Goodbye, Frodo

Bubbaloo. Loudmouth. Dodo. Baby. Shithead. Dubbies. Happy Boy. Idiot. Brown Dog. Sweetie. He answered to all of those, and variations thereof. But this dog knew his name: Frodo Baggins, which he chose instead of Oscar when Sarah gave our new puppy the choice. Four syllables that rise and fall, which can be stretched in countless variations as required. That, and he was short and had hairy feet.

Frodo climbed mountains with us, and walked two miles a day when he was young. His great joy was agility class, where he practiced running obstacle courses with dogs getting ready for competitions. For him it was a lark, a chance to be the center of attention and hang with pals he’d made over the years. Frodo’s first great friendship was Finn, a border collie twice his size. Even after months apart, they’d pounce on each other and roll around the barn floor, inseparable until the next class.

When Frodo was 18 months old, we adopted a rescue, another Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who’d been a breeding mother in a puppymill. Autumn was four, and had spent most of her life in a tiny cage in Arkansas. When she arrived, she needed work – she soiled her bedding, and hid behind furniture, away from people. Frodo taught Autumn how to be a dog. He would check on her throughout the day, in various hiding places. When they went outside (he house-trained her more than any of us), Frodo would herd Autumn away from the invisible fence line – he wore a collar, but we were nervous about traumatizing her. Frodo’s efforts made it unnecessary – when she did break the line, he barked and pointed until we came to bring her back.

Frodo was diagnosed with mitral valve disease shortly after he turned six. His minor heart murmur had turned up the volume, and he started taking an assortment of pills that seemed to keep him stable. He stopped attending agility class around that time – he didn’t seem interested in running the course any more. Our walks got shorter, and he gradually lost weight. Still, he remained happy and devoted to his family. He loved going to Grandma’s, and sampling whatever Uncle Dave had prepared specifically for his dog-nephew and niece: homemade biscuits, chicken jerky, some other two or three-course meal.

We’d always expected Autumn to die first, not only because she was older, or because of her traumatic history – she’d periodically have various health crises and we’d rush to the vet, only to see her bounce back after a few days. When Autumn was away, Frodo would wait by the door until she returned. When I’d harness him for a walk, he wouldn’t budge unless she was along. I could say, “Where’s Autumn,” and Frodo would go find her. We thought she would die, and he’d follow – his heart finally broken for good.

On Saturday he wouldn’t eat, or take his medicine. He was happy to go to Grandma’s, but he avoided the kitchen. Throughout the day, he moved restlessly around the house, clearly uncomfortable but unable to lie down and rest. Around 6 o’clock, he collapsed. Susan called me and said, “I think Frodo just died.” She felt guilty for pushing Autumn away when he fell. I was visiting an old friend, but I started home. We talked as I drove. Susan had wrapped him in a blanket and her brother drove to the vet. Once, years ago, we’d made a similar after-hours trip, when Frodo had been thrashed by a new mother dog at the farm where he took his classes. The wound resulted in a limp and a flinch whenever we touched his bad shoulder by mistake; he would also shiver and whine every time we went to the vet afterward. Now he was still.

Our pets are like our children, in that we love them unconditionally and provide for them, and they fill our hearts and create joy we didn’t know existed before. But we know they won’t outlive us, and heartbreak is inevitable. As I drove home last night, rain spattering the windshield, tears smearing my glasses, I thought that it’s healthy to feel sad and awful. I will miss him sleeping under my desk as I work, miss his kisses and his voice (his tonal range, if not his vocabulary, was like Scooby-Doo’s.) Frodo was a foot-licker and an occasional leg-humper, but he mostly kept those habits in the family.

Although I spent the most time with him by default, because I work from home, Frodo was a momma’s boy. Most afternoons, around the time Susan was due home, he’d sprawl on the kitchen floor in front of the back door. When she came in, he’d follow her around the house until she settled on the couch, then he’d jump up and claim his spot on her lap. If she had to work at the computer, he’d balance on her precariously, his head hanging down toward the floor. At night, he’d always begin on top of her, before eventually finding his own bed. And when he didn’t feel well, only mom would do. Although it’s terrible that Frodo’s heart attack happened with Susan right there, I’m glad his last moment was next to his favorite person.

So goodbye, shorty. You were a great dog. I expect you’ll make one more trip through the woods and up Bald Mountain, and we’ll remember your exploits and laugh again. We told you every day that we love you, and we always will. One more thing – although she’s holding it together, and you might not know it to look at her, Autumn misses you too. When I got home at 1:30 this morning, knowing I wouldn’t hear your bark alarm, I was surprised to see her walk out to greet me. She stood and looked at me, eyes wide and tail barely wagging. I got down on the floor, put my arms around her, and she rested her head on my shoulder the way you used to. That was enough.

Frodo Baggins was a ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with a bad eye, a bum shoulder and a heart so big it finally broke. He lived March 15, 2009 until October 22, 2016.