Joe Laliberte: Man’s best friend

I knew the actual reason she was calling well before dawn more than a month ago. I just let it go to voicemail.

No mother wakes her college-aged son before the newspaper is delivered for anything other than bad news. I waited to call her back, giving myself those last six fictitious hours with my English springer spaniel, Magoo. He died that night, nestled in the bed between my mother and father. He just slowly stopped breathing. He died with no drama and in the same bed he had spent the last decade in.

In this last month, I’ve begun to run into GW students with stories similar to mine. You see, most of us got our pets when around the same time, when we were young. Maybe it was just the right time for many families – a time when we were old enough not to get haphazardly swallowed by a foreboding canine. Unfortunately now, the old age and decline of our beloved pets coincides with a time when most of us are away at college.

“He picked me,” said senior Naomi Rennard. “Mr. Spock was an abused puppy and they put him in a cage all by himself. When I went in, after the lady said that dog doesn’t like anyone, he put his head right on my lap.”

Currently, Rennard’s half terrier-half sheep dog is blind, deaf and suffering from arthritis.

When the breeder brought my dog out to us when I was in fifth grade, they called him the head cheese. He was the leader of the pack, according to the breeder in upstate New York. He staked his claim in my family not three minutes after leaving the house through the delightful excrement delivered on the car seat next to me. In fact, Magoo became so certain of his place in our family that I frequently sat in the back seat of the car. He sat shotgun, paw claiming the armrest.

“Skippy was sent to us from Santa,” said Walter Kerr, also a senior. “Clearly I was young enough to still believe in Santa. Now, she urinates everywhere. Also, her legs don’t respond fast enough so she just falls down the stairs every time she tries.”

Murphy eats better than Hannah Carlton, a first-year graduate student. Murphy, who has arthritis and a sagging back, is a 14-year-old Alaskan husky. Whenever Hannah and her mother are gone, her father conveniently finds time to cook a steak for himself and his pup.

Hearing these stories often provoke a common sentiment: “I can’t wait to get a dog!” But a dog is more than just a best friend. It means settling down for a few years. Dogs aren’t just a show puppy to parade around Dupont Circle or the National Mall in search of a date – although the help is always appreciated.

Dogs mean responsibility – something most college students are slightly lacking. They represent moving on from home, maybe from the paws of our childhood dog. But as we move on from college, we still can’t forget that dog.

They taught us that everything in life has this spinning exuberance of joy, even on the worst of days. They taught us how to appreciate simple things like a marrow-filled bone or a slobbered tennis ball. They taught us about forgiveness and humility.

Most importantly, Magoo taught me loyalty. Even amid the stress of college, these are lessons never to forget.

The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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