May of 2008 was my last month after 9 years at Rincon High School; my first teaching job. As a farewell gift, my final AP Calc class decided to buy me a pet of my choosing. I thought this was a cute gesture, after I got over the idea of this possibly completely backfiring on all of us, so I agreed.

That weekend, two of my students, Ali Zenner and Nick Dominquez, hauled me over to the local Humane Society in hopes of finding the perfect cat to adopt. We sifted through the cat section, and although there were plenty of cute furry friends to choose from, none felt right for me. Even though we thought we were leaving empty handed, I wanted to at least visit the dog area just to see the cute little fellas yip for a bit.

We wander in the section and there were plenty of dogs of all sizes, ages, and breeds. I thought they were cute, but that was about where my thoughts stopped. But there was one area with brand new puppies; a litter of 13 Aussie shepherds all around 8 weeks old. Oh my dog, were they cute! When we looked into the cage 12 of these beautiful yappers flooded the front line and were just begging us for attention. However, one of the puppies did not.

The lone abstainer was in the back, just sitting there looking sad, or shy, or lazy, or any combo of those things. It was the only one of the litter that had had brown markings on her face, making her stand out just a little bit. I immediately looked right at her and thought: ‘shy, lazy, and unique…..that’s my kind of dog!’

We asked the Humane Society volunteer to let her out so we can play with her in their little play area they have in the back. She let the little dog out, carried her to their faux field, and plopped her down on the astroturf.

The dog didn’t move, didn’t bark, didn’t do anything. Nothing She just looked down completely unimpressed. I think wanted to fall asleep. I fell in love right there.

We signed the paperwork, bought a water dish, food dish, and purple collar and leash (for Rincon of course), got her spayed, and returned later that week to pick her out after the surgery. Since my class was the main catalyst for this adoption, I felt it was only fair that they got to name her. With some gentle coaxing from me, we went with a Lord of the Rings theme. The name was Arwen.

I’ll never forget the very first time Arwen came home with me. I carried her little body inside my house, plopped her on my floor, and we just looked at each other. We looked, looked and looked some more. We had absolutely nothing to say to each other. The only way we communicated was by the abject fear we both had in our eyes. That entire time, I was saying to myself ‘I have never owned a pet in my life. Now I have a puppy. What the hell am I going to do?!?!’. In her eyes she was saying ‘you took me from my litter, you ripped out my vagina, and I have no idea who you are. What the hell am I going to do?!?!’…………………………………..

Arwen is a bridge spanning the most important periods of my life. Our times together is like something that comes in threes….something that can be trisected……something like a…..trilogy.

The Fellowship of the Arwen:

For the first third of our lives together we were living in Tucson. She was with me during my last years of teaching and coaching, my years in career transition when I revisited grad school to learn how to do a t-test, and finally helped me decide to take my talents to the Pacific Northwest. At that time, Arwen was your typical cute-as-heck puppy dog; oodles of energy, wanted to play all the time, and just loved to be with people. We would play so many games together, from your typical rope tug-o-war and fetch to more complex games like doggie soccer; she scored when mouthing the ball and running around the couch and I scored when I kick between the mock goalposts (or stereo stands). Again, typical cute puppy stuff.

But there was something different about her….something like a subtle kindness not all dogs have. Like when playing fetch at my mom and dad’s house, she would return the ball to each one of us in turn, making sure everyone got a chance. At the dog park, she would be the first one there to greet every dog entering….then just a quickly ignore them and run back to the patio area where all the people were to be petted. And maybe the craziest act of all, the day before my move to Seattle, she got into all my granola bars, scattering them all around the freshly packed-up house. I was so mad but so tired, I just let her know my disappointment in a low voice and went to bed. That morning, I found 3 of the granola bars at the foot of my bed. I must have hallucinated that night and forgot those were there. But no!! I saw Arwen enter my room with another unopened granola bar and saw her lay it down at my feet. I could not believe this. She not only found the bars, she returned them as in an act of atonement. I always knew she was special, as all good dogs are, but this felt different. This felt next level.

