Humans like dogs. We’ve bred them to be our companions, selecting the most desirable traits to create canine family members.
Writers also like dogs. There are countless books about dogs. It’s a genre that seems to never end. The dogs usually die. Despite the fact that I know this is going to happen, I usually cry.
I cried writing this today. I laughed a little, too. Mostly, I fondly remembered a member of the family.
This is Smudge.
Normally Smudge would hide from a camera. Luckily, in this picture he’s too blind to care.
My parents adopted Smudge, he was about two, while I was a freshman at Michigan State University, nearly eight years ago. He passed away this evening and left a large, bizarre hole in my family.
My father is a big softy. He doesn’t want anyone to know it, and I’m probably at risk for writing that, but it’s the sole reason Smudge was brought into our family. Ranger, our first German Shorthaired Pointer, had a penchant for leaving home, (read: chasing bitches. I can say that. This is about dogs.) and while he was on one of his trips, Smudge was at animal control, scheduled to be euthanized. He had many stitches in his back leg and was on antibiotics after being brought in by a man who claimed Smudge had been hit by a snowmobile.
The family quickly learned Smudge had a rough life before he was adopted into the world of couch surfing and taking over my brother’s bed. He ran at the sound of cooking spray and tinfoil, no one could approach him while holding anything in their hand, and he did not know what to do with a dog treat. We were fairly certain Smudge had not lived in a house before joining our family, and we were almost positive he had been abused.
Smudge (colloquially Mudge, Mudgie, Mudgiebear, Bearskin, or Bear. And we wonder why he never seemed to respond to his name…) was trouble in every sense of the word. The stitches should have been a clue. Soon after adoption, and with my sister the only one home to deal with it, he tore up Ranger’s ear in a mad grab for power. Dog ears bleed a lot. When Ranger has a bleeding ear he shakes it. Hilarity ensues with a trip for a couple snips from the vet close behind. (While Andrea was not happy, this did lead to many “Ranger Van Gogh” jokes.)
My father, in his infinite wisdom, decided to hunt with Smudge. The dog had clearly hunted before, and seemed happy in the woods. He was not gun shy, and wanted nothing more than to be outside. Smudge, however, liked to go after porcupines. I have pulled more quills than I can remember from the dog, some appearing months after an encounter, and my father has pulled many times more than I have. Porcupines seemed to be the only animals with which Smudge held grudges. In one particularly nasty attempt to dequill a porcupine, Smudge picked it up and shook it. There’s a picture on my parents’ fridge. Not pretty. According to family legend, my dad was near the truck, straddling Smudge on the ground, and pulling quills from the dog’s face when Smudge kicked and hit the shotgun behind my father. He claims the dog kicked twice: once he hit the safety, the second the trigger. I don’t buy it. Details aside, my father, annoyed, decided he would rather pay to have a vet take care of the dog than risk death. Seriously, though, could you imagine the headline?
Smudge was also a master thief. He was frequently found cuddling with a loaf of bread. He wouldn’t eat it, mind you, just take it from the counter and keep it on the bed. He once brought a whole powdered donut to the back deck. We’re still not sure where that came from. One Thanksgiving, while grandma was visiting, Smudge brought back most of a nice little buck–in pieces. He brought back pelts, cleanly skinned, from various deer, and I believe at least one sandbox toy. This past December, with failing eyesight (it’s funny what a cataract and a few quills in the eye will do) he brought the head of a doe and left it sitting on the deck in the fresh snow before coming inside.
Smudge was a terrible dog. He cost my parents a ton of money, put them through terrible stress, and terrorized the neighborhood. He fit right in.
As he spent more time with our family, he began to run right to the cupboard where treats were kept when he came inside. He started to lay in the living room and hang out with the family. He was an affectionate, loving dog and always seemed grateful for a warm house, an ear scratch, and a belly full of food.