Last night I had to put my best friend down. Cricket, my 12-pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, has been my best friend for 13 years. She was the sweetest pup, was constantly by my side, slept with her head on my neck every night, and very, very rarely caused any trouble. Well, she did bite my mother-in-law once, but only because she was aiming for a English Bulldog that was harassing her and missed. Saying goodbye may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness. If it takes my dog being there [in Heaven], I believe he’ll be there. — Rev. Billy Graham
I finished my master’s degree in the spring of 2003, which is when I bought Cricket from a breeder. I’d researched what kind of dog I wanted for years, and then saved for years, so that when I finished my thesis I could buy the perfect puppy, and that’s just what I got.
Cricket had to travel by plane to get to me, and I remember vividly going to the airport to pick her up from the special shipments office. I thought it funny that she arrived with a “Parcel Post” sticker. When I went to pick her up, I pulled her out of her crate in the airport and the poor dog was in miserable shape. She was supposed to have been let out for a walk between connections, which I don’t think happened, and she was smelly, filthy, and flea-ridden. The breeder, who I had researched fairly extensively as best I could and even checked references, had done a poor job. Further, Cricket had some other physical issues. She had a split lower jaw, and her eyes didn’t line up quite right.
I wasn’t sure what to think, but she needed love, and we got her home by holding our noses, opening the sun roof on my Honda Civic (in a freezing rain, but still better than dealing with the smell), got her home, and she immediately got a bath. Got her out of the tub, dried her off, and she still smelled. Bath #2. Now my poor little four-pound friend was just scared. I was sick with a fever, she couldn’t stop shaking, and the two of us just cuddled together on the couch for the weekend after a trip to the vet to check her out and get her all set up with shots and other necessities.
Our first year was a rough one. She was a bit of a challenge to house train — Rochester winters are mighty cold, and despite lots of shoveling, any amount of snow is rather unpleasant when you live that close to the ground. With a year of hard work and tethering (she stayed leashed to my belt at all times when I was home so I could get her outside fast if she had to go), she finally got the idea, and was uber-reliable ever since.
You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us. —Robert Louis Stevenson
As a puppy, she had some funny ideas about what was play and what was unpleasant. For her entire life, she was always scared of balls. Tennis balls, large balls, bouncy balls — she’d growl at them, glare at them, run from them, but had no use for them whatsoever. Her little squeaky cow toy, however, was her favorite object for fetch. I had hardwood floors in my townhouse, and she absolutely loved screaming down the hallway after that cow, skidding along the floor, and scrambling back. Even better, during the summer months, we’d go out back and run in the grass. Cricket would start sitting with me, I’d tell her to go, and she’d make a speedy lap around the back yard, jumping back into my arms at the end of every lap. Though I had a leash for her, it was never needed — she never wanted to be very far away.
Another favorite pastime was chasing ducks along the canal. We’d go for walks early on Saturday mornings, and many of the ducks sat and walked on the ground at the edge of the canal. Cricket seemed to think rather highly of herself (many of the ducks were roughly twice her size) by running through them and seeing them hop into the water out of her reach. Good man/dog bonding time there.
Geese, however, were another story. During our last few hours of bachelor hood, the day I got married, we went up to the lake to chase some ducks. She bit off a bit more than she could chew, though, as she tried to get a goose to jump into the water. The goose turned around, squawked, and ran a few steps at her. Cricket’s “fierce” evaporated as she turned tail and fled toward me, jumping from the ground directly into my chest in one giant leap. I’d never seen hops like that on a dog. The rest of the day went much smoother for both of us.
When I got married, Cricket quickly acclimated to my wife, and eventually to our two young daughters, but she was always my dog. I was the one who took her out the moment I got home each day, in the middle of the night, and early every morning, as dogs just don’t seem to understand weekends. I was the one she slept on each evening, though she did seem to love sleeping on my wife’s pillow when it was unoccupied.
And for a tiny little dog, she packed a ton of personality. Her favorite word was pizza, and I clearly remember working on a paper while eating pizza one evening and hearing the doorbell ring. I left Cricket on the bed several feet away from the pizza with a stern “stay,” thinking this would be a good test of her training. I ran downstairs, took care of the doorbell, and returned to see my very good dog exactly where I had left her. It was only on closer inspection I noticed the ring of red sauce around her mouth. She thought she’d pulled quite the fast one.
