Atticus came to me from a friend who had a stray roaming their rural neighborhood. Residents had been shooting at him to get him to stay out of their trash and she came to his rescue. I had an “only child” pug/boxer mix that was my first dog as an adult. Atticus, a black lab mix, showed up skin and bones, full of buck shot and heart worms, and as scared and submissive as I’ve ever seen a dog… and thus began my pack. Where Baxter demanded every ounce of my attention and a raised tone in his direction was effectively ignored, Atticus didn’t have the audacity to request any attention and the slight inflection of my voice sent him hunkering beneath a table. Much to Baxter’s chagrin, I would sit with Atticus and he would gratefully lay his head in my lap and sigh.
I spent the first few weeks squeezing buck shot out of Atticus’ skin and offering him food. He ate voraciously and even 15 years later, never turned down a meal, always retaining the stray mentality of eating when food was available. That is until today. This wasn’t a surprise, cortisone shots and Bufferin have sustained him the last couple of months, bought me some more time with him. We’ve been walking in that grey area of, when is the right time to let him go.
I had made that decision 2 years before for a 13 year old Baxter. We had a third partner in crime in our pack, Jack, a yellow lab, that came a year after Atticus. Those three boys got me through my tumultuous twenties. Jackie passed tragically, in my arms, but Baxter and now Atticus will pass peacefuly in my arms.
Atticus is the last of my boys, my family before I was married, before I had my son, before this pregnancy. For the first time since I got Baxter, 16 years ago, I will have only one dog in my mixed family of humans and canines. We got Jane the Super Dog 5 years ago and though I adore her, the bond is different. I don’t rely on her to fulfill all of my emotional needs like I did my boys. I was married when I got her, I’ve had a son and another on the way. She has gotten to be a dog where Baxter, Atticus and Jack were my world, my partners and children. Jane is usually a very pushy dog and cannot stand if Atticus is being petted, shoving him away to usurp the attention. Today though she lays in the other room, leaving me to sit on the floor next to Atticus while I type this. Jane will be happy to be an only dog and will be disgruntled when we bring home another, because eventually, we will.
Atticus is the last vestige of my life before I allowed others into my emotional world. The last of my teachers who showed me how to trust another human. After all these years together, Atticus still does not have the audacity to demand attention, except on occasion, still winces at a raised voice and still retains a couple pieces of buck shot that never worked their way out. How metaphorical for me, how lucky I am to have an example of loving and letting in despite the scars.
So now we wait for his four o’clock appointment, alone together, while my husband and son are at swim lessons. I love my human family, but I was raised by dogs. They each, with their different personalities, taught me more about being human than most humans I have met. I’ve explained to my 2 year old son that Atticus will be leaving. His response is, “I can’t miss Atticus, mommy”. When he doesn’t want to do something he says he can’t. I just look back into his concerned little eyes and say, “I can’t miss him either, baby”. That would be too small of a word to describe not only saying good-bye to Atticus, but to Baxter and Jack all over again. I love you, Atticus. Tell Baxter and Jackie I say hello.