Warning: this may be a really long post with lots of pictures
When Anthony was about two years old, the topic of getting him a dog/puppy came about. Admittedly, as the father of a toddler, I was hesitant to go through with it because Anthony was still so little and vulnerable. We had decided that if we did get a dog, it would be after he turned three years old.
Shortly after his third birthday in 2007, I got a message from Ann – it was a picture message that cost me money since back then we weren’t yet on a unlimited data plan. So I flipped open my phone (dating myself, no doubt) to see a picture of a tiny black puppy at the shelter, sitting calmly behind bars. At least that’s what I could make of it since camera technology in phones was poor at the time.
I looked at it and sighed. My reply: “No.”
But the family had other plans. Anthony was so excited about this little guy that it was almost impossible to say no, so that weekend we went to the shelter so that I could look at him to see how he interacted with all of us.
He went by the name of Arliss and while I don’t remember the story of how he ended up there, it didn’t matter at this point. He was a delightful little pup that was full of piss and vinegar and who, despite being mixed with the often misunderstood pit bull, couldn’t have behaved better.
He had us where he wanted us. So I put our name on the list to reserve him and a week later, we brought Arliss to his new forever home where Anthony had already been preparing for his arrival by getting him a comfy bed and chew toys.
This was, after all, his new best friend and if there’s anything a little boy needs, it’s a dog that they can grow up with and remember forever. After a long day of playing and running around with his boy, Arliss fell asleep in my arms that evening. Welcome to the family, little guy.
My trepidation was gone as Arliss was anything but aggressive. If anything, he was just a big, dopey goofball of a puppy that loved and protected all of us as he got older.
He also loved all of Anthony’s friends and again, was never aggressive toward any of them. He knew that if they were friends of Anthony, he didn’t need to do anything but be that little rapscallion he always was.
And oh, was he ever a rapscallion. Whenever Ann planted flowers in the backyard, Arliss would dig them up – then sleep in the dirt. Sometimes he would bypass digging them up and just lay right on top of them. He destroyed a brand new bed a day after we bought it. We could never leave food around the house because his nose would find it and his mouth would follow and one year for Christmas, we made the mistake of leaving Anthony’s gingerbread house on the kitchen table and came home to this.
He ate one wall and was working on the base (see that hole?). And to top it off, he failed obedience class.
But none of that mattered. Arliss was family and we loved him no matter what.
And he loved us back, even when we made him do ridiculous things.
Like when Anthony thought it would be funny to dress him in one of his old shirts.
Or when he got a little too close to the action in the kitchen when we were making cookies.
He made us laugh and smile but most importantly, he loved his boy more than anyone else.
He was always there for him to brighten his day no matter what.
Laurel and Hardy. Hall and Oates. Anthony and Arliss – all the same.
As most dogs do, Arliss started to slow down as he got older but still had that twinkle in his eye as if he was ready to cause some trouble. He would still play for a little bit but nowhere near his old self.
Then just a few days ago, I had noticed that he really wasn’t himself. His eating habits changed dramatically and he was having trouble keeping his food down. He was also lethargic and having trouble getting up. Anthony tried to take him for a short walk in the hopes of boosting his appetite but it didn’t work.
I gathered the family and told them that he wasn’t doing well. I could feel his pain and it wasn’t going to get better. As much as it pained us to do it, I told them they need to talk to him and let him know we all love him very much and to possibly say goodbye. Anthony couldn’t find the words or quite understand that his buddy could be gone very soon.
We tried to walk him the next day. When he stumbled I knew something had to be done and unfortunately, I knew what that was going to be.
Anthony called his grandparents over to have them say goodbye because, like a good boy, he also loved when they visited. They came over right away and Anthony’s grandfather accompanied us to the vet.
Anthony took this picture on the way. It would be the last one any of us would take of Arliss.
Upon examination, the vet told us of some of the options available. Scans, testing, blood work, the whole nine yards. In the end, it would have just prolonged his pain because he was in bad shape mostly because of his age. I left the decision with Anthony and he agreed: his best friend had to be put down.
The vet left us in the exam room while we said our final goodbyes. I can’t even tell you how difficult it was for me and Anthony to do this. While strong, Anthony chose not to be in the room when the euthanasia was administered and I’m glad he wasn’t. He didn’t need to see that.