The Two Arwens:

Moving to Seattle for a new life was my biggest decision of my life at that point. Any time moving with a dog makes that transition even more awkward. No more house, so had to find an apartment complex that allows dogs. You also want to find a place that has easy access to parks and walking areas. Also it would be nice to have some interior room to run around and play. Oh yeah, we have to drive up to Seattle in my little yellow Corvette; not exactly the most dog-friendly vehicle. But there was no choice, we packed up our things, and started on our 1600 mile, 5 day ‘Heart of Darkness’ odyssey from Tucson to Seattle. Arwen rode shotgun the entire time. Did not complain once.

After a few years living around downtown Seattle, I bought a condo in West Seattle because, well, Seattle sucks ass when it comes to rent hikes. Living in this area is where Arwen thrived. We were closer to nature, our walks were long a rewarding. And the floor area let us resume such classic games as doggie soccer, tug-o-rope, and even added some new games like ‘Kali Ma’ where I grab at her heart like in Temple of Doom and she fights me off, or the game ‘Creeping Terror’ where I get on all fours, snarl, creep at her, and quickly swipe at her as she runs around and fends me off.

This phase of her live she was coming into her own. She was more than that annoyingly adorable puppy. She was becoming more and more like a mature companion. At the dog parks, she made dog friends and well as people friends. The dog sitters I used when I travelled just loved having her over. And other than one time where she opened a fully sealed tub of protein powder on;y to discover it tasted disgusting (I still to this day have no idea how she did this), she was as behaved as you can be.

The Return of the Arwen:

For about 11 years we were trudging through life on our own. Sure, there were friends, dates, and neighbors that came and went, but when it came down to it, it was me and Arwen. That was until Nelley came into my life.

Nelley is the love of my life. But it took a little time before I was willing to introduce Arwen to Nelley; I am not one of those guys who uses their pets as an ‘in’ with women. But that first time Arwen met Nelley…..damn……did Arwen love Nelley.

Whether it was me bringing over Arwen to her place or she came to mine, Arwen was right by her side from day 1. Of course Nelley was smitten by Arwen as well, everyone is. But the bond they had grew rapidly. When I first moved in to Nelley’s place (around 2019), Arwen would sit next to Nelley as she worked at the kitchen counter, pretty much ignoring the fact I was in the bedroom working as well. I remember Nelley wanting to restrict Arwen from the bedroom at night due to her allergies. That lasted about 2 days. If I was Arwen’s life long partner, Nelley was her best friend.

In October 2020, we bought a home and got married. Finally, not only did Arwen have a permanent home; we officially didn’t have to navigate through life by ourselves.

This is the time of Arwen’s life that we enjoyed the most. Yes, we were no longer a solo act, but her kindness, charisma, and sass shined the brightest. When I would yell at the TV during a Hawks game, she would simply turn around and smirk at me. She would go downstairs and monitor Nelley all day at work, making sure she was not a ‘time thief’. At 9:30pm, she would go straight to the stairwell reminding us all that it was bedtime for all of us. And at 5:30am, she would always remind me that it was time to wake up and take her out. She never reminded Nelley at 5:30….such a jerk. All our friends that would come over just adored her. She would sit at their feet, asked to be petted, and just wander away when she was done. That’s how she earned the moniker ‘catdog’. 15+ years ago I thought I was getting a cat, thought I got a dog, yet turned out I adopted a catdog. Who would have known…………

Even as thorough as that trilogy seems, it still leaves out so many moments that matter:

  • She was the beside me when my St Louis Cardinals won Game 7 of the World Series in 2011. - We walked together and celebrated with everyone at the Space Needle right after Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014.

  • She survived a savage attack by a rogue dog who tried to kill her in 2019 as I was walking her, and exacted justice for this malfeasance via legal avenues.

  • She was next to me when I received the call that my dad passed; the day after my wedding.

  • And she has seen Lord of the Rings about 10 times with me.

She truly is the Forrest Gump of my life.

