I’m familiar with the concept of death and loss – probably more familiar than many my age and perhaps even more so than those twice it. Every few years, it seems, I receive a phone call from someone bearing bad news: a friend has died. I’ve been the unfortunate recipient of more than my share of these in my 30 years.
Today, that phone call came from my father, but not about a friend; this time it was about a family member: my beloved pit bull, Dro.
Dro first graced me with his presence about 11 years ago during a tumultuous time in my life. I don’t recall what I paid for him, but regardless of the price it proved in hindsight to be a paltry sum. He was a dog to which monetary value could not be ascribed. The people who sold him said he was the last of a litter and that they needed to sell him before they had a new litter, otherwise he was going to be put down. At this time, I was at odds with myself and with my family. Looking back, in a very real way, Dro and I saved each other’s life.
I can’t explain the feeling I got when I first saw him. He truly was a majestic creature. His coat was the color of champagne; his eyes were a beautiful brown color, conveying an innate emotional intellect and a keen sense of understanding seemingly surpassing that previously thought capable of canines. He wore a bandito mask of dark fur over his snout and around his eyes. It drew attention to his face and highlighted his features. He often squinted, as if contemplating some larger philosophical question.
I still remember the night I got him. I wrapped him in a blanket and took him to my parents’ house. I was certain that they would disapprove of my owning a dog, especially a pit bull. I can’t blame them; I was barely capable of taking care of myself. But this dog was special and I was determined to keep him. For the first few days, I kept him in my room during the day, letting him out only when my parents weren’t home.
But the night time? The night time was our time. As soon as my parents went to bed, Dro and I would sneak out of the house and just walk. I was prone to late night walks — the quietude and the crisp air were therapeutic. The neighbors were asleep, the houselights were dim, the traffic was sparse, and a boy and his dog had the whole world to themselves.
I never kept him on a leash in those early days, primarily because I didn’t yet have one. Nor did I need one. We would walk together, passing under the streetlights, Dro trailing at times when he was distracted by a curious scent. I would always keep walking, untroubled by his absence. I trusted him. He trusted me. Whenever I got about 100 yards from when I last saw him, I’d give a quick whistle and, sure enough, he would come bolting out of someone’s yard, making a beeline towards me.
Eventually, my parents found out about him. Mom was initially repulsed by the idea of having a pit bull. She had heard stories about their vicious nature, their tendency to turn on their owners, and their frequent use as fighting dogs.
“Look at the way he skulks about the yard,” she said. It wasn’t until later that I would learn her fear of dogs was well-founded. When a young girl, she had been bitten by a German Shepherd
Dad, on the other hand, was always a tougher read. I think he, too, was apprehensive about taking in a pit bull, but was leaving the decision to Mom.
As I mentioned earlier, it was a tumultuous time in my life. Upon discovering the dog and, ostensibly, perceiving the admiration I had for him, they did what any parent in their situation would do: they used the dog as a bargaining chip. If I would agree to certain rules and benchmarks, I could keep the dog. Simple as that. Or so they thought…
I recall with great fondness the story my father tells of the day that Dro finally won him over. The way he tells it is that he woke up in the middle of the night feeling ill. He walked into the den, poured himself a glass of juice, and sat on the couch, rubbing his eyes and trying to shake the malady affecting him.
According to Dad, while he was sitting there, Dro, ever the perceptive pooch, walked up to him and placed his head on his thigh, looking up at him, offering the only thing that he could: comfort and companionship. It wasn’t long after this moment that, whenever we would grill steaks or cook chicken breasts, Dad always made sure that Dro got one, too. A friendship was born that night that would last through the next decade.
Mom, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy to persuade. To this day, I have no doubt that Dro knew he had his work cut out for him if he was to win her over. In fact, years after they became the best of friends, mom told me that she actually considered coming home from work while I was at school to take Dro to the pound. Yes, Dro had quite a battle to win mom’s love.
It goes without saying that anyone who knows Margaret Lamb knows who won that battle.
I can’t even begin to explain how devastated I was at the news of Dro’s passing.
And it’s obvious why: Dro was a beloved family pet. He was a faithful companion, a dedicated pet, and, to this guy, a best friend. He transcended the “family pet” designation. He brought me and my parents together. We bonded over him. Our shared love for Dro blossomed into a rekindling of our shared love for each other. In this way, Dro was transcendent.
He provided stability when I had none. Responsibility where there was none. A loyal friend when I felt I had none. And love when I felt there was none.
I can’t help but recount a passage I read a few years ago, about the providence of the canine. The passage was written as God’s words to the dog upon its divine creation:
“Behold man created in my image. You shall be his companion, his ally, his most loyal friend. I will endow you with these traits uncommon to others beasts: faithfulness, devotion and understanding, surpassing those of man himself. Lest it impair your courage, you shall never foresee your death. Lest it impair your loyalty, you shall be blind to the faults of man. Lest it impair your understanding, you are denied the power of words; your eyes shall convey the truth of your heart. Lest man’s attachment to you grow too great, the span of your life shall be brief. Walk by his side, sleep in his doorway, forage for him, ward off his enemies, carry his burdens, share his afflictions, love him and comfort him. This shall be your destiny and your immortality.” So spoke the Lord. And the dog was content.”
He was content.
And so were we.
Dro was a comforting companion when you were ill, a fountain of loyal and unwavering love (even when there was no guarantee of reciprocation), and a silent pad-footed pooch with whom to take a surreptitious moonlit walk through the streets of a neighborhood at rest — just a boy and his dog.
He will be remembered fondly and missed wholeheartedly.
Good dog. Great dog.