My friend Ringo died three days ago. It wasn’t a surprise that he died – he’d been sick ever since I’d known him. But I was out of town on some business trip and only found out today.
Ringo was old; to some extent I’m surprised he lasted this long. In the past year, he had suffered from all sorts of ailments; he had to take medicine every day and was on a special diet. His hind legs were giving out on him and he wasn’t as agile as he used to be. When I saw him last – just a week ago – he was getting very thin.
But Ringo was the granddog of the puppy pen. He made sure that everyone played fair, barked at the puppies who got too big for their britches, nipped at the teenagers who got out of control and maintained general order in the pen.
He was the only dog allowed out without a lead; he wore his bell so that I would always know where he was. And he was always walked in the first group. He was proud of this recognition of his maturity and seniority. Once the precedent was set, Ringo ALWAYS had to go in the first group and had to have his bell. No one else could use the bell.
What he loved most was walking with the puppies. The puppies never really walk – they dart here and there all around. And Ringo, elderly and moving more slowly, would charge around with them, having the time of his life pretending he was a puppy again.
Did I mention that Ringo was the size of a horse? A slight exaggeration, but he was a really big dog. When I came into the pen, the other dogs would crowd around jostling with each other for a treat or pat on the head. Ringo maintained his dignity; remaining aloof until I came to him. And then he would lean up against me (it was a good core workout to try to stay upright with Ringo’s full weight pushing on my legs), put his head on my stomach and look up with half closed eyes as I petted him; his expression telling me that he loved the attention and the affection.
On one of our first walks, I took Ringo and Mocha. Mocha, who has since been adopted, is about the size of a bread box. Ringo loved to run after her and she’d run circles around him; through his legs, under his belly; hilarious. And then off they’d go. Sometimes Ringo would forget where he was and his old ears couldn’t hear me calling. Mocha would listen for his bell and go bring him back. And Ringo would trot back, smiling sheepishly and ask for a treat (which I always gave him).
I will miss Ringo deeply because he was my friend. Ringo wasn’t a puppy that needed training and attention; he was my counterpart, my wise old friend who watched out for me and knew I’d watch out for him.
I am sure that he’s happier now – he died peacefully, curled up in a corner. The pain and reminders of his old age are gone now. But he will live on in my memory, kept in that special place that I keep all the special beings that I have been fortunate to know. I will think of him often and miss him deeply.