December 24, 1999 – that was the day we picked up the smallest, cutest, smartest little white fluffy dog that ever was. That Christmas, all our daughter wanted was a small, white fluffy, dog. We tried to talk her out of it. “A dog is a huge responsibility,” we told her, but she would not budge. A small, white, fluffy dog.
A little north of Tampa, my wife spotted a kennel where they bred Bichon Frises. Bichons are small, white, fluffy dogs and they had one left of a litter born in October. The last one was spoken for, but the deal had not been sealed and there was a chance we could still get him.
He was a handsome pup, friendly and intelligent. He could have been a show dog except for a glaring defect – Bichon tails are supposed to arc upward and forward, then drape over their left side in a graceful spray of fluffy long fur. This one had a spiral tail, and was not suitable for a show dog. No matter, we weren’t interested in a show dog. We wanted a pet for our daughter.
But the man who had placed a hold on the puppy was interested in a show dog, and the tail was a deal breaker. We had ourselves a puppy.
We brought him home in a pet carrier, lined with a fake sheepskin blanket to help him stay warm. He was nearly invisible in there, but his coal black eyes and nose were like three holes burned in the white blanket.
At home, we debated how to present the puppy. Wrapping the carrier was out of the question, and the dog made too much noise to try to keep him a secret. So early the afternoon of December 24, we placed the carrier beside the Christmas tree and went to get our daughter.
She spied the carrier and ran to open the cage door. Peering inside, she yelled, “What kind of trick is this, there is no puppy in there.” Invisible against the white of the blanket, the puppy was huddled in the back of the carrier.
“Reach in the back,” I answered, and she did. When she withdrew her hand, it contained the small, white fluffy puppy she wanted. There was no need for thanks, the joy on her face said it all.
Over the next few days, we got to know this little addition to our family. It took us a while to name him, nothing seemed to quite fit. His intelligent eyes, warm and loving demeanor, the way he held himself deflected every name we tried on him. Finally one stuck – Alex. We named him for Alexander the Great and it suited him.
I mentioned his intelligence, this trait got him into trouble more than once. When he was still young, I shared a snack of cheese and crackers with him. He ate the cheese and left the cracker on the floor and walked away. “Where do you think you’re going, Alex? Get back here and clean up the mess you left behind.” He looked over his shoulder and came back to finish eating the cracker he’d left behind.
Alex had a favorite toy, a golden colored stuffed bear we dubbed Honey Bear. He loved playing “Hide and Seek” with Honey Bear. We would send Alex into the hallway while we would hide the bear, sometimes in an obvious place, sometime in a hard to find place. Alex would come out and search for it until he found his toy.
One evening, Alex crossed the family room with Honey Bear in his mouth. I could tell from his gait something was going on. He got halfway across the family room before disaster struck. The bear fell from his mouth, and hidden behind the bear was a bottle of perfume he had stolen from our daughter’s purse. He loved the scent, and was going to keep it for himself.
I could tell the tale of how he unzipped a visitor’s backpack and stole a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, but the best story of all happened another Christmas. My wife received a lot of small presents from the students at school. They were all wrapped, of course, and she placed the presents under the tree and planned to open them on Christmas day.
I came home from work, and she asked, “Have you been getting into chocolates and leaving the wrappers behind the chair in the bedroom?”
“No,” I replied, “what are you talking about?” She showed me the brown cups piled behind the bedroom chair. “I have no idea how these got here.” I picked up the wrappers and tossed them into the trash.
Christmas day came, and presents were unwrapped. Picking up a package, she said, “Look at this.” It was a box of chocolates with a hole gnawed into the bottom of the package. Alex had helped himself to the contents, and was smart enough to chew through the bottom of the box, pull out a chocolate, and flip the box back over to hide his crime.
No, he wasn’t the best dog ever, but he entertained us, loved us, and welcomed us home with his corkscrew tail wagging and his whole body wriggling a hearty greeting.
He died today, at the ripe old age of fourteen years and six months. We will miss you, Alex.