Farewell to Puck

Our new pup, circa 2002

We lost Puck today. At 13 years old, he was certainly not a young for a dog, but definitely not old for a Schnauzer. He had begun, in recent years, to sleep longer and run less, and earlier this fall, he had some teeth removed. At that time, the vet said his blood work was clean and extolled how healthy he seemed for his age, but warned that at this stage in a dog’s life, anything can happen.

And it did. Over a matter of weeks, Puck went from old to frail. He never complained, but slept more, ate less, and stayed closer to the house and us. He was slower on the stairs and slower to respond to our calls and whistles. Then a few days ago, he lost his balance and struggled to stand. Our other dog, Boomer, had done this several times in his old age — he would usually sleep for the better part of a couple of days, then be up and around again. Only Puck didn’t recover.

He was 13, and our kids are age 16 to 2, so he’s been a part of the family for as long as they can remember. We miss him.

Puck, all Christmased out.

We got Puck from a Schnauzer breeder on an old farmstead in rural Michigan. I wanted another dog — a smaller, indoor pet, since Boomer was big, woolly, and hated being inside. Jodi is not a dog person, but gave in to my persistence and the boys’ pestering. (Or was it vice versa?) He was an adorable pup (my Dziadzi — Polish for grandpa — was not overfond of our Airdales, but looked at our Schnauzer and said, “Now that’s a dog!”), and full of curiosity and mischief. I was struggling to come up with a name that reflected both his Germanic roots and his personality, and my choices were getting more and more outlandish. At one point, the name Wolfgang came to mind. I had Mozart on the brain, but was freely associating, and thought of the chef, Wolfgang Puck, then of the Shakespeare character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I looked at our impish pup, and the name fit. (Of course, only later did I discover how a grown man shouting, “Puck!” out the back door sounded to the neighbors, or how many Minnesotans would instantly assume I was a hockey fan.)

Steamy summer roadtrip…

He’s always been an easy keeper and a good traveler. In fact, the only trouble he’s ever been came from a tendency in his younger days to know exactly when we were preoccupied by something else and high-tail it around the neighborhood. During the day, he would turn up in someone’s garage, or walk in through their front door with their kids, and they’d look at his collar and call. At night, he’d run yard to yard, and I’d drive with my head out the window, listening for jingling dog-tags or a neighbor dog in an uproar, trying to catch up to him.

After Boomer passed, Puck no longer wanted us to travel anyplace without him. If he sensed even a hint that we were preparing for something longer than a day trip, he would look for an opening, jump into the van, climb as far back in as he could, and refuse to come out unless I removed him. He would lay in whatever open space he could find in our overstuffed minivan, never bothered the kids when they were eating, and was content to sleep in the vehicle, in garages, in tents, wherever, as long as he could come with us. On cold winter nights, he would curl up under my old Carhartt jacket, head and all, and be there in the morning, ready to greet the frosty dawn.

He loved dog biscuits and pop corn and being scratched above the collar bone, beneath the collar. He used to love chasing tennis balls, but only in the house. He never liked to be picked up or manhandled — I could do what I wanted (he would even roughhouse a bit with me), but he only tolerated Jodi or Brendan lifting him, and nobody else. In recent years, he tended to get out of traffic when little kids were around. He tolerated other known dogs, but strays drove him berserk. Cats made him quiver with nervous energy; he was never quite sure whether he was supposed to chase them or not, and they seemed to relish his uncertainty and rub it in his face.

The old man, a couple weeks ago.

When we told the kids last night that it might be his last, we recalled three other special memories. Jodi remembered how our little ones, especially Lily, bonded with Puck by dropping food from their highchairs, and when they realized he was eating it, making a game of it. I remember him shifting from front foot to front foot and softly ruffing at us when he thought we were paying too much attention to baby Lily and not enough to him.

I also remember how perceptive he could be. He had a habit of sidling up to whomever he thought was most likely to pet or snuggle him — he would sit on your toes, even, or thrust his soft gray head up under your hand. But when we lost little Jude, I remember him insisting that I pet him as I lay on the couch or the bed, quiet and sorrowful. He nudged, prodded, cajoled, as if to say, C’mon…better days are ahead!

And he was right.

Goodbye, old man. Good dog.

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