I just finished reading the most fantastic book: The Art of Racing in the Rain. It’s about a dog that longs to be human, and about the intricacies of the human experience from the point of view of the dog himself. It’s a sad but beautiful story, wittily narrated by Enzo, a wise canine mutt. It’s a book written not for anybody that’s ever had a pet dog, but for anybody who’s ever thought of their dog as their best friend, partner in crime, and yes, soul-mate. From the ages of 6 to 18, I had one of those soul-mates.
I still remember the night my parents told my brother (because I only had one brother back then) and I that my uncle’s ranch dog had had puppies, and that we would be going over to pick one out that weekend. I was beside myself. A PUPPY! We had tried the puppy thing a year earlier with a beautiful little German Shepherd, but after 2 weeks with it, my dad realized he was blind and returned it to the vet. I was devastated when I got back from kindergarten to realize Rabito was gone. For round two, I would make sure the dog I picked wasn’t blind, deaf, or missing a leg!
We went to the ranch to meet him. His mom was a yellow lab, and she was surrounded by tiny puppies in every color on the spectrum from yellow to black. We picked the blackest male. He was so black he was shiny. Not a single white spot. And I named him Chocolate—Choco, for short.
I grew up with him. I tumbled around on the ground with him and carried him up to our clubhouse to play. I fell asleep on the grass with my head on his stomach, and I taught him not to eat my pet ducks. He did not leave my side if I went rollerblading out on the street. And when it was raining outside and we let him sleep indoors, he somehow knew to stay in the laundry-room instead of exploring the house he was never allowed into. And he would hold his bladder instead of peeing inside, even though we never house-trained him. He was brilliant.
Once we accidentally left the house and closed the garage door without realizing he had stayed out on the street. When we came home, he was already inside. He ran towards us, barking, and stood between us and the front door to the house. We tried to move him, annoyed that he was making our entrance so difficult, but he would not budge. He refused to let us inside. He barked and barked until we stopped trying to enter and instead paid attention to what he was trying to tell us. He darted down the side of the house, barking until we decided to follow him. We followed him all the way around to the back, and he took us to a broken window leading to our dining room. Someone had broken in. He had seen strangers breaking in, and had jumped over the back wall of the house—which divided our back yard from an empty lot—to defend his territory. We left the house immediately and called my dad, and didn’t go inside of it until my dad (but mostly Choco) had decided it was safe for us to. Brilliant, I tell you!
Another time, my mom sent my brothers (I had two brothers by then) and I to deposit money at the bank. As the bank was only a few blocks from the house, we decided to walk there. The three of us and Choco. Off the leash, of course. He didn’t own a leash. He was a smart dog that did not require leashes… or so we thought. He insisted on coming inside the bank with us. As a compromise, I went in the bank while my brothers waited outside, holding him by the collar. As I waited in line, I all of a sudden heard a high-pitched woman’s voice: “Aaaaay!!! Un perro! Un perro!” My 12 and 5-year-old brothers had been unable to hold down the 60-pound, full-grown black lab, and before I knew it, Choco was running around the bank in a frenzy. People were running, papers were flying, my brothers were chasing him, and I almost peed my pants from laughing so hard. The bank manager came down from his office to inform us that our dog wasn’t allowed in the bank. REALLY?!
When I got old enough for boys to start coming over to visit, Choco sat between them and I out on the sidewalk. God forbid they dared get close to me! He was my best friend.
I remember the day I saw him jump over the back wall that divided our backyard from the empty lot, and his legs were no longer strong enough to support his weight or the speed with which he landed. His legs collapsed with the land and he hit his head on the ground. I realized for the first time that he would not be with me forever.
He died several years later, with his head on my lap. And we buried him under the tree of our clubhouse. And I kept his dirty red collar. I never washed it and it still has clumps of his black fur on it. His collar lives with me in Boston now. And sometimes, on nights like these, I still really really miss him.