Today a dog that is very close to my heart passed away. My parents' Portuguease Water dog, Phineas Recker, was put sleep today on December 28 around 3:30 in the afternoon. Nobody in my family was surprised. After all, he was thirteen. A terrible inner ear attack had left him unable to stand. He dislocated his hip, and it was clear he was too old and weak to make it through the surgery and rehab.
My phone chirped with a text message while we were waiting in the Portillo's drive through. "We're saying goodbye to Phin in an hour," is read. "It's time for him to go."
Before sadness, I felt relief. The last time I was with Phineas, he slinked between his favorite pillow and his favorite dog bed like a ghost. He held his head low, like a guest in his own home. His skin felt bumpy and unfamiliar, cold to the touch. His milky white eyes looked so heavy and tired.
Marissa broke the silence. "Poor Phin," she sighed. "I wish I had the chance to love up on him more. He didn't really get along with Ziggy, and..."
"It's OK," I interrupted. "You didn't get to know him until he started to get old. He was a challenging dog." I cracked a smile as I started to go over his rap sheet of transgressions Phin built in his tenure as a grumpy old dog.
Phin didn't like to be around puppies. He would routinely starve himself out of stubbornness. He would turn his nose up at dry food buried in heaps of shredded cheddar cheese, and yet he sought out geese poop, crayons, and wine corks like they were a rare delicacy. He had an ever-growing list of hang-ups and phobias. His breath stank. His bark was high pitched and nasally. He had a prominent snaggle tooth. He peed like a girl. Whether he was curled up at the foot of the bed or basking in the sun, the whites of his eyes were always showing as he nervously glanced around the room, like he was expecting to be assassinated.
"Thirteen," I laughed. "That sounds way too old."
"He had a lot of time here, and he was probably ready," said Marissa.
"Did you know he used to be very athletic?" I asked. "My dad used to say he's spry, like a young chicken." Marissa perked her ears in interest.
Phineas was a lanky, energetic puppy. Like a hot shot rookie basket ball player, he was clumsy at times, but liked to show-off. He could leap the entire width of our pool. In a very literal sense, he could swim circles around his older dog brother Noah. The vibrant white patches in his shiny coat looked like streaks of lightning when he dashed along the backyard fence after rabbits.
He loved to frolic with Noah. While his older brother sat on a sunny spot in the carpet like a majestic sphinx, there Phin would be on his back, throwing brotherly punches up at him with his dripping tongue hanging between his crooked teeth.
Phin took orders from his older brother Noah. Phin teased him, but respected him as a pack leader. Phin spent most of the day listlessly trotting behind Noah or staring at him while he chewed things.
As Noah aged, Phin cemented his place in our family as our lovable village idiot and relentless snuggle bug. His sideways snaggle tooth was his cartoonish trademark that only added to his charm. He was usually too timid to join you on the couch on his own initiative, but happy to contort his lanky body into any shape if it meant he could enjoy some free body heat.
I spent most of my time with Phin during college when I'd come home to work on the weekends. His love of sloth and the couch made him the perfect companion for procrastinating homework assignments and long shifts at Starbucks. Each Saturday I'd change into my work clothes and grab a seat on the couch, scooping Phin into my lap like a baby.
The two of us would squeeze as many Seinfeld re-runs into the morning as possible before I had to head out the door to start my shift. The last thing I'd see before heading off to work was Phin's wide pupils following me through the kitchen while he remained in the same belly-up position on the couch while the Seinfeld episode continued to run.
Phin was never the same after Noah died. He grieved with us, and losing his brother, his rock, and his pack leader all at once, he probably hurt the most. Phin obediently treated his new younger brother Jonah as the new alpha. Balance was restored to his pack, but Phin never really stopped grieving.
I choose to believe that Heaven is for dogs too. Noah has been up there for a few years now, probably counter surfing from a low, never ending table of polish sausages. Since this afternoon, his little brother is there too listlessly standing behind him. The whites of Phin's eyes are bright and angelic as he stupidly stares around his new eternal home. Standing on four lanky legs with a single snaggle tooth jutting out of his mouth, he may look scared. But he's not - he's the happiest he's ever been, and maybe even remembering how long it's been since he's jumped into the pool.
Goodbye, Phin. I love you, and I'll miss you for now.