20121225-IMG_1174 298914_1984405735830_373717347_nNemo was the runt of the litter.  Before it was finally decided that he would stay with us and before he was assigned a proper name we called him Runty.  He was on the small side as Labs go, never weighing over 70 pounds and standing a little shorter than his Mom, Kahlua, and his sister, Annisette.  All his life he displayed small man syndrome.  In his mind he was a badass, 200 pounds and all muscle…”Mess with me…c’mon, mess with me.”  Any dog coming near the fence when he was outside was greeted with a ferocious snarl and bared teeth.  He even hated Choncho, my son’s dog when Choncho was just a puppy.  We spent a lot of time the past 6 years making sure they were kept apart.   But inside he was a creampuff.  I can’t remember being around a more affectionate dog.  He would sit in front of you waiting to be petted.  If you didn’t pet him soon enough or often enough he would slap you with a paw to remind you “Hey…I’m here…scratch my ears dammit!”  

He wasn’t originally supposed to stay with us.  When Kahlua’s litter was born on May 18, 2000 (exactly a week before my granddaughter, Katrina….My daughter Erin has never forgiven me or Kahlua for that) it had been determined that Heather would get first pick of the litter.  At first Chris showed great indifference to the pups ..I guess 13 year old boys can be that way.  But eventually he decided that he would like a pup too and he became attached to Runty.  Judy pitched a fit.  “No way we’re keeping 3 dogs” she said.  “Fine” I said…”YOU tell Chris he can’t have a pup of his own.  Heather has already bonded with Annie and I’m not getting rid of Kahlua.”  End of story…we became a 3 dog family and Runty became Nemo.  

For a Labrador Retriever, Nemo never showed much interest in retrieving, probably because I didn’t work diligently enough with him to learn.  Kahlua was a fetching fool and Annie would fetch pretty well too when she was younger.  Nemo would race them and bump them out of the way to get the tennis ball or training dummy but it was mostly the boy in him, wanting to make sure the other dogs wouldn’t get it first.  As soon as they turned away he would drop whatever it was and run back to me with a doggy grin on his face.  “I showed them girls, didn’t I Dad?”  Yep.

But time catches up with all of us.  A year or so ago he started having a little trouble getting up the stairs and it got progressively worse.  The past week he could barely get up and down.  Then there were the bladder problems…there were so many accidents it was like he was a puppy again.  He didn’t do it on purpose, he just had no control.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.  You older guys out there know what that’s like.  He lost weight dramatically, especially from his chest back.  His hips were getting narrower and his waist was so small…it became painful to watch him try to get around.  For that matter, he had trouble getting up and around at all never mind the stairs.  Then he started heaving up his food…almost every day.  His eyes got dull and we all knew it was time for him to go to a better place.  That’s how he and I ended up at the Vet’s office today.

I stroked the top of his head and scratched his ears when he came into this world and I stroked the top of his head and scratched his ears when he closed his eyes for the final time.  A minute later the vet checked his heart and said simply “He’s gone.”  And he was.

So Godspeed my old friend.  I know you’re in a place where the pain is gone.  Your eyes are bright and your body is strong and fit.  The rabbits and squirrels are slow and stupid and there will be plenty of cats to chase.  You will be with your Mom, Kahlua, and your Dad, Bailey.  Your brother Mikko from down the block is there and I suspect maybe a few more of your brothers and sisters.  There were 9 of you in all.  

Grandpa Bean will be there too and you’ll like him a lot.  He loved dogs…all kinds of dogs so you’ll have someone to stroke your head and scratch your ears.  He’ll laugh when you slap him with your paw to keep petting you.  He’s a much better shot than I am so he’ll actually hit some of those pheasants you flush and you’ll get to retrieve them.  He won’t even mind if you chew them a bit.  Say hello to him for me.  

Long ago when I was trying to decide to buy a Lab and couldn’t make up my mind what color, I asked a dog trainer friend of mine if there was a Lab color phase that was better than the others.  Yellow, Chocolate, or Black?  He told me that “…there’s no good color for a bad dog and no bad color for a good dog.”  Nemo was just a plain old black Lab.  And he was a damn good dog.  

And we’re left with just one…Annie…sweet Annie.