Four Years of a Life Time

His name was originally Bart. A listing had popped up on PetFinder for a 2-month old great dane puppy available for adoption. I immediately reached out to the dog rescue to see if he was still available. He was! I let myself get excited. Today’s blog post is entirely about dogs. Specifically, dogs I’ve owned.

I am a firm believer that the phrase, “We don’t deserve dogs,” is quite often true. Dogs are animals who have been bred to love us and so often we take them for granted.

All my life I have wanted a big dog. I grew up with a husky and then a golden retriever during childhood and adolescence. There was a beagle (I think it was at least) when I was a young kid but I only barely remember him.

The husky, named Lady, was our family dog when I was a kid. I was probably 10 years old at most when we rehomed her. Looking back I didn’t appreciate her for what she was, I thought of her as just any other toy – no different than an action figure or a matchbox car. I only wanted to play with her on my schedule. I mean, we walked her and fed her and loved her, but it was purely perfunctory and what was required. Rarely did we do a lot more than that.

After having her for a few years I hit that childhood age where I had a lot of activities after school, so did my sister. My dad worked and mom was driving us around often. And as a result Lady was often left tied up in our back yard while we were gone. She had food and water and everything but, thinking back I feel guilty that that is what her life was. I didn’t realize and I didn’t appreciate her nearly enough. Eventually she got pregnant and she had puppies and, for some reason, the parents let us keep one of her puppies. My guess is they thought that doing that would reengage us with the dogs but instead it went the other way and the family was quickly overwhelmed. Our schedules didn’t change, but the time needs had increased. And we weren’t able to do that. So we found them, Lady and her puppy, a new home.

The golden retriever we adopted was named Chester, named that way because I was trying to think of Clifford the big red dog but our family couldn’t remember Clifford and landed on Chester. I was a little older and wiser when we got him, and I played with him more, but still life interfered often. School, sports, church, boy scouts, etc. Life kept me busy, and when I got home I would rub his belly and scratch behind his ears before starting on homework. The family kept him until my sister and I both went off to college.

Chester, in our family kitchen. Around 1999 I think.

Chester had a propensity for taking off and running if he could slip out the front door. We never managed to train him (or Lady for that matter) to stay inside and only exit with permission. A thing which was manageable when I was at home and able to help catch him and bring him home, but once me and my sister were not at home it became problematic. So they rehomed Chester. I was pretty sad about it but I understood, both of my parents were getting up there in age and I was off at college, it was a logical decision.

It wasn’t until years later, at this point what society would call an “adult” when I would get my next dog. I had moved in with my then girlfriend, that we took a trip to the dog pound “just to look” and we ended up adopting a little cocker spaniel who we named Mattie. We named her Mattie for two reasons: first, her fur was badly matted and knotted; second, we had just gotten home from a trip to Manhattan and we felt it was a suitable nickname.

Mattie looking a bit furrier than usual, but her ears did an adorable flopping when she looked up at you.

Mattie was a sweet little old lady, she loved to have her but rubbed and treats. She loved to eat. But having her, I discovered the truth was that I really wanted a big dog, not a small lap-sized dock. I dreamed of getting a big dog, a Trick sized dog. (For those of you who are unaware, I am 6’6″ or 198cm for you wise metric folk.)

Tyson dozing on one of our couches. His eyebrows were wonderful.

So, jump forward 4 years to 2011, my wife and I drive across the country and move to Seattle. We drive our Honda Element with Mattie, the Mattie cocker spaniel, and Tyson, who was a black Schnauzer mutt, riding with us. Tyson was a wonderful sweet dog who we inherited from a friend. He was closer to a big dog, and just wanted you to love him. He also had a habit of howling along with emergency vehicle sirens. Unfortunately he was struck with stomach cancer in 2012, within a year of moving to Seattle and so we had to put him to sleep to remove his suffering. It was heartbreaking.

For several years here in Seattle, Mattie was our only dog. She was a sweet princess, hated walking in wet grass, hated dog parks as she much preferred humans to other dogs. And we still had her when I saw that puppy listing on Petfinder.

The deal between me and Katie had been that I could get a big dog when we bought our first house. So, as soon as we closed on the house, I had begun searching for the puppy. And six months later Bart appeared.

It was four years ago yesterday that we took our trip to get Bart, which turned into a bit of an adventure thanks to some car trouble.

He was out in Yakima, which was a two and a half hour drive from our home. Thankfully I worked half-days on Fridays and so we got to head out with the sun still up. It was a cold January day and we headed out to meet with the rescue. We were, ostensibly, just going to see Bart. I hoped we’d come home with him but it wasn’t definite. That is, until we actually met Bart.

Katie likes to say I got out of the car and held my arms out for the puppy immediately. And as soon as she saw me hold him she knew we were leaving with him. He was so tiny. He was just 14 pounds!

Our drive back from the meeting was rather eventful. We were outside of a town named Ellensberg, in pitch black on a series of hills, and as we are going down one of the hills I notice that my foot on the gas pedal is on the floor and the car isn’t accelerating. My accelerator seemed to have no resistance and did not do anything for the car. Uh oh.

I navigate to the edge on the side of the road and turn on our emergency blinkers, then make use of our AAA membership. Thankfully the tow truck driver was more than happy to have us and our new tiny puppy in the cab with him. He had three dogs of his own and was happy to talk about them.

It was in the cab of that truck that I came up with the puppy’s name. We knew we didn’t want to leave his name Bart. So we began brainstorming and tossing names back and forth. It was in the tow truck, with Bart in my lap, that I came up with the name: Elwood.

The AAA truck dropped us at the dealership we regularly took our car to, and we had a friend come pick us up. He had the reward of being the first friend to meet our new puppy. Thanks again, Scott!

And so our life with Elwood began. Mattie wasn’t too happy but she endured him when he was a puppy smaller than her. But that did not last long. Within a matter of weeks he had grown to be her same size, and then as he grew larger than her, she grew to like him less and less. She was a little old lady and she just wanted to be left alone. Elwood only became more playful, trying to constantly get her to play with him.

One of the quiet moments with Elwood and Mattie.

It ended up that she spent much of her time retreating and hiding to get away from him. She tried to get him to understand but he was determined and kept annoying her. It got so bad that she eventually took to making messes in the house out of stress from him and that’s when we had to make the hard decision: We decided to rehome Mattie.

We found her a wonderful home that had several similar older dogs, all sharing her temperament. The parents worked from home and they had kids who would give her plenty of love. She would not want for anything from them. I miss Mattie, she’s still on my desk picture frame, but I’m glad we could find her a happier home for her.

The question of rehoming Mattie vs rehoming Elwood was one several friends challenged us on when we talked about what we were doing. And the reality is I truly believed then, and still do today, that we would have an easier time finding a home for Mattie than for Elwood. Elwood is a great dane and I don’t think a lot of people who adopt them understand what they are in for, and I worried he would just end up going to another home and another after that as he grew. I could be wrong, but that was the logic we followed.

With that change though, we became a one dog (or depending who you ask, one small horse) family. Katie was emphatic that this was my puppy. Not in the sense that she didn’t want it, but that she knew animals tended to quickly grow an affinity for her and she didn’t want to interfere with me and Elwood bonding.

For the first three nights while he adjusted to our home, I slept on the floor next to him and poked my fingers into the cage for him to sniff and lick, trying to help him adjust to his new environment.

Over these past four years he’s become my fur baby. My friends make fun of me for the amount of photos of him I take and share. And I couldn’t be happier. I’m hoping for many more years of happiness with Elwood.

A snapshot from Cedar River Dog Farm, where we kennel him when we have to travel.