30 July 2007



Someone had tried to name him "Buckshot".

Actually, that's a lie – someone HAD NAMED him Buckshot. Of course, that's not really a surprise. This was in a part of Virginia called the Blue Ridge, a rural area where one could find the highest (read: lowest) order of the redneck/mountain hick hybrid. People with more teeth than brain cells – thanks, generations of inbreeding! And at the short end of that inbred mindset was a fat little black and white dog; when I came upon him, he was in a 5x3 cage with an index card taped to the corner.


He was, as the classic denomination goes, a mutt. A something. A tweener. He had spots like a Dalmatian, a body like a sausage and a head…well, like something that didn't belong in either of those two categories. As soon as I approached the cage, he came right up to me, bounding and wagging his tail. Please, though, don't think this is going to be one of those "But the dog picked me!" kind of stories. That would be a lie. The truth is that this dog couldn't have cared less who approached him. He could just get worked up about anything. Squirrels. Cotton. Air. Any excuse to pretend like there was something to get excited about, he would take it.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Back to that part about not knowing what kind of dog he was for a second. I remember specifically asking the lady at the SPCA what she thought he might have been. "He's a Jack Russell and something, probably," she chirped happily. When I tried to dig for more, she got just a little bit too serious for the moment, leaned in, and said, "Best not ask questions, lest you upset the lady-friend you got with ya." I'm not going to try to tell you that I have ever known what that meant, but thinking about it still nearly causes a bowel release out of pure fear. Remember: mountain redneck people. They're officially 1.5 times more dangerous than your ordinary white trash and infinitely more frightening. Sorry, carry on.)

Upon getting him back to my apartment, he had already started to grow on me. Cute little fella, that of the accidentally adorable breed. And squeaky. I didn't know it at the time, but he would never really bark that much. When he got jazzed about something – usually someone moving more than an inch or the fact that he'd just found his tail again – he'd just grunt and squeal a lot. Sounded more like a pig than a dog. My then-girlfriend Jenna and I decided that "Buckshot" wasn't going to f*cking cut it. And though my hyperadolescent mind could only conjure up the most unoriginal and pop-cultury name imaginable – I called him Jameson, after my favorite brand of whiskey – the name I'd utter most frequently more fit the bill: Pigman.

My Pigman. The two of us were a pretty good team. After Jenna and I parted ways we'd pick up chicks together (I have to believe that some or all of the one times I'd get laid in the period when we were on our own were mostly or directly due to his ability to positively smolder the human female's heart), watch movies together, roll around on the carpet together, sometimes vomit together after I tied on a few too many (his bile was sympathy bile). During a summer where I stayed in Harrisonburg, everyone else I knew was back at home. The area surrounding James Madison University was a ghost town.

The Pigman was all I had. It was that balmy triad of months when we really bonded the most. It was that time where my dog became my companion. If you're one of those people who thinks that you can't truly come to love an animal, to befriend a lesser mammal, to need a little stubby-legged ball of fur more than you need water and oxygen…well, maybe you can't. But I did. It no longer annoyed me that he dug into my crotch everyday at 7AM to be taken out, or that he somehow positioned his 20-inch body on the bed in such a way that he seemed to take over every square inch of mattress. I considered it – and still consider it – and honor to be at his service. How else could I have felt? When I was down, he'd instinctively jump onto my lap and lay his head on my chest. When I needed a laugh, he'd run headlong into the screen door. When I was sick, he wouldn't move an inch from my side.

How do you repay something that gives itself totally to you and asks nothing in return but your love and attention? That's simple: you never stop loving it, never stop attending.

The day that I had to give him away still was and will likely be, for a very long time, the worst day of my life. I was in transition. I didn't know where my next home would be. I didn't know what my next job would be. My life had become a scattershot of impracticality and improbability. But Jenna didn't have that problem. She was about to move to a new place. She knew where her adult life was starting, knew where she was laying down a foundation, and knew that it was going to be horrifying. But in this place she knew no one. Since Jameson loved her and since she loved him, it made perfect sense: he should hop a train (er, well, the backseat of Jenna's car) to Connecticut. It was time to let him go. Someone else needed a Summer Buddy.

Two years later, just about the time I was feeling less than devastated about the way things worked out, Jenna had moved back to Harrisburg, PA - our hometown - and brought Jameson with her. Now a bona-fide LA boy, I was back for a brief vacation and decided to pop in for a visit. I was hoping that he'd recognize me and react in his usual way: sprint fifteen times from the front of the apartment to the back, grunt in his piggly way, jump into my chest, knock me down, lick me too hard for far too long, then walk in a circle three times and nearly pass out on the floor, tuckered out from all the wildly unecessary excitement. But this reunion of sorts featured a melancholy ending to our story. He didn't recognize me, didn't squeal, didn't sprint, didn't remember. He whined when I tried to pick him up. I was unfamiliar. I had gone from companion to manhandler. Seeing him after that would have just been too hard. I remember him peeking out the window as a left, but it was more of a cautious observation than a longing send-off.

It was then that I was taught a rough lesson in human-pet relations: when you let a pet go – willingly or unwillingly – you never really let it go. Not if you have any kind of heart beating in your chest. But they let go of you.

Jameson, my Pigman, was put to sleep this Sunday afternoon. He fought a long, hard battle with a litany of illnesses and maladies, one of which was just too much for the little guy to handle. He was brave throughout, I'm told, trudging through countless medications, procedures, examinations and surgeries. He was never without a comforting presence. Jenna, redefining what it means to "have a pet", spent thousands of dollars over the last several years piggybacking him up one medical mountain and down the next, thousands of hours giving him the only thing he really needed: unconditional, unwavering love. His body may have failed him, but his keepers most certainly did not.

For a long time, I felt guilty – I felt as though I'd either forgotten or discounted one-half of that simple equation: never stop loving, never stop attending. I've always been bad with math, but never in my calculus class had botching a proof cost me the affection of a small dog that was the most important thing in the world to me. Only recently have I considered that, though I may have sputtered in my calculations, I arrived at the correct solution despite my best efforts to muck it up. By giving Jameson away, he got the best of everything – better than I could ever have given him. Jenna was his best-case scenario. I was a glorified kennel. My only hope now is that he's in a place where he remembers me not as a grabby stranger but as an again-familiar, unending source of happiness that was reluctant to let him go. Because of one thing, there is no question: I never stopped loving him.

Life sometimes works in mysterious ways, they say, but sometimes it's just good to know that life works.

Goodbye, friend. You had the head of a bat, the brain of an infant, the spirit of a pig and the heart of a lion. I fear that what I gave you amounted to so little, but I smile when I think of your eminent glee every time I came home, woke up, walked to the porch, rolled over, coughed, breathed or performed the lowest brain function possible. I will think of you every time I successfully stretch out in my bed. Being comfortable won't be so comfortable ever again. I guess that's my funny way of saying…I will miss you.

If there are squirrels in Heaven, don't let them rattle your cage.

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