Instead of ghostwriting for my dog Alex Terrgi today, I am sharing something my father wrote back in 2002, when his beloved dog Akeem (named after pro basketball player Akeem Olajuwon) died. My father was 85 then, and Akeem was the latest in a long line of historic dogs (historic in our family, anyway – I can recount the life stories of dogs who died long before I was born.) I got my love of dogs from my father. Perhaps you will enjoy this letter. It says a lot about Akeem the dog, but even more about my father. And of love.
July 11, 2002
It has been one week since you failed to greet the morning with me in your usually enthusiastic manner. When I came out of my bedroom and saw you lying in your bed unmoving, I thought the worst and then I touched your cold body and knew my long-time friend and associate was dead. There is a Native American saying: “When you left, my heart fell to the ground.” It will take a long time for me to lift my heart back up.
You know I don’t believe in a heaven for a human or a dog, but my brother says all things are possible. “You can’t be an atheist,” he said. “You can be an agnostic or a non-believer.” Whoever is right, I will write this letter to you with the realization that if there is a dog heaven, you surely are there. The odds are less than the crows and coyotes joining together and seizing control of the world or the Republican Party.
Many thousands of years ago, a human hunter or caveman bonded with a wolf and realized that if they worked together they could find more food for both the human and wolf families. Then their experiences together probably brought respect and love. I believe the caveman loved his wolf-dog as much as I loved you.
Dogs give unselfish devotion and attention to those they bond with, and man, even with his greater amount of life activities cannot give back nearly as much time or devotion. You accepted whatever time I could give you, and were constantly at my side sharing experiences.
Akeem, what I am about to write to you would not be understood by people who don’t have dogs and know the companionship a dog can give. They might think this old man is a bit dotty and is losing it. Anyhow when I found you lying in your bed, I said, “It is time. You are a very old dog for a Doberman and you will no longer feel the troubling pain of arthritic hips.” A lump formed in my throat but I said, “I have seen a lot of deaths during my lifetime, and besides tough old men don’t cry.” So I went out and got the paper from the box, as you and I have done a thousand times, fixed my breakfast, started to read the paper, took two bites of cantaloupe, and then began to blubber like a baby with bad milk in its bottle. When I got myself under control, I called my son, told him of your death and then lost it again. I realized that you were better off and I was only feeling sorry for myself in losing a very close friend.
During this past week, hundreds of activities around the home have reminded me of our relationship. Mornings were our special time. We both enjoyed the early mornings and while I went out to get the paper, you would run full speed out to the back garden and then full speed to the front yard. If no lions, tigers, or squirrels were found, you would come in for your breakfast. After I fixed and ate my breakfast, I would give you a piece of toast piled high with raspberry jam. Some mornings I would hide small pieces of food around the kitchen and see if you could find them. You enjoyed that.
You did have a sense of humor. Sometimes you would try to keep me from getting out of the swimming pool, by standing on the top step growling and showing your teeth. I would then grab you, rough you up a bit, and then you’d go away happy. Sometimes when I grabbed the edge of the pool, you’d reach down and grab my hand. This would startle me and I’d react; then you’d back away with a satisfied smirk on your face. I know you were laughing because all those skin wrinkles around your jaws got very deep.
You seldom talked to me but you often had long conversations with my wife. You made strong noises but used great enthusiasm in your discussions. You understood a lot of what we said to you, but we were never smart enough to understand your replies.
Akeem, you were not always law-abiding. Sometimes you’d open the bread drawer, seize a loaf of bread, and go off into the woods for a picnic. You never took along butter, raspberry jam, or bologna. I guess you could picnic on bread alone. You seemed to estimate how much troubled you’d get into if you stole a cookie from a child or an apple from the coffee table. Sometimes you thought the food was worth the punishment.
You were my supervisor while we worked in the garden. You didn’t do much work yourself, but you did enjoy the results of my labor. During raspberry and strawberry seasons, I’d pick handfuls and feed them to you. At times I even allowed you to pick your own apple from the tree. You loved carrots the best, and I was always amazed how you’d surgically cut the green tops from the edible parts.
Akeem, my dog, my friend, I don’t fully understand a man’s love for his dog, or a dog’s love for a man. I know I enjoyed our relationship tremendously and life for me will not be as good now that you are gone. I do know that you should end up in heaven. Heaven would be a hell of a place if dogs like you were not allowed.
Note from me, ADP’s daughter: My father died in 2011 at the age of 94. If there is a heaven, I suspect he and Akeem are now together enjoying raspberry jam and playing swimming pool jokes on each other.