Dogs love to ride in cars.
Each time I’d grab his leash, Bronx (my basset hound) would sprint to the car, jump up on the seat and wag his tail with anticipation. The destination didn’t matter. He knew the game was afoot.
Bronx and I logged many miles together over the last nine years.
Thousands. But no trip will ever stand stronger in my mind than the last one. The one-way trip.
You see, earlier this week I had to put Bronx to sleep. He lost his brief bout with cancer, and I lost my best friend.
Those who’ve lost pets know that sting.
For those who haven’t, indulge me a memoir.
His full name was Bronx Gehrig “Clyde” Morgan, but he’s gone by several monikers over the years. Dad called him Bronxy Boy. Mom called him her grand-dog. My 18 month-old niece Abigale could only say, “Bu?” and my roommates have called him several names not fit for print.
The boy loved to eat, just like his old man.
Though low to the ground like all basset hounds, the incredible length of his torso made most shelves, tables and counters easy prey for his curious nose and determined mouth. He patrolled the house like a shark looking for the slightest morsel. Many loaves of bread, bags of fast food, and even raw chicken breasts met their end inside his otherwise-gentle jaws.
I bought him as a puppy early in the summer of 2004. We brought him home on a sunny afternoon. He hadn’t grown into his ears yet, and when he set out to explore my parents’ backyard, he stepped on them and slammed his tiny face into the ground. Repeatedly.
At the time, I was a college sophomore. My roommate and I wanted a dog mainly as a conversation starter for females passing by our house. We were both Yankees fans, so the name Bronx stuck. We’d settled on getting a basset hound because, well, they were as lazy as we were.
But owning an animal is a responsibility, and days into the arrangement it became apparent that it wasn’t one my roommate was really prepared for. I became Bronx’s primary caregiver, and I promised him then that I’d continue to be for the rest of his life.
That roommate left shortly thereafter, but Bronx stayed.
For nine years, my life has rolled on. I’ve had the amazing luck to experience some poignant moments of pride and success in my young adult life. Degrees. Awards. Relationships. Weight loss.
And as is typical for all of us, I’ve also had some low moments of intense guilt, anger and loneliness.
Bronx was there for all of it. Shared jubilation in good times. Stoic support in the bad. The unconditional love of a good dog is hard to quantify, but impossible to ignore.
The dog was lazy. His naps consistently overlapped one another. His one trick (other than food-swiping or seat-stealing) was twisting the caps off plastic soda bottles with uncharacteristic determination. Show him an empty bottle, and he’d go crazy. He‘d attack it with everything he had. Once he’d twisted the cap off, he’d immediately walk away from the wreckage a proud and uninterested champion.
One time my dad glued a bottle shut to see what Bronx would do. It took him over an hour, but eventually he got the top off. His performance earned a chorus of applause from the whole family, and he promptly took a three-hour nap.
Since I found out about the cancer a few weeks ago, I’ve gotten a humbling amount of calls, messages and words of encouragement from friends, family, coworkers, exes, acquaintances and even total strangers.
In talking to them, I’ve reflected a lot on how many lives a person (or in this case a pet) touches. People I didn’t remember ever knowing Bronx — people I haven’t talked to in years — wrote me to say they remembered him and loved him for one reason or another. But I guess that’s the transitory nature of human relationships. We drift in and out of each other’s lives for a variety of reasons, and life goes on. We never stop to clarify another person’s impact on us until they’ve gone.
I’ve also reflected, on a larger scale, about the fleeting nature of life in general. All of us are navigating our way through short-lived existences on this planet, impacting a web of people in our wake.
That’s tough to comprehend, even when you want to.
So what kind of impact did Bronx make on me and my family?
He took pleasure in loving and being loved. He literally urinated himself with excitement at the first sign of a new friend, or adventure.
When he pilfered, he did it with a purpose (usually food) and an innocent curiosity. He took pride in his accomplishments, but celebrated little.
In total, he was content with his station in life. We should all be so lucky.
He took that final ride on Monday. His tail didn’t wag, and I had to lift him into the car. I didn’t want to take him, but he knew it was time to go. He laid his head on my leg as we rode.
It’s February, and the weather outside is rainy and cold. Typically on a night like tonight, I’d lie next to Bronx and snuggle up to my furry little heater for warmth. But not tonight.
In his wake, I guess I can best sum up his impact on my life like that: He’s kept me warm on a lot of cold nights, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
I’ll miss you, buddy. I hope there’s a pile of chicken and plastic bottles waiting for you on the other side.
And I hope you enjoyed the ride.
R.J. Morgan is a journalism teacher at Starkville High School and adviser of the school’s student newspaper, The Jacket Buzz.