The big green travel crate sits on the grass in the back yard. Dark curious eyes above a white snout peer out through the wire door. Who are all these people they seem to say. Hello, little guy Dad says as he cuts the plastic tabs off that act as a lock for the crate. We open the door, and he sits in the doorway. Dark head with a white muzzle and a white stripe between his eyes held high, he peers around at the five of us crowded around him. No, I don’t think I’ll come out. It’s been a long day, I’ve had many strange adventures, and I think I will stay right here, thank you very much. He doesn’t move to the back of the crate, he isn’t afraid, he just observes those around him. It’s alright, we tell him. You’re home now. Come on out. Nope. I’ll lay down right here in the doorway. His dark head lowers to rest on white paws almost as big as my hand. 9 weeks old, and his paws are already that big. Oh boy. This beauty will be huge. I try to entice him with a treat and get a stare in return. We let Zeus the Westie out of the house, hoping he will come out to see another dog. Ears up and bottle brush tail waving in the air, Zeus prances around the crate. Come on, let’s play. No deal. He’s not moving one inch outside the door. Everybody go in the house, Dad says, maybe he’ll come out then. Mom and the boys go inside but Dad and I sit down at the patio table to wait. It really is alright little guy, I say. There isn’t a better home that you could have come too. I look over at the pine trees in the corner of the yard, at the freshly turned earth, a dark brown scar against the green, painful to see like the scar on our hearts is painful to feel. No, there is no home you could have come to where you will be more loved than here.
As we wait, I think about the new life this little guy will have, and the joy he is bringing with him. Dogs have always been a big part of our family. They have been our companions, our friends, our guards, even our saviors. Throughout the years there have been 18 furry members of our family. Queenie, Missy, Token, Tonga, Lady, Sir, Brandy, Boss, Bear, Molly, Preacher, Katya, King, Lucky, Zeus, Cola and Katy. And Maqua. To us, they are never just dogs, but true members of our families. Each was and is well-loved. We worry about them, care for them, as if they are our children. To lose one is to lose a piece of ourselves. A couple of weeks ago, we lost a huge part of us. Dad’s gentle giant Maqua couldn’t go on anymore. His hips were gone, he was in pain, and so with Mom and Dad at his side, he went to wait for us on the rainbow bridge. His passing left a gaping hole in all our hearts. Maqua was a Pyrenean Mastiff. At close to 200 pounds he was the largest dog we’ve ever had. He was also the gentlest. An ancient breed, Pyrenian Mastiff’s were bred to guard the flocks of sheep against bears and wolves in the Pyrenees Mountains. They are fierce protectors and yet are extremely gentle with children, and anyone they consider part of their “flock.” Although not technically a herding dog, Maqua never failed to use his massive head to gently push me wherever he wanted me. He was Dad’s constant companion for the almost 11 years that he was with us. Riding in the “dog car” – a Lincoln Aviator so named because it was full of dog hair and drool – the two of them would do everything from going to the grocery store to driving to the lake together. They shared a couch in the family room, and in his younger days Maqua was not above climbing up and sitting on you if you were foolish enough to sit on his couch. If you were lucky, occasionally he would bestow a kiss on you. It always made your heart lighter if you got a Maqua kiss. With him gone, what would we do? What would Dad do?
At 81, he had said there would be no more dogs, Maqua was his last. But there was this awful, massive, empty space in the house, and in our hearts. And so my brilliant mama convinced him that no, they were not to old for a puppy, yes, they could train another. Out came the dog folder, the calls were made, and wouldn’t you know there was a litter of Pyrenian Mastiff puppies just ready to go to new homes. Querida’s litter W, male number 2 looked out from the pictures as if to say “Well – what are you waiting for?” and that was it. A week later we were sitting at the airport, an hour early, waiting for the plane from California to arrive.
And so Dad and I sat at the patio table, waiting for male number 2 to venture out of his crate. After a while, we decided waiting wasn’t working so we gently tipped him out onto the grass. I got down on his level, petting and talking softly to him. Ah, a puppy kiss. But he still stayed right next to the crate. So we moved the crate closer to the table, and he followed. About 10 minutes later, we moved it closer still. He followed again and lay down next to it. Slowly he worked his way nearer, Dad talking to him all the time. And then he was sitting at Dad’s feet. You could almost feel them bonding, see the connection being made. Yes, Lobo was home. He knew it, and we knew it. He will never replace Maqua, but he will be just as loved. And so we will endure chewed furniture and messes on the floor, torn skirts (Lobo has decided he likes to dance with my skirt in his mouth) and missing shoes, stolen sandwiches, sassy barks, puppy kisses, ears soft as silk and dark eyes with a mischievous glint. For in our eyes, there is no finer sight than a man and his dog, than this man and his dog.