If there is a heaven, it’s certain our animals are to be there. Their lives become so interwoven with our own, it would take more than an archangel to detangle them. — Pam Brown
She never barked for someone at the door, typically only barking (a single yip) when she wanted out or up on a lap and couldn’t reach on her own, though as she got older, she did delight in barking at my wife to go out, realizing she’d get a treat when she got back in. As Cricket trained my wife, the pup soon realized that more barks meant more trips outside which meant more treats. It led to a little friction and feuding between my wife and the pup. Occasional yips during dinner when Cricket thought she deserved a plate led to her occasionally getting a timeout (just as our girls received for misbehaving). She was a member of the family.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are sometimes known as comforter spaniels, and Cricket was also a comfort-loving spaniel. Another of her favorite toys was her teddy bear. She would drag her teddy bear all over the house, to wherever I was, so she could cuddle with the bear and I together. Likewise, she loved her (my) flannel sheet. As she got a bit older, and grew out of her puppy phase, games like fetch became less enticing, but pulling my flannel sheet off the bed and dragging it to a sunny spot on the floor so she could cuddle up on it with the sun beating down on her was a favorite activity.
If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went. ― Will Rogers
Cricket holds a special place in my heart that grew and grew over the years, and I can’t imagine a more loyal or loving friend. She was what I needed when I was happy, sad, frustrated, despairing, scared, uncertain, disappointed, and confused. And she could always tell when she was needed. Never before (or since) have I met a dog that liked to give hugs. Cricket would quite regularly climb up on my chest, put a paw on either side of my neck and snuggle in. And her method for waking me up or letting me know she wanted something was unique too. Instead of barking or pawing at me, she’d climb up and lay her neck across my mouth so I couldn’t breath. Not sure where she learned it, but effective.
She lived a solid 13 years, and though she slowed down as she got older, her quality of life was fantastic for most of those 13 years. Only the in past month to six weeks did I really notice a sharp degradation in her mobility, her appetite, and her wakefulness. She moved more slowly, slept more, and ate less. The past week was especially tough. Sleeping most of the day, little eating, not wanting to go out, and she was extra special clingy. I think she knew it was coming, and I did too.
For those who love dogs, it would be the worst form of a lie to call any place where dogs were banned “Paradise.” Certainly no loving God would separate people from their canine friends for eternity. — Stanley Coren, dog psychologist
This past week my wife had to go out of town for work, leaving me at home with Cricket and our daughters. Cricket had been taking a turn for the worse, but started degrading very quickly on Sunday evening. That night she slept with me in our bed, and not only did she sleep on my neck like normal, she constantly snuggled in all evening and kept giving me hugs. Anytime I rolled or moved even an inch, she resnuggled in to get as close as possible. It was my last night to snuggle with her, and in hindsight I think it was quite a blessing.
The next evening I’d picked her up some baby food for dinner — she hadn’t been eating her regular food, and I hoped one of her favorite treats would get her going again. She wouldn’t touch it. After dinner, she started vomiting, shaking, and didn’t even have the energy to move away from the mess. I called the vet and despite not having any openings, they said I could bring her in right away. I think I knew what the answer would be, but I couldn’t let her stay in pain that way.
My two little ones were very good about it, and we went to the vet’s office with them in their pajamas. I can’t say enough great things about how Clark Animal Care Center in Penfield dealt with the situation. My little girls were able to play and read in the kids area, while Cricket and I entered an exam room a few feet away, with the door cracked so I could hear my kids while one of the office workers helped keep an eye on them.
The doc and her assistant were very gentle and understanding with both Cricket and myself, and after an examination, the doc said what I already knew was coming… it was time. I brought Cricket out to say goodbye to the girls, telling them that Cricket was going to have to stay at the vet’s office. They both had an opportunity to pet and kiss Cricket, then I took her back into the exam room where they gave her a sedative. I laid on the floor and held her like we normally went to sleep for five minutes or so, when the doctor returned and asked if I was ready. I gently laid Cricket on the table and nuzzled her head while they administered the final drug. Thirty seconds later, it was done.
