My father had raised Airedale Terriers when I was a teenager. I did the AKC paperwork for him and was especially close to the "house dog," but the other dogs never really touched me.
After college, I often lived in apartments where I could not have an animal. My dad and mom divorced and dad no longer bred terriers. However, he and I remained very close. He often told me that I needed a dog. And I would say, quite confidently, "I'm just fine!".
In 1983 my father died of cancer. I am the oldest of five, but was the closest to him. He left a hole the size of Texas in my heart. I left my boyfriend of 11 years and went out on my own. I met another man and started a new life.
In 1991 I started to have some health problems. I had quit smoking and found myself walking a lot because I was nervous. Some of the medicine made me jittery and some of it made me depressed. It was a very stressful time for me. In May of 1992 I ventured onto the property of an abandoned house in my neighborhood to cut some lilacs. Imagine my complete surprise when a dog began to bark at me for doing so! The dog was chained to a doghouse in back of the abandoned house! I asked around the neighborhood and was told that his owner had died 4 years earlier! I was appalled. I was further told that the owner's son stopped by "once in a while" to tend to the dog. As many times as I had walked past that house in a three-year period, I had had no idea that a dog was back there.
Two months later, I visited the dog with a friend. The stench was unbearable -- rotten apples and dog feces. I was not very strong yet, so I put him in the back of my mind and hoped he was watched after. I had (still have) two dogs in my townhouse, so I knew I couldn't take him.
The following spring, we had a huge snowstorm. I went down to check on Arf.
There were no tracks leading to his driveway. I waded through the snow and finally came upon him. He had a small two-foot-by-two-foot area that he had compacted. He had one single dish that was as dry as could be. I tried to be intellectual about his condition, but when I looked into his eyes, I saw something I had never seen in my other dog's eyes. He was pleading with me to help him. He was so very thin. I went back home for another bowl, food and water. He was so happy to see me return. And did he ever eat!.
Two weeks later, I got up the nerve to go and see him again. I took biscuits and a comb. The day after that, I cleared his entire backyard. One month later, the owner's son gave me complete control over the dog. Arf had not been walked in 3 years. We took this slowly. I went down to his house every single day, twice a day for 16 months. He learned not to mess in his yard; he only messed on our walks. His coat glistened with the addition of vitamins and fresh water. And he greeted me with the greatest little dance every time I approached. I had to give him pills, and he nearly bit my finger off! I had to cook for him as he had a bout of colitis, and I had to give him Otomax for a recurring ear infection. We were building real trust here. On Christmas Eve Day the weatherman forecast below zero temperatures. We went and bought hay for Arf's house. And later in the winter, my husband bought a snow-blower primarily to use in Arf's backyard!.
In the summer of '94, when we moved across town, we took Arf. He was so incredibly happy. My other dogs had "met" Arf, but they had never been put together. Arf decided to call the master bedroom home; it was safer. We still walked everyday, but many times only once. Arf had only three accidents in the house. I was so impressed. He often wouldn't mess outside in the yard, though. He "saved" it for our walks. He learned to jump up on the bed. And I turned the television on for him.
The summer of '95 was extremely hot here. Arf panted badly, but I thought it was just the heat. He wanted to please me so badly, that I believe he would have covered up any distress. On the evening of August 26, Arf collapsed at my feet on our evening walk. I took him to the vet's at 10 at night.
The x-rays showed that Arf had a tumor the size of a baseball pressing on his windpipe. I felt worse than I had ever felt in my life.
We took Arf home and I asked God to please take him in his sleep. I couldn't do what I knew I had to come Monday morning. Early Sunday morning, I woke to discover Arf had gotten sick in the night. But he was more alert and was very happy to see me! He had little use of his extremities, however, and we had to carry him up and down the stairs to go outside. Sunday night I asked God again. He said no.
Monday morning we had a photo session (John put him on the bed, as that is where I always found him). And at 1 p.m. we took him to the vet's to be put to sleep. I was so distraught I didn't realize that I could have stayed with him. He died among complete strangers. These were not even our regular vets who knew him.
Arf was my reason for getting up in the morning while I was still so sick. He was the reason I got out at night when I didn't really want to. Who else puts on three layers of clothing and carries a bag of food, a bottle of water and a flashlight at 10 at night when it is below freezing out? He listened when I talked, politely nudged when he felt we should be moving along, and never wanted to go home. He didn't like to share me, he loved being brushed, and in all my years with him, I only got two kisses on the cheek. He did learn to lick my hand, but not for many months. When he was still at his house, he broke loose from his chain several times until my husband got him a stronger one. But he returned home every time.
Arf was a dog and I know that, but he was so many more things to me. I cannot explain it -- to myself or to anyone else. I cried for a solid week when I lost him. I still cry when I think of him. Perhaps I cried for myself and my lost routine. Perhaps I cried for the life Arf should have had. Or could have had if I'd found him years earlier. Perhaps I cried for the guilt I felt at having Arf endure such a summer. Perhaps I finally cried for my father as I finally knew what he meant when he told me I needed a dog.