Today, I had to put my darling dog Watson to sleep.
I got Watson as my tenth birthday present. I remember really clearly going into the pet store, and my mother's boyfriend Doug warning me not to get attached to any of the puppies in the store. This was before anyone in my family was aware of puppy mills and their assorted horrors, which in a way makes Doug's statement weird as we went into pet stores all the time and I never cried or fussed about the puppies. After all, we had two dogs at home already and I loved them very much. The best I can figure is that my mother was talking about getting me a dog of my own and Doug disapproved.
But with the admonition firmly in mind to not get attached to any of the dogs, I immediately started looking at them through the lens of which dog I would take home, if I could. And I saw the most adorable brown-and-white puppy, with the most beautiful honey-colored eyes. And I loved him.
I do remember starting to cry on the way out of the store, and my mother asking me why, and saying "Doug told me not to fall in love with any of the dogs but there's a dog in there and I love him!"
No promises were made, but I also remember having a conversation in the car on the way home about what I would name a dog if I had one of my own, and I said I would name him Watson.
A lot of people ask me if I named him after John Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame, but he was not. At some point around the time I turned ten I had learned that the first message ever sent by telephone was between Thomas Edison and his assistant, Thomas Watson. The message was, "Come here, Watson, I want you," or some variation on that theme. I told my parents that if I had a dog, I would name him Watson and then I would call out, "Come here, Watson, I want you," and he would come. Basically I was a weird kid.
Also as far as I remember this never actually came to fruition. Watson was a weird dog, in that he was indifferent to food and difficult to train, but also was never really interested in doing anything that you'd want to train out of him. He liked people and other animals, didn't bark much or get into the trash, and so it never seemed to matter that he didn't sit or come on command.
Then a few days before my tenth birthday I took a really nasty fall from my bike. I don't know if my mother had planned to get the dog that day or if she brought him home early so as to make me feel better, but I remember so, so clearly standing in the driveway when she took him out of the car. I also really remember wanting to pet him and being mostly unable to because of the terrible abrasions on the palms of my hands.
Watson was basically the best friend of my childhood. When he was a puppy I used to zip him up in my winter coat with his head peeking out of the collar below my own. When my mom's boyfriend moved out and she kicked my dad out of the house in a bid to get him back, Watson went with my dad and became my constant companion every weekend day that I spent with my father. He helped me make friends with the neighborhood kids (as an only child I was not good at dealing with other children), and he came with us on adventures and generally got into all the trouble we got into.
He was the only thing I really missed when I went to college, and then when I moved to Prague. I could Skype with my parents, but I missed my dog.
As he got older, first Watson went deaf, then he began to have trouble getting up, and then had trouble laying down, commending himself to God and more or less falling down with a thump. I was mostly unable to convince him to aim for soft landings. I became consumed with worry that he would get stuck in a place he couldn't get up from, or that he would break a hip, while I was away at work. I also worried that my mother's dog, who is generally sweet but deeply stupid and with a vicious streak, would attack him when I wasn't there to defend him. In addition his chronically infected right ear had gone from normally bad to abnormally terrible.
He was my tenth birthday present and I am now 25 and I have loved him unconditionally and overwhelmingly for every day of those fifteen years. He was such the best dog, the best of all possible dogs, and I will miss him forever.