It has taken me 6,343 strips to get to this point… and in some way I still feel like I’m faking it. Like someone is going to find out my secret and blow the whole show. Seriously.
Today Bob the Squirrel turns 19. Nineteen years ago I was in the right place at the right time with the right tools and the right desire. Funny how I ignored all that and started drawing a squirrel. Story of my life really… at least 19 years of it.
In squirrel years, a 19-year-old Bob would be past a fossil and rapidly becoming crude oil… still useful, but hard to write a comic with.
I can’t stop now, I’m just starting to understand what maybe being warmed up feels like.
Maybe…in order to move forward, someone has to push you.
Either way… I was having a really bad day. It was a day where even though things were coming out of my mouth, no one was paying attention, listening or even caring. Lez would not get off her phone. Whatever was on it… email, Facebook, etc. it was really important. I asked her to put it down for a few minutes so we could eat lunch without leashes. It lasted for two bites before she picked up the phone again.
I get mad. On top of the bad morning I already had, my feelings are ignored again. I start yelling.
“What is so damn important?”
Lez says, “Do you have your phone on you? I’m sending you something.”
“Why can’t you tell me?! Why do we need phones?! We’re right in front of each other!”
“Check your phone”
“I don’t want to check my phone! Just. Tell. Me.”
“You need to see it.”
I’m steaming at this point. I only have 30 minutes for lunch. I begrudgingly pick up my phone.
I see the line Happy Early Birthday and a picture:
I wasn’t ready for that. I mean, I really wasn’t ready for that. And, my first reaction was not one of happiness.
“You really shouldn’t have done that. You really shouldn’t have done that.”
I was mad that it was sprung on me. I was mad that it was sprung on me like that. I was mad that Lucy was gone. I was mad that I hadn’t gotten over her yet. I was mad. And I let Lez know that.
Lez’s timing was less than ideal. We’d be able to get him in three days. I wasn’t ready.
The next three days…
…were filled with my apprehension – to the point of my ulcer flaring up. Will the other dogs take to him? Will I take to him? Refusing to take him was not an option. Thousands of animals need homes. We have a home.
But the year-old dog they called “AMP” had an especially traumatic backstory.
He was an owner surrender. A tiny victim of the July 2019 floods in Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Barry. He was neutered, chipped and given all his shots. Animal rescue organizations all across the country were called upon to help take some of the abandoned and surrendered animals displaced. AMP had a time… couped up in a container, hoping that someone somewhere would take him. I can’t imagine.
He was one of hundreds. Hundreds.
A local organization: Angels of Fur K9 Rescue was able to take AMP… and foster him while they looked for a new home. Lez saw him on their Facebook page and immediately filled out an application. She said as soon as she saw him she knew that AMP and I would hit it off.
This is a pic of our first meeting. I decide to name him Linus… he’ll never replace Lucy, but he’ll be there to remind me of her… as my security dog. He’s a little 9 lb. bundle of love. I think things will be okay.
You’ll be seeing him in the strip real soon. FUN FACT: WE got Linus exactly ONE YEAR TO THE DAY that we got Bruce.
And to my wife? Lez: you’re a pain in the ass… but I love you. Thanks.
Whenever I was at my drawing board, she was usually in the room with me…looking out the window for rogue intruders or just snoring away. Dog snores are so soothing. Lucy’s snore was like audio prozac to me. It calmed me down… because I knew if she saw no need to be bouncing around then neither should I.
Lucy never showed pain… through ‘cat trauma’ cuts to her face or nail extractions she was stone cold.
I loved this dog like no one or thing I’d ever loved before. I had to…
She started to slow down before Christmas. She’d be 15 years old in 2019. Now Lucy was always a weird eater. Most dogs eat when you put the food down. Not Lucy. We’d make her bowl every morning, but she’d let US know when she wanted to eat. It just became part of the routine. That’s how she was.
Well, she wasn’t letting us know anymore. I’d have to feed her by hand. The regular dog food wasn’t doing it for her. I tried everything: ground chicken and rice, hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese, ravioli, sausage, Lez’s famous oatmeal cookies… just to get something in her. The one thing that worked MOST of the time was peanut butter on greek-style pita bread. I would spread a think layer on the bread and feed it to her piece by piece. At first, I assumed she was going through a picky stage and would snap out of it.
But she wasn’t snapping out of it… as far as eating went. Everything else she was Lucy – crabby, barking, running. My dog.