She died as she had been born and as she had lived, in my care, and surrounded by those who loved her. — Vicki W. Fowler
It took a few minutes to compose myself, as I really couldn’t speak or do anything but nod my head. The doc told me I could leave whenever I wanted, they’d take care of everything, and we’d handle any further paperwork later. The girls and I went home, and after I got them to bed, it was a very long night.
I’m still not sure quite how to process all this, and I know there aren’t really any good methods other than to realize it’s just going to take some time. In the meantime, it helps a bit to recognize how Cricket was an amazing part of my life, how lucky I was to have the time that I did with her, and how much of that unconditional love I carry with me.
For the soul of every living thing is in the hand of God. — Job 12:10
I’m sure this is a corny post to many, but somehow I felt I needed to write down and share some of this, even if no one ever reads it. Some self therapy, perhaps, that maybe could help someone else someday. Or maybe it just helps me for today. I’m really not up for too much deep thinking or profundity right now. There’s a hole inside, and I think it’s OK that it’s there. I’m not really ready for it to go away just yet. What I do know is that Heaven’s population just gained the sweetest dog ever, and I know someday, hopefully far into the future, there’ll be a bouncy 12-pound Cavalier waiting to give me a doggy hug when I step through the gates. Thank you Cricket. I’ll miss you.
From the moment Cricket entered my life, we set on a stringent regimen of housetraining as prescribed by all the ‘how to properly raise a puppy’-type books, which I had researched thoroughly so as to train the world’s best dog. Unfortunately, Cricket hadn’t read the same books, which led to more than a few moments of angst in our first year.
According to the books, the key to properly training a puppy to use the grass instead of the carpet is to crate train them, creating their crate as their own personal space or den, which they will refuse to soil, and upon allowing them out of the crate, taking them immediately outside where they can do their business. Anytime they are outside of their crate they must be under constant supervision, and at the first sign of the need to expel waste, they are quickly run outside and then praised lavishly once they complete the job.
All well and good with the books, but nowhere in these books, their appendices, or their references, could I find a description of what to do when the dog is scared to death of the crate and refuses to enter. Given her background on the plane trip and the malodorous scent previously described, I can certainly understand Cricket’s reticence upon entering her crate. But I was not even remotely prepared for the ability of a six-pound puppy to avoid being stuffed into a crate by a physically fit 170-pound human. To say that it was impossible to place Cricket into her crate hardly begins to do the issue justice.
At the first sign that I might even glance at the crate, Cricket would run up the stairs at speeds breaking sound barriers as well as several FAA regulations and jump onto the king size bed, crawl under the covers, and sprawl herself somewhere under the covers of the bed. Getting her out from under the covers was no easy feat either, as a mighty small dog in a large bed hiding under a down comforter doesn’t make much of a bump to try to extract. Truly, the only way to efficiently extract the dog from the bed when she wanted to remain hidden involved stripping the bed of all sheets and blankets. Re-making a king-size bed, although not a difficult chore, is not something you want to repeat on a daily basis unless you have a personal penchant for linen layout. However, it can be done, and following five minutes of hunting through the bed, the dog could be removed.
The next step, however, actually placing said dog in said crate, proved a task beyond my physical and intellectual capabilities. Now, I’m not a brilliant man, but I do have a graduate degree in an engineering field and have even taught subjects encompassing the realm of plasma physics and computer chip fabrication at institutions of higher learning. Compared to placing Cricket in her crate, such endeavors were child’s play – figurative ‘cake,’ so to speak.
Getting back to the topic at hand, however, as Cricket was pushed closer and closer to the crate, much like the blowfish in the ocean, she could somehow expand herself to three times her normal size, splay her paws, tail, and head to exact positions of a six-sided star, and hold her posture with the strength of tempered steel, steadfastly refusing to be placed inside the crate. No amount of pushing, shoving, coaxing with treats, or pleading could convince Cricket that going into the box wouldn’t result in her being placed on an airplane for another 1600 mile trip, an experience it became quite obvious she had no intention of repeating. Ever.
