In 1998, Krissy decided that we should have a dog. This precipitated a philosophical discussion between the two of us as to what constituted a “dog.” Krissy, whose family had had a number of smaller dogs over the years, was inclined toward something in the shih tzu or maltese direction of things. I, however, steadfastly maintained that if one is going to own a dog, then one should get a dog — a large animal, identifiably related to the wolves whose DNA they shared, who could, if required, drag one’s unconscious ass out of a fire. More practically, there was the fact that at the time I owned a 30-pound cat named Rex, whose default disposition was such that a dog smaller than he would be in very serious danger of being either eaten or being sat on and smothered in the night. It wouldn’t be fair to bring a small dog into our home.
And thus, it was decided that, indeed, we would probably get a big dog. And as it happens, when this decision was made, our good friend Stephen Bennett mentioned to us that, as we were looking for a dog, he knew of a puppy that was available. A friend of his had put down a deposit on an Akita puppy from a local breeder, but then moved somewhere pets weren’t allowed. So an Akita pup was up for sale, at a substantially discounted price. Normally the phrase “discount puppy” is one fraught with danger, but Stephen had heard good things about the breeder, so we gave her a call.
It turned out that actually two puppies were still available, one a boy and one a girl, so we went over to the look at them. Krissy had originally wanted the boy puppy, but he seemed distant and diffident and didn’t seem to want to have much to do with us. The girl puppy, on the other hand, went right up to Krissy and seemed to be just plain delighted to see her. Five minutes later, it was decided that the girl puppy was our puppy. As it happened, it was indeed the pup Stephen’s friend had planned to buy, and in anticipation of that, the breeders had already started calling her the name that not-actually-former owner had planned to call her: Kodi.
Having bought the dog, I then went home and researched Akitas, and just about had a heart attack, because it turns out that Akitas are a dog that can go one of two ways: They can be an utterly delightful dog, clean and intelligent and devoted to family, or they can be twitchy neurotic creatures who were originally bred to hunt bears and will be happy to challenge you for alpha-hood in the family if you give them the chance. What made the difference between the one and the other? Basically, how much time you spent socializing them. Spend enough time and attention to socialize them well, you get the good Akita. You don’t, and you don’t.
Fortunately, if you want to call it that, something happened that allowed me to spend all sorts of time with my new puppy: I got laid off from AOL. Thus, during Kodi’s entire puppyhood, I had nothing better to do with my time than to spend it with our new pet. Partially as a result of this, and partially out of her own good nature, Kodi became the best of all possible dogs, or at the very least the best of all possible dogs for for me and for Krissy. Athena came along, almost exactly a year younger than Kodi, and our dog took to her immediately, sensing a younger sister rather than competition for affection.
Kodi was a good dog for all of us, but it’s fair to say that while she loved me and Athena, she adored Krissy. I like to tell the story of how I went away on my book tour in 2007, and I was gone for three weeks, and the day I came back, Krissy went to the airport to pick me up. When we got out of the car and opened the door to the house, Kodi came out and greeted me in a way that translated into oh, hey, you’re back. Nice to see you. Then she went over to Krissy and greeted her in away that translated into OH MY GOD I THOUGHT I WOULD NEVER SEE YOU EVER AGAIN AND NOW YOU’RE BACK AND I LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCH. And she had been gone for maybe two hours. I once told Krissy that the very best day for Kodi would be one in which Krissy came back home every ten minutes. Krissy was Kodi’s world, her sun and her moon, her waking thought and her dream.
Krissy never took that for granted, as one being given unconditional love might. She returned that love. She delighted in the fact that Kodi was her dog, even in its most exasperating moments, such as when the dog couldn’t stand to be more than five feet from her and was simultaneously having deep and abiding intestinal issues. You take the bad with the good, the cat litter breath with the soft, happy puppy sighs, the dog farts with the unalloyed happiness that a dog who really loves you provides. Krissy loved her dog, and loved everything that went with the dog, from start to finish.
Kodi’s love for my wife amused me and I would occasionally feign jealousy, but I never doubted that Kodi loved me too, and cared for me as well. To explain how I know this I have to tell you about two separate events. The first happened the night of the day my daughter was born. The second was a few days after my wife miscarried what would have been our second child. In each case I was home while Krissy was somewhere else — in the hospital recuperating from giving birth for the first, and at her work for the second — and in both cases I was suddenly and extraordinarily overcome by my emotions. For the first, the indescribable joy that comes in meeting your child for the first time. For the second, the grief that comes from knowing you will not meet the child who could have been yours. And each time, I was frozen, unable to process what was happening to me, or what I was feeling.
Both times, Kodi did the same thing. She came into the room, saw me, walked over to the chair in which I was sitting and put her head in my lap. And both times I did the same thing. I petted her head, slid out of the chair and on to the floor, and held my dog while I cried, letting her be the one to share both my joy and pain, so I could go on to what I had to do next. Both times she was patient with me and sat there for as long as I needed. Both times my dog knew I needed her. Both times she was right.
I haven’t written or spoken of either of these before, even to my wife. They were something I kept for myself. But I want you to know about them now, so that you know that when I say my dog loved me and I loved her, you have some idea of what that actually means.
Akitas are large dogs and live, on average, for nine or ten years. Kodi lived for almost thirteen, and twelve of those were very good years. In the last year, however, age caught up with her. She slowed, and she panted, and finally it had become clear that she had begun to hurt. While Krissy and I were in Boston this last week, we got a call from the kennel where we boarded our dog when we traveled. Kodi had had to be taken to the vet because she was listless and she wasn’t eating. X-rays at the vet showed she had a tumor in her abdomen, which was likely causing internal bleeding. There was some question whether Kodi would make it until we got home. We asked the vet to do what she could. She did, and yesterday afternoon we drove straight from the airport to see our dog.
In the end it was simple. We walked Kodi into the sunlight and then Krissy laid down in the grass with her and held her dog close and let her dog go, both at the same time, bringing to an end a journey that began with Kodi walking up to Krissy and into her life, and our lives, twelve years before. I’m thankful our dog waited for us so we could be with her. But I’m even more thankful my wife could hold her dog one last time, feel the happiness Kodi felt in her presence and she in hers, and to have her arms be the last thing her dog felt in this life as she passed into the next.
Now she is gone and we miss her. We are glad of the time she was with us. She was loved, by my wife, by our child and by me. I wanted to share a little of her with you, so you might remember her too. She was a good dog.