My dog Champ, a best friend for about 12½ years, died unexpectedly on Sunday (probably just into the ‘wee hours’ of Mon, 3/5), The ‘Little Booger,’ Champ, had kinda dug his stubborn little doggy toes into the Martha Walker Garden Club, the DooDah Parade, The Community Festival, AntiFest, HOT TIMES, and loads of other Community escapades. They will forever be linked to my memories of him.

I was lucky that he was around during the onset of my major depressive swings, mainly in the early Summer of ’97, when I was clueless as to what had hit me. Champ was that little pal, so totally faithful, with that unquestioning love & affection that most dogs, cats & horses have toward their humans (well, assuming that the animal was raised by a humane person). He was always there, sleeping right at my feet, depending on MY love & affection, and always needing to be fed. He was a sentient being. He was there to hang onto when so much else was unclear.

I often wonder how well I’d have hung on without him.

But one Sunday afternoon, he just began going from bad to worse. He lost his sight, hearing, the ability to eat & drink, even much of his motor functioning. Champ rushed from one state into the next, largely in line with what the OSU ER Vet Clinic doc said during two phone calls. Champ was ‘out of it’ by the time I’d realized what had hit him, and by then he was winding down -- not into recovery, but like a hand-wound watch that would finally stop. He slept at my feet - like he almost always did - just before midnight, and I finally slept as well. I woke at 4:30am, but he was already gone, even a little bit cold & stiff.

Champ was such a kind, harmless dog that I never feared holding him throughout most of his accelerating ordeal. Even in his sentience, he never showed one sign that he could have hurt me, although I suppose that he might have unknowingly clawed me if I’d held him differently. Even that issue became moot as his decline accelerated.

Some people mull over a pet’s decline for days, weeks, or (ugh!) longer before coming to grips with whether to face euthanasia as a solution for ending a likely onslaught (or direct signs) of suffering. Champ’s ordeal lasted scant hours. It was nearly over once it began.

I really owe a load of thanks to a few people who, whether they knew it or not, had really prepared me for this type of tragedy. I’ll just say that they knew both Champ & I throughout most of our 12½ years together, and understood the special bond that sustained us both. Each had asked, or remarked, about how I might handle his eventual passing, considering my bouts of depressive Bipolarism. This had made me think about the issue in a way that became a ‘heads up’ on something that I NEVER could have fathomed - much less directly confronted - even a year earlier.

I guess that’s why I was so lucky that PBS ran an Elton John show that Sunday night. It was his recent concert recorded live at Madison Square Garden. I recalled the early ’70s when he was reaching Superstar status and one of his first major hits was the still great “Your Song.” I just never got over this one pair of really sweet (canine) eyes. I just can’t get that blasted song out of my head, even though Champ is gone. I just can’t forget his eyes. They were the big sad ones I first saw while delivering the October issue of the Free Press on the last Thursday in Sept of ’88. I’ll remember those eyes from all those pictures Kathy took in 1990. I’ll always recall how those eyes looked at about 10am Sunday morning, before his ordeal began…

The eyes are a window to the soul. I know that whoever first stated that was really onto something, because any being that can love (or hate) has to have a soul to do it, and I’ve seen a lot of hate in other dog’s eyes. It would make me wonder where they got it, although I wouldn’t wonder for very long… Champ was lucky. I used to feed him Purina dry dog food, and, well, most of you know the rest of the jingle in those old ads. Plenty of other people added a lot of love as he grew up, and that’s all that you’d see when you looked into his eyes.

All but during those last few hours. Those eyes went blind. But even then there was never any hate, neither in his little ol’ eyes nor in his little ol’ soul. Finally, there was just peace, and with that came my own big void: a hole that will only slowly mend.