For the Love of Brody: Part 1 - The Bliss
Brody was “that” dog. You know the one I’m talking about -- your "forever dog." The one that no matter how many other pups come and go through your life, “that dog” is always going to be your version of Marley and Me.
What’s funny about Brody is that we ended up together only because I was trying to deal with the grief of putting down my 15-year-old yellow lab, Sierra. She acted like a puppy until the last six months of her life, happily collecting the tennis balls my neighbor’s annoying kids would bat into my yard, off my roof, into my carefully tended tomato plants. She even healed from ACL surgery at age 12 and swam and chased squirrels like a champ. Part of me honestly thought she’d live forever.
Sierra at age 13 in New Hampshire
Then things started to go wrong with her kidneys. I couldn’t bear to put her down and waited too long -- a lesson so many of us dog lovers have to learn the hard way. I learned how to give her two IV’s every day to keep her hydrated. When she stopped eating her food, I hand fed her -- chicken, rice, shredded carrots, bacon -- it was like Russian roulette trying to figure out what she might be willing to eat those last few months. Then Christmas came, and two days later she wouldn’t get up. I could finally see it in her eyes. I felt like she’d given me a gift by waiting until after the holidays, and I realized she’d been ready to go for a long time. She was just waiting for me to be ready -- which I still wasn’t -- but now she was telling me, “enough.”
I wanted to use a home vet, so months earlier I had found one in preparation of this day, but of course he was away for the holidays. Somehow I found another one who was willing to come to my house the next day. On that last night I slept next to her -- rather, I cried next to her all night, wondering how I would ever get through this. And then hours later, in my arms, she was gone. On her way out, the vet hugged me. “If you’re lonely, volunteer to walk some of the dogs at the shelter,” she said knowingly before she left. I just nodded, my voice nowhere to be found.
But the words stuck with me, and after three days of being a zombie I found myself filling out a form to walk dogs at the shelter. The past six months of my life I’d spent every waking minute with Sierra, and I was just too lonely and the house was just too quiet without her. Walking other dogs didn’t fill the void, but it did help me get back to normal life. I started going twice a day, seven days a week -- the same routine I had with Sierra. But these dogs were crazy. Time was limited and there were so many to exercise. I brought my roller blades from the 90’s and let the cooped up huskies and shepherds haul me down the road pushing 35 mph. Then I started running two at once. That’s when I bought knee pads.
At some point in the first month, I found out one of the dogs I took rollerblading had been put down. “He’s been here a few months, and he was just too hard to place,” they told me. I hadn’t even thought about if the shelter euthanized any of the dogs or cats that came in. But after that, my mission changed.
It was easy to spot the dogs that weren’t likely to make it. They were in a separate section of the shelter where only staff and “certified” volunteers could go. They were the dogs that needed special work before they might be adoptable. They had aggression issues, or separation anxiety, or a whole slew of things that might make them hard to place. The staff was overworked and doing their best to work with every animal that came to get them placed in a home. No one wanted to have to put any of these animals down, but in this particular shelter there was a lot of incoming animals and sometimes it came to this. These dogs (I'm allergic to cats) were the ones I couldn't get out of my head.
I’d become a household name around the shelter by this point, so I quickly got certified to work with the “tough” ones. Soon after that, I convinced the staff to let me know which dogs were going to get euthanized two days ahead of time and dedicated myself solely to them. For those two days, that dog would come home with me. It was a combination of torture and some way of healing from losing Sierra. Those 48 hours had one driving goal: give them the best two days of their life. We went hiking, rollerblading, swimming. They got the best treats, tons of play time, and lots of love. And after 48 hours, I brought them back to the shelter and held them while the vet did the deed. After it was over, I walked outside, sat in my car, and cried every time.
Months later, Brody was up. I’d seen him in the shelter and had played with him a few times. His enclosure was about 10-feet-long and 6-feet-wide, and from the floor above you could see all the dogs sleeping...except Brody. Every time I looked down, he was running circles in his pen so fast that he would literally run up the walls as he went around. He was a “lab mix,” but it was pretty obvious once you got close that the “mix” in him was pit bull. He looked all black from afar, but up close in the sun you could see a beautiful brindle on his coat. His ears were pitty ears, his tail was a pitty tail, and his eyes were 100% pitty. The rest of his 75-pound pure muscle body was lab. I’d tried to take him rollerblading early on, but his energy was so inexhaustible that I honestly thought he might kill me because he was clocking faster than 40 mph. So instead of a death wish, I’d take him in the play area and throw the ball for what seemed like hours until I took him in reluctantly, afraid he was going to die of a heart attack.
Brody and friends from the shelter in 2009
He'd been on the adoption list awhile. In fact, I found out he’d been in the shelter for more than eight months and he was only two. Before that, he’d been abused, neglected, and kept in a cage for more than 23 hours a day where he couldn’t turn around. He didn’t have any bites on his record, but he was supposedly a little skittish around men. Hardly anyone could walk him, and in the end he wasn't going to be an easy dog to place, and there was no space in the shelter to keep him there.
Of all the dogs I took on their 48-hour dream date, Brody was probably the one I was looking forward to the least. I had a busy weekend, and I figured with his energy he'd eat every piece of furniture I owned unless I found some kind of giant hamster wheel to lock him on. Just putting him on a leash was miserable; your shoulder would almost come out of its socket by the time you got him to the play yard. But I couldn’t not fulfill my mission of giving this guy a good last two days. So in the car he went.
