By Johnny Bivera
It has taken me a few days to get to this point of sharing the story of the best dog ever. It really hit home yesterday morning when I realized the spot below my feet on the bed was empty, and no one was looking back at me to see if I had stirred to warrant letting me know that it was time for breakfast. If I was sneaky enough to pass a peak, I would fall back to slumber until he had enough of waiting. But on that morning the air was quiet and empty, and I stared at the spot feeling an entity that used to be.
My wife named him Potus, an acronym for President of the United States. You see my wife and I met at the White House, the Rose Garden actually, and the President was called POTUS when referred by staff and those in the know. She believed it would be neat to yell, “Come here Potus, sit Potus, bad dog Potus and so on…” I on the other hand thought the name was just cool. So Potus he became…
One morning when my wife Kirsten and Potus were out walking at our old home and not too far from the Naval observatory on Mass Avenue, was the residence of our former boss, the President and First Lady, where they keep a house in DC after leaving the White House. It was on a dead end street entering a park that became one of their walking routes. His collar was always kept loose and he came away from it and ran straight into the Clinton’s home where the front door was slightly open. Oh the horror thought my wife, as she raced towards the house yelling for and of all things “Potus, Potus!” The owners weren’t home, but the Secret Service agent inside couldn’t figure out who my wife was and why was she yelling for the President. Crazy lady at the door he probably thought, it could’ve turned into a tragic misunderstanding but fortunately it was more of a comical situation that quickly got resolved with the boy jaunting happily away home with his tongue hanging out.
I refer to my best friend as a 911 dog. He brought great comfort to my wife and I during difficult times. When I received a Navy promotion, Kirsten said I could have a dog as a gift. We went to beagle rescue and took home this cute little puppy nearly three years old. This being my first real dog to be responsible for, I had bought all these pee pads from the pet store and had them spread in key locations all over the house. But after a little while from his initial arrival I found him hanging by the door as if to say, “Hey man, I’m potty trained already.” He and I went for walks around the neighborhood, the parks and even down at the memorials. I had for the first time a sidekick and travel buddy, just us boys on daily adventures. Then September 11th happened shortly after and I had to leave. Where I went my boy couldn’t go, but I felt good knowing he would be home with Kirsten to keep an eye on her while I left for Afghanistan.
Potus didn’t really know any tricks, he didn’t like to chase after balls and he wasn’t that social around other dogs at the park. More so he had this routine where he would walk this perimeter, his periphery of walking all away around like it was his area of responsibility. He was a flower sniffer, walking him on a leash was a commitment. It was never an endurance challenge but a slow paced walk of reflection. He was never in a hurry, unless like all beagles, there was food or treats involved. His clock must have been synched with the Naval observatory because letting us know about his feeding times were spot on, and the beagle’s bay reminded you of that daily, like the morning call for reveille or when taps is played at sundown.
As most dog owners will tell you, there’s nothing like coming home from a trip late in the night and have them waiting for you while everyone had already gone to bed. In the early days when I would come home Potus eagerly came running, but years later he slowly walks over and sniffs, raises his head and looks at you with his brown eyes as if to say, “Welcome home, what took you so long!” I scratch his head and wait for his smile that lets me know that I was home.
A few years later and seeing how Kirsten and I hadn’t killed our dog like our fish and plants, we felt confident that adding a child would be doable. So Amelie came into our lives and we started to look like a real family. Potus was a most patient dog with her, who loved him fondly and would allow her to play with his soft ears.
Everybody came to love Potus. Maybe it was in the way he would look at you. His eyes had a way of piercing your soul, like he really saw you for who you were. He could smell a fake yards away…so when you were around him, you had to be your true self. If he spent time with you, that meant you allowed yourself to be real…
I will remember our time on the beaches of Virginia, in New York’s Central Park, on the boat in Cape Cod and on our many car-rides everywhere. He enjoyed that so much because he did not like to be left at home and would prefer to nap next to me on the passenger seat. Like me he wanted to be everywhere and see everything…
Time passes quickly over the years as my daughter grew taller inch by inch, and with Potus, well as far as I was concerned he just grew older and wiser. I was failing to accept the fact how much a year took away from a dogs life. At fifteen Kirsten drew attention to Potus’ slowing energy and vitality, so we decided to get Amelie her own dog, to ease the brunt of when Potus moved on, another beagle but a mini, one I picked up south of Charlotte on a return trip from New Orleans. He was a weird dark kaki colored runt of the pack who was the last to receive a home, very shy at first and I wasn’t sure how this young pup was going to turn out.
Dogs give us excitement that we normally take for granted, but I will never forget the moment I came home with the new pup named Ollie. Amelie shrieked in excitement as we came through the door and she started to yell, “Oh Ollie,” over and over…Potus in the background perked up with not a hint of concern or care. As the days grew, we noticed the old boy moving about more and more, sharing in the excitement of feeding time with this new dog in the house. And before long, a manifested new and revitalized beagle was back, and we had two dogs full of life and energy. Potus slowly began to accept Ollie, as he didn’t mind the grooming Ollie would give him from time to time, it would become some of my most precious visual moments, to watch Ollie lick Potus in the face as a sign of his affection.
But this was all borrowed time. Again time passed but even with the strong will of my dog he was no match for the process of aging. His eyes told me that he was still there, never mind my failing hind legs, the arthritis, the incontinence or the tumors we beagles are famous for in our old age, I’m still alive here and your good boy.
Kirsten was stronger about it, for I liked to believe that Potus and I shared the common belief that we were just fine. Leave us alone, it’s just a bad turn for the day. But those days only happened more and more. And the visible aspect of his life was becoming harder and harder to dismiss. I slowly started to accept the progression of life, the beginning, middle and inevitable end. I found myself staring at him more, kissing his forehead often and cradling him in my arms when I finished upstairs in the office late, where he slept by my feet until it was time to call the night.
And so the decision was made, a time so that all of us would be together. We were all with him. The vet staff was very sad, as they have come to know and care for him over the years. They were very gracious and kind and helpful in our time of sorrow. I leaned in on him by his head and we all touched him gently as the forever sleep crept in. I whispered, “Good dreams buddy. You can chase the squirrels again. You’re a good boy. The best dog ever!”