A Mama's Dog

Reading Ron Ciancutti’s “Week-Ender” last week about his dog, Lucca, left me -- like many readers, I’m sure -- tearful.

But it also struck a nerve, hit close to home, because we are facing the same dilemma in our family, with our little hero, Bandit. As a puppy, Bandit saved my mother’s life on one occasion and gave her joy and dignity in the last days of her life.

My mother, Ada, came to live with us in Georgia in 1997 when she was 82; she died in our home at age 84, almost to the day that I write this, July 22, 1999, at 2:22 a.m. She died happily, surrounded by family, including Bandit, with a smile on her face, in her own bed, as she wanted it.

During Ada’s time with us, Bandit was her constant companion, even though since our farm days in Wisconsin she had always declared that “dogs are dirty, outside animals and don’t belong in the house.”

We decided to get Bandit not long after Ada moved in with us. We didn’t really get the little black Peek-A-Poo for her; we got him for our 12-year-old daughter. But from the moment Ada and Bandit laid eyes on each other, there was no doubt they were meant for one another.

Of course, Ada had to resist just a little. When she first saw the little 12-week-old ball of fluff, she said, “Don’t bring that dirty little mutt in here, he’ll make a mess all over the place.” My mom was a clean freak from way back.

But when she was handed the little critter, who looked amazingly like an Ewok straight out of Star Wars, and he peeked at her from those little black eyes, she was smitten. You’d have to be Darth Vader to not fall in love with this little guy with his black button nose and diminutive yip.

From then on, it was a common scene to see her cuddled in her bed with our three-year-old son nestled in one arm and Bandit in the other. Or to see her eating popcorn with parmesan cheese sprinkled on it, playing cards with our 12-year-old, with Bandit right in the middle of it all.

She even insisted he sleep with her, but she didn’t want to accidentally crush him. So she had us devise a “crib” -- a deep basket Bandit couldn’t climb out of, placed on a low table so Ada could see him.

My mother was sharp as a tack mentally and at 82 could still outwork most 20-year-olds. But within a year after moving in with us her health began to worsen. She had had knee surgery shortly before moving in with us, and she never really recovered from it. She had increasing trouble walking.

We had built on a master bedroom suite for her, all ADA compliant with its own bathroom and pretty well soundproofed so she could have privacy. One night when she got up in the dark to go to the bathroom, she fell, hit her head on the walk-in shower lip and passed out. We would not have known about it and she could have died lying there.

But little Bandit, who was about 6 months old by then, knew something was wrong. He had heard the thump when Ada hit the floor. He didn’t hear her after that, couldn’t see her. He knew something was wrong, so he started yipping like he had never yipped before. He somehow managed to rock his doggie crib to the floor and went to find his friend.

He barked louder and louder, and finally our daughter, whose room was adjacent to Ada’s, heard him and went to see what was up. Thanks to little Bandit, we were able to get Ada to the hospital, and 27 stitches later, she was as feisty as always. He was our little hero forever more.

Bandit has etched a special place on the heart of each person in our home. That was about 14 years ago, making him about 105 now in doggie years. He’s not doing too well, having trouble walking, getting out of breath just walking up the back yard, panting in the Georgia heat. We have to carry him up and down stairs. We’ve had him to the vet on a number of occasions. Medications did some good, but surgery isn’t possible.

So, like Ron watched Lucca, we have watched Bandit struggle. But he still has the same bright little black eyes, the same pug nose. He still smiles when you call his name and hobbles over to get some love. He still has a good appetite. He still gets excited when I play the “tug the towel” game he loves so much, though he can’t hold on like he used to. He has his good days and his not so good days.

We’ve all been reluctant to think about what comes next, let alone talk about it. I’ve been thinking that, like Ