Grief · Life

The Brindle Boxer

When I pulled in to the veterinarian’s office, the red-bearded man with the brindle boxer was standing out front.

Maggie was fluctuating between ecstasy and fear. She had been delighted when she got to go for a ride in the car, but she recognized the building when we pulled in. The dog out front delighted her — Maggie is very social — but the door just beyond terrified.

She jumped willingly out of the car. The boxer squared off in the middle of the sidewalk.

It was a big dog, solidly built. She laid claim to the sidewalk, blocking our way to the entrance. The man made no move to move her. I nudged Maggie to my right side so I would be between her and the boxer. I knew Maggie would want to give an exuberant hello and I wasn’t the boxer shared the sentiment.

The man watched me shift Maggie.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “she can’t see nothing.”

I had already launched into my usual Maggie’s-biggest-problem-is-she’s-overly-friendly line when I heard him add as we passed, “She’s dying anyway.”

His words seeped in as I took Maggie through the door.

I should go out and say something, I thought, as I sat on the bench in the waiting room, but Maggie had already started her shiver-and-shed routine. She really doesn’t like visiting the vet.

Maggie at the vet

While calming Maggie, I made small talk with a woman who had worked with my father. Her cat waited quietly in a red backpack cat carrier on the bench next to her. We waited and chatted while people dropped off and picked up their cats, mostly. Through a window, I could see the man with the brindle boxer standing outside, still owning the sidewalk, although it looked a lot less like ownership now.

A technician came out and called a name. Three people, a woman roughly my age and two young adult children, stood. The girl went outside and came back in with the man and the boxer.

“We have a private room here,” said the technician as she opened a door behind her.

I couldn’t see the other faces, but I could see the man, pressing his lips together, the corners of his mouth turned down, as he slowly led the boxer in. A few minutes later, the girl came out again, her eyes red and puffy. She went outside and came back with an older man, who walked very slowly.

The door to the room opened.

“Pop, we’re in here,” said the red-bearded man. His voice broke.

The girl followed her grandfather. She was openly weeping now. With her back to me, I saw the large sparkly letters on her gray hoodie — “LOVE LOVE PINK.”

I wished I could magically change it to read “LOVE LOVE BRINDLE” because I knew that’s what she was feeling.

The small talk ended. My father’s friend and I both watched the drama with heavy laden eyes as the family closed the door to their private room at the vet.

“So hard,” she whispered to me.

Yet, we were witness to a well-loved dog surrounded at the end by three generations.

Sometimes the most terrible things are also the most beautiful.



Several years ago I was walking Maggie in our little town and ran into a woman who was walking Maggie’s twin, a mostly black dog with some white markings.

“What kind of dog is yours?” the lady asked.

“They told us that she was a shepherd-boxer-akita mix at the shelter where we got her. Basically, she’s a mutt,” I said.

The woman smiled and said, “Mine, too!”

We stood and talked for a few minutes about how similar our unrelated dogs were. Unrelated, yet entirely related.

“Don’t you think,” she said, “that if we took all the dog genes in the world, put them in a big bag, shook them up and then pulled out a dog, it would look like this?”

Yes, she has crooked ears.
Yes, she has crooked ears.

I laughed and agreed.

Since that conversation I have noticed so many dogs that look like Maggie.

I suppose that would say that she’s a common dog.

But she isn’t.

Our neighbor who walks Maggie for us while we’re away — and sometimes, even when we’re aren’t — often comments on what a smart dog Maggie is. “I usually only have to tell her once and she minds right away,” she tells us.

Maggie is smart. And fun. And energetic.

She can sit, stay, shake, lie down, die, and come. She carries a fish on her walks, chases snowballs and squirrels, and howls at the noon whistle. When we come back from being away, she races around the house in a doggy-happy dance. What more does a dog need to do?

Catching a snowball
Catching a snowball
Balancing a dog biscuit
Balancing a dog biscuit

This past summer we got a kitten. She’s supposed to be a working cat, taking care of the mouse problem at my father’s house, but she’s still in training, slaying ladybugs and cluster flies in abundance.

She’s all black with a few white hairs like a little bow-tie.

Once we went on a field trip to a cat rescue organization and their shelter was full, mostly with black cats.

“They’re the hardest to adopt out,” the lady told us, “and seem to be the most common color.”

Our Piper was a freebie from a farm. When I took her to the vet, they asked for her breed.

“She’s just a cat,” I said.

I’m guessing that if you took all the cat genes in the world, put them in a bag, shook them up and pulled out a cat, it would be black.

But Piper likes to sit on my shoulder and lick my ears. She pounces on my feet from under the bed while I’m getting ready for bed. She snuggles on my lap in the morning, and rolls onto her back when my brother stops by so he can rub her belly. She is a special cat.

Perched on my shoulder
Perched on my shoulder
Sleeping in the sun
Sleeping in the sun
Conquering cluster flies
Conquering cluster flies

All this is to say that I think the least aspect of any creature is pedigree. Or color. Or any other externals.

What’s inside is unique and wonderful, waiting to be discovered and nurtured into maturity.