He Felt Lucky to Share in This Dog’s Life

Rescue dog Atticus spent many of his 16 years as a loyal friend to columnist Andy Lippman.
Photo courtesy of Paul Stevens

I don’t know why, in this time of my personal grief, the early 1960s song “My Guy” keeps going through my head.
“Nothing you could do could tear me away from my guy.
Nothing you could do ’cause I’m stuck like glue to my guy…..”
My guy’s name is Atticus and he died on Friday at the age of 16.
Atticus’ death certainly isn’t a tragedy — especially in these times. It is however a sadness.
Atticus was the dog of my retirement.

He was a twice-rescued dog. The Glendale Humane Society rescued him from a similar society in Los Angeles. By the time I saw his picture on a website, he was too frightened to even be shown in an enclosure. He was being kept in a bathroom — shivering.
The dog, called Wilbur by the Humane Society, was advertised as a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and he was — sort of. He had the brown and white coloring and the nose, but there must have been some corgi and Pomeranian in his background somewhere.
Anyway, we bonded. I quickly abandoned “Wilbur” and named him after the character in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
There wasn’t a squirrel that he couldn’t hear and wouldn’t chase, and I think the word spread. Squirrels taunted him by running back and forth along the fence, and the brown and white patches on his body blurred as Atticus ran back and forth — not barking, just chasing.
Atticus loved to walk. Show him a leash and he’d follow you anywhere. He’d stop and sniff, then move on before stopping to sniff some more. When he could sense that home was near, he’d pull on the leash until it was his dog walker who was exhausted. Atticus wanted a treat.
I gave him a small stuffed chick that I called Chick-let, and he carried it everywhere for years. One day, he left it on the porch while the gardeners were working. Atticus went looking for the chick and it was gone. He paced all over the house. I knew something was amiss and, seeing the back porch clean, I wondered if Atticus’ chick had been swept away.
So I went through a trash can full of grass clippings and twigs. There, among the cuttings, was Chick-let. I cleaned him and handed him back to Atticus, who put the chick back in his mouth. That night, he slept with his snout perched just over the toy.
It is ironic that the eyesight and the keen hearing that brought him so much joy gradually faded in his final years. By the end, he’d sometimes just stare at a corner, and he couldn’t hear me unless I got very close. He had horrible osteoarthritis, and the wonderful veterinarians at TLC Veterinary Center told me, “Now you are the caregiver, and you have to look after him instead of him looking after you.”
When I took him in to the vet last Friday, his weight had dropped four pounds in three months to eight pounds. A hidden cancer was suspected. The veterinarian was right that it was time to say goodbye.
So, in this time of COVID, I sat in the parking lot because understandably no one but staff could be inside. I let him lick my fingers and I kissed his head and rubbed his nose, which caused him to close his eyes, hopefully in joy.
I looked into those eyes that could no longer see, and said goodbye to my friend who could no longer hear.
My mom loved dogs, and she told us the story about how dogs, when they die, go beyond the Rainbow Bridge to wait for their masters.
I have to believe my mother was right.
Somewhere, across the Rainbow Bridge, Atticus is waiting for me.
And I’m left with wonderful memories and that tune going through my head:
“As a matter of opinion, I think he’s tops.
My opinion is he’s the cream of the crop.
As a matter of taste, to be exact, he is my ideal, as a matter of fact.”