As much as I have always loved talking about my puppy, this time is different.
He’s gone. A few days ago he simply didn’t wake up.
It’ll be awhile until I don’t get choked up thinking about that. Longer still until I can talk to anyone else about it.
Right now I just want to share some of my favorite thoughts from the time I got to spend with him. In hopes that sharing will ease some of how much I miss him.
Doogan wasn’t unique in any easily demonstrable way. He was a big dog—85 pounds even when lean and fit—but not much different from any other healthy golden.
His first few weeks away from his litter mates happened to coincide with my being home from racing that spring, which meant that we spent every waking hour together. And most of the sleeping ones too. We’d go for several short walks per day and on each of these he learned a little more and demonstrated how eager he was to please. I think it was only a week into our time together that when I stopped walking (whether at a sidewalk corner with a stop sign or on a trail with someone else approaching) he’d quickly close the distance between us and then sit at my heel. I have no idea how to teach this—I simply praised what seemed to be his natural inclination, and it became habit. Through the years, at least until his hips became so stiff that he didn’t want to sit, he’d do this immediately and unconsciously.
Doogs wasn’t perfect, but his imperfections weren’t of his own doing. They were genetic and thus just came with the package: He couldn’t change his food allergies anymore than you or I could change ours. Beyond those, I’m not sure there was anything I’d have tried to change about him. He was simple but not singleminded, eager to please but not fanatical about it. He went with the flow.
He was incessantly optimistic and had a way of infusing you with the same. He’d even get happy to go see the vet.
His desire to be with you, near you, whether you were pulling weeds, cleaning the house, or hiking to a favorite backcountry lake, might have been his most endearing quality. It was as though he’d somehow clued into #3 on Damone’s Five Point Plan, and made it his #1.
He was an athlete, but he didn’t need epics to satisfy himself. Not to say that he couldn’t impress: I believe he was the first canine to co-captain a packraft through the Gunnison Gorge, a feat he achieved so effortlessly that you might have thought he was sleeping some of the time. His only swim came at the end—after the rapids—when he shared his victory cruise through the inner gorge with a weasel.
And fishing? Or frogging? You bet! But it was never about catching his limit—he wanted to enjoy the whole day, not just some bit part of it.
Being outside, celebrating the day with you was his main interest. Anything beyond that was secondary.
Moving down a trail was good. Napping in the grass? Also good. Snuffling through bunny pee and frog slime in the lakeside weeds became his go-to in later years. Being wet, regardless of season, was always a Very Good Thing.
His given name was Doogan, and he’d always answer to that. But through the years it became apparent that he had an alter-ego, a personality he could embrace when we were outside, deep into some hike or ski or ride or fishing session, where he could loosen his tie, roll in the mud, maybe eat some elk poop before talking smack with the local ‘yote’s. That’s where the name’Fang’ originated, and although dozens of other nicknames were given to him through the years, Fang was the one that stuck.
He was an excellent camper—fetching kindling, wood, or grub when the need arose, or attentively sharing the fire and moonlight when nothing more was required.
The thing that Fang never tired of teaching me: Immerse yourself completely into whatever it is that you’re doing.
He was never OCD about any one thing; he knew that any half-brained critter could fetch a stick till the cows came home. He was just committed to embracing whatever each moment delivered, and you couldn’t help but to embrace those moments with him.
He was a wigglewagger: Every ounce of his non-stop happiness shone through his body language. Not just his tail would move, but his whole body flowed from the priceless smile on his face. You couldn’t help but to smile right along with him.
Snow was a particular passion. We never missed a chance to stroll around the block in the midst of a whiteout, with him flopping and rolling and snorkeling through it. But what really amped him up was when skis or snowbike went into the car, because then he knew it was on: We were going up to the alpine. Regardless of how long it had been since fresh snow fell, every day in the alpine was a powder day to him.
He could deal with desert heat better than most humans I know. And yet cold never seemed to bother him either. There’s a string of lakes just down the way from my shop that we’d head to many days of every week. Sometimes in the early a.m. before I got sucked down the rabbithole of putting out work fires. Sometimes at lunch when he insisted it was time to sneak away. And often after dark, the better to use his finely tuned sniffer to stalk unsuspecting bunnies. On one such occasion, a cold December morning, there was both shorefast ice and a thin skim of grease, ephemeral enough that the first light breeze obliterated it. I wore a thick puffy and a fleece toque and as such was plenty warm. He wore what he always wore, nothing more, and he was adamant that he needed to swim. But he was a polite sort—he wouldn’t just go splashing in without permission, nor could he be told to go. Just one of his quirks: You had to ‘invite’ him in. So I did, by heaving a cottonwood limb as far as I could. As he swam calmly out to retrieve it, a woman came walking briskly past with some sort of high-maintenance sweater-wearing mutt. While looking his way and exhaling steam she commented that “It’s really cold this morning.” Thinking she was just shooting the breeze I replied that yes, that sometimes happened in December. “No!” she insisted, “I mean it’s really, really cold. The lake froze last night fer chrissakes!” “Yep,” I agreed, “that’ll happen from time to time.” Clearly I was too dense for her implied message, which I only later understood to be that it was too cold for a dog to be swimming. Au contraire, madame—you simply chose the wrong dog…
He wasn’t a killer, didn’t seem to understand that was even an option. He’d sooner pounce on an inanimate object—and play with it on the return trip—than molest anything living.
His post-meal, toy-tossing celebrations served to make you appreciate the simplest pleasures. Every day, twice a day.
His nature was to observe first and then, maybe later, if no one minded too much, he might participate. He’d perch on the edge of a boulder to look down at trout chasing each other off a redd, would stare upward at owls in trees or down off a ridgeline at ravens riding thermals, would happily snuffle along six feet behind a mouse, intent on following its doings and uninterested in catching or killing it. If I hadn’t spent the previous 30 years being “that guy” I might think that I’d learned this behavior from him. It’s probably mere arrogance to assume that I’d taught him anything—he may well have been wired that way from the start.
His trust was exceptional, and I never gave him reason to doubt it. Bathtime? I’d point at the tub and he’d step right in, resigned yet somehow okay with what he knew was coming.
His massive bone structure meant that the speed of a bike on dirt was far too much for him. Thus any rides he participated in were more adventurous in nature. Riding snow— 1 psi at 2 mph with heart rate maxed for me—was about perfect for him: He could snuffle and snorkel and romp and roam and still have juice left in the tank when I was played out. Likewise if I strapped a boat under the bars to do some floating along the way—he was always up for, and amped by, that.
More than any other person I’ve known to date, every breath was cause for celebration, and he would stop and drop for any reason and no reason at all to do just that.
We didn’t spend much time apart. One rare and notable separation happened when my ex (his co-owner) and I couldn’t agree on how he was to be shared. Somehow she unilaterally decided that she wasn’t going to share him at all. I wasn’t privy to her exact logic but my response was to contact the only lawyer I’ve ever hired and to insist that we get equal time with him. Completely removing him from her life seemed just as wrong to me as what she was doing. The judge ruled for joint custody. The picture below shows the moment when we were finally reunited. He often smiled but this was the only time I ever saw his face scrunched into an emotive grin. I melted to my knees and hugged him with everything I had, sobbing while apologizing for not being a better dad.
He’s gone now. I miss him more than words can convey. His absence leaves an unfillable hollow in my heart.
Puppypants: If there is such a place as heaven then I know you’re there, joyfully chewing sticks, gleefully splashing after frogs, piggishly snorfling through virgin powder, all while making friends and sharing your treats.
And if there is no heaven?
Then when I die I want to go wherever you are.