Losing My First Dog

By ALBERT McKEON Telegraph staff writer

Eddie
Eddie

My best friend never knew what I did for a living, and didn’t seem to care. He never paid for a meal, or had a good word of advice. He even had the nerve to attack me when I madly celebrated a huge Boston Celtics comeback.

What sort of friend is this?

A wire fox terrier with a colt’s attitude coiled into a 2 1/2-foot, 30-pound-frame.

Eddie.

It’s suggested that a pet takes on the personality of its owner. Eddie, though, flipped that exchange on its tail.

I had to accommodate his quirks: delaying a jog because of his “don’t leave” whimpering, tossing him a treat despite his five-piece surprise in the basement, finding patience during his sit-down strikes in freezing rainstorms.

But even though he carried a cat’s forceful independence, Eddie could dog it up. While a feline never leaves its carefully constructed world, Eddie knew just when to pounce and release boundless affection. His well-timed leap on the couch to deliver a tail-wagging lap of the face would convert bliss into silliness and sadness into joy.

I could sure use one of those dog hugs right now. Earlier this month, Eddie was put down, no longer able, at the age of 11, to overcome allergies, arthritis and blindness.

The spunk had slipped. Walking became painful. The loss of sight crushed his confidence and sparked a nervous disorder that led him to think he could simply rub away the blindness. In his final months, Eddie spent almost every waking minute scraping his eyes against objects.

Thankfully, as my paralyzing woe now subsides into a melancholy-wrapped acceptance, I remember only the golden years: a solid decade of health, happiness and canine capers.

It’ll be hard to forget when, as a puppy, Eddie had to answer nature’s call at 4 a.m. He jumped to the head of the bed and stared at me in the dark. I ignored him. After dutifully waiting, he finally let go on the pillow, inches from my face.

Eddie found it beneath him to bark at squirrels that found their way into the attic to unleash a jackhammer of sound and fury – at 4 a.m. Yet Eddie, in unassailable exhibitions of the Napoleon complex, never blinked about going nose-to-hoof with a gelding eight times his size. He disliked the gentle Chief Joseph, a neighborhood Appaloosa who is pained to harm the flies around him.

Eddie was named after the Jack Russell terrier on “Frasier,” but he only slightly resembled the television star. And unlike the trained actor, he rarely obeyed commands.

Only food made Eddie come when called. He usually refused to sit. And he never perfected the rollover: stopping halfway, revolving back to his starting position and popping back up on all fours – an act of indifference as much as poor coordination.

I sometimes wished for a bigger breed, a man’s dog: a German Shepherd or an Irish setter. I considered this most after reading a friend’s book about taking his golden retriever out west on a fly-fishing trip, exploring his and the dog’s mortality. Nellie traversed streams and meadows, chased animals and just stepped into the essence of nature.

Eddie wanted little part of the outdoors. After sniffing a few blades of grass, he tore for the house as soon as business was done. The couch awaited, except, of course, in times of inclement weather.

I used to threaten to find him a job, make him earn his keep. I tried to shame him with tales of the tireless border collie. Forget sheep, Eddie herded only cookies.

I shouldn’t leave the impression that he was entirely lazy. He released energy in bursts, flying around the living room, soaring onto furniture, pulling toys out of the box. But before you knew it, he was tip-toeing off to a quiet spot, ready for slumber.

I used to snicker at people who lavished attention on their pets. I wondered how a human being could hold a one-way conversation with an animal. After Eddie’s arrival in November 1994, it took only a month for me to look foolish.

The little guy’s vacant but somehow purposeful stare broke all macho pretense. His ability to make me forget the harshness of life instantly earned him a unique spot in the household.

Eddie definitely came along at the right time. The terrier unwittingly thawed my heart – then frozen by a string of deaths of family and friends. Slowly but surely, he outperformed any dream team of therapists and psychiatrists.

If this confession gets me ejected from the sacred Men’s Club – where sentimentality has no place with football, poker and dirty jokes – than I’d rather relinquish membership.

A dog is man’s best friend. Sometimes, a man just needs to acknowledge this.

Copyright, 2005, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H. All Rights Reserved.