The Little Old Man In The Brown Fur Coat


Monday afternoon, we lost a family member and much loved friend.

Bobby (aka Roberto) came into our lives somewhat unexpectedly.  We had a cat at the time, Clark, whom I’d taken to the vet for a checkup.  It occurred to me as I was leaving to ask the receptionist if she knew of anyone with a dachshund or doxie mix in need of a home.  My spouse and I had each grown up with one, and we felt it was time to bring a dog into our family.  Katie tipped her head to the side, crossed her arms, and examined me over the rims of her glasses for a moment.  I must have passed her scrutiny because she picked something up from under her desk and set it on the counter in front of me.  The something was an odd-looking little brown dog.  A doxie/beagle/Chihuahua mix, he was short for a beagle but tall for a dachshund, with a longish body.  He was brown all over with a darker patch on his back and stray black hairs here and there.  He looked like he was wearing too much eyeliner and had the daintiest little feet.

“How about Bobby?” she asked me.

Bobby cringed and quivered a little when I reached out to pet him.  Katie explained that he was currently being fostered by one of their vet techs.  Prior to that, he’d been abused and someone had actually thrown him over a wall into an animal shelter.  A local rescue group that Katie and the tech both volunteered with had retrieved him from that shelter and they were trying to find a permanent home for him.  Bob looked up at me and melted my heart with his big, brown eyes.  I agreed to take him home for a few days and see how we got along.  She handed me medications for his kennel cough and ear mites, gave Bob a little hug, and we were on our way.

There was a period of adjustment.  Raised voices of any sort – children bickering, one of us calling the boys in for dinner, sounds on the TV- these all stressed him terribly and caused Bobby to shake and belly-crawl.  He almost never barked.  When he needed to go outside, he’d sit in front of the door and patiently wait for it to open.  Very early into his time with us, he had an accident in front of the door.  When it was discovered, he cowered with a look of absolute terror.  He shook and he belly-crawled like he was begging for forgiveness.  Spouse scooped Bob up and told him it wasn’t his fault.  It was our fault for not paying attention and realizing he’d been asking to go out in his own way.  Bob didn’t look convinced at first, but over time, he stopped cowering.  Our boys were nine and four, and had been begging for a dog, so they were thrilled to have him.  He grew on us all quickly, in spite of a few faux pas early on.  Apparently, he had a taste for science fiction and ate a paperback copy of The Integral Trees by Larry Niven.  The only one who wasn’t entirely thrilled with Bobby was Clark.  They got along well enough in the house.  When the boys took Bob on walks, Clark would hide in the storm drain down the street and jump out at Bob to scare the bejezus out of him.  The boys found this startling as well.

There was a redbud tree in our yard with a low branch that started out about two feet off the ground and rose at a gradual slope to about six feet.  Bob liked to jump onto that branch and then walk out on it to see over the fence.  Several of our younger neighbors believed he “climbed” the tree.

A couple of years later, we built a new house.  It had a gas fireplace, and after we moved in, we turned it on and started to explain to the kids how to use it.  Bobby didn’t think fire in the house was a good idea at all.  He immediately put himself between us and the fireplace, barking and trying to herd us to the door.  Spouse showed him we could turn it off.  On…Off… On…Off.  He sat down and looked at us like he just couldn’t believe we would bring such danger into the house intentionally.

Clark refused to come into the new house, and eventually, he left us for another family with more room outside for him to roam (and fewer busy streets nearby).

One chilly afternoon in November of 2000, the boys were at Spouse’s office after school and found two  little black kittens, approximately four weeks old, all alone outside.  They caught one and brought her home to me.  I named her Magic.  The other kitten went to live with Spouse’s sister.  After an initial misunderstanding during which he tried to eat her, Bobby helped us raise Magic.  He bathed her and snuggled with her.  He ignored it when she stood in his food bowl, chewed on his ears, or stalked and attacked his tail.  He was a wonderful mother. He tried to teach her to catch mice, but the training never really took.  Bobby was our mouser when we needed one.  He’d lay his little kills out on the rug in front of the fireplace.  He’d proudly show them off to all of us, but only Spouse was allowed to dispose of the bodies.

During the summer of 2001, we came home on a Friday afternoon to find Bobby crying and unable to stand up.  We rushed him to the vet, where they took x-rays.  It turned out that old injuries from his early life were catching up with him.  He had some disc problems in his spine, and arthritis was forming in his hip.  He was put on anti-inflammatory meds.  Once he was up and around again, the vet advised us to get a younger dog to be a companion for him and help keep him active.  A month later, my oldest son and I were leaving the vet’s office after picking up a refill of Bob’s meds, when we saw a beautiful beagle mix.  I commented to Katie what a pretty dog she was.  Katie told us that Daisy was another rescue and needed a forever home too.  We hurried home and loaded the rest of the family, including Bob, into the car and went to the dog-wash adoption event where Katie told us Daisy would be later that day.  Bobby seemed to like her, and so Daisy joined our family and became HIS dog.  Magic was jealous of any attention Bob gave Daisy.  Her favorite game soon became “smack the Daisy”, wherein she would sneak up behind Daisy and smack her on the butt.  While Daisy was turning in circles trying to figure out what had just happened, Magic would melt into a shadow and watch the show.  Daisy had been abused too, and although she got past her belly-crawling and shaking within a couple of years with us, she was never interested in sitting on anyone’s lap.  We had to teach her how to play and let her know it was okay to sing.  We love “beagle-song”.  Her first family did not.

