My dog is gone.
Thirteen years ago, I plucked him from a litter of golden retriever puppies, tumbling over one another in a box. Why him? The usual reason. Because he nuzzled against me and licked me wildly and I was convinced that I heard a little ruff-ruff voice saying: "Me. Pick me. I’m the one for you."
The thing is, he was. The one for me. I liked to run; he liked to run. I am excitable; he tried to tackle people when they entered the house. I liked to throw; he liked to catch.
The one for me.
His fur was golden; his eyes were sympathetic. I named him Elvis, so I could say, "He ain’t nothing but a hound dog." In the early years, he went with me everywhere. To Florida. To California. I would wait for his crate at the oversized baggage claim, a voyager meeting a loved one at the dock. He jumped wildly when he saw me and I’d say, "Hey, boyyyy . . ."
Once I took Elvis in a rental car to my family’s farm in Pennsylvania. That night, we leashed him to a tree and went out for dinner. When we returned, the leash — and Elvis — were gone. I panicked. "Where’d he GO!"
And then we saw him. He was sitting on the roof of my rental car. I don’t know how he got up there. Or why. I suppose he figured, "Hey, I don’t know where my man went, but he’s not leaving without this thing."
The one for me.
Growing up together
I trained him. Did I mention that? Hours and hours walking the streets of Farmington Hills, tugging on a leash and saying, "Heel!" ("Yeah, right," I could hear him mumbling. "You’re talking to a dog. Who’s the heel?")
I taught him to sit, stay, lie down. The best part was when I said the release command, "OK!" and he would rush me and jump me and do, well, you know what male dogs do. (I could never get him to quit that, even after he was fixed. My leg, it seemed, was the love of his life. So be it.)
He was with me through my bachelor years, through my first house. When kids came over, they rode him like a pony. He never barked, never snapped. Everyone loved him. "The perfect dog," they all said.
And he was mine. He often came with me to a morning radio show I did. And in the hallway, when he heard my voice over the speakers, he would jump up to the glass and peer inside the booth, his paws and his nose pressed against the window pane.
The years passed. I got a bigger house; he got a bigger lawn. I got married; he got less attention. I got busier; he got fewer reunions at baggage claim.
Looking back on that book cover now, I realize how much I changed in those 13 years.
And how much he did not.
The final days
Every morning, sleep in my eyes, I would pour food in a bowl as Elvis ran circles in excitement. Then last year, something happened. One morning, we found Elvis in a pool of sweat, panting and frothing. A brain tumor, they said.
He needed an operation. The best doctor was across the country. The kindest vet I have ever known, Joyce Obradovich, accompanied him and stayed with him. That may sound unbelievable, but she wasn’t the first woman to fall in love with an Elvis.
He came home, weeks later, a zipper scar between his eyes. They said recovery would be complete. The truth is, Elvis never quite came back. He was slower. The jumping stopped. His left eye grew weak. His legs failed him on steps.
We tried everything. We tried everyone. I would stroke him hopefully under his front legs, because, in the old days, that would immediately lead to him rolling on his back, paws up, seeking the ultimate: the stomach scratch. "Keep going," he’d say with his eyes, "keep going, keep going forever . . ."
I could, but he couldn’t.
Elvis died last week.
I sit here now, looking at his picture, and I finally feel the physical need for my dog that he seemed to feel for me all the time. I want to tug under his ears, scratch his head, rub his belly, feel that golden fur, race him, wrestle him, kiss his snout. I want to call his name and run across the lawn with the tennis ball inches from his teeth . . .
He was just this little puppy, who said, "Me. Pick me. I’m the one for you."
The one for me is gone.
What do I do now?
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.