He joined our family in 2003 – a few weeks after he was born.

He was the runt of the litter – the lone male pup among a crowd of rather healthy black female labs and one chocolate.  He was tiny and a bit clumsy, but when I held his tiny, weightless, soft, furry form in my hands for the first time, I knew this little guy was to be ours.

I watched him wedge himself between his much more powerful sisters to eat.  After he was finished, he clumsily waddled to the edge of the box, which was lined with blankets for comfort on one side, and newspapers for the pups to eliminate on the other, and peed. He then stumbled back to his mom and fell asleep contentedly near her.

He was perfect.

I took him home a few weeks later, and the tiny little guy was terrified in the car. He started out in my lap, shaking, and as we drove further, he climbed my chest until his little paws were wrapped around my neck, and he whined pitifully into my neck.  I opened the window for him, and he relaxed a little.

He loved our house. He had room to run around, he had kids to play with, and he loved his tummy and ears rubbed.  He was a rambunctious pup. He ate holes in anything he could find. He ate our couch and shat stuffing for several days. He ate shoes, pieces from a wooden coffee table, any food he could get his mouth on, paper towels, and most disgustingly, cat crap straight out of the litter box. Then he would come over and try to lick your nose with that mouth.

I came home from work every day, holding my breath, waiting for the next thing I would see destroyed. I would get incredibly upset and yell a lot, and yet, he was always there with his tail wagging, and his tongue out, giving me a doggie smile, thrilled to see me.

He was house trained in no time, and he was very good about never soiling the house. Can’t say that for the furniture that he destroyed, but hey… it’s only stuff.

We hired a dog trainer to work with him. She did wonders. He stopped chewing everything in sight. He stopped trying to eat furniture and shoes. He did, however, attempt to hump every leg he could find. It was funny until he tried to mount my father.  Then it was even funnier.

We brought home a beautiful rescue boxer to keep him company, and they seemed to get along at first. But he was docile and she was aggressive, and tried to dominate him.  She would sit on him and chew on his ears, and he would let her, silently and tolerantly.  She lasted about a year before she went crazy and attacked him. She tore at his face and damaged his eye.  As much as I loved her, he was my baby, and no one hurts my baby. She went to a good home with no other animals.  We had his eye fixed, and he had to wear that satellite dish on his head for about a week until his eyelid healed.

From then on, he cuddled with our fat cat – an animal that would never hurt him. They were best buddies, and his worst habits rubbed off on the cat – digging through trash, running outside, and making us chase him…

In late 2007, when I got back from deployment, I took him running. All of a sudden, he stopped and wouldn’t move another step. My ex and I took him to the emergency room, and then to the vet the next day. He tore both cruciate ligaments in his legs. He would need an operation. We paid $7000  to repair his legs. The recovery was long and arduous. He couldn’t walk up the stairs, and had to stay confined to the sitting room, so he wouldn’t hurt himself. I slept down there in an armchair with him for more than a month, so he wouldn’t be lonely and cry.

My ex and I shared custody of the kids and the dog. On nights he had them, I stayed in Alexandria to avoid the 90 mile commute. That is until he got remarried, and she whined and complained about having to take care of the dog. He called and told me he would no longer take him. He would no longer take care of a pup we’d raised since he was tiny. He would no longer care for a creature to whom he made a commitment. He would no longer care for a being that gave him unconditional love for eight years.

We were getting the house ready to sell, trying to find a home that would allow us to rent with a large black lab. To no avail. I had to find him a good home – someplace he would be happy, where he would get the love and affection he deserved – a family whom he could love as much as he loved us.

He seemed happy in his new home. We all missed him, but at least there were photos and progress reports. The friend who took him informed me that the first thing he did when introduced to his wife was to pee on her.  Territorial little shit.

Last night, I was informed that his leg went out on him, and another leg surgery was not recommended for a dog his age.  He was suffering. He was in pain. You know the rest.

I’m told he died happy. I don’t believe that. He still had a lot of life to live, and he shouldn’t have been taken away so early. I think he would have preferred me, Redhead and Teeny to be there with him – his original loving family – the family that raised him and cared for him.  I do think he was at least somewhat relieved to know that someone who loved him was with him when he went to sleep – just like I was, sleeping in that lounge chair every night for a month, several years ago, after he had his surgery.

I think dogs are put on this earth to teach us what pure love is – to show us how to give ourselves completely in total love and trust to another being.  They are born with that knowledge. We have to learn it. They give love and trust unconditionally, reflected every day in those innocent eyes.  Most of us have to earn that love and trust.   They understand when those they love are hurting, and they want nothing more than to relieve that pain.  Dogs are perfect beings.  Most humans… not so much.

His name was Gilbert, and I miss him every day.  And I hope he’s somewhere nice with a lot of grass, kids, pig ears, pizza and balls to chase.

He was our black lab, and he will never be forgotten.

Me and Gilbert cuddling

Loving the Redhead

Teeny Kisses

Cuddling the Fat Cat

Gilbert