The little round stuffed Santa with pompoms for arms and legs sat under the tree waiting for its dog. We had adopted Algren (then named Buddy) on Christmas Eve but could not bring him home from the shelter until the day after Christmas. I couldn’t wait. It was love at first sight when I saw him.
We didn’t choose Daisy, our other dog. A friend told us about her and how she needed a new home. She was so different from Algren. Daisy was a force, the heart of our home. But Algren seemed to need us. He inspired you to want to protect him. But of course, as with all dogs, it turned out that we needed Algren. It wasn’t just that he was a good dog. He was that. And it wasn’t just that he was the best dog ever. He certainly was. The thing about Algren that made you need him was that he was pure. He became the quiet, ever-present soul of our home.
Anyone who met Algren was struck with the same sentiment—there was something special about him and you just wanted to protect him. He was a stout, timid Boxer/English Bulldog mix. People often thought he was a Boxer puppy. It was partly this, along with his sweet disposition and his worried eyes, that inspired people who knew him to want to protect him. As you got to know him though, it was his gentle kindness and loyalty that compelled you to watch over him. It was that same kindness and loyalty that made you need him in your life.
He displayed that loyalty whenever we went out to a dog park or the forest preserve in a group. Algren would hang back to make sure the last of the group was coming, whether a human or a dog. He would be the person you would want as your partner if you were a police officer. He would be the soldier you wanted in your troop. He never left anyone behind.
Algren grew to be a strong dog, although he remained wary of unfamiliar people and situations. His actions made me realize something: When the world was that scary for you, every day outside was an act of bravery. That is what bravery is—standing up to what you fear most. This is what Algren did.
He displayed this bravery to the end, when we had to say goodbye. A tumor pushed on his heart, causing fluid to build up, making it difficult to breathe. In the hospital room, Algren’s eyes met ours when he was brought in and I saw relief. But I also saw something else. It wasn’t fear. It was gratitude. Something about the way he gave us kisses that day told me he was saying, among other things, thank you. To that I must reply: Yes Algren, you were the best dog who ever lived and it is I who must say thanks. Thanks for letting me take care of you. It was an honor.
“One, two, three—go!” We often yelled this battle cry to our dogs as we played with them. The response was the same—Daisy charged and Algren sidestepped. Always. Equal parts Boxer and English Bulldog (we think), Algren’s move could be viewed either as the energetic Boxer encouraging an attack or his Bulldog side looking to evade the action. Either way, his lively moments were fleeting. Mostly, he was a couch potato.
Daisy, on the other hand, was full Boxer. Wiggling, barking, leaping, running full-throttle through the field. Always. So, at the word “Go” she took off toward Algren to bulldoze him and he took his characteristic sidestep to avoid it. This was life and play between Daisy and Algren. She was in your face, giving love and wanting attention. Algren usually sat back hoping to avoid notice. She was the yin to his yang; the crazy to his lazy.
Being of mixed breeds is serving Algren well health-wise. He has an iron stomach and is in good health. Poor Daisy had most of the ailments typical to Boxers. The diseases that afflict Boxers seem particularly unfair. Each one, from hip problems and arthritis to heart problems and cancer, completely devastate the body. Really, I would wish no dogs be afflicted with diseases they can’t name or understand, but Boxers particularly are free spirits. They are runners. They are silly. They should not be taken down in such ways.
I say this but then I am reminded it took three major diseases to get to Daisy. She had mast cell tumors, which she survived; cardiomyopathy, which was controlled by medication; and hemangiosarcoma, which was unfortunately deadly. She beat the odds for a while, though, and I realize fully what I’ve always known, she was an amazing dog. She was a force—demanding of attention, jealous if she wasn’t getting it, but always ready to love and be loved.
The strongest muscle we have is our heart. Yet, if something is wrong with it, there is almost a frailty to it. Daisy never was frail though. Nothing stopped her from living. She lived with her heart. For most of us, the heart is our most neglected muscle. We fail to exercise our hearts. But Daisy didn’t. The simplest truth I ever will learn I learned from her: The best thing we can do for ourselves in this life, and the most important thing we need to do in this world, is love. Daisy took that risk and loved. And her risk paid off.
Oftentimes, it is said that someone has lost her battle with cancer—that there can be no victory if death is the result. That, however, is not the case with Daisy. We most certainly lost her. But she won. One of the last things I said to her, besides that I loved her, was “Get ready to run Daisy.” And I know she took off, full-throttle.