Loss of companion leaves big void

The house doesn’t sound the same anymore.

It doesn’t feel the same, either.

Gone are the high-pitched sound of toenails on the kitchen hardwood — we called them “tippy-tappies,” — that told my wife and I that our four-legged son was up to no good, scavenging for snacks we hadn’t intended to leave within reach.

Silenced are the midnight whimpers, accompanied by a barely audible sleep-bark, that meant he was dreaming (about what, we always wondered) again.

No longer do we drive into the yard and see his handsome square head peek over the windowsill, eager to welcome his masters home.

“I wish I could see a head in the window again,” 10-year-old Georgia told us last night, as yet another return home went unwelcomed.

“So do I,” I softly told her. Then, softer still: “So do I.”

Pudge — Holyoke’s Domino Pudge, according to his official American Kennel Club registry — died on March 25. He was in my arms, his head draped across my thighs, as I sat with him. He went as he had lived: Peacefully.

Gordon poses with Pudge on Pudge’s final weekend with us. (Photo courtesy of Karen Holyoke)

Pudge was no stranger to BDN readers, of course. I wrote about him regularly — usually when he pulled one of his fast ones on me, or when he had once again taught me things I should have already known.

Like the time I took him to get “fixed,” and learned, to my horror, that “fixing” a male English springer spaniel was not (contrary to my long-held belief) a simple dog vasectomy. Of course, I didn’t learn the brutal truth until the receptionist at the clinic called for us. “Pudge, for castration?” she asked.

“Not us,” I nearly said aloud, trying to figure out a graceful way to retreat, or vanish. Pudge looked at me, bewildered, I thought. He adapted well after his surgery, but I’m quite sure he never truly forgave me.

Pudge was a bird dog by breed, but he did not know that. More correctly, my bird-hunting friends always told me, Pudge knew it innately, but was limited by an owner who didn’t know how to train him.

Pudge made his debut, as I like to call it, during the Eastern Maine Sportsman’s Show of ‘03. He was a couple months old, stopped by to say “Hi” to me after his adoption on Friday night, and delighted thousands of show attendees for the entire weekend. The original thought was to let him “meet and greet” until he got sick of the attention. He never did.

That night, I remember him whining in his crate, unwilling to sleep on his first night away from his mother. Eventually (desperate for him to allow me to sleep), I broke a key rule of crate training and allowed him out. Still, he wasn’t happy, and wanted attention. As would become his custom, he won: I spent the night sleeping on the floor beside him as Pudge curled up in a pile of dirty clothes.

He showed a special fondness for small children, especially those in strollers. Pudge quickly learned that stroller-bound toddlers loved puppies, and whenever he saw a mom pushing a stroller, whether in a park or at an outdoors expo, he began tugging at his leash, begging for the chance to visit.

He did, however, tire of the outdoor expo grind. One spring, after a snowstorm limited travel, Pudge spent a boring Saturday morning at the Orono show waiting for a crowd that never arrived. Eventually, he showed his displeasure by cocking a leg and watering a support girder in the University of Maine field house. Point made, I took him home.

Although not a practicing bird dog, he did pay attention to birds … once in awhile. Like the time Pudge raced out of our camp on Beech Hill Pond, vaulted down the embankment, and set out in pursuit of a dozen semi-tame ducks that had been living on a steady diet of bread thrown by local camp-owners. One duck broke free from the pack and Pudge headed after it, swimming toward open water, before a passing kayaker finally herded him back to dry land.

As a puppy he liked to drink beer, which he obtained by knocking over the bottles of visitors during cookouts and backyard parties. Later, after he learned the meaning of the word “up” and started scavenging off countertops, he decided that bread was pretty tasty … a loaf at a time, thank you.

And eventually he showed promise as an amateur chef, crafting his own homemade salsa when he gobbled down five scavenged tomatoes (which I had been cultivating all summer long), and three jalapenos (ditto), eating them all in one sitting while I was away.

He was still trying to train me, I suppose, though for the life of me I never thought that leaving hot peppers and tomatoes on the counter would even tempt him.

Pudge had some health woes over the years, but nothing seemed to stop him. Even when the vet sat me down and talked solemnly about tumors and cancer a few weeks back, I assumed that he’d find a way to rally. He always had.

But life doesn’t work that way.

A couple days later, his time short, I called the emergency clinic and told them the bad news. I needed help. My dog needed help. Before I burst into tears, yet again, I told them I was on my way.

They helped us both, in ways I can never adequately express.

We had 10 good years together, Pudge and I. He is still loved by Karen and me, and his two-legged adopted siblings, Mackie, Gordon and Georgia. He is also missed, daily, by his cat-pal, Tori.

I’m left with a heavy heart and a boatload of great memories, some of which I’m grateful you’ve allowed me to share here.

But I’m also left with this, every single day: The house doesn’t sound the same any more.

And it doesn’t feel the same, either.




John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.