But those are just mere moments that exist in time oh so briefly, and moments are not the most vivid memories I hold with her.

It is the day to day ritual that resonate louder in my mind.

  • She would wake me up at 5:30am, 6:00am if I am lucky. Now she would never get that morning walk until 6:30, but she always wanted earlier. Such a jerk.

  • Because she was a tough taskmaster, I would make sure I was home between 3:30pm-5:00pm every day to give her the afternoon walk and meal.

  • Every time I would come home was excited to see me.. She could be in a deep sleep, gnawing on a toy, or snooping through my trash, did not matter. When I came home, she would run straight to me with her big smile. I would raise my arms, she would rear up, catch her paws, and we would do a little dance around the room. I would even spin her around every so often. After our happy dance, we would buckle up for the walk, return home, and she would ravage through her food in about 10 seconds.

  • At 9:00pm, she would remind me it was time for her late night pee and treat. Some days I would not be at home at 9, so she would wait patiently until I returned (never later than 11) and our night time soiree would commence.

This ritual occurred every day, at those exact times, for close to 16 years. Every….damn….day…..for 15+ years.

The amount of times I would forgo sleep to hit my 6:30am deadline. The amount of times I would sneak out of school or work early to get home to my jerk of a dog so she wouldn’t eat through my garbage. The amount of times I had to skip out early with friends and dates just so I could return to my charge as early as possible…… is stupid. Some people did not understand why I would do these things for this one goofy animal, but those are the people that didn’t matter to us. When in town, I never once missed those times.

Yet there is even one more thing that is etched the deepest in my mind: her face.

Her puppy girl face…..

Her face when we played. Her face when she slept.

Her face when she ate.

Her face when was mad at me.

Her face when she looked at me when I came home.

It didn’t matter if she was 1 years old or when she was the Methuselah of dogs at 16, she had the exact same puppy girl face.

Oh that face……

………..On Thursday, I laid next to her tumor-ravaged body inside my house and we just looked at each other. We looked, looked and looked some more. We had so much to say to each other but I didn’t know where to start. I had abject fear in my eyes. I was saying to myself ‘I have loved you so much….so so so much. Every time you were in a bad situation I knew you would pull out of it. You are the strongest willed, bravest, and most important thing in my life the past 16 years. But I think this time is different. What the hell am I going to do?!?!’. But in her eyes there was no fear. There was no terror. And there was no uncertainty. She told me through her eyes ‘I love you too. So…so…so much. But I’m tired. Very tired. Please let go of me. It is time.’……………

One month prior, her tumor on her right leg grew so large that it burst out of the skin. Nelley and I treated this tumor twice a day in hopes to prevent an infection. Nelley was so brave; the tumor looked like absolute death and oozed with a venomous stench. She would brace herself twice a day; clean it, dry it, and wrap it while I held down and comforted Arwen. We moved a bed to the main floor to spare Arwen a trip up and down the stairs. Whenever she woke up in the middle of the night, I would jump up to make sure she would not have to hold her pee and poo. She never wanted to disappoint us. We would get about 3-4 hours of sleep a night during this time.

Three weeks prior, we decided that surgery was the only option we had to save her. After a series of diagnostics, it was determined her kidneys, heart, liver, and lungs were good to go for anesthesia and surgery.

Two weeks ago we got that surgery.

Arwen was not the same post-surgery. After the obligatory 48 hour recovery time from the anesthesia, we expected her to eat, pee, poo, and be her usual self. This was not the case. There was something off; her natural brio and lust for life was compromised. She didn’t want to eat like normal. We fed her boiled chicken; that lasted about two days. We fed her cheese; that lasted another day. Every so often we could sneak in some dog food and dog treats, but nothing of great substance. On Monday the vet said to take her off the aggressive antibiotics and try a topical cream for the wound.

She was getting worse.

