When we moved to Fort Bragg 21 years ago, we brought along a three-month old golden retriever named Journey. He grew to be the perfect dog. He loved people and other dogs. We took him nearly everywhere—on leash, off leash, it didn’t matter. He knew that responding to our commands meant getting petted. And he loved to be petted.
He died from leukemia five years later. We suspected we’d never again have such a perfect dog.
We were right.
A year later, we got a Border collie/Labrador mix that our son Harrison named after a Wilson Jet basketball. Wilson’s response to our requests for appropriate behavior was the canine equivalent of flipping us off. He didn’t care about receiving affection. He cared about getting his own way, about climbing the ivy-covered fence in order to get out of the yard, about running as fast as he could away from us.
Each time I took him to Rose Memorial Park (a secluded cemetery not far from our house) for a run, I would cry because I missed Journey and felt guilty that I didn’t like Wilson. When he was five months old, I called dog trainer Sally Stevens to ask when she was starting a new obedience class. She said that she preferred dogs be at least nine months old before they began training.
“I want to kill him.”
“Bring him this Saturday.”
He was the worst dog in the class—barking and lunging at other dogs to herd them. However, during those six weeks, I learned how to live with a working dog. He needed a great deal of exercise and to be told what to do. We all tried to be consistent in redirecting his energy, but it was exhausting and we often failed.
It would take adopting another dog—Tucker—and another 10 years to turn Wilson into the (nearly) perfect dog.
After Tucker died in late 2011, Wilson and I moved our daily walks from Rose Memorial Park to the streets of Fort Bragg. By that time he was 13-years old—ancient by large dog standards—yet would race to the front gate each time I picked up the leash and opened the door.
A few weeks ago, we sauntered by Bainbridge Park on the home stretch of our walk. A young couple (who looked like tourists) sat at the picnic bench near Laurel Street. They were eating sandwiches while their daughter did what most toddlers do—explored the area nearby in lieu of sitting at the table.
About 100 feet away, a 60-something woman with long white hair sat in a folding lawn chair reading a book. At her feet lay an Australian Shepard with coloring reflective of his mistress.
The toddler started to walk toward the dog. The father yelled a rapid-fire series of “NO! NO! NO!” The toddler sprinted—like toddlers tend to do—away from the command. “No” to a toddler translates into “Must hurry before they catch me.”
The reader looked up. The dog rose to his feet. The toddler was on a collision course with the dog’s mouth. The father and mother untangled themselves from the picnic table, both screaming “NO!” and raced to save their child.
The reader was frozen, yet managed to tighten her hold on the leash. The dog was poised to fend off attack by the creature rapidly closing in on him. A mere three feet before the toddler reached the dog, the reader bent forward, chair and all, and collapsed to pin him to the ground.
A second later, the father grabbed the toddler and lifted her to his chest. He walked back to the picnic table, continuing to yell NO! NO! NO! The toddler screamed as only a toddler can do.
A shaggy street person crossed Laurel Street from the library. He smiled at the father. “Hey man, that was a good save.” The father did not smile back.
This was to be the last of Wilson and my adventures on the streets of Fort Bragg.
The following day, my husband Gary and I went out of town for a short vacation. We left Wilson in the care of our loving friend Marcia who has been our dog sitter for the past six years. The night before we returned home, Marcia called to say Wilson could not stand and his breathing was labored. We made the decision to end his suffering. My pain was amplified by not being able to be with my ninja buddy during his last moments.
Gary and I returned from our trip to enter a house where—for the first time in nearly 15 years—we were not greeted by a dog. It felt empty. And sad. Very, very sad.
Two weeks later, the raw edges of our sadness are starting to heal with the knowledge that we loved Wilson and made his life a good one. It will take much longer to stop missing him.
So sorry for your loss Kate.
Thank you Erica.
Wilson was a Class-A sweetie. I love your tribute to his life. Thanks, Kate.
Thank you honey.
Thanks, Miss Kate. The photos alone are so touching! He was a Champion!!
Enjoyed your tribute. I lost my 17 year old Hershey in April. It still hurts. I have Sally Stevens last dog still. He is 13 year old Spider. He is a peculiar dog, but we love him too.
Oh Barbara, I remember Spider! He was a pup when I was taking my Tucker-dog to puppy class. Sally was a remarkable woman. I adored her. I will miss her if and when we have another dog to train.
Tears on the keyboard, Kate. Lovely.
Thank you Katy. He was my pal. I miss our walks.
Oh No – how sad – love the ninja pic of the two of you!
He was my walking ninja buddy. I now wander the streets alone.
Oh man. I am so sorry. RIP.
Thanks Jessica. Sad.
So sorry Kate, we had to put our wonderful Queensland Heeler down on July 22, there will never be another like her. Hugs to you.
Thank you Wanda. I, too, know how you feel.
Wilson was a one of kind dog…..he was basically Himself and was a comedian especially in his later years……..I watched my own aging process through his actions and felt I had a companion of sorts. Your story was extremely well written as it brought a tear to my eye while realizing Wil is not longer here…………
The challenge of Wilson turned into an honor as he aged.
I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. What a wonderful tribute post to his memory – I love the picture of him looking out on the top of the steps.
Thank you Meg.
Hope your new pup has as many good years as this ol guy seemed to.. we know how difficult this is first hand, sorry to say. I had no idea you practically lived across the street from us- we have the 2 story dk. green house on Harrison/Pine, lived there for 10 yrs. until 2011, now rented. I think Wilson probably gave me a good barking scare a few times!
OMG Kate! I had no idea! Yes, Wilson and his former pal Tucker probably did give you a scare. They liked to race after people behind the bushes and do their most ferocious barking at the gate.
Oh, Yeah.. I know! lol (sneaky lil buggers)