When I overheard Mom say “We got the kids a dog,” to a friend on the phone, I figured that meant that Dad officially qualified as one of us kids, because that dog was Dad’s from the moment he and the dog laid eyes on each other. Happy was a Kerry Blue terrier, and he was never for a moment for the kids. We were his hobby. Dad was his profession.
Dad has been a boy scout his whole life. He even wore the uniform with the shorts on an airplane when he chaperoned (as assistant scoutmaster) a scouting group that went to Scotland in the 1980s. At nearly 80 years old, he still goes out hiking with the scouts in no other capacity than as a scout himself. Perhaps he’s the oldest living boy scout in the country. Back in their heyday, he and Happy went all over the map with the scouts. They frequently camped in subzero weather together. And I mean together. Dad put Happy in the sleeping bag with him because he didn’t want the pooch to freeze to death. Dad told us that you didn’t really know a dog until you shared a sleeping bag with him.
Whenever we sang “Happy Birthday” to someone in our house, Happy barked like mad. At first we thought perhaps he was singing. Then we thought perhaps he had perfect pitch and Dad’s tone-deaf singing made him go crazy. But after many years, we realized that he barked because he thought we were singing for him, since his name was Happy. As he grew older, all we had to do was light candles and he’d bark with glee, anticipating his song.
In the evenings, after supper, Dad often sat in the den and watched TV while Happy sat at his feet with his nose buried in his nether parts where he blissfully licked himself. Dad used to say that if men could do that there would be no wars. To my knowledge, Happy was a pacifist his whole life. He never fought with other dogs, who occasionally beat him up. His greatest fear was the water. He refused to step into a pool, lake, ocean, river, or any water not coming from a hose. When Dad tried to teach him to swim, he clung to Dad, literally wrapping his front paws around Dad’s neck and not letting go while he shivered in terror.
Happy’s one sworn enemy was the bread basket, which lived atop the refrigerator. Whenever we had need of a container for the dinner rolls, Happy followed hot on Mom’s heels barking furiously as she moved that basket from its home on the fridge to the dinner table. I once saw him run into a wall while giving that basket what-for.
We had a fenced-in portion of our back yard for Happy to claim as his own space. Mom said he used the yard to “do his business.” It was ludicrous for her to use such delicate phrasing, since Dad delighted in describing Happy’s “business” from his evening walk in great detail at the dinner table. We got the latest report about color and consistency along with our tuna noodle casserole. Update at eleven.
Happy spent his spare time digging a hole in the corner of his fenced-in yard. Mom called the hole Happy’s “Great Escape.” We thought he was trying to dig his way out of the yard so he could get a better shot at the squirrels. But he was no engineer and the hole went straight down, not under the fence.
Dad was quite the athlete. He played hand ball in the winter and tennis in the summer. Hiked. Biked. Ping-pong. He won tennis trophies in the men’s league in our home town. In the summers, when he returned dripping with sweat from a tennis game, he would lay down on the living room floor and let Happy lick the salt off him. That, and bubblegum, where Happy’s favorite treats. The trash cans were in Happy’s yard and he managed to extract used bubblegum from them in ways we could only imagine. Unfortunately for him, the bubblegum stuck in his teeth. Mom was constantly having to dig it out of his mouth. Happy was usually Dad’s dog, but when he had bubblegum in his teeth, he was all Mom’s. He was also hers when he committed an indiscretion that required paper towels and Lysol, such as vomiting behind the living room couch. Dad would find the indiscretion and tell Mom, “Look what your dog did.”
Happy was a purebred dog and as such he suffered from asthma. One day, when he was about twelve years old, he had an asthma attack that morphed into a series of seizures. Dad took him to the vet immediately, but there was nothing that could be done. The vet sedated him, but when the sedative wore off, he began to have more seizures. He died in Dad’s arms. Mom told me afterward that Dad wept more over the loss of that dog than he had at the death of his mother.
After we lost Happy, Dad called the breeder who had sold Happy to us as a puppy. She told Dad that Happy had outlived his siblings and cousins. She had kept track of all of them and none had lived as long as Happy. Obviously, none of them were as “happy” either. My parents had Happy cremated and they brought his ashes home where they buried them in the Great Escape, finally filling in the hole that Happy spent his whole life digging. Dad told people that Happy dug his own grave.
In the spring, Mom and Dad planted a dogwood tree over Happy’s ashes in the Great Escape. The dogwood is beautiful to look at and smells a lot better than Happy, but Dad can’t take it for a walk or blame his farts on it. It’s a cruel twist of nature that dogs have a life span so much shorter than humans. Dad and Happy would have been good growing old together, sharing a sleeping bag, chasing squirrels, defending their loved ones from that dangerous bread basket.