Friday, December 2, 2016


Today marks the anniversary of a sad day for our household because our beloved dog, Antar (named after the mythical Antar Ibn Shadad, the pre-Islamic desert warrior and poet), went to doggie heaven. It wasn't because of any of those debilitating diseases that dogs inevitably get. You see, Antar passed his fifteenth birthday on Valentine’s Day last. Because of his size—he weighed in at 72 pounds—he fell into that class of large breeds who have a life expectancy of no more than twelve years or so before being called to doggy heaven. But, the old boy defied the actuarial tables as he was 15 years and 4 months old at his passing.


We knew the day was coming for the last four years even though we hated to think of it. Antar was with us since he was a puppy. When we moved in to our new house, he was given to us by one of the workmen whose dog had given birth six weeks before. My wife, Lorrie, who always claimed she was afraid of dogs, immediately fell in love with the frightened little fellow. And when she took him into her arms all her fears evaporated. Antar was the first dog we ever had.

As you might guess, we didn’t know anything about raising dogs, so we invested in a personal trainer to come by each week and teach us the basics of dog ownership. The thing we didn’t understand then was that we were truly making an addition to our little family—one that would require not only training, but love, care, and understanding.

Antar is a mixed breed—the trainer said he saw some Lab, Shepherd, and Ridgeback in the little guy. We immediately took our new child to a veterinarian to be checked out. We told Dr. Paul that Bob, who had given us this boy, said Antar wouldn’t grow to much over forty pounds. The vet took one look at Antar’s huge paws and said, “Bob lied.” Sure enough Dr. Paul was right and Antar soon began packing weight on to his expanding frame. By the time he was two, he weighed in at 92 pounds! Bob was off by more than a factor of two! The “big guy” was perpetually hungry. Initially, we went by the feeding program on the back of the dog food bag, and gave him upwards of six cups of chow daily, which he gladly scarfed up. Dr. Paul said we should only feed him once a day and also put him on an exercise program.

Thus began our daily walking routine. I decided it would be nice to take Antar for a walk around the lake—a distance of two miles. After we had gone a little over a mile, I noticed that the leash had gone taught. I turned to see the poor guy lying down, panting at a faster pace and showing no inclination to get up. “What have I done!” I panicked. The poor guy was tuckered out, so I knelt beside him and stroked his head while waiting for him to get his second wind. Well, he stopped three more times before we made it back home. When I told my wife what happened, the berating began and I thought I’d never hear the end of it. I took my companion down to the pool to let him cool off in the shallow end. When he got out he was completely rejuvenated and thus a ritual was born—a walk then the pool. It took only a week of daily walks around the lake for Antar to became completely conditioned to our exercise routine. Six months later when I took him to the vet for a checkup, his weight was down to 72 pounds!

Initially, I didn’t think it was a good idea to have a dog in the house all the time so I rigged up a long wire run to let Antar roam freely in the back yard. He didn’t like this arrangement one little bit, and let us know it by barking and whining incessantly. “He’ll get used to it,” I said. That’s how much I knew. He just wouldn’t stop, and to let me know how displeased he was with this arrangement, he dug a hole in my newly sodded lawn that looked like the beginnings of an escape tunnel to China. He made such a fuss that I had to abandon the experiment of making Antar an outdoor dog. I should have understood from this experience that I was not going to be the master in this relationship, but I continued to delude myself nonetheless.

I liked taking Antar with me when I had errands to run, and the weather was cool enough, because I observed from trips to the vet that he loved riding in the car. He very quickly learned to dash to the garage door whenever I said, “Want to go for a ride?” I think ride was one of the first words he learned. I’d put my buddy in the back seat and start down the road, giving the usual commands I’d learned from the trainer such as “sit” and “stay.” Inevitably we’d get about a block from the house before Antar decided he liked the front passenger seat better than the perch he’d been assigned in back. Believe me when I say there was no deterring him when he made such a decision. So, there he would sit, next to me, totally unperturbed at whatever discipline I dished out. When I got to my destination, I’d leave the windows open of course, make a dash in and out of the store and return to the car. Inevitably, when I returned, there was Antar sitting in the driver’s seat. “So, you’re going to drive me home, are you?” I’d ask, to an authoritative return stare. When he saw that I was going drive him around some more, he’d hop back over to the passenger side. I think he would have been perfectly happy riding around in a limousine with me dressed as a chauffeur.

Antar became our home guardian as well, and would start barking before we even knew someone was approaching the house. The doorbell sent him into paroxysms of woofing. This was his abode, he was its protector, and everybody within earshot would know it. Often, when I answered the door, the visitor was already half-way down the walk. That's how ferocious his bark was.

There were other things he did that were memorable, of course. I recall the time I had made a sandwich for lunch, got distracted to fetch a beer, and came back to find my culinary creation had disappeared. How he could reach up to the counter and snatch my sandwich without a trace I never knew. But, I had to break out in laughter as Antar cocked his head and presented me with his patented look of innocence.

Antar was loved by everyone who came to visit. Even the two feral cats that we've been feeding, always ran up to nuzzle our boy when we walked him outside. He pretended he didn't like it, but I think he really did.

In the last few years of his life, Antar couldn't bear to be away from his mistress, Lorrie. He would hop up and follow her everywhere. At night, he even came to the bedroom and commanded, with a bark, that she come out to the family room and stay with him. Thus they spent the last weeks of his life together.


So, I hope you can understand, and indulge me this last tribute to my best friend. Life wasn't fun for the big guy any longer. His rear legs had become enfeebled, and it was difficult to get him up to go outside. He would often even growl when I tried to help him, so it obviously wasn't pleasant for him either. Four weeks ago the vet suggested that we consider putting Antar "to sleep." My wife and I were extremely sad and said we'd think about it. I tried all sorts of prostheses to see if they would help. Alas, none of the doggie booties I bought worked. His pads had become so slippery that he could no longer walk on the tile floors without help. Thus the dreaded appointment was made for this morning. I cradled Antar's head in my lap as he took his last breath. I hope he didn't see our tears, for they flowed in unabated abundance.

The house is empty now. Goodbye dear friend we will miss you.

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