Duke wasn’t my dog. He wasn’t my mom’s dog. Duke was my dad’s dog. And everyone in the house, despite the fact I and my siblings had long since moved away, knew it. When we walked through the door to visit our parents he’d be the first one to greet us. And he was large. So large, in fact, he was the real life version of the cowardly lion. And the only thing larger than his golden mane and aging body was the love he had for my dad.
He was part of a two-fer deal my parents fell into when they went to a Golden Retriever Rescue a few years back. Maxx and Duke were a pair. No two ways about it. My parents have always loved dogs, especially those just entering their golden years. They always had a soft spot for the older guys. And Maxx and Duke, two golden retrievers who were joined at the hip, were no exception.
Maxx had a number of his own issues-my brother swore the dog had hallucinogenic episodes-passed away a few years back, leaving Duke as the lone four legged member of the household. And once he got over losing his brother, Duke promptly grew even more attached to my dad. They were the men of the house.
They had their routine in the morning, which, because of his age, often took longer than it probably should have. He’d walk the grounds of the property. He’d hold court on the back deck when the family was together, and he’d sit and watch Redskins games with dad in the fall. Having long since moved away, Duke was taking my place as my dad’s game day buddy.
Whenever I came home to visit, my parents loved to catch us up on everything that was going on, and tops on the list was always Duke, and his funny habits. He’d sit in the middle of the kitchen, oblivious to the flurry of activity and around him, content to be in everyone’s way. We cleared many a tables and stepped over Duke taking dishes into the kitchen. He’d get excited, and unleash a half attempt at barking that wasn’t the result of anything internal, but more so because he just didn’t feel the need to fully commit to barking. He’d made his feeling known, and that was all.
As Duke continued getting older, I’ll never forget the image of standing with my dad outside Pet Smart, and Duke seated comfortably in the backseat of the truck, refusing to get out. Despite the ramp my dad had bought to get his best pal out of the truck, Duke just couldn’t really be bothered. He’d rather sit in the truck. 15 minutes later, in the freezing cold, he finally got out.
I call my parents often, and more often than not, the conversation involves the latest Duke tale. There was his fear of thunderstorms, his wallowing in the grass, or confusion at everyone suddenly being on his floor with the new grandbaby. He loved attention and would walk the aisles of the local Lowe’s with my dad on weekend mornings. Whether Lowe’s allowed dogs in their stores I’m still not sure. The rules were a little different for Duke.
A few days ago, I talked to my dad on the phone on my way home from work, as I always do. He said that things were getting worse for Duke, whose aging body was moving slower and slower every time I saw him. Duke wasn’t eating, which was the real indicator that something wasn’t right.
Duke passed away yesterday, and for the first time in my life, when I called my dad to speak to him, I had nothing to say. Not because I couldn’t talk to him, but because he’d lost his best buddy. And often times, when that happens, there is nothing you can say. This was one of those times.
He had lost his morning routine partner, his co-pilot on trips into town, and his shopping buddy, that would help him look for home improvement supplies. Sundays this fall he’ll watch the Redskins, and it probably won’t be the same. After Duke was buried my dad was gathering Duke’s things and would be taking them to the local shelter for another set of dogs, maybe older guys, who are looking for exciting times in the golden years just like Duke and his brother Maxx. Fitting that my dad would be making the trip. Duke wasn’t my mom’s dog. Duke was my dad’s dog.