A Young Bowser, Circa 1993
We lost one of our family dogs this week. Bowser was 15 ½ years old (a pure mutt of Collie, German Shepherd, Irish Setter, and St. Bernard) and escaped from his pen at my parent’s house in Pennsylvania while they were here in Tennessee visiting. My father kept the news from us the entire four days of the trip, not wanting to ruin our time together; once home, he burst into tears in the kitchen. We still have hope that Bowser will trot back with burrs in his fur; it’s only been a week. Even as I am writing this, there’s been a false alarm: the rangers from Keystone State Park, less than a mile from my parents’, called to say that they’d found him. But it was another dog—shorter, furrier, not our old guy.
My father hopes that, “he’s getting a piece of ass.” I hope that he’s found adventure: deer to chase, a pond to swim in. We don’t say what we fear: that in his deafness and blindness he’s lost, scared, and alone for the first time. My father raised him from birth, after all. His mama, Sweetie Pie, was our dog (a runt hand-fed from an eyedropper by my mother), as was his grandmother, Tassie. Bowser’s the last generation of the family of dogs that extended from my second year to my thirties.
We didn’t treat those dogs as we treat our dogs now: they lived outside, stinky and matted but loved. Bowser’s enclosure opened into my Dad’s workshop and garage. He slept there on an old couch and when my father went into the garage, Bowser would ease up on his old back legs and grin, a really big grin for my father.
I suppose it’s fair to say that my Dad’s often misunderstood in the human realm—interpreted as gruff and harsh, which is really his mask for emotion or social unease. With the family dogs, he’s always comfortable. A few years ago, he began giving them middles names—Maizee May, Kenai Florissa, Gracie Louise, Stella Elizabeth, Duncan Diesel, Jedidiah Linston. And when our Kenai died in May of 2006, he wrote her a song, “Kenai Florissa, we’re sure gonna miss ‘er.” He’s working on songs for all of them now. Bowser’s, too, will be a posthumous honor.
For a dog of Bowser’s size, his life span is off the charts. True, he was never coddled or brushed, but he had his fun killing groundhogs, slipping his collar and tearing across the corn fields, and, of course, barking at anything barkable. It must have worked for him, for he was a happy dog. A few years ago, my sister, Maria, had him groomed—those poor, underpaid groomers!—and tried to gentrify him for a life in the house. Bowser sprayed everything in sight: wood burner, couches, kitchen chairs, walls, doors, and toilets; he feared the tile flooring; and he escaped out the door every chance he got. Back outside, Bowsie Boy was content even as he lost his senses, cooing for attention anytime he sensed a family member. In this late great adventure, I hope he’s sitting tall and proud with his tan mane fuzzily framing his face, grinning at some new unexpected joy and, just maybe, getting a piece of ass.