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.