Therein ends the attempt to housetrain Cricket using all the ‘book’ methods. As part of her obedience training, however, I happened to ask the dog trainer one day if she could provide some direction in how to best housetrain a dog that had no interest in ever seeing the inside of a crate again. Which led to the development of plan B – Cricket would be confined to the kitchen during the day (where she only in the rarest of circumstances had an accident), and I would set up a bell by the front door which I would use her paw to ring before we went out each time, hoping she would learn to ring it herself. Apparently bells are quite scary to eight-pound dogs, so the results were similar to those of the crate program.
Plan C, also developed by the dog trainer, required Cricket to remain tethered to me by four feet of leash at all other times, under constant supervision. It sounds like an easy enough plan, really. How much can a tiny puppy interfere with your life when tethered to you by a four-foot leash? Oh, the things I learned. Events as mundane as cooking dinner, running laundry downstairs, and even operating a computer incorporate an added spark as you try to also cope with a puppy dog whose entire mission in life is to lick and hug you.
Our first major setback with Plan C occurred in the early winter following several months of a very well behaved puppy dog. Having just gotten out of the shower, I had adorned my skivies when the phone began to ring. I put down the rest of my clothes and picked up the handset, sitting down on the bed to talk to my dear friend Ray as Cricket wandered around the bedspread. About five minutes into our conversation, however, I looked over to see Cricket crouch down and take a leak on the bedspread. I very rudely dropped the phone and scooped up Cricket, telling her bad dog in my best mean voice with a very upset face as I rushed her out the front door and into the area of the yard I had cleared of snow for her to do her business. It was precisely five feet from the front door that I realized I was still clad only in my underbritches. Which guaranteed that this was also the same moment my next-door neighbors pulled into their driveway along with another couple, having just returned from some dinner or movie-type gathering. Not knowing what else to do, and with my feet freezing to the ice on the driveway as Cricket played in the snow (having fully relieved herself on my king size goose down comforter, of course), I couldn’t think of anything else to do but attempt my most genuinely warming smile, wave a greeting to the neighbors, and act as natural as a mostly naked young man in the midst of winter can pull off, all the while supervising a dog in his front yard. It’s a very good think Cricket is a very cute and loving puppy dog.
Upon returning inside and bundling up inside a thick blanket, and after having a heart-to-heart talk with Cricket about the merits of relieving oneself in places other than on top of her master’s king size goose down comforter, and waiting until the master is dressed before having to go out, I heard a noise that sent chills down my spine. No! It couldn’t be! I heard laughter coming from the handset of the phone. Apparently I’d forgotten to hang up in my haste to get the dog outside. Thankfully, Ray is a kind and gentle soul, and with but a modest bribe, has to this day kept what he heard through that receiver to himself.
Once Cricket (and her crate, and the towel, and my shirt) were cleaned up, we began the process of acclimating ourselves to our new living situation. Cricket slept and shook for most of her first two days as she recovered from the shock of her plane trip. During this time we cuddled on the couch, read, and basically laid low, as Cricket was still scared, and I had picked up some sort of bug from the trip home from the airport and was fighting off a sore throat, pulsing headache, and sinus infection at the same time. It’s safe to say we were both miserable.
During these days I first became aware of one of the defining aspects of dear Cricket’s personality. She was, and is to this day, a scarfpuppy. Now for those not familiar with the term, a scarfpuppy is exactly what it sounds like. A puppy that thinks she’s a scarf. The most comfortable place in the world for Cricket, and Crickets are, as a rule, comfort-seeking creatures, was lying down across the neck of whomever would entertain such a gesture of love and macroscopic fur. Although it sounds quite awkward, it is actually a very cozy position for both Cricket and human, and hastened our bonding and my recovery.
My parents came to visit on Cricket’s second day in the house, coinciding with my graduation from graduate school. They arrived that morning, and after ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the puppy for a half hour or so, my mother’s frustration level began to show. For some reason unbeknownst to us to this day, Cricket had no desire to assume the ‘scarf’ position for my mother, who took it as a personal affront. My father, who was content to lie back in his chair and watch Sportscenter, couldn’t keep the miniature bundle of fur off his neck. Personally, I believe it had something to do with the perfume my mother was wearing, but she was truly offended.
Moving on, however, I took some Tylenol and off we went to my graduation ceremony (leaving our dear puppy in her crate so as to avoid any major clean-up work upon our return). The ceremony went well, but upon arriving home we were all rather tired, and looking forward to some lunch, a low-key afternoon, and perhaps even a nap on the couch with the Sunday paper.
