My dog Gooner died early Sunday morning.
My beloved pug would have turned 19 in February – if she wasn’t the world’s oldest pug, she had to be close to it.
She passed away peacefully, in her bed, which is also my bed. Every night she slept at my feet, above the covers. Usually she woke up around dawn, about 5:30 a.m., and I would rise and take her outside.
Yesterday, I awakened at 6:30. The sun was bright and I wondered why Gooner wasn’t up yet, nuzzling me. I moved my feet and figured she’d wake up but she didn’t move. I reached down to touch her and knew immediately.
Her eyes were closed. She had died in her sleep. When my time comes, I hope I can go out as peacefully as Gooner.
I’ve been fortunate to have had some wonderful dogs – Princess, Frisky, Stanley, Pearl – but with all due respect to them, Gooner was my favorite. I had her the longest, and she was always with me, from the very beginning.
She was, like me, sort of a loner. She didn’t care much about other dogs, not even her half-sister Pearl. Her pack was the people in the house – the two-legged animals, the ones with access to food, people food.
Back in 2002, my youngest daughter Tina wanted a pug, so we went to a breeder in Andover, right around Christmas. More than a dozen pugs were scampering around the house, and we picked out a coal-black puppy from a just-born litter – her name would be Pearl.
We sat down to talk with the breeder and the pack of pugs kept swirling around us. Finally, one came to my chair and put her paws up on my leg. I noticed she had a white blaze on her black chest. I picked her up. She was a slightly older puppy. We’d been trying to put goofy Christmas headgear on the other pugs, but they were balking.
So I took some reindeer antlers and put them on the head of the dog on my lap. She didn’t try to paw them off. She just sat placidly on my lap. I asked the breeder what her name was.
“Tee,” she said.
“Is Tee for sale?” I asked.
“Oh no,” said the breeder.
A few weeks later, after Pearl was weaned, we drove back to Andover to pick her up at the kennel. When we got there, the mailroom manager told me she had a surprise for me.
“Tee’s coming home with us too,” she said. “Pearl needs company.”
The mailroom manager emailed the breeder yesterday with the sad news, and this is what she emailed back:
“I still remember vividly sitting in our kitchen in Andover and watching as Tee sat so quietly in Howie’s lap. It was meant to be.”
Yes, it was. It was love at first sight – Gooner and me.
Pearl and Gooner were half-sisters – same mother, different fathers, although we never talked much about how their mother, Maisie, had gotten around. As they grew, some people said Pearl was smarter – we quickly trained her to shake hands and roll over.
Tee just looked away from the training with utter disdain. She was untrainable.
On the other hand, Tee had been just another dog in the kennel, until she was smart enough to figure out her ticket out of anonymity and into a home of her own. Namely, by sucking up to me.
About that first name – Tee never seemed to fit. The mailroom manager called her Sweetie, but that didn’t quite match her personality either. For a while my daughter Charlotte called her “Ming” (pugs originally came from China and Japan). But that didn’t seem right either.
One night, though, Charlotte was snuggling with her in bed when she suddenly said, “Oh, I love you Gooner.”
“What did you call her?” I asked Charlotte. You know how sometimes you try to think of a name for somebody or something, and suddenly it comes to you – this was one of those times.
They were very different dogs. Pearl loved lying in the sun. Gooner preferred cold weather, especially snow. After the first snow fall every year, I’d let her out and take a photo of her lapping up the snow, and tweet it out with the caption: “Gooner, don’t eat the yellow snow.”
She loved going to the town dump with me every weekend – oh those wonderful smells!
Like all dogs, Gooner loved to eat. Chicken was her favorite, any kind of chicken, most recently Butcher Box, and before that, Kowloon’s chicken tenders. (The breeder never approved of the fried foods, I know, but what the heck, Gooner almost made it to 19, and Pearl lived to the ripe old dog age of 16.)
By the way, you’ll notice I’m using Gooner’s birth pronouns – female. In recent years, she acted more like a, well, I don’t want to get into trouble with the PC posse so I’ll just ungrammatically say “they” was the best friend a man could have.
Man’s Best Friend – that was Gooner.
She was in tough shape these last few months. Dr. Matt Callahan saved her life more than once. Last winter, when we were in Florida, my daughter Tina drove her up to Dr. Matt’s Ipswich Animal Hospital. She had pneumonia.
We returned from Florida on Father’s Day, five weeks ago. I’m so glad we had those final days together. Our daughter Carolyn got married last weekend, and Gooner hung in for the festivities – maybe you saw the photo of her with a lavender bow in her fur. (Everyone in the bride’s wedding party wore lavender.)
Then she got sick again – coughing, not eating. The Mailroom Manager drove her back to Rowley and she spent a day or two there recuperating from the latest bout. Dr. Matt and his staff were so kind to her.
She came home with a lot of medicine, but this time it wasn’t doing the trick. So we took her back up to the hospital on Wednesday, and Dr. Matt brought her back to us Thursday night. She was in my lap for one of Dr. Matt’s Ask-the-Vet segments that night. (You can see the video on our website.)
Saturday we went down to Nantucket to see Vice President Pence. We were back in Wellesley by 5:30, and we took her out for a walk on the brook path. (At the end she had one of those little baby-like carriages to get her in and out of the building we live in.)
She played a little with a pit bull-like dog whose owner took a real liking to Gooner. We have to get his video – her final pictures.
We brought her inside and I cooked up some rice – Uncle Ben’s, her favorite. I boiled it in chicken broth, and then cut some leftover chicken breast into it. She ate… and ate… and ate.
When I went to bed, I picked Gooner up and put her down gently at the foot of the bed. I knew she didn’t have much time left, but l thought she’d be beside me for a little while longer.
Now I’m just happy she hung in there until we got back from Florida, and then for Carolyn’s wedding last weekend. Gooner got to see everybody in her pack one more time, even Charlotte, who returned from Dallas for the wedding.
I’m very sad, but I’m glad she died peacefully. I’ve never liked the thought of “putting down” a dog. When the vet came for Pearl almost two years ago, I plaintively asked her, “Pearl’s really at the end of the line, isn’t she? Are we sure this is her time?”
The vet nodded. I felt better, relieved. I miss Pearl. Now I miss Gooner. I always will. They were my faithful companions, my wonder dogs.
We all feel the same way about our animals. They’re members of our families.
Thank you for reading this. If you think of it, give your own best friend a treat, and think for a moment of Gooner.