Some dogs are so much more than an average dog, and Bobby was one of those.  Bob always knew when someone was sad, injured, or ill.  He would take up residence on that person’s lap until they were better.  He was there for the boys during the heartbreaks of adolescence.  He was there for all of us when Spouse’s mother passed away.  He was just a quiet presence, radiating love and acceptance.  He always seemed to understand human emotions so well.  I’m not sure he ever really believed he was a dog. We thought of him as the little old man in the brown fur coat.  When Magic and Daisy would get more serious about their dislike for one another, Bob would stand quietly between them and keep them apart, ending the disagreement.  He did the same with the boys when they argued.

Time passed, we built another house and moved again.  Our boys grew older, graduated, and eventually moved out, leaving Bobby, Daisy, and Magic with only Spouse and me for company at home.

This year, on February 2, our Daisy slipped outside while I was carrying groceries in.  It had happened several times before.  She’d always run a couple laps around the house, maybe sneak into a nearby cow pasture and roll on something horrid.  Then she’d soon return home very proud of herself and very stinky.  This time, she was gone much longer than usual.  We drove around the neighborhood looking for her, calling her name and rattling treats, to no avail.  Expecting her to be waiting on the patio for us, we went home.  No Daisy.  We waited a little while longer, and finally, I heard her baying on the wrong side of the fence that separates our yard from the baseball field.  Spouse went out, opened the gate, and brought her home.  Sure enough, she reeked of something vile.  I hauled her into the bathtub and started to bathe her.  She stood there with a goofy houndish grin, so proud of herself and her new perfume.  Then, she sat down and started to make an odd noise.  It was sort of a growl and a whimper combined.  Soon afterward, she put her head down and was lying in the tub.  I’d never heard her sound like this, nor had she ever sat or lain down during a bath.  Spouse lifted Daisy out of the tub and wrapped her in a warm towel.  We tried to get her to stand up, but she couldn’t.  We called the vet, who rushed to his office to meet us.  She was gone before we got there.  He thought it was probably a heart attack.  I cried for weeks.

Bobby looked for Daisy for the first several days.  Then he started sleeping more and more.  His eighteenth birthday (estimated) had passed shortly after Daisy left us, and we knew that his time must be running short. We have grandsons now.  The youngest is almost two, and he doesn’t really understand how gentle one must be when petting a dog so advanced in age. Bob had lost some of his tolerance, and he’d even nipped at the baby a few times.  His vision and hearing had decreased over the last couple of years. Sometimes he’d catch a glimpse of Magic and launch into a startled barking frenzy. We started leaving a night light on for him. He lost control of his bladder sometimes, so we put his bed in the kitchen and closed him in there at night.  He took this as a serious affront, and we felt terrible for hurting his feelings.  Soon after that, he started looking at us with such an overwhelming tiredness in his eyes.

One afternoon last month, we noticed him thumping his tail in his sleep.  We wondered if Daisy had come to lead him away, but he woke up a few minutes later.  We thought maybe if we gave him “permission”, he’d just go to sleep and not wake up.  We sat with him and told him he’d been the best dog we’d ever known, that he’d helped raise our boys into incredible young men and he’d raised that scrawny little kitten into a fat, cranky, cat. We told him that if he was tired and ready to go, we’d miss him but we’d be okay on our own.  And we’d try to keep Magic out of trouble too.  He gave us a look that said, “Yeah, right.  You’re the same fools who thought bringing fire into the house was a good idea.”

Finally, last Monday, we admitted to ourselves that he was having more bad days than good.  He’d mostly stopped eating as well and was losing weight.  The meds for his arthritis weren’t working as well as they used to, and he walked stiffly. We knew that we were being selfish keeping him here with us when his body was obviously so tired and ready to rest.  We took him in to see the vet one last time.  He didn’t resist when the catheter was inserted into his leg.  He looked confused for a moment as the drug hit his system, and then he put his head down on my arm and relaxed.  I could almost see the pain leave his body.

I hope wherever he is that Daisy is with him.  I hope that there are plenty of rabbits to chase, and no cats jumping out of storm drains to scare him. We’ll always love the little old man in the brown fur coat, and we miss him terribly.