Right before I left for China the first time, in 2004.
Dogs are called man's best friend for good reason. My dog, McKinley, was an endless source of entertainment, my confidant and my best friend. He was smart, happy and mischievous. I couldn't imagine life without him. But yesterday, October 19, 2007, we had to put him to sleep. He was 13.
We got McKinley when I was 10, 3 days after our previous standard poodle, Leo, had passed away. We brought him home in a cardboard box and I remember sitting next to him in the backseat, seeing his little puppy paws gripping the edge of the box as he tried to stand up to see what was going on around him. I was both enamored with him and resentful of his presence, because I was still mourning the loss of Leo. We'd almost gotten a different puppy, but that puppy was sick the night before we were scheduled to pick him up, so we elected to take McKinley instead. I am grateful every day for that last-minute decision.
That first night, Mom and Dad made a nest for him out of some old towels next to their bed and blockaded both sides to prevent him from escaping into
the rest of the house. But that little rascal outsmarted them and squirmed underneath their bed during the night, escaping to freedom. If only we'd realized then what this small occurrence foreshadowed for our new puppy.
By the time he was a year old, we'd discovered that his hors d'oeuvres of choice were kleenex, toilet paper and paper towels. I think my parents saved a lot of money on dog food because he'd get full from all the kleenex etc. he scarfed down. Even when he was hungry for his "crunchies", as Reid and I referred to his dry dog food, he was a dainty eater. He deigned only to eat one crunchy at a time, and if a rogue crunchy found its way onto his tongue, he'd promptly spit it out. Consequently, after he was finished eating, the kitchen floor would be littered with the discarded crunchies from his dinner.
Similarly, he was very astute when it came time to give him his heart-worm pill. We'd give him a spoonful of peanut butter (what dog doesn't love peanut butter?) with the pill geniusly hidden in the middle. He'd accept it with obvious enthusiasm, begin chomping away, but
suddenly stop chewing. Within seconds, the pill would be projectile-spat across the room and McKinley would be hightailing it out of the kitchen. Believe it or not, Mom gave him a "Doggie IQ test" (one of those 'new-age' gimmicks, I suspect) and he scored in the realm of genius. No joke.
It took awhile for the little puppy to get used to walking on a leash. In the beginning, he'd spend most of the walk alternately wrestling with the leash and trying to eat it. After one such walk, he returned triumphantly with a plastic cup in his teeth. To prevent himself from dropping it, he latched onto it more firmly, which only served to plant the cup directly over his snout, level with his eyes, thus rendering him the exact replica of a piglet. This is captured on video, and I still maintain that we could win big money on America's Funniest Home Videos with that one.
He especially loved laundry days. While Mom was pulling a load of clothes out of the dryer, the little scamp would sneak up behind her, grab a sock in his mouth and go racing away once she turned and caught
sight of him. The fun was had in the chase that ensued, and the madder Mom got, the more fun he had. She recalls the twinkle in his eyes even today.
Playing fetch with the little rascal was no different. He'd excitedly wait for the throw, go racing after the ball, come bounding back within mere feet of the thrower but run away again when the thrower reached for the ball. He'd dance back and forth, taunting the thrower until he was chased around the yard. It was amazing he could grin that widely with a tennis ball clamped between his jaws.
Aside from that ear-to-ear grin, there was another indication that he was enjoying himself. Poodles have a natural spring in their step; this must be one of the reasons they're so popular in the dog show circles. McKinley must have had a couple dozen extra springs, because when he was really excited, he'd back up and launch himself up vertically in the air, all 4 paws leaving the ground. It's a shame we never captured him doing this on video. He'd often leap into the air upon the chance meeting with another dog while out on
a walk. He soon became famous in the neighborhood for his little trick.
McKinley was the direct opposite to our previous standard poodle, Leo. Leo was easily spooked by strangers and as a result, was very unfriendly. I don't think you could have kept McKinley from meeting new people if you'd tried. He loved everybody. Although he was easily excited (evidenced by a many an accidental piddle on the floor), he was also a very calming influence. I used to sit with him for hours during high school, telling him my problems with math class, love woes, everything. He was always happy to listen in return for some attention.
Over the years, it became obvious that his biggest love was going for a ride in the car. Of course, it's stereotypical that dogs love car rides, but our guy was a fanatic about them. If the slightest indication of leaving the house was given, such as touching a coat, the sound of car keys, or opening the front door, he was on his feet and out the door like a shot. He didn't just love car rides, he L-O-V-E-D them. He went everywhere with us- the post office,
the grocery store, church, the movies, tennis match, you name it. He was content to sit and wait in the car while we took care of business if it meant that he would get to stick his head out the window and let his ears blow in the wind again. When he was younger, I'd loved taking him downtown with me, parking, and walking up the main shopping/dining street. He'd prance along happily, his tail straight up like a white, furry flag, greeting everyone we passed. People would smile when they saw him, such an undeniably happy dog out for a walk.
I woke up many mornings to a furry head in my face, tail wagging furiously, knocking books off the bookshelf behind him, topped off by a deafening bark that seared my eardrums. If he felt he wasn't receiving enough attention, a good swat on the arm with his paw did the trick. He even trained Dad to give him treats whenever he barked.
The years passed by so quickly; before I knew it, I was in college and no longer living with my best friend. Of course, I had friends of the human persuasion as well,
but there is nothing like the unconditional love and no judgment given by a furry companion. i went home frequently, since my part-time job was in my hometown, so I continued to spend time with McKinley each week. I'd been to China twice before when I made the decision to return for a year. By then, McKinley was 12 and on a slow decline. When I said goodbye to him one year ago, I believed I wouldn't see him again.
Over the past year, I've had many video chat sessions with my parents over the internet. McKinley was always present at these to put in his two cents. The first such session we had was so confusing for him. He heard my voice very clearly, but he couldn't figure out where I was. I called his name and he went running all over the house trying to find me, even checking underneath the grand piano in the living room. After a few months, he gave up on finding me within the house and resigned himself to the fact that I now resided in the strange box sitting on the computer table. During the last chat I had with my
parents before I came back to the USA, he sat next to Dad and stared directly at my picture on the computer screen. I was certain he understood.
My faithful companion was at the airport with my parents to greet me upon my arrival home in the USA after my year in China. I couldn't believe that he'd made it through the year to see me. There was no doubt that he was a very different dog; the year had aged him considerably. But he was still my McKinley, the dog I'd grown up with, who had seen me through thick and thin.
Just 3 days after I came home, his condition worsened and we had to make the very difficult decision to have him put down. We couldn't continue to make him suffer for our sakes, just because we would miss him. The ride to the vet was agonizing, knowing that we would have to say goodbye to this generous, unselfish, wonderful, loving personality.
It has now been two days since we lost that irreplaceable member of our family. The house feels quiet and empty without him. I keep imagining I hear his nails clicking against
My doggie and me
Merritt: Aren't we cute together?
McKinley: Get me out of here!
the floor. Dad keeps hearing his bark from the basement. We all forget he's gone for a split second and think we should go pet him. It's going to be a big adjustment, living in this house without our doggie. I was counting on him to help me through the transition from China to the USA. Dad wanted to run errands with him. Mom wanted to walk with him in the yard. But it was time. It's nothing short of miraculous that he was still here to see me come home. We believe he was waiting for me. After he saw me again, he just let go. He had a long, wonderful life, and he left the earth surrounded by the people who loved him the most. We will never forget our precious poodle. He is forever in our hearts.
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