I immediately regretted not having a dog gate. He was up in the front seat, licking my face incessantly before I even had the key in the ignition. He was insanely strong, and my attempts to push him in the back were useless. Thirty seconds later he was on my lap, squeezed up between the steering wheel and my chest, paws on my shoulders, drool everywhere, and no concept of personal space. I fished around in my pocket for a treat and flung it in the back, which he dove after with no regard for the headrest in his way, so while he was momentarily tangled up, I jumped out of the car and shut him inside. His tail wagged happily at me, circling so fast it could give a helicopter a run for its money. He licked every inch of the windows while I tried to figure out a plan. Then he started barking at me -- the most annoying, high-pitched, “me me me me me me” bark I’d ever heard. I swore at myself out loud for admiring Mother Teresa so much. That’s what had gotten me into this mess in the first place -- trying to have a big heart.
Ten minutes later, we were on our way, Brody clipped in, the leash knotted in the middle and the knot hanging out the back of my closed trunk. He was still straining against his collar, licking the air, desperately trying to get closer to me and get us both killed. All I could think about was how thankful I was to have a fenced in yard, because this guy was going in there immediately and probably never leaving -- although I did have my doubts about anything less than 15 feet high being able to contain him. It was about this time in my train of thought that he was on top of me again, half of the chewed through leash dangling from his mouth. He couldn’t have been any happier -- between the licks his giant mouth was undoubtedly forming a gigantic smile. We were still a few miles from home and easily within a few hundred dollars of a reckless driving ticket, so I had to pull over.
Brody takes on Driftwood Circa 2009
I thought through my options. It was only a few miles, and clearly I was smarter than this dog. I had minimal options to work with, so I brought the backseat seat belt through his collar, and because he was so overexcited the seat belt choked him back every time he tried to lunge at me. While my methods may be questionable, it worked and no one died in the last few miles of the ride.
Since he’d chewed through the leash, when we arrived to my house I half dragged and got half dragged by him to the door. Letting him in, I sat in the mudroom and thanked my lucky stars this was only going to be 48 hours of misery. He did a run through of the house, sniffing everything at least twice, lapping up a whole bowl of water and then flipping the second bowl on its side, spilling water everywhere. Out in the yard we went. I threw tennis ball after tennis ball. About ten minutes in, I got a work phone call and looked away for two minutes only to find him hanging from his mouth by a giant tree limb, back legs six feet off the ground, literally holding on by his jaw and then jerking all his weight up and down to try to rip it loose from the tree. I could only shake my head.
I was too scared to leave him outside alone, and I had another work call that required me being at my desk. I prepared numerous excuses in my head for why I would have to tell my client I had to reschedule, anticipating the worst. I sat down at the table and dialed the number. And that’s when it happened. Calm as a cucumber, Brody walked over to Sierra’s old bed and lay down, curling himself into a ball and immediately closing his eyes. He didn’t so much as move a muscle for the next hour of my phone call.
When the call ended, I got up from the table for a drink. He popped his head up, watching me, then plopped it back down and groaned. A few minutes later, the snoring started.
My confusion mounted through the rest of the evening. I worried he’d eaten poison or something. He was just so calm. When I changed rooms, he’d follow and cozy up to my feet, sometimes resting his head on my knee and closing his eyes while I scratched his ears. Then he’d snore away until my next move. Before bed, I let him outside assuming he’d be jumping out of his skin to get after that tree branch again, but all he did was meander around the lawn and find a tree he liked, then hustled back inside for another nap. I remember poking him at one point to make sure he was alive. He twitched his ear at me but didn’t feel like opening his eyes.
I didn’t set my alarm, figuring this two-year-old beast would have me up by 5 a.m. Instead, I woke to the sunlight streaming in on me, the clock reading 8:45 a.m. I jumped out of bed, imagining all the damage he’d done in the night and at the last second almost broke my leg trying to divert when I realized he was right below my feet, still sleeping. “Brody,” I whispered. One eye perked up, then he cranked his mouth open in the biggest yawn possible and stretched out his front legs for a full minute like a professional yogi. He slowly plodded over to me and raked his giant tongue across my whole face. Then he went and lay down in the kitchen, apparently annoyed at having been bothered.
SHOP DOG GOGGLES
Later, I let him out in the yard, and he played with a giant ball like the psycho I remembered bringing home. He chewed apart monster sticks that were stuck under the snow. He rolled around and buried his tennis ball, then dug it out like a maniac. I found Sierra’s old leash and put it on him, wondering how long my shoulder would last as we headed out into the world. I braced myself, but he just calmly walked beside me, sniffing every interesting hole in the snow, peeing on most trees. And when we got back to the house, he lay down by the window where a strip of sun was coming through.
And that was it. I was in love. This dog wasn’t crazy. He was a complete love bug who gave everything 100 percent. When it was time to play, he gave it 100 percent. And when it was time to sleep, he gave it 100 percent -- maybe even 110. On Monday morning I loaded him up in the car (where he sat in the backseat after a stern warning), but I couldn’t bear to bring him inside the shelter. Instead, I found myself signing adoption papers. Writing in the date, I noticed it was Valentine’s Day.
Me and the Brodster
I had no idea that day how deep my love for this animal would go, nor how much I would learn from him. I had no idea the journey life had in store for those six and a half short years ahead of us. But it all started about a month later when, on top of a mountain, a man with a beard went to pet my handsome pup, grabbing his collar and pulling him in close to his face.