He was Robert Collins’ dog. When my father-in-law died in 2005 after a long battle with cancer, we were given his chocolate Labrador mix. The dog’s name was “Big Boy,” which was an example of Bob’s sense of humor since the dog was the runt of the litter and so small he was often mistaken for a Lab puppy.
I am not a dog person, not even a pet person. I don’t dislike animals, but I am not good at taking care of myself, much less a dog that weighs less than 40 pounds. Fortunately for Big Boy, the Outzen women, who, thanks to years of training, scolding and caring for me, are experts at caring for others. The dog flourished under their love.
Big Boy slept in their beds, greeted all their friends and wore the silly costumes they put on him. He greeted them with his wagging tail when they came home from school and work, and patiently waited up for them after their dates and parties. Big Boy loved and was loved.
The dog rarely barked and communicated by shaking his collar and through a series of sneezes. He had a “Timmy is in the well” expression that the girls understood—whether it meant go outside, more food or simply sit with him on the couch.
Big Boy inserted himself in my life, too. He was my companion on my infrequent daily walks. When I had my running shoes on and iPod, Big Boy knew we were going walking and would break into the “happy dance” at the front door. We covered together most of Gulf Breeze over the past five years. Most of the walks were spent with him stretching the leash to its capacity. The little dog walked as if he was the king of the city. When I created the Walker Holmes series for my blog, Big Boy had to be a character in the stories. We even featured him in “Winners & Losers” in the 2010 IN April Fools’ issue.
The past three months weren’t kind to the dog that was over 14 years old, which is about 70 years in dog years or 270 years in newspaper publishing years. He rarely jumped on the couch to sit with the girls and their dates. He no longer made it up the stairs to sleep with them. His walks were shorter and more tiring.
In November, Big Boy had a stroke. He recovered, but we all knew the end was near. On Jan. 7, he collapsed in the backyard. The veterinarian ran a battery of tests and found Big Boy had acute renal failure. The dog showed some improvement after spending two days at the animal hospital. When my wife Cathy and the girls brought him home, we hoped the girls would lift his spirits.
It didn’t happen. Big Boy no longer wagged his tail. He wouldn’t eat, drink or go outside. He was ready to call it quits.
Tuesday afternoon, while the Outzen women were at school and work, I picked up Big Boy for the last time and carried him to the animal hospital for him to be put to sleep. I kissed Big Boy and said goodbye when I left him there.
After I called my wife and daughters, I cried. I thought about Bob Collins and the joy his silly dog gave our family. I guess I am a dog person after all.
Big Boy made me so.