Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I want to tell you about my Howard

For those of you who read "The Drive at 35," you know a little about my dog Howard (picture of me and him enclosed) but I wanted to share his legacy with all of you. Why am I thinking of Howard today? I lost my dog nearly 21 years ago to the day. I still share stories about that brown-haired crazy mutt with Andrea, Avery and Ethan. I told them of the time he scratched and scratched at his collar and cried when we finally found out he had about twenty bees stinging him simultaneously through his collar in our house. I told them of the time Howard ran into the woods after a stay at the kennel and didn't show up for two whole days. And now seeing Magic, our black lab-mix, with 2 torn ACL's (Yes, TWO!) has made me think of the other story I told them about my heroic dog...the dog who probably saved my life.

Let me give you a background of that crazy brown dog. Howard came to us when I was a little kid. He was the offspring of my Aunt Anita and my late Uncle Jerry's dog Hunky, which coincidentally was my nickname in high school (just kidding!). Howard bit me the first time I met him because I was all over him. He never bit me again and little did I know but I was meeting my best friend for life.

As a youngster battling CF, Howard sat with me as the big kids played in our yard and we watched through the sliding glass door. I didn't have the adrenaline nor the competitive fire to compete myself. Howard sat with me as if to ease my depression. Howard was faster than Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson combined. The dog used to run through our yard and chase every fire engine, ice cream truck or ambulance that drove down our block. He chased cars and bikes too. He was was an equal-opportunity chaser.

Howard was no angel. We think he may have impregnated a few dogs in the neighborhood. Fortunately there were no dog DNA tests at the time. Are there now? I would have hated to bring him on Maury Povich's show.

Maury: "Howard Lipman, you are the father!"

Howard: "Woof?"

I saw him hunt down squirrels and rabbits. Leash laws were pretty lax then...I'm not sure we even owned one. Still it was the one hunting expedition he went on when I was a kid that may have just saved my life.

Max, the black Doberman that lived one neighborhood over, had killed our friend's dog and was on the prowl again. I'd been throwing the Nerf football to myself, as most high-profile jocks probably started their professional careers doing, when all of a sudden the big haunting black dog wandered towards me. I tried to move but I was scared as if a poisonous cobra was staring me down. Max attacked me and started nipping at me. The rest is honestly pretty blurry but I do remember one thing. I remember the sound of the bell, the same bell that came from the collar of the dog who zoomed across our kitchen floor whenever I dropped a piece of steak or chicken.

Howard came storming across the yard and went after Max, chasing him around the outskirts of our courtyard, through the backyard and into the woods. Max had Howard by about 10 or 20 pounds I suppose so I didn't know what to expect. Soon after, with a few injuries of his own, Howard came out of the woods a victor. Max never bothered us again. I heard he was put to sleep months later for attacking another pet but you never know where rumors start.

Howard was my best friend before that and a legend after. My parents and I celebrated his birthday every April 1st with a candle in a burger. April Fool's Day was fitting. Howard didn't know a single trick. Ask him to sit and he licked you. Ask him to stay and he licked you more. Ask him to...well, you get it.

As he grew older, I became the better athlete between the two of us. I was the one now running around the yard. I was the one who was breathing less heavy. I was the one who had his whole life ahead of him. Howard was aging pretty fast as college grew near. I always said I would take him with me. I couldn't see my life without him, but things changed. Howard couldn't lift his leg to pee anymore. I know there were fire hydrants around the area that were probably cheering but they were the only ones. Slowly Howard couldn't even sit down without circling around the same area 10 to 20 times. He also started having accidents in the house. It was a sad time. Howard was getting older. Howard was dying.

Howard died one night as I was preparing for one of my first college fraternity parties. I was devastated when my mom told me that the old furry guy had left our world. People who don't have pets don't understand how that love can cure a person of anything...including the concerns of cystic fibrosis. I felt all alone when Howard left. Now I had no one to talk to. Howard was the one I confided in when I was scared about my disease. Howard was the one I confided in when I was concerned about how skinny I was. Howard was the one I secretly told that I would never find a girlfriend.

It's been about 21 years. I am not that same kid anymore. The blonde hair I had most of my young life turned brown and now sadly is turning gray. The speed I showed back then running around the yard can still be witnessed...if you watch Ethan, my little boy, play soccer. As I towel-walk Magic with Andrea twice a day, I feel sad for our little lab but I also remember Howard. I remember how brave he was and how much he took care of me. I never really got a chance to take care of Howard. I had to go off to college. I'm home now though and I'm going to make sure Magic gets well so my kids, her two best friends, will get to enjoy her the way I enjoyed that brown-haired crazy dog...I mean the way I enjoyed my life-long best friend.

Howard, another Halloween will have come and gone since I've seen you. I now have two beautiful little children who love their dog and hear stories all the time about my dog. Ethan reminds me of me, begging for Magic to lick him every second, climbing on top of her and trying to feed her all sorts of goodies.

You did a lot for my life besides saving me that fall afternoon more than 30 years ago. You taught me how to love...I mean really love my pets. I have tried to pass that on to my children and I think I've been successful. It doesn't hurt that Andrea, my love, was a vet tech for 6 years and knows all there is to know about animals. She's a pet lover too. We hope our kids pass that love on to their kids. I miss you very much.

By the way, there's a fire hydrant across from our house...I'll tell it you said hello.



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