Waldo died late on Friday, August 13th. We last saw him on Monday; following the advice of most dog experts, we made our holiday exit as unobtrusively as possible. My last image of Waldo is him sitting in the nook of one of his couches, tiny black and white splendor poised against the red sitting room walls, his head cocked, alert. Four days later he was dead.
The local vet theorized that he’d been poisoned, and reckoned that Waldo had ingested said some 10 to 15 days before he died. Slow-acting, it ate his red blood cells.
According to Sam, Waldo’s aunt, he was perfectly fine on Thursday night. On Friday morning, he refused food (only the second time in his too-short life), which triggered alarm signals. To the vet he went, where he was put on an IV hookup, released, with a possible blood transfusion perhaps the next day. He died later that night; Sam buried him in the dog cemetery, near a cypress, and some of the sheep (of which there are presently fifty plus in the land around us) came to pay their last respects. Waldo had only just met them the week before, so it was very kind of them to honor him so.
He entered our lives purely by fluke.
We weren’t meant to have another dog. Tillie had died only eight months before, and we still mourned (nearly six years later, we still do). But a dear friend was looking for a pup, and I went along.
They were a scrappy lot, those five puppies, all black and white, their on-site mother Leila, amiable, blonde, tiny, with a rodent-like face. Love at first sight with those puppies.
Brought the Scallion back to check out the litter, and Waldo-to-Be immediately began gnawing on the Scallion’s shoes. We were sold (and he was free).
He came to live with us in July 2005. He was so tiny that he could neatly fit into our kitchen scales and he didn’t weigh more than 2.5 kilograms (five pounds). He was small, irascible. He grew a little, but he remained small, and he only became more irascible.
He was too small to jump on the bed which, at that point in time in his puppyhood, was a major life goal. We always gave in and lifted him up. The beginning of a most bad habit, as he slept every night on the bed with us, usually under the covers, sometimes stretched out alongside one of us. Always ready to alert us with a growl if we were invading his space beside us. Some mornings we’d wake up and his head would be on the pillow, between us.
Waldo had many names, but the one that stuck was bestowed upon him by Osvaldo, Argentinian by birth, Italian by here’s where I live, who, upon seeing this small critter, said, “Oh, Waldito!” Waldo also sometimes went by the aliases Shrimpy McPup, Lord Dainty Paw. R. W. Yapp (his hip-hop name) and, most importantly, the Squiggler. Because squiggle is what he did.
Imagine a Slinky, but a horizontal one. Add four paws and a tail. Walk into our apartment any time and watch him squiggle (or, at least, before August 13th). He squiggled out of happiness, a constant S curve in motion. He also (annoyingly to everyone except us, I suspect) had to stand on his hind legs to greet you. Bad Dog Behavior, but we didn’t discourage it.
He had other annoying habits: he yapped. He yapped from joy, he yapped from frustration, he yapped at ambulance sirens, he yapped at insects, he yapped at other dogs (of course), he sometimes yapped at air. (Or so it seemed.) He also scratched incessantly at doors. If he was in, he wanted to be out. If he was out, he wanted to be in.
He loved ladies’ lingerie. An unwitting turn in a friend’s fuschsia thong (which he’d found on the floor, and slipped into as if it were a cross between a turban and a tutu) led us to the theory that he had been a drag queen in San Francisco in a previous life. Chums Jonathan and James, upon hearing of Waldo’s death, wrote: “thinking of you and of Waldito dancing at a bath house in the clouds.” We hope he is.
Waldo’s antics convulsed us with laughter. of an evening when things were too quiet. He loved to chase his tail. He could stand on his hind legs for seemingly infinite amounts of time if an insect was involved. He was, as they say in these parts, molto sportivo: he played basketball, some tennis, and volleyball (he loved to hear the air oozing out of the ball).
He loved to hump Lulu. Visualize this: a pre-pubescent Chinese female Olympic gymnast humping a large NBA player desultorily lying on his stomach, not giving a rat’s a** about the details. Waldo, of course, the gymnast; Lulu, Shaquille O’Neal or his equivalent.
If you live with non-human animals, especially ones who share the same space as you, going away/taking a vacation is never easy. We have taken few; when we go, Zoe’s Person steps in and watches them.
In this case, Zoe’s Person was not around, though Zoe was (the rest of her family was in the United States). Fortuitously, two young friends wanted to come to Italy, and we told them if they would watch sometimes four dogs, they could stay in our place, drive our car, have all sorts of adventures. Unfortunately, they started having all sorts of adventures on their first day on the job, and then again on the third day, which meant that they weren’t around much the last three days of Waldo’s life. Waldo was a lap dog, a heat-seeking missile, and it’s a tragedy that his last days on the planet were largely lapless.
We feel beyond lousy that we weren’t there when he died. Beyond lousy that Waldo’s Aunt had to bear the burden of watching him get deathly sick, watch him die, and then bury him.
Waldo spared us the agonizing luxury of watching him get old.
Had we been around him, would we – who knew him best – have noticed sooner that something was seriously amiss?
What do you do if you have animals who live with you? Hard to take three of them with you on vacation. Never go away? Stay at home watching the Discovery Channel, wine glass in hand, while listening to U2 sing “Even Better than the Real Thing?”
Waldo taught us much. He made us laugh again after Tillie died. Most important, he taught us how to greet the day. For him, each morning was a new adventure, his theme song Pink’s “Let’s Get this Party Started.” Daybreak or bird-chirping time (depending upon the season, sometimes one happened before the other) alerted him to the fact that it was Time to Get Up. His tail would beat out, metronomically, a rather mechanical line (think of Meg White’s drumming), and he would put his face in ours. He almost always won out, which is why we were often up at 6 a.m. when we had no other reason to be. No matter that this day would start exactly like any other: walk in the woods with Lulu, Harry, and the Scallion; breakfast, nap, pee break, pee break, perhaps a leap over the wall separating the terrace from the garden, a reconnoitering of the garden’s contents i.e. Waldo’s Domain (in fact, the last time I yelled at him was because I caught him peeing on the tomatoes), a long walk in the woods, dinner, pee break, bed – this didn’t bother him at all. In fact, he was thrilled.
Oh, to have so much enthusiasm every morning.
He blessed our lives for five years, and I thought about this while we were far away. David Bowie’s “Five Years” ran through my head, and though he certainly wasn’t singing about a dog, the last lines resonate:
“We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes/We’ve got five years, what a surprise/We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot/We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got.”
Our hearts hurt a lot. And screw the experts: kiss your dogs every time you go out the door.
Waldo (c. May 30, 2005 – August 13, 2010). May you dance with the great Overdog into eternity.
 According to all reports, the dog sitters toed the line thereafter.
 According to all reports, the dog sitters toed the line thereafter.