The phone rang just before 9 last Wednesday morning. I saw my mom's name on the Caller ID and my heart began to race. Something must have happened to warrant a call this time of day.
I could tell she'd been crying. My mind raced through the possibilities: dad? one of my grandfathers? someone else?
I heard her say "Tucker" and then I knew. The tears fell as I listened. We knew his time was coming to an end.
When I hung up the phone, I couldn't grasp the news.
"That damn dog" is how I privately referred to Tucker the first few months.
My parents had decided my brother could get a dog for his birthday the summer of 1998. Matt went on a mission trip to Kentucky and along the way, the youth group rescued two abandoned and orphaned puppies. Someone else had claimed Tucker on the trip but their parents didn't agree. And so he came into our lives.
He was a cute puppy. I begrudgingly admitted it. But he was constantly under my feet, ready to trip me. Given I wasn't overly happy about a dog in the house, I became convinced he was out to get me.
We were at a standoff before I left for college. When I came home for a long weekend, he wormed his way into my heart and my bitterness melted away. I started looking forward to seeing him.
He was one smooth operator, that handsome devil.
Tucker stayed with my parents when Matt went away to college and forever after. At this point, he became fully my mother's dog. He traipsed after her around the house, needing to be near her side and responding to all her ministrations.
Tucker constantly smiled. He was happy to see people, happy to be alive, happy to go on walks, happy to nap, happy to tolerate our cat. He made friends wherever he went. Most people liked to guess what brand of mutt he was but to us, he was simply Tucker.
For whatever reason, he seemed to like me second best, right after Mom. Maybe because he remembered how hard he'd worked to earn my affection. He had one trick he would do only with me: a sort of somersault with my lap as a springboard. I don't know why or when he started doing it but I loved it.
When I went home this past April, I thought for sure his somersault days were long gone. But no. Tucker waited for me to kneel before him, then nuzzled his head into my lap until he swung his whole tired, aching body around. I hugged him and gave him praise, laughing all the while.
He made a good attempt when I came home in July but it was not to be. It was too much for his body to bear so I pet him and snuggled him and pretended it wouldn't be the last time I'd see him. He smiled like usual. He was still a puppy in his heart. He continued to follow my mom around the house, though the basement stairs had long been blocked off and he needed more coaxing to get down the porch to go potty.
I hoped for a few more months with this crazy, lovable dog. Let's make it to Christmas, I silently told him. Let's do that much.
It's easy to picture Tucker hanging out in my parents' living room, perfectly content. I imagine him barking with glee when I walk in the door at Christmas, his tail wagging until I bend down to pet him. There's something to this denial thing.
I know it's not to be but I'm OK with pretending for now. Only for now.
This is how I will remember Tucker: a 14 year old puppy ever in motion, smiling, and happy to see me. Rest well, dear friend. We will miss you.