A little shy of seven years ago I hopped into my dented, sometimes smoking Ford Focus hatchback and set off to liberate an animal from the hellhole of Oklahoma. My bride and I, in our newlywed wisdom, decided to get a dog, specifically a boxer. This was despite the fact that she already had a dog and a cat and she was out of the state. Also, our house was about the size of an apartment with a backyard you could traverse in three giant steps. We found a family who bred boxers and decided ours didn’t need to be as flashy. (And also the flashy ones were more expensive—flashy is boxer lingo for white on a boxer’s chest)
It went down a bit like a drug deal. I called on my cell phone as I neared the agreed upon meeting place, a Wal-Mart parking lot. I exchanged cash for dog and within five minutes I had a bag of food and an eight-week old male boxer, nameless at that time in the seat next to me.
We spent the night together on my inflatable mattress. I remember he howled the first couple of days, missing his siblings most likely. For the first few weeks it was just the two of us. I remember walking into the house on a lunch break and smelling something unmistakable. I found the shit but did not find its creator. After a couple of minutes of searching (a very small house mind you) I found him cowering in the closet. Poor little guy.
Miranda arrived in June with her elderly English springer spaniel and tiny orange cat in tow. By then our little boy had a name, Vince, it was the first we both liked, an ode to Texas Longhorns great Vince Young. Vince was enthralled with Lacey the spaniel, and Lacey was annoyed an equal amount. I can’t blame her. By then she was nearly ten years old and here was this energetic brown thing constantly trying to take her food. She put him in his place a time or two.
Vince is so special to us because he started as a divisive force, Miranda wishing we would love her as much as Vince and I loved each other. As our early marriage struggled he became the glue that held us together. During times of sadness and loss, when we argued seemingly just to see who could yell the loudest, Vince was there to stand before us and place a single paw on our laps. I would look into the chocolate pools of his eyes and feel a sort of calm come over me. He would insert himself, physically between us when we fought.
We climbed mountains, literally and metaphorically. We ran out to the flight line and back, unclipping Vince’s collar so he could sprint as fast as he needed. To those who knew Vince later in life it might seem a shock that he was a runner. Having never seen a greyhound at work I can say Vince was the fastest dog I’ve ever seen. We went to the dog park, played in the snow, and eventually got fat together.
I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea at the time, but I do not regret it now. I bought Miranda a boxer girl she named Ivy. Vince and Ivy were like peas and carrots. As soon as she was able to traverse the folds and flaps of his body she set up residence on his head, a habit that would continue for the next five years. As a family we had grown to three dogs and two cats. That’s a lot of fur for a tiny house.
The Air Force sent me to Guam and through the chaos of moving across the ocean our biggest concern was how our puppies would adjust. Visiting Vince and Ivy in quarantine, or prison as we called it, became a daily event. Then for a few months Vince and Ivy became jungle dogs, disappearing into the thicket surrounding our house for hours at a time. Right about the time our worry turned to panic we would hear their less-than-delicate footsteps crashing through the branches and brambles and Miranda and I would promise to never ever let them go out alone again, until the next time we did.
Vince made our time in Guam tolerable. He made Miranda feel safe when I was not around, which was doubly important when a little firework named Magnolia Jean exploded into our lives.
Any loving, doting owner develops a private language with his pets and I mourn the fact that I will not get to use those words with Vince.
Who wants a butt scratch, a butt scratch?
Oh Mr. Viiiiinnnceee!
What is it boy? You my special boy?
And our favorite thing to do was to squeal or yodel to which Vince would respond by howling mournfully. I will miss the weight of my best furry friend, when he bulldozed his way through all obstacles to mount the couch and hover over me. I will miss his wide, slow tongue, his butt flap, his ears that never folded the right way. I will miss the comfort of his presence, the stability and peace he brought to the house. I cherish our memories together, and I will never stop missing you.