Then one day she peed blood. That was not good. Lez took her to the vet and they gave us antibiotics for the infection and for the abscess in her mouth.
On Thursday, Lucy began to bleed from her mouth. Lez called the vet and they said that the abscess probably ruptured and it’s beginning to drain. Just monitor her and keep everything clean.
It’s at this point that I began to think I’d lose my friend. Lez was optimistic, but I just knew. You know how you just know your dog? It’s not a detail, just a feeling.
I slept with her all night. She was weak. She was drinking but not eating.
The next morning she was still bleeding from her mouth. Lez called to vet to get us in.
I spent the last morning I’d ever spend with my dog. I let her rest in my studio, as I always had, while I tried to draw. Everything about me is about drawing. It’s my escape. It’s my comfort. It’s how I deal with shit. And this was shit.
My back was to her. I could hear her snore. I knew she was bad, but just hearing that snore… that beautiful peaceful snore. It felt like any other night. My dog with me while I was at my board. I consciously made an attempt to remember every second of the morning. Just because… it’s my dog. It’s Lucy.
I took some pics of her resting in the sun… she loved being in the sun. The golden orange light just barely touching her white fur, her greyed out, once deep black eyes…resting.
Lez and I took her to the vet. Lucy historically was not a good traveler. She hated the car and would be wild and bouncing the whole ride. But this morning, she was just laying in the back seat… on that same blue blanket my grandmother gave her a decade before. Lez was still being upbeat. I don’t know if she was doing that for me or she really believed it.
Me? I was angry. I was hurt. I was confused. I didn’t want the journey to end. 2018 had been a horrible year for us… and here we are four f–king days into 2019 and I’m probably going to lose my friend.
We get to the vet and they take Lucy for tests. I could tell when the vet looked in Lucy’s mouth and said, “… oh dear” that this was it.
I was right. The blood tests showed that her kidneys were failing. The options were: Hospitalize her, IV fluids and send her home, send her home with meds and a kidney friendly diet or euthanize. I asked the vet if we choose one of the first two would she be Lucy? The vet was very honest with us and said no… she’d be weak and in pain.
The choice was simple and excruciating… say goodbye to Lucy.
The doctor gave us a few moments with her. Lez and I are sobbing. We called Lauren at school to tell her. She didn’t get to say goodbye to Lucy… we didn’t know for sure this would be happening.
We held her for a bit longer. The doc came in and Lez left. I’m sobbing.
I whispered, “She was the worst dog ever.”
The vet said, “The best ones usually are.”
With that, she gave Lucy the first injection. As she drifted I said, “See you later poochie…” The second injection went in. 10 seconds later, her floppy bent ear straightened out. She was gone.
I gave her one more hug and that was it. I left. They gave me her blue blanket back.
My friend was gone.
And even though I was driving back with my wife by my side, at that moment I never felt more alone. A Titanic-sized hole just got ripped into my life.
That night, Lez, Lauren and I went out for our Friday night dinner. We do this every Friday. We’re all bummed of course. I drift in and out of sorrow arbitrarily. I don’t know if I want to even draw my strip anymore. I just don’t. We’ve had losses before, but this one hurts like no other. I don’t say anything to Lez or Lauren about it. I just don’t know. I’m hurting. And while drawing, and that damn squirrel have saved me many times before, I don’t think he can save me now. Maybe it truly is over.
We get our food and continue family time. Midway through an older couple, who had paid and got their leftovers were making their way to the door. The woman (who we’ve never met before) stopped at our table. I thought she was just stopping to zip up her coat. While mid-zip she says to me, “Aren’t you missing someone?”
Without missing a beat, I replied, “He’s out in the car listening to satellite radio…”
We proceed to have a conversation about how bad Bruce is and the squirrel she feeds. The comic strip is the first thing she read in the paper every day. She thanked me for doing it and told me to keep it up.
Hand to sky… this actually happened.
Each day after January 4, 2019 will get a little easier. I’ll never be the same. None of my family will. I’ll miss that dog more than anything. A part of me is gone. And while I think about ending the strip because I don’t think I can do it or I’m not making any money on it I have to remember that Bob is not just a part of me anymore. I did something good. People remember Lucy because of what I’ve done. That’s pretty cool.
Thank you for your constant stream of warm condolences. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for coming on this journey with my family and I.