Finding Love in Furry, Doggone Places

By Donna Britt
Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas is no time for your dog to die.

Even if you despise him.

Thirteen years ago, I wrote a controversial column about Silverado, the American Eskimo whom my son Darrell, then 7, chose as a pet from owners who swore that the bouncy 6-month-old was "mostly housebroken." White and bubbly as a tub of suds and with eyes like shiny black marbles, Silverado was utterly beautiful -- and half as bright as any of the fleas that soon infested our house and left no inch of me unbitten.

The column's controversy? I admitted that I hated him.

Silverado had shredded my every piece of expensive lingerie, defecated repeatedly on my white carpet and eaten an entire bottle of Flintstones vitamins before barfing in Technicolor. Despite his placid, beauty-queen face, Silver was, as I wrote in 1992, a 25-pound roller coaster ride:

"Give him the slightest provocation -- like breathing -- and he becomes Tasmanian Devil Dog: panting, jumping, licking, spinning, nipping, whining and slobbering all at once." The mailman quaked before his snapping jaws; casual friends reconsidered their ties to us. Silverado was peaceful for the few weeks that he convalesced after being hit by a car he'd been chasing.

Weeks after the accident, Silver looked so forlorn that I knelt beside him, placing my face next to his.

He threw up on me.

But my elementary-age sons loved him. So did my boyfriend, whom I married the next year despite his having purchased my four-legged nemesis.

As the years passed, my resentment toward Silver mellowed into grudging acceptance. My boys became teenagers, then young men. We moved to a house with a yard perfect for Silver to spend hours cavorting inside an electric fence. I gave birth to another son, who of course adored the gorgeous white dog whose energy, resistance to training and propensity for purposeless yapping never waned.

But this year, after scampering good-naturedly past an age that my vet said many American Eskimos live to, Silverado, 14, began to sputter. He started limping intermittently, looking confused, soiling his sleeping quarters. A serious heart murmur would eventually kill him, the vet explained; severe arthritis was making movement difficult. The dog who couldn't stop moving stayed huddled in a corner.

Deep in the night, he barked us awake so he could relieve himself. On a recent morning at 3 a.m., I stood shivering in the dark. Silver peed as I pondered: The boys whose adoration ensured that an inappropriate pet became part of the family had grown up and gone. Somewhere they were sleeping, toasty and unaware.

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