister were both here — the same two people who helped me bring him home to that tiny apartment a virtual lifetime ago.

 

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And so, before I said goodbye, I thanked him for choosing me all those years ago. I was so lucky to call him mine.

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