words: Stoney Stamper
Images: courtesy Stoney and April Stamper
April 30 is Adopt a Shelter Pet Day. In honor of that, we decided to re-share this story we originally published in January 2014, that celebrates the life of a great dog named Doc. He marched into Stoney Stamper’s life when Stoney was twenty years old. For nearly fourteen years, Doc lived with Stoney, moving from place to place, and teaching Stoney powerful
(and sometimes funny) lessons about what it means to love a dog.
Doc is my Australian Shepherd. He was coming up on his fourteenth birthday in March 2014. He has been with me at nearly every step of my adult life. For real. I got him when I was twenty years old, and in the last (almost) fourteen years, I rarely went anywhere without him. He loved nothing more than hopping up in the back of the truck and riding down the road with the wind blowing through his long, pretty hair, and his eyes, one blue, one brown, filled with delight. He went with me to the store, to visit friends, to visit family. He went with me to the East Coast, to the West Coast, and to Canada. To most people, seeing me was synonymous with seeing him. Especially before I had all these crazy girls in my life. If you saw one of us, you probably saw both of us. Most people had kids. I had Doc. He was my best friend. Cliché? Yeah, probably so. But it’s the truth.
Well, today, I loaded Doc in the back of that truck for the very last time. Today, I found what I have been dreading to find, for the better part of a year—I found my best old buddy lying stretched out in the yard, soaking up the sun, as he so often liked to do. He had gotten pretty deaf in his old age, so when I called his name from the porch, and he didn’t move, I just thought he was enjoying his nap in the sunshine. That was not too uncommon. He had become quite the hard sleeper in the last few years. However, when I got down to him, I realized that my sweet friend was gone. He had crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He had bumped my hand with his head, asking me to pet him, for the very last time. I’d never look in the rearview mirror to see his pretty face, literally smiling, as we drove down the road, again. He’d never lay at my feet as I smoked a cigar and played my guitars, as my biggest fan. The most constant presence in my adult life went off to pee on the big hydrant in the sky. And for that, I am terribly sad.
I got him in May of 2000 when he was nine weeks old. He was an adorable little fuzzy ball of fur. I’m not usually what you would consider a dog person. I grew up on a horse ranch. I’ve seen a lot of animals come and go. I’ve seen them be bought, sold and traded. And I’ve seen them die. I think that probably caused me to be a little calloused towards animals, at times. I never got too close. Except for Doc.
He and I had an instant connection. I saw him for the first time before his eyes were even opened, and I knew that I wanted him. When I got him, he was like a little teddy bear. He was so cute and fun to play with. The first night at my house, he was scared. So, I picked him up, sat him on my belly, and he went to sleep. It was like a bond formed from that very second. We made an agreement. I’d take care of him, and he’d take care of me. He never needed a leash. Wherever I was, he was there, right beside me.
Doc loved the Frisbee, or a ball, or a stick. Or, really anything else that I could throw for him to fetch. He was so proud, each and every time he brought it back to me. Thousands of times, no doubt. And occasionally, he’d hump the crap out of a pillow from the patio furniture, or a stuffed animal. Or my brother. And it was funny. EVERY. TIME.
Once, he got into a fight with another dog, while we were at my mom and dad’s house, and the other dog nearly ripped his B-hole out. I’m not exaggerating, either. He had twenty-seven stitches right around his pucker string, with a drain hanging out of it. And he had to wear one of those great big cones for weeks because he couldn’t make himself try not to chew the stitches out. Well, because of this ailment, he found it difficult, or, at least, painful, to poop. When a week had gone by, and he still hadn’t pooped, I called the vet. They told me to try Metamucil. So I did but to no avail. I called back on day ten when he was swelled up like he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake, because he still hadn’t pooped, and she said, “Ok, do you have somewhere you can put him outside?” I said, “Yes, I have a fenced-in back yard.”
She said, “OK, well buy some canned pumpkin. Like you use to make a pie. Feed it to him, and LEAVE HIM OUTSIDE.” I said, “But he won’t eat anything! He can’t poop, so he’s stopped eating.” She said, “Oh, he’ll eat this.”
And she was right. He ate it like he was starving. And then he put on the most epic pooping display that has ever been witnessed on this earth. It was breathtaking. Basically, two weeks’ worth of poop started spewing from his body like Mount Vesuvius. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. And the funny thing was, the pumpkin looked nearly the same coming out, as it did going in. And this dog could NOT quit smiling. He was the happiest animal on the planet. Of course, if I had gone ten-plus days without pooping, I am betting I would’ve been pretty damn happy, too.
For thirteen and a half years, he was my partner. He lived with me in Oklahoma, Florida, Virginia, Oklahoma again, and Texas. Through hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts, and floods. He’s seen me skinny, fat, mad, happy, and sad. He knew me with hair, and now without. And none of that mattered to him in the slightest. He liked me when I was pretty damn hard to like. He even liked me when I didn’t like myself, and he was happy to see me every single time he laid eyes on me. If we could all have the same kind of attitude he had, and the shortmemory to be able to forget the bad that happened yesterday and think only of today, what a wonderful world this would be.
I think John Grogan said it best, in his book, and later the movie, Marley and Me. “A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his.” How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”
I feel blessed to have had so many years with an animal with such a pure heart, and such loyalty. I definitely gave him my heart, and there was no question that I had his. Although I already miss him terribly, I know that right now he’s probably humping pillows in his new heavenly home. His old hips don’t hurt, his ears work again, and maybe he isn’t farting quite as much as he has the last few years. Cause those farts were ROUGH.
Today, I’m SO thankful for the years that I had with the best dog in the world. I miss ya, buddy.