By all odds, he probably shouldn’t have survived as long as he did.
He experienced cruelty and hatred early in his young life, as he and his two sisters were abandoned along a semi-forgotten stretch of county road up in Walker County, Alabama.
There was no telling how long they suffered out there in the wild – alone, cold, hungry and likely wondering where the mother they had been violently snatched from was.
When the small brown puppy made his way to me a few weeks’ later, you could still see the scars of his abandonment.
His tiny ribs were clearly visible through his lackluster fur.
He would shy away from human contact, as if he had only known these sort of hands that brought anger or torment.
He savored his food, eating slowly, perhaps wondering if it would be the last he ever got, if tomorrow he’d be thrown back into the wild to fend for himself.
So went the first few weeks of the Cliff and Fitz experiment: me, learning to care for and show kindness to another living creature, and Fitz, learning to trust me and getting acclimated to his new home.
There were the inevitable battles of puppyhood.
Bathroom training was an interesting experience – my first foray into the field.
Swift discipline and a small amount of yelling made sure that no yellow puddle would appear elsewhere in the house after the Bedspread Incident.
The random gnawing of any and everything tiny Fitz could get his paws on … well, a dog has to be allowed some joys, even if one of the front porch’s wicker chairs did get completely destroyed.
We slowly began to settle into the normal routines of pet ownership: the wake-ups, the lunchtime stop-by, the afternoon playtimes and the complete freedom of the evening, where Fitz would be allowed (supervised) to watch television in the living room on the sofa.
He always loved “The Wire”; he never fidgeted or barked during the hours it was up on the projector.
Perhaps he found the storyline of drug-riddled Baltimore to be as riveting as I did. Or perhaps there were always barking dog noises in the background, and he simply zeroed in on them better than I did.
He learned “Sit” and “Shake,” and would be required to demonstrate the practice before each and every meal.
He was always overjoyed when my mother would send home various treats and bones for him, “for little Fitzy,” she’d always say.
Any bone given to him would be gone within an hour or so; he’d chew right through them.
Every time I ever let him out into the front yard, he always made a beeline for the huge azalea bush in the center of the yard, disappearing into its leafy magnificence, unable to be seen.
(The joke was that the azalea bush contained a portal to Narnia; Fitz was just popping over for some tea with Mr. Tumnus, and he’d be right back.)
We had a good life, Fitz and I. It wasn’t much, it wasn’t perfect, but it was ours and we liked it. No frills, no fuss – just us.
That is, until last Thursday afternoon.
I gave him a bit more time than usual in the front yard for his afternoon session, only to open the door to find he had escaped the fenced-in portion of my front yard.
I assumed he had bolted to the chicken coop next door, his favorite spot to harass, but when I made it to the coop and saw my little dog was nowhere to be found – then the sinking feeling came into the pit of my stomach.
It was then that I heard the eerie screech of a car’s breaks, the heart-wrenching thud of car colliding with animal and the agonizing cries of Fitz telling me exactly where he was.
Though the cretin who hit him had decided to drive off without any care of what he or she had done, there was Fitz, lying in the middle of the road, crying for help.
His back legs didn’t seem to work; his eyes told me he probably wasn’t long for this world.
Though I quickly rushed him to Dr. Buddy Bruce, and though he and his wonderful staff did everything they could, Fitz didn’t make it.
Had he survived, he likely would have been paralyzed – no type of life for a dog who ran like a gazelle and was overly fond of jumping.
I’ll miss my furry friend, the fellow co-habitant of McCollum Cottage.
Though I initially was unsure of whether I’d like the little bugger, now I have trouble imagining life without him.
Who would have thought that the presence of a simple, little dog would help fill up a home that now feels depressingly empty?
We all have had pets die from time to time; this is an inescapable fact of life.
We take our time, we mourn, we try to move on and then we find another furry little creature to bring into our families.
Fitz taught me I’m capable of being a pet owner, and some day I will be again.
Good boy, Fitz. I’ll miss you.