My dog Catfish, the black Lab, died Thanksgiving night. The vet said his heart gave out.
Down in the country, they would have said, “Lewis’ dog up and died.” He would have been 12 had he lived ’til January.
Catfish had a good life. He slept indoors. Mostly he ate what I ate. We shared our last meal Tuesday evening in our living room in front of the television. We had a Wendy’s double cheeseburger and some chili.
Catfish was a gift from my friends Barbara and Vince Dooley. Vince, of course, is the athletic director at the University of Georgia. Barbara is a noted speaker and author. I named him driving back to Atlanta from Athens where I had picked him up at the Dooley’s home. I don’t know why I named him what I named him. He was all curled up in a blanket on my back seat. And I looked at him and it just came out. I called him, “Catfish.” I swear he raised up from the blanket and acknowledged. Then he severely fouled the blanket and my back seat.
He was a most destructive animal the first three years of his life. He chewed things. He chewed books. He chewed shoes. “I said to Catfish, ‘Heel,'” I used to offer from behind the dais, “and he went to my closet and chewed up my best pair of Guccis.” Catfish chewed TV remote-control devices. Batteries and all. He chewed my glasses. Five pairs of them.
One day, when he was still a puppy, he got out of the house without my knowledge. The doorbell rang. It was a young man who said, “I hit your dog, but I think he’s OK.” He was. He had a small cut on his head and he was frightened, but he was otherwise unhurt. “I came around the corner,” the young man explained, “and he was in the road chewing on something. I hit my brakes the second I saw him.” “Could you tell what he was chewing on?” I asked. “I know this sounds crazy,” the young man answered, “but I think it was a beer bottle.”
Catfish stopped chewing while I still had a house. Barely.
He was a celebrity, Catfish. I spoke recently in Michigan. Afterwards a lady came up to me and said, “I was real disappointed with your speech. You didn’t mention Catfish.”
He got his own mail. Just the other day the manufacturer of a new brand of dog food called “Country Gold,” with none other than George Jones’ picture on the package, sent Catfish a sample of its new product. For the record, he still preferred cheeseburgers and chili.
Catfish was once grand marshal of the Scottsboro, Ala., “Annual Catfish Festival.” He was on television and got to ride in the front seat of a police car with its siren on.
He was a patient, good-natured dog, too. Jordan, who is five, has been pulling his ears since she was two. She even tried to ride him at times. He abided with nary a growl.
Oh, that face and those eyes. What he could do to me with that face and those eyes. He would perch himself next to me on the sofa in the living room and look at me. And love and loyalty would pour out with that look, and as long as I had that, there was very little the human race could do to harm my self-esteem.
Good dogs don’t love bad people.
He was smart. He was fun. And he loved to ride in cars. There were times he was all that I had. And now he has up and died. My own heart, or what is left of it, is breaking.