Rascal had trained me well. He used to love to fetch an old flip-flop. I’d stand at the top of the deck and toss it into the backyard, and he’d scurry down the stairs, snatch it into his mouth, and bound back up, ready to do it again. And again. And again. I truly believe that dog would’ve fetched that flip-flop until he exploded.
And it was only that old flip-flop that he’d go get. I tried tennis balls, Frisbees, you name it. Every time I’d toss one, he’d just look quizzically at me, doubtless thinking, “What? THAT’s not what I retrieve. YOU go get it.” So, of course, I would. I’d trek down the steps, get the non-flip-flop, and bring it back. And try again, hoping he’d learn that he’d enjoy fetching things besides the flip-flop, if only he’d give it a try.
He never did. I always had to go get them. Except the flip-flop. Funny, the things dogs—and people—hold dear. So, yes, he had trained me well; I eventually learned not to throw anything but the flip-flop. “You’re a good boy, yes, you are, yes, you are,” he must’ve thought once I finally caught on.
Rascal was a mutt. A rescue puppy we got around the time of my older daughter’s tenth birthday, when we promised she and her younger sister that that was the time we felt they’d be old enough to care for their first pet. When we went to the pound, we were hoping to be lucky enough to find a Lab-type mix, something good with kids, smart, protective. When we got there, though, this little bird dog-Dalmatian-shepherd-you-name-it mix, white with big black spots around his eyes, little black spots elsewhere, and a huge black spot the approximate shape of Africa on his back, climbed into my daughter’s lap and began licking her face. And that was that.
My girls did a pretty good job of taking care of ol’ Rascal. Rare was the time when we had to remind them to feed, water, walk, and play with him.
But then time got ahold of them, and before we knew it, they were teenagers, and just HAD to be everywhere…except home. Overnight slumber parties, church trips, school trips, and then, of course…BOYS. But this is about Rascal, not about those vile, hairy, selfish, disgusting creatures.
So, by default, Rascal became my responsibility, my dog. He and I had many a good time, with him chasing the flip-flop till my arm gave out. Then, I’d sip on a cold beer in the summer twilight, he’d flop (sorry) beside me, and he and I would ponder the day’s issues and the world’s problems. His wise silence always amazed me in its insight.
Although it must be said now that Rascal wasn’t the brightest bulb in the knife drawer. He’d bark ad infinitum at NOTHING, for no reason other than that he could. But, when we really needed him one night, when some scofflaws tried to break into our neighbor’s house—unsuccessfully, thanks to their alarm system—Rascal woofed not a peep. Even as the miscreants ran RIGHT PAST our backyard fence, all he did was expectantly put his front paws up on the fence…probably hoping one of them had a flip-flop.
Then, my little girls, who had been toddlers only the day before yesterday, were off at college. When they came home, they were the first to notice that Rascal seemed to be slowing down a bit, that he was slower fetching the flip-flop than he used to be. Since I had been with him daily throughout, I hadn’t noticed. (By the way, by this time, the flip-flop was more a flip-flop-shaped mass of duct tape, but you stay with what works, right?)
My smart, funny, beautiful daughters graduated, and set out on their own paths. When they came home, they were more guests than residents, but at least they came home. And even took care of the old mutt when they did. Did I mention that I’m a proud daddy?
And Rascal was fifteen, and he could barely make it down the steps of the deck anymore. Indeed, he got to where he was pooping on the deck, because it hurt him too much to get to the yard to do it.
So I knew it was time. I called the girls, and they came home, and one Saturday morning about a year ago, we took Rascal to the vet. The three of us held him and cried—Daddy trying to be strong, but not too successfully—as that cruel but necessary fluid entered his worn-out body.
And then the three of us took him home, dug a deep hole in the yard, and buried him…together.
Of COURSE we buried him with the flip-flop.