As we walked back into the townhouse, we were amazed to find dog poo sitting at the back door. Amazed for two reasons – the first being that Cricket was locked in her crate, which is exactly where we found her. The second being, we had left Cricket’s crate at the front door, a good 40-plus feet from the back door, facing 90 degrees away from the back door. From her crate, there was no way she could have had a direct shot to the back door. Being a very detective-like family with roots in investigatorial reporting going back centuries, we determined that we must figure out how this had happened. Following a thorough examination of Cricket’s crate the fundamental events of the transgression became apparent – she had felt the urge to use the restroom in her crate, and upon completing her task, had managed to fling the pungent doggie feces out the caged door of the crate and around a 90-degree corner and 40-feet down the main hallway. What made the feat even more impressive, however, is that a close inspection of both the dog crate and her paws showed no evidence of there ever having been a mess in the crate or paw-to-poo contact. My father was extremely proud, stating that his son’s new dog had ‘skills.’ Thankfully, similar incidents were never repeated, but despite a variety of theories on the event, the Mystery of the Flinging Poo has never been definitively solved.
I’ve always been a dog person. I grew up with dogs. I like dogs. Most of them like me. But never in my wildest dreams was I prepared for the eight-pound agglomeration of love, sass, and eccentricity in the form of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that I so aptly named ‘Cricket.’
As early as I can remember, we had a dog in the house. I fondly picture the sunny days in suburban East Coast America as a toddler playing with the family’s golden retriever. Only later did I find out that my parents so trusted Joshua that they tied my little red wagon to his collar and allowed him to pull me around the block unsupervised without a worry in the world… how times have changed. Or maybe they just loved my twin brother more than me. No, truly, it must have been the former. Strangely, my folks have always been relatively adverse to being pinned down on an answer to that question.
As I entered my elementary school years in the northeast, we adopted a spaniel mix known affectionately (and appropriately) as ‘Trouble.’ Trouble was a vigorous young pup that had a secret mission from the day we took him home from the shelter – he was going to drive my mother insane. He might have been quite successful at it, had he not managed to sneak out of the house one afternoon and run away. We never did see him again, although I sleep soundly at night dreaming he embarked on a cross-country rabbit chasing expedition and to this day is happily living out his dreams of watching his grandpuppies chase various woodland creatures with the occasional trip into someone’s front yard to tear up their newspaper into tiny little pieces of doggy drool moistened pulp.
Then there was the chubby little Beagle mix with red spots on his belly we came to know as Freckles. Freckles wasn’t especially sharp, nor did he juggle or walk on his forepaws like the dogs at the circus, but he was the dog I most remember growing up with. From his days as a puppy decorating the upstairs with toilet paper to zipping around the yard ever-so-slightly out of reach of the recruited horde of neighbors assisting us in returning him to his leash, he was the archetypal family hound. He’d sit when asked, would lie down about half the time, and even served as first line household dishwasher, a job in which he took great pride, going so far as to become an expert in quietly devouring cauliflower under the table when provided by an over-vegetabled 13-year-old boy.
And there were more. My mother’s four-pound teacup poodle that loved to run the bases while Pop and the boys took batting practice at the neighborhood ball park, and absolutely loved bed-time, when he’d scamper downstairs into my brother’s room and curl up and wait for him to snuggle throughout the night.
Or Duh-Duh-Dale, who was a very sweet and comfortable dog, but also what a champion of political correctness might call mentally challenged. Not being a champion of political correctness personally, I’ll describe Dale as a bastion of idiocy. We all loved Dale – you really had to, he was a very happy dog, mostly because he wasn’t smart enough to know when not to be – but Darwin would have turned over in his grave had he learned Dale survived past the ripe old age of a few hours. Dale, for example, wasn’t quite bright enough to realize he had to open his mouth to eat. Really, please, take a moment to get the picture in your mind, and then take another moment to realize this description is, more or less, factual. With some assistance from a very patient household member to open his mouth and demonstrate how food entered the body, Dale managed to get by. But this was a daily ritual. Feel free, go ahead, take your time and picture it again, it’s worth a second look.
