Tim Whyte | On Ol’ Blue & Being Ready

Tim Whyte

I wasn’t ready for another dog. 

I’d been pretty attached to Lacey, a 40-pound terrier we had adopted after her career in the entertainment industry came to an abusive halt. Her former owner/trainer decided she was no longer of use, and a mutual friend wanted to find her a better home.  

In the years we had Lacey, she went from being afraid of her own shadow – literally hiding in the back of the house – to being the best family dog and house protector that you could want, at a time when our kids were still young. 

When Lacey died in 2012, we were all pretty well devastated. And I wanted to wait a respectable amount of time before finding a new dog to restore our house to its usual staffing level of two dogs – a Primary Dog and a Backup Dog. (I stole this “structure” from the famed humor columnist Dave Barry. Pretty sure my wife hates it …) 

Ruby, the Shih Tzu who was just a few years old at the time, was the logical choice for the Backup Dog role. We needed a new dog to take the lead role. But a couple months later, I wasn’t ready. Not enough time had passed, for me. 

The kids were ready, though.  

So, they and Erin went to the Castaic Animal Shelter without me. 

They met several dogs. But the one who stole their hearts was a black Aussie shepherd (probably mixed with … something), who, according to shelter staff, was “near the end of the line” because no one had really given him a second look since he’d been there.  

Apparently, he literally only had a day or two left before Erin, Luc and Brooke rescued him. 

He was sweet, but rambunctious. When Erin and the kids brought him home to meet Ruby and me – neither of whom really had a choice in the matter – he was probably around 9 months old and still very much a teenager, as dogs go. He had tremendous leaping ability, which he showed off in the middle of our living room. Tons of crazy, awkward, uncontained puppy energy. 

We called him Blue. And I thought to myself, “Someday, when we’re both old and gray, I’ll call him Ol’ Blue.” 

Early on, Blue and I had some rough spots. One night shortly after we got him, I fell asleep watching TV on the couch in the living room. When I went to the bedroom, Blue — about a year old then — was in my spot on the bed. Groggy and half-asleep, I tried to nudge him out of the way. 

He snarled at me, baring his teeth. 

I grabbed his snout and held it shut.  

“I am the alfa,” I growled back, sounding like a villain from “Planet of the Apes.” Erin woke up to hear the exchange. I immediately felt like an idiot. Hell, I feel like an idiot now, just retelling the story. 

I’m pretty sure the professional dog trainers would say that’s absolutely NOT the way to do it.  

Yet, after that, I dare say Blue and I understood each other better. And we grew to become the best of friends.  

I loved that dog.  

The kids used to tease me, saying, “You didn’t want him,” because I hadn’t been “ready” when they brought him home. They knew I loved the dog, but they also love teasing Dad, so it’s all good.  

When all was said and done, I wouldn’t have wanted to imagine the next dozen years without Blue. 

In the summertime, Blue and I would play a game in the back yard – I’d be in the pool, and I’d toss up a rubber ball, and he would run around the edge of the pool to intercept the ball, bouncing it off his snout back to me.  

We loved that game. I don’t know if Blue kept score somehow, but he was always the winner. 

At the beginning, Blue was the kids’ dog, really. But after they both went off to college, and then COVID hit, and Erin was working from home a lot more, he became Erin’s dog. She would be working at the computer and he’d curl up at her feet, luxuriating in long, daily naps. On her lunch breaks, she’d take him for walks in the neighborhood park. He had a proud walk, almost a prance. Erin got lots of compliments on what a beautiful dog he was.  

When we would go camping, Blue would accompany Erin for walks on the beach. He loved the beach. They were constant companions, Erin and the black Aussie with the shiny coat. 

It was a good life for ol’ Blue. 

A few years ago, though, he started to slow down. The naps got longer and the walks got shorter. The hills of the neighborhood became more daunting. That jet-black snout was dotted in an increasing layer of gray whiskers. 

You know where this is going. 

Over the past year, he deteriorated to the point where we knew: He wasn’t comfortable. His mobility was severely limited. He lost a third of his body weight. If he laid down, he struggled to stand up. 

When we made that last tortured visit to the veterinarian, we knew. 

Erin curled up on the floor of the vet’s office with Blue, and, choking up, she told him he was going to be reunited with Ruby. 

Ruby had died a couple years back. In the final years of her life, Ruby developed a reputation for being a grumpy old lady of a dog. Wanting to break the tension, I said, kidding of course, “What makes you think they’re going to the same place?” 

Then I looked up at the wall, in that vet’s office, above the floor where Erin and Blue sat. Hanging there, looking over them, was a picture of a Shih Tzu, and it was the spitting image of Ruby. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it WAS her. 

Coincidence? Maybe. I took it as a sign. Ol’ Blue was going to be OK — even if, in that tearful moment and the ones that lasted well after that trip to the vet’s office, neither Erin nor I felt OK about it at all.  

We miss him, as we’ve missed the dogs we’ve had before him. They’ve all been good dogs, in their own ways, and maybe it’s just because it’s still fresh, but I’d say Blue was an especially good dog.  

It’s weird. For the first time in more than 30 years, there’s no pup in the house to watch me leave for work in the morning or greet me when I return at night, tail wagging, tongue hanging out, expecting a scratch behind the ears or, even better, a treat.  

I’m not ready for another dog yet. But I will be.  

Tim Whyte is the editor of The Signal.

At the beach on Jan. 2, 2013, from left: Brooke Whyte, Luc Whyte, Ruby and Blue.
At the beach on Jan. 2, 2013, from left: Brooke Whyte, Luc Whyte, Ruby and Blue.

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