His name was not actually Titus.
See, it was difficult to decide on the name for a dog that we really had no business even naming. I mean, he wasn’t even offered to us at first. Someone found out that my girlfriend’s parents had lost their dog and offered them a replacement from a recent litter of pug puppies. They were not interested, but they said they might know someone who would be. So the offer was made to me, and of course Andrea. Kindof. You see, Andrea and I weren’t even engaged at this point. It was just sort of accepted that “someday” I would get up the nerve to propose and we would start making plans to start a home together, and maybe those plans would include having a dog. So, the offer to have a dog “together” was made with a lot of knowing eyebrow raises and sly elbow nudging from the far side of the table. Everyone held their breath.
The acceptance of this adorable little pug puppy was a monumental decision. In a way, it was more commitment than even giving Andrea an engagement ring. It was the first time we would have something that was “ours”. Something that bound us together. Something that linked us. Something that tied us. Something that tied us. It only made sense at that point to invite him into our lives and call him Titus.
And he did. He tied our simple little life up in a simple little ribbon. He waited on the porch for us to return from our honeymoon. Then, he happily flopped around beneath our feet as we danced in the kitchen our first apartment, the tiny space hardly providing room to twirl. And, he greeted me every evening when I came home from school, bringing me one of his favorite stuffed toys or blankets. Then, he sat at my feet while I studied late into the night. “What is the tension force in beam CG, Titus?” I would ask him by lamplight, and he would blink his bulging eyes and continue chewing on a nylon bone and I would pet his soft hair, smile, and keep working.
Later he would lay on Andrea’s lap while she read books on the couch. Until one day when her belly started to grow beneath him and he could no longer manage to stay on. And he tilted his head curiously as something kicked him from within. Then, not long after that, he was sniffing at a baby girl in a basket that we carried through the door one day. “Don’t get too close now, Titus. Oh Titus, stop sneezing on the poor little girl.” And we would sigh and put him his cage while our daughter crawled around. “No Clara. Leave Mr.Titus alone while he is in his cage. Wouldn’t you rather play with your toys?” But she wanted her friend.
We moved to a new apartment where we could put Titus in a fenced yard. Then Clara would stand at the screen door and watch him through the window. Finally, we would let him back in and the two of them would chase each other back and forth around the couch until they collapsed together in a panting pile in the corner. And Andrea and I would lay down with them and hold hands across them and smile. They both tied us now. Their life was perfect.
Then Andrea’s belly began to grow again. We moved to a bigger house with a bigger yard and brought a bigger family along with it. Clara had a new little friend to chase around the couch. We watched protectively to see if Titus would be jealous of this new little addition, but he was content to join in as the third in line. running circuits through the kitchen and living room following two screaming little girls. But ever circle was a little bit slower. And by the time he was the fourth in line behind a new little boy, he was a bit less enthusiastic to join in. He was content to sit in the corner and watch the three of them run past, then he would yawn dramatically and lay his head down on his paws and snort.
And that’s how he stayed, for several years. I would arrive home from work and be greeted at the door by three wild energetic children that would wrap themselves around my legs, and after they had turned and bounced back up the stairs, there, standing quietly behind them would be a dog, patiently waiting his turn. No longer holding toys. No longer chewing bones. Just waiting, as if to say, “Remember when it was just us? How did that get to be so long ago?” And I would put my bags down and scratch him behind the ears and say, “I know what you mean, old friend.”
The hardest part of watching him get old was seeing him struggle to get up and down the stairs so he could be in the room with us. Eventually, he just gave up trying and, unless we carried him down to our room, he would sit at the top of the steps and watch. He watched as his old playmates grew stronger, as he grew weaker. He watched as the family grew more and more bound together, as he himself grew more and more distant.
“Someday,” Gideon said, not long ago, “I want a dog that can run.” Oh, little boy, if you only knew!
There’s a part of me that wants to believe that Titus was aware of all this. That he knew the role he played in our family and could watch with pride as he saw where we had come. That he fully understood the influence he had, fumbling at our feet as we danced in that first tiny apartment or sitting at my feet through long lonely nights of studying. I want to believe that he understood that he was an honored member of something great. That he was the first piece delicately and lovingly fit together in a much larger and far more beautiful puzzle called a family. That he tied us and started a process by which we all continue to be tied. I want to believe that even with deaf ears he could understand the appreciation we had for him as we scratched behind his ears one final time and said, “Thank you, old friend, for everything.”