My chocolate Lab, Briggs, is quite a bouncy fellow, even at nine-and-a-half. Unlike many of his peers, he’s not encumbered by arthritis, nor is he carrying any extra poundage that might bring on or exacerbate such a condition. Nope. He’s as fit as a fiddle which might help explain his legendary energy level. And that energy level, in turn, might help explain why he causes so many…situations.
Did I mention that my wife is allergic to dogs? And that I owned Briggs before she and I ever met? Such circumstances, it seems, have made Caroline and Briggs friendly adversaries of sorts. Don’t get me wrong. Caroline loves Briggs. But she grows frustrated with his frequent shenanigans, so much so that she’s given him a special moniker.
“Honey,” she said to me over the phone one day when the triplets were just babies. “Your [moniker alert] dumbass dog is at it again.”
“What’s he done now?”
“Eaten an entire bag of dirty diapers and thrown up all over the floor. Only it doesn’t smell like throw up. It smells like something else.”
“Well, Caroline, you’ve always said he had sh!t for brains. I suppose it was only a matter of time before he had sh!t for lunch, too.”
Lucky for us, Briggs isn’t always hell-bent on consuming human DNA. Unlucky for us, he’s always hell-bent on consuming something. And in so doing, he’s developed a deftness that I wouldn’t believe were it not for the fact that I’ve experienced it firsthand. Like the time he ate half of an enormous pot of chili (which was simmering on the stove), leaving in his wake no evidence whatsoever aside from a single, solitary bean upon the floor. Or the time he happened upon a half-eaten pizza inside its box atop the kitchen counter. A less sophisticated interloper would have devoured the entire thing, box and all, but not Briggs. He somehow opened the box, ate the contents therein, the returned the cardboard container to its original and closed position.
With the last piece left perfectly in tact.
His misadventures are not confined to our house. Sure, we have an invisible fence, but every so often, Briggs decides to endure the jolt of electricity required to embark upon one of his infamous neighborhood romps. A few Decembers ago, Briggs went on a Yuletide version which resulted in the following call from our neighbor.
“I just saw Briggs in the Smith’s yard. He was, um, playing with one of the wise men in their nativity scene .”
It should be noted that by playing my neighbor meant humping.
“Well,” I said, “it’s comforting to know, at least, that he’s keeping good company.”
But Briggs does more than just keep good company. He is good company. Oh, sure, he’s kinda gross. At night he’ll lap at his package for what seems like an hour, to the point where you’ll wanna tell him There ain’t no tootsie roll in there, Boss. Afterward, he’ll doze off, but don’t think you’ve heard the last of him, as not only is Briggs a prolific snorer, he’s also an avid sleep-farter.
Yes, folks, Briggs has eaten, humped and sleep-farted (slept-farted?) his way into a brand of infamy which makes Marley look like a bark-less Yorkie on doggie downers. But Briggs is still good company, alright. And I should know. Because back in the day, he was all the company I had.
It was the very beginning of 2003, when I was a broken newcomer to the hometown I thought I’d left for good in the complicated aftermath of the death of my dad. I decided a yellow Lab would help ease the pain of the daunting transitions which loomed before me. When I got to the dog farm, the breeder told me I was welcome to pick out a yellow, but I’d not be able to take it home for another couple of weeks.
“But I’ve got some chocolates that you could take home today.”
“Nope. I’m in for a yellow Lab. Period.”
Which is when a little brown puppy with a fuzzy crinkle on the bridge of his chocolate-colored snout approached and wagged his tail with such gusto, his entire body wagged, too. Until he finally stopped long enough to pee.
On my foot.
Fifteen minutes later, I was behind the wheel of my car and the brown puppy was riding shotgun and suddenly, my world was a little less broken. It’s impossible to overstate the amount of time we spent together during those first few year. Briggs became my running partner, my hiking buddy, my dinner companion, my TV pal, my bed mate, and quite possibly the best I’ve ever had.
Then he turned into something else — a bridge — one that helped me cross over to a special little girl who would eventually become my stepdaughter. When I asked for Alli’s permission to marry her mom she granted it with glee, the with glee part on account of her sudden realization that Briggs was part of the deal. That engagement would propel me from carefree bachelor to father of four in just 13 months, which meant that I had a lot of changes to absorb. And so, too, did Briggs.
He eventually got used to sleeping in his own bed. And staying off the furniture. And riding in the way back. He never once complained that his camping trips virtually disappeared. Along with his belly rubs. And he never even complained about the triplets riding him like a horse or pulling on his tail.
Nope. He adjusted gracefully to a new world in which my wife was my wife, my kids were my kids and he was my dog. No longer in the spotlight, instead off in the corner. Still sleek. Still energetic. Still youthful, with only the graying of his chin to hint at the years that had passed, along, of course, with the six people to whom he had deferred despite the fact they’d arrived on the scene long after he.
On Monday, Briggs raced up the steps he’s crested hundreds if not thousands of times in his life, but this time, unlike the others, the hound who never complains let out a piercing yelp when he reached the top, immediately unable to put any weight on his back right leg. The vet told me what I’d already suspected. Briggs had shredded his ACL.
I knelt upon the cold tile to hug him one last time before he was taken back to be prepped for surgery and as I did, he licked my entire face like he’d not done since he was a puppy, as if to say, Despite the fact that a wife and five kids have pushed me from the fore of your consciousness, you’ve never once, not even for an instant, been pushed from the fore of mine.
As I drove home, I could almost see him sitting right next to me, riding shotgun and poking his head out the sunroof, looking at the dam as we rode through the gap. I could almost feel him laying alongside of me in my tent beneath the canopy of stars that shone dimly through the rainfly, basking us both in a soft light that lulled us to sleep on one of the countless nights that littered the era in which camping with your dog wasn’t something that required permission.
Back in my driveway, my little girl came outside to greet me. Tears streamed down her face as I opened the arms she instinctively sought. I listened helplessly once she’d jumped safely into them as she told me in her sob-stuttered voice that all she wanted was for Briggsie to come home, this from the girl who seemingly thinks his name is Move Briggs as many times as she’s complained about his well-intentioned shadowing.
Inside, I sat in the keeping room with all five kids, even baby Luke, and explained what it meant to take something for granted, and how we’d done just that to Briggs. We all vowed to never do that to him again.
He’s home now, hopped up on more meds than Elvis, and wearing the “cone of shame” to prevent him from messing with the staples in his leg. He’s looking at eight weeks of extreme limitation — eight weeks where he’ll be relegated to a crate and in need of great care, and as inconvenient as it is for a family that touts so many little ones, I’m savoring this opportunity I’ve been given to provide him with the nurturing love he not only needs, but so richly deserves.
I’m sitting on the floor next to him right now. Have been for the entire composition of this post. And each time my reflections have caused my eyes to grow misty, I take a little break to massaged my faithful hound between his shoulder blades, right on that spot he likes, and as I do, I tell him how sorry I am that I ever took him for granted.
And each time, he contorts his head awkwardly, comically even, so he can look directly at me with eyes steeped in a dignity that’s at odds with the inverted dunce cap which frames them.
Eyes that tell me he’d totally forgive me if it weren’t for the fact that he was never upset about it in the first place.
Here’s a look at Briggs through the years if you’d like to take a peek. And, in the comments, I’d love to hear about your Briggs.
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