2000 - 2013
Our dog Dixie was born in the late summer of the year 2000. At the time, my folks were living in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and they were friends with a couple who bred retrievers at a little farm they owned within the city limits. My folks agreed to stud out my grandfather’s dog Toby in exchange for the pick of the resulting litter, and Dixie was their pick. She was born in the week before I got back from Korea, and I first met her the day after I got back.
She was less than a week old. Back then, she could stand comfortably in the palm of my hand.
My first job out of the Army was as a relocating consultant for Kurt Salmon and Associates. My first projects as a part of that job took me to Boston and then Hartford, Connecticut, so I wasn’t around much when Dixie was a really tiny baby. But I came home when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in May 2001, and that’s when Dixie and I really bonded.
That trip home was only supposed to last for a week or two while I was between projects, but the Dot-Com Bubble crashed for real while I was home, and I got laid off before another project had a chance to materialize. I loved that job, and I was crushed when it went away, but my parents were by then in the middle of the crap that would consume the rest of their lives, and they took the same attitude towards my disappointment that they took towards everything that I ever did. They shrugged. Figured I would land on my feet.
I guess they were right, but I’m not gonna lie. That was the loneliest, most difficult time of my life. It was worse by far than being newly divorced and stuck in a rice-farming village just south of the DMZ in the Middle of Nowhere, Republic of Korea.
But Dixie was there for me. For six weeks, we played ball every day, and she consoled me. She listened when I decided to write the crazy manuscript that I decided to write that summer, and she basically hung out with me and indulged me in my moods. We played Monster, and we walked, but mostly we just hung out together, and she kept me sane.
Dixie’s favorite game was “I Run, and You Chase Me”. We played whenever she got out and/or off her leash, generally to the consternation of everyone in the family. Except Dixie, of course. She loved to run, and she loved the fact that we had to chase her to try to get her back into the yard. In fact, if she got too far ahead of us, she’d stop and wait for us to get a little closer before taking off again. Bottom line, she wanted us to keep chasing, and she knew that if she got too far out in front, we’d stop and wait for her to come home on her own. But that wasn’t the point of the game, so she always gave us just enough hope to keep us running after her.
After my folks got divorced, Dixie stayed with my mom for awhile. But eventually she went to live with my dad. She was there for the worst of his craziness. When he accidentally killed his own dog, Grunt, Dixie somehow survived and continued to keep him company. That was a rough time in her life, and judging by the squalor we found in his apartment after he died, Dixie lived in nigh-unimaginable filth.
Unfortunately, my father was a drunk driver, and after one accident in which he had Dixie in the car with him, she jumped out and ran away—undoubtedly to play “I Run, and You Chase Me.” But my father spent three weeks in the hospital that time, and Dixie wound up in the city pound. For a month. Eventually, my mother rescued her, but Dixie never played “I Run, and You Chase Me” again. After that incident, Dixie would stay right at your heels wherever you went.
We went to go see my mother in the summer of 2010, and that was when Dixie came to live with us. By then, my father was gone, and my mother’s health was failing, and Dixie needed a new home. We’d flown down, but I rented a car and drove back to Connecticut—just me and Dixie and a trunk full of stuff we’d salvaged from my dad’s apartment. That had been a maudlin trip—my mother was dealing with the bladder cancer that would eventually kill her—but I genuinely enjoyed driving home with my dog in the car.
I think Dixie was happy in Connecticut. Sally took her for long walks every single day, and often twice a day. She and her friend Katarina used to take Dixie and Katarina’s dog Sam to Lake Mohegan once a week or so, letting her run free and swim with the other dogs in the wide open doggie-freedom zone they have out there. We played ball with her, and the kids liked to dress her up in their crazy little outfits, and I think her favorite day of the year was when we went to Jones’ Farms every year to get the Christmas tree. We even took her camping one time, and I swear that that was the happiest I’ve ever seen her, except maybe for those days spent finding just the right Christmas tree.
I personally was happy just to have my dog around. My mother passed in 2011, leaving me more or less alone, save for Sally and the girls. For these past few years, Dixie has been the only reminder of my life before I headed North. It wasn’t my plan to move to New York City and cut all ties with everyone I ever knew, but in the end, that is kind of what happened. Except for Dixie. Dixie knew me before; she was the last bit of my childhood family that I had left.
These last six months have been tough for Dixie, and I’m at peace with the decision that we made. She had a Hell of a tough life at times, and I did not want to see her in any more pain. But I’m going to miss her, and I wish like Hell that she’d been healthy enough for one more game of “I Run, and You Chase Me” before she went.