Stumbling for one last time, Arliss was laid down and given the anesthesia. He slowly fell asleep as I stroked his hind leg and told him we all loved him. By the second dose, the vet checked his lungs and confirmed he has stopped breathing and offered her condolences.
I lost it. I couldn’t take it. I had put pets to sleep in the past but knowing the connection between Arliss and Anthony really made this one hurt like no other. The vet left me with Arliss once he was gone and I talked to and pet him, telling him he was always a good boy and we were never disappointed in him. I thanked him for being so good to Anthony and being by his side as he grew. I kissed his head, said goodbye for the last time, and left the room.
I immediately gave Anthony a hug and told him Arliss is no longer suffering or in pain. He’s free and happy and deserves to be. He sobbed as we hugged.
The family spent the night talking about everything that had just happened and by no means was it over.
For one, I had told Ann that Arliss had hung around long enough to see her fight cancer and be deemed cancer-free. During her recovery, he was always by her side except in the evening when he would want to sleep on the patio so as not to disturb us by having to go outside and relieve himself. Not really taking that into consideration, Ann started to sob and felt guilty in not thanking him for his help.
Then I felt something and froze. When this happens, I’m almost in a trance-like state and it kind of freaks out Ann. She asked what it was.
“He’s here,” I said. “Talk to him.”
She continued to talk about him in past tense.
“No. Tell him, Ann. He’s right there.” Arliss was beautiful, as shiny and new as he was when he was a puppy, and once again full of piss and vinegar. His stub – he had no tail – wagging uncontrollably.
She thanked him for everything.
Here he is cheering her up during her recovery. Once she was ready to return to work, he resumed sleeping inside.
This has also affected the cats. The night we put Arliss down, Steve laid across from the spot where Arliss used to sleep and stared at it. And when I pick Steve up, I can almost see the sadness in his eyes – they are watery, as if he wants to cry.
Then there’s Monte who has not been in our bedroom for a few years and we have no idea why. We’ve tried to take him in there to sleep but he immediately runs out. But at about 2:30 am and with me having trouble sleeping, I heard Monte walk down the hall and stop at the doorway of the bedroom. He then meowed a few times, jumped on the bed, and laid on my chest and rubbed my chin with his, purring the whole time. I have been taking this especially hard, more so than the family, and Monte knew it. He purred and rubbed but got a bit too heavy for me, so I rolled over and held him in my arms until I fell asleep. It was about 4:30 am when I remember him leaving the room and went right back to sleep.
There have been telltale signs that Arliss is still here. Feeling is presence is one thing but we’ve also heard things and last night while I bed discussing things with Ann, I had gotten a strong whiff of his dog food. We had already thrown all of it away and the windows were closed. Anthony has heard him scratching and while writing this, I heard him let out a deep breath as he often did while sleeping. He hasn’t left.
Being an empath can really drain you.
In 12 short years, Arliss watched his little boy go from preschool to high school. We couldn’t have made a better choice for him and while the family is showing signs of recovering, I can’t quite get there just yet and still having a hard time coming to grips with all of this.
To say that Arliss was a great dog would be an understatement. He was the best dog anyone could ever have and I sometimes wonder why we got so lucky to end up with him. He was fun, loyal, and loved all of us to the bittersweet end.
From the time he came home to the moment he left us, his love was unconditional.
(This is one my favorite pictures of Arliss. I caught him mid-sneeze on Christmas.)
Thank you for being Anthony’s best friend and dealing with all of his nonsense, even the time he put a pair of his underwear on you. He will miss you more than you will ever know.
Us stupid humans are simply not worthy of having such love bestowed upon us. We are mongers of war, harborers of hate, worshipers of money and destroyers of the environment.
And all a dog wants is to be loved. It’s just so unfair.
In many cases, people are often quick to fill the void of a lost pet by adopting another. That’s not going to be case with Arliss. Anthony has already told us there’s no point in any of that. Arliss was his dog and he did his job for all of us. There simply will never be another dog in his life. Arliss was the only one he ever needed.
Arliss will be cremated and I will be giving his ashes to Anthony. We plan on making a memorial for him once we get them because that’s the least we can do for someone who brought so much joy and happiness into our lives.
And while he may be physically gone, I still feel his presence in the house and have told Ann that he doesn’t want to leave.
“He’s still watching us,” she said. “He doesn’t have to leave.”
She’s right, and I don’t want him to leave – ever.
He always was, and always will be, a good boy.
Rest in peace, Arliss. You were the best and we love you.