None of these experiences, however, prepared me for what was to come in the spring of 2003. Living alone in upstate New York, I’d pined for a dog of my own for years, but realized I didn’t have the time nor was my schedule conducive to keeping a canine companion. As the last weeks of night school waned, however, I saw an opening – soon I would be working and living a ‘normal’ 8-5 schedule, and with a little help from my young neighborhood friend Mike, who entered my employ as a dog walker each afternoon, I could finally adopt a puppy.
This realization sparked an exhaustive search for the right breeder. Throughout my years of puppy pining, I had already decided on what breed I wanted if circumstances would allow. Living in a townhouse by myself without a fenced yard, a small dog would be most appropriate. I also wanted a dog that was relatively quiet, medium energy, and wouldn’t tear the house apart when I couldn’t be home. My research led me to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed — the sweetest, prettiest dogs I’d ever seen. For those not familiar with the breed, however, they are quite hard to find and not at all easy on the wallet. I saved for months and found a breeder I connected with who answered all my questions and came with recommendations from previous customers.
The breeder, who lived in the central United States, sent me pictures of several puppies and described their personalities. I immediately fell in love with one, though – she was on the smallish side but every picture the breeder sent showed her either squirming through cupped hands or pouncing on the breeder’s German shepherd – she was a true trouble causer, which meshed perfectly with my personality. I sent my deposit so that Cricket would be well kept until she was old enough to begin her new life with me.
Following further arrangements, another check, and many household preparations, the day for Cricket to make her journey from Missouri to New York finally arrived. I could hardly contain my excitement or anxiety. She was flying on a major airline, leaving her home early in the morning and arriving, following two connections, at my local airport at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon. I must have checked her flight status on each leg of the journey 10 times throughout the day, finally leaving work early in order to meet up with my friend Melissa who would drive while I comforted my new puppy on our trip from the airport back to the townhouse.
When Melissa and I arrived at the airport, we immediately ran to the airline customer service counter to await the new arrival. We waited nervously for 20 minutes after the plane arrived, hardly containing our excitement before we spied the airport clerk returning to the customer service booth. She was carrying an animal crate with large red “priority post” stickers on it. For some reason both Melissa and I found this extremely amusing – my new puppy was traveling priority post.
As the clerk neared, we smelled Cricket well before we saw her. Now, I’m no shirker when it comes to items that are something less than olfactory nirvana — I’ve changed my share of diapers, scraped the occasional dead animal off the road, survived a year with a roommate in a college dorm — but nothing could prepare a human being for this. With gritted teeth I leaned down to look in the crate and saw only a tiny five-pound ball of white, black, and brown fur shaking in the corner. Poor little smelly puppy. I immediately wanted to comfort her, and coaxed/pulled her out of her crate and wrapped her in an old towel brought especially for the occasion. Then arose the true test of a man’s heart. Could I pull this puppy in close to my heart and face to comfort her, knowing full well that every inch I pulled her closer would lead to an order of magnitude increase in the power of that malodorous stench? The good Lord provided some measure of assistance, as I believe dear Cricket’s current state of putridity must have killed most of my olfactory nerves, and as the dog neared my face, the level of difficulty inherent in hugging this beautiful, innocent, sweet, scared bundle of reeking spaniel dropped into the realm of achievements surmountable by mere mortal men. My nerve held as, thankfully, did the towel, and we began our bonding process right there in the airport.
The drive home was somewhat anticlimactic, although we did get more than a few strange looks from other drivers. Melissa drove while I held Cricket in the passenger seat, wrapped securely in her warm towel. Although the drive from the airport to my house was less than 20 minutes at a leisurely pace, after 30 seconds in the car it became apparent to both Melissa and I that absolutely every window in the car would have to be open if we were to reach our destination without losing consciousness. The complications arose, however, when one realizes that upstate New York in late April is in general both cold and wet. This particular day combined the thrill and excitement of a light downpour with temperatures that would have made a wooly mammoth dream of a Daytona vacation.
We survived our trip home, but we’d turned the newly adopted smelly puppy into a soaking wet pupsicle. Melissa and I weren’t much better off. Following two consecutive baths (of the puppy), we all warmed up around the fire, neither Cricket nor I quite sure what to make of each other. Our lives together were off to an auspicious start.