You were a Black Lab from Occoquan, VA, born of a young mother in a house high on a hill. You were six weeks old when first discovered, sound asleep in a pig pile of puppies, all fat, full and foolish from a recent meal.
When I asked to see the male Black Labs, you and your brother were pulled from the mob. Your sibling had a head like a cow, and was aptly called "Thunderhead." You, the runt, were more demure...for the moment.
When I inquired about your birth date, it matched the same as my mother's favorite cousin. Hence, you were named "Walter", and placed in a box meant for mayonnaise jars on the passenger seat of the van for the journey home. We weren't even out the driveway of your birthplace before you put your big puppy paws over the edge of the container to have a better look at me. And you started talking, in puppy-ese, letting me know what was on your mind as we motored along. And for almost twelve years, we kept the conversation going.
When we got home, Margaret slid off the couch, sniffed you, then looked at me as if to say, "Thanks, I'll take it from here." And she did. She hauled you by the neck down six stairs of a split level to the yard when there was ever a hint that you might have to pee. She taught you the ropes, growling low in her throat when you did something to displease her, always licking the side of your face when you came in from the yard, muddied, but happy.
And then there was The Kong, the red fetch toy bought back by Yvette from Germany for Einstein the Rottweiler. But you loved it, and, with Einstein's indifference, made it your own. In your early years, that toy encouraged you to act like a total jackass...Jerry Lewis in a Dog Suit. You were relentless in requesting the toy be thrown for you. And that same hard-headedness was on display again today, when, because the cancer had spread to your left hip and lungs, and you were in such pain, it took three shots of medicine to finally make you go to sleep. You kept trying to get up, to live. The vet, amazed, told me she has never seen an animal with a will like yours. So today, that spirit I loved so much, simply broke my heart.
It is Fall here in New England, and elsewhere, and the leaves are at peak color. The Zen Masters say that when we die, our spirits return to a big bucket of energy to become something else in the world. So Walt, are you now the color of leaves, the red, orange and yellow that I see outside the window as I write this? It makes sense to me that you are.
But, I have to say, my all-time favorite memory of you is the hike along the trail in Canyon Lake, Texas, when you, Doug and I happened upon the twin deer fawns, not more than a few days old, laying in the path. Their mother was trying to move them to a safer place when we happened upon them, and she ran the perimeter around us, frantically trying to distract us from her young. You smelled them first, and ran to where they lay, their little heads tucked between their front legs. I called to you, "Walt! Stop!" as you put your nose in between the fawn's heads to sense what they were about. With no intention of harming them, you looked up at us, as if to say, "Look at these beautiful things we have found."
Your absolute goodness. That is what I will miss most about you.