Today would have beenBerk’s fourteenth birthday. I don’t believe in an afterlife — the end is The End, so enjoy it while it lasts — and if there is some sort of Rainbow Bridge out there, I expect Berk would probably be trying to base-jump off it regardless. So, when it comes to life after death, my memories and this here Interweb will have to do.
Yesterday morning, two weeks before his 14th birthday, Berkeley and I went to the vet. This was just for a check-up and a bordetella vaccine, and Berk seemed chipper as always — He was always especially happy and excited when we broke our morning routine to venture somewhere else. I told the vet that I was actually surprised by the good health he’d been in. Since the bad bite and lost toe in 2012, Berk had been the picture of vitality — Just the night before, we’d played a solid half-hour of “apartment Frisbee.” From what they could tell, the vet agreed — they said his heart seemed normal, his movement lively, his disposition upbeat, his joie de vivre intact. He did have an ear infection in one ear, so they gave me some topical meds for that. I took him home, applied them, scratched him behind his ear, and went to work.
Yesterday evening, I came home from work to find Berk splayed out on the floor, dead for many hours. (His body seemed like it was in a violent position – legs up, head half under the couch. But now that I think about it, what probably happened is he died on the couch, hopefully sleeping, and his body fell off sometime later — hence the contortion when the rictus sent in.) My friend Arjun and I carried his corpse downstairs and drove it to the vet for cremation. In the space of ten hours, he’s gone from being happy to just being gone. Looking out at the snow everywhere this morning, I can’t help but think that this is the type of day he would have loved.
The shock of it all notwithstanding, I know that this a pretty fortunate way for the old man to go. He was happy and in good health — still able to jump to his perch on the table whenever he wanted, still interested in smelling things and exploring the world, still eager for a bite or three of whatever I was having for dinner — on the day he died. Neither of us had to go through the long fade, as it were. And, y’know, he would have been fourteen in two weeks: We had an amazing run together. I knew this day was coming sometime in the relatively near future. I just thought — and hoped — it wouldn’t be today. What do we say to the God of Death? Not today. But today — or yesterday — it was. And now his watch is ended, his perch is empty.
Berkeley was born on February 25th, 2000. My ex-wife and I got him on May 15 of that year. We knew we wanted a sheltie, and I had seen a Mother’s Day sale for them out near Harper’s Ferry. We ended up seeing three or four pups in a barn — three brown-eyed shelties barking and licking our hand, and one blue-eyed one, watching us silently from afar. I knew right away I wanted the introvert.
My ex-wife and I divorced the following year, in 2001. I knew I wanted Berk and gave up all our other (very few) common possessions — Berk coming with me was never really in doubt. And for the next twelve+ years, he was my constant companion and power animal. We’d walk the streets of New York and DC together, spend the weekends in Riverside and Central Park, Dupont Circle and the Mall, and days and nights just hanging around the pad — him circling or on watch.
There was a year or two of grad school there where Berk was the only living entity I had consistent contact with. I remember at least twice in our time together, when I was devastated after a scorched-earth break-up and the general despair of the long-term PhD process, where the only thing I could do for days was stagger around my apartment sobbing, clutching a half-gallon of water so I didn’t completely dry out. Berk would dutifully follow me around, tail wagging, and lick my face dry when I got in a place where he could reach me. Despair or no, there was salt to be had here.
He was a great dog. Lived happy until the day he died.
And he was my best friend. I can think of a lot of times when he felt like my only friend.
…but when I do, there’s probably in-line skates, skateboards, Segways, or Ranger the Australian sheepdog (Berk’s neighborhood nemesis, the Joker to his Batman, snake to his mongoose, etc. etc.) involved. I put this up on Twitter/Facebook last week, but for the GitM-inclined, here’s Berkeley, nearing 14 this February, cultivating his Most Interesting Dog in the World cachet. Stay thirsty, my friend.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can help them pick up a new pastime or two. On account of Pups in the Park night at Nats Park, Berk got to take in his first MLB game Saturday night: Phillies over Nats, 5-4. FWIW, he seemed to quite enjoy the experience, most notably all the many other dogs around and the bag of peanuts in the seat in front of him. The folding chairs, not so much.
“No one should deny themselves their own weirdness. Calvin is never afraid to boldly declare his weirdness, even when doing so results in his classmates ostracizing him and his teachers and parents disciplining him. To act any other way, to be any other person, is an option that never even enters his head.”
10 Life Lessons from Calvin & Hobbes. A bit cloying at times, but hey, the world always needs more posts about Calvin & Hobbes. Also, if you can’t imagine yourself a tiger buddy for these, a crazy sheltie will also do.
“As many as 35,000 stray dogs live in Russia’s capital city…Taking the subway is just one of many tactics the strays have come up with for surviving in the manmade wilderness around them. ‘The street is tough and it’s survival of the fittest,’ says Poyarkov. ‘These clever dogs know people much better than people know them.'”
ABC News takes a gander at the subway dogs of Moscow, who, for reasons of survival, seem to have figured out the system better than most tourists. “Moscow’s strays have also been observed obeying traffic lights, says Vereshchagin…Sometimes a pack will send out a smaller, cuter member apparently realizing it will be more successful at begging than its bigger, less attractive counterparts.”
In very related news, a new study finds that, since domestication many moons ago, dogs and humans have been evolving along parallel lines. “The study shows that dogs split from gray wolves about 32,000 years ago, and that since then, domestic dogs’ brains and digestive organs have evolved in ways very similar to the brains and organs of humans…They found both species underwent similar changes in genes responsible for digestion and metabolism, such as genes that code for cholesterol transport.” This must be the reason Berk loves him some gummi candy.
Berkeley, GitM’s resident Sheltie-American sidekick and ombudsdog, is thirteen today. [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.5.] In lieu of pictures, I took this video over the weekend with my phone. Not all that interesting, but it does capture the circling, random barking, and street watching that comprises much of the old man’s day. Happy b-day, little fella.