Four-Ton’s Last Stand

“I’m going to miss her.”

Many of you have read about our dog on this blog.

Her name is Maple, but her alias on these pages is more appropriate: Four-Ton.

I write this because after ten years she has left us. Her hip collapsed. She could no longer walk or even stand. The vet couldn’t do anything, and that left one option.

We are going to take her ashes to Pinamar, the beach town where she grew up and became a frequent character in Pine Tree Paradise.

She was a great digger, and with my son they dug a hole to China and took naps together in their excavations.

They were inseparable.

In the house, Four-Ton would lie down and allow my son to use her as a pillow for watching TV on the floor.

Then off they’d run to dig their hole.

And back they’d come again.

Four-Ton also gained fame as the ultimate vacuum cleaner, and we welcomed this ability when our youngest daughter was born a year after the dog. Four-Ton would suck up all of the food she tossed to the floor. No need for a broom.

But her eating didn’t stop there.

When we weren’t looking, she went for what was on the table — or the barbecue. She’d hang out at the side of the house and wait for scraps to come from the neighbors’ barbecues, or simply go join them: “Hey, guys, what’s cooking?”

On the beach, her pick-up line was similar: “Spare a churro?”

In the city, where we now live, she loved to suck up scraps off the sidewalk. A particular favorite: chewed gum.

Other than food, her love was children. The trouble was that she was so massive that with a shake of her tail to show affection she’d swat them and they’d tumble. She’d comfort her felled, but first after scarfing any spilt candies.

Four-Ton couldn’t resist food, and this worried us. So at a Halloween party in the garden of our beach house we put her in a crate. She grumbled, loudly, and her barks became a scary attraction for the kids. “Yikes, what’s in that box?” When I’d put her in, I’d forgot to remove her new leather leash. When I let her out, the leash was gone. She didn’t wait for me to ask what happened. She bolted to help clean up the remains of the party.

Another time we left her on the patio of my father’s apartment in Buenos Aires and she ate the woodwork on the door — and all the bamboo trees. She loved plants and we tried to dissuade her with hot sauce, but she simply asked for more.

Four-Ton never liked to be left alone, and that explained some of her eating. It was stress-related.

This translated to all kinds of mischief. One time she ate an industrial-sized plastic bag when left alone on our patio in the city, and boy did it take a long time to come out. I was on a pick-up-your-dog-shit campaign with our neighbors, and sure enough in front of a few of the transgressors my dog dragged the protruding bag for two blocks until it was finally evacuated. I put on industrial strength gloves to pick it up. Four-Ton went to the kitchen to look for scraps.

And to figure out how to open the rubbish bin.

There was always food to be had, and when you’re so big that means kitchen counters are no sweat. She ate our daughter’s first birthday cake when we were getting the house ready for the party. There she lay looking meekly at us as if to say, “It wasn’t me.” The pink icing gave her away, of course. But we didn’t learn our lesson about leaving food out of her reach. The party came and the replacement cake was left on the counter again, and sure enough it wound up in the dog’s belly.

She would sneak off with milk sachets left on the counter and somehow drink them without spilling.

She was big – and deft.

And a good companion. The year we lived together on the coast, she went everywhere with us, and I remember walks I took her on in the winter, the houses empty or with their occupants sat by the fire. I loved the solitude, and I spoke to Four-Ton about the day — the beauty of the sand dunes and the pine forests under the blue sky. I did the talking, but she seemed to look on as admiringly of our surroundings, and it was in those moments that she seemed to be not just interested in food.

Nor when we went with the three children to explore in the sand dunes. Up and down she would run with the kids.

She could also forget eating when it came to looking after my father, despite his pleas for her to scat. My father came to live with us when he was 92, and Four-Ton would sit at the side of his bed as his health failed. It wasn’t just to eat his discarded tissues. It was to keep him company, and my father in the end stopped grumbling about “that dog.”

Then it was Four-Ton’s turn.

Her health started to decline a few years after my father’s death. She got attacked by a dog and bruised her back, and soon she became incontinent.

Even so, she still insisted on coming to the beach with us to run with the kids and ask people for lunch, or a churro.

But she no longer dug holes – nor did her digging partner. My son is becoming a teenager. He’s more interested in books and videogames and girls.

I think this is what hurts the most about our dog’s death. We’ve lost a companion who is tied up in so many of our memories: of our kids being born and growing up, of our living in a small beach town and then moving back to the city. We have the memories, of course. But that is what they are: memories of a life that has been.

My wife and I are no longer as young as when Four-Ton was a puppy, and our days of raising children are escaping us.

We are growing older.

This is what loss reminds you of.

What can we do?

I guess one this is to dig a hole for Four-Ton to lay her ashes to rest. And where else than in the garden of our beach house where we made so many memories together. It’s her spot in the world — and ours.

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