The vet came to our home Wednesday for a check. I suspected there is something internally that is wrong. The vet agreed that it was a possibility, one where there may be no cure for a 16 year old 80 lb dog, but maybe if she starts eating again, her strength will return. After delivering an appetite stimulant, Arwen ate like the Arwen of old. Gobbling up every scrap of food in her dish, voraciously devouring every little vittle she could find. She even wanted more. And of course she more. It was glorious, the highlight of the month!

That was her last meal.

……………After my ‘talk’ with Arwen on Thursday, we made ‘the call’ and set up a time for Sunday morning. I was dreading the next two days. Arwen was looking sicker and sicker; she was breathing hard and barely could move her head. I said to Nelley I didn’t think she would make it through the night. I had to sleep next to her, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how much Arwen hated to be cramped while sleeping, I had to be next to her just in case. I crouched down and looked at her face just in case this was the last time. Her eyes were bleak, her will was sapped, but her eyes said to me ‘Thank you…thank you for everything’.

We positioned the bed so I could lay my hand on her body to feel her breath. At 3:30am, I woke up suddenly and felt no more breathes.

Arwen died Friday around 3:00am. She was 16 years and one week old.

That Friday is both crystal clear and a blur. I remember every moment of that day and the events thereafter, and I’ll probably remember them the rest of my life. But I really don’t want to relive that here. The blur comes from the mix of sudden emotions; they were about as convoluted as I could imagine. There was grief, unbelievable sadness, panic, anger, and helplessness. But there was also joy, pride, love, and relief…..relief that she went out the way she wanted….not by some stupid injection administered by some stranger, but with her people….the people she loved most. She was just waiting for me to let go, and when she knew I was ready, she stopped hanging on for my sake and let herself go.

On her terms…………….

Arwen is the greatest dog who ever lived. I know I know…….to quote Kip Dynamite ‘Napoleon, like anyone can even know that’. But there is something I do know……

Have you ever met a special dog? I don’t mean just a fun dog, or just a cute dog, I mean a really special dog. The ones that really matter. I know many of you have. Some of you may have owned one, or currently own one. Arwen is one of those dogs. She was one of those special pets that…no exaggeration…..everyone loved. Everyone.

And she loved everyone in return.

I know I will meet other special dogs in my life. In fact I already know of some that my friends have, and if fills me with hope and warmth that there are so many others who understand and feel this love for a pet. We truly are lucky people. Hell, maybe Nelley and I will be fortunate enough to have one together some time in the future.

But the reality is there will never be another Arwen in my life. It is impossible to have another pet in my life that I can share so much with. Just her and me for over a decade. She was a true extension of me. I mean one third of my life was spent with her. I only realize now how much I actually thought of this damn dog. Of course I was cognizant of the blunt thoughts of ‘I have to feed her’ as well as the ‘I have to walk her’ reminders my brain would drum up on a daily basis. But there are these microthoughts that still pop up: ‘do I leave my socks on now because I have to take her out in an hour’, ‘what time is it because I have to get home soon’, ‘I better get to bed now because she needs out by 6:30’. These thoughts happen constantly throughout the day, and without provocation. They are just flashes, no longer than a half second. But they are constant. I am learning to quell them a bit, but they are just so embedded in me. All this time I thought I was training her, but she was training me. That bitch…….

It is amazing how the heart can feel so heavy and yet so hollow. I know in time Arwen’s spirit will lighten my heart and her memories will fill my heart once again: time has a magical way of healing us this way. But time operates at her own speed. I will just have to be patient.

I started writing this after using the weekend to process. Ok, that’s not exactly true. I have been writing this for years. It is just now I took proverbial pen to paper and hashed out this eulogy.

As you may have noticed, I mixed in past and present tense throughout this work. Some of that is because I am a sloppy writer. But some of this is because part of me feels she is gone and part of me feels she is still here with me………

Arwen, I miss you so much. So, so, so much. A part of me died when you left. And I’m scared. So scared. You were such a part of me; a part of me I loved so much and I am not sure how to fill that void. But I know in time, with the help of your best friend and others, I can regain that feeling of love, strength, and purpose you gave to me.

Thank you so much Arwen Evenstar Stevenson, you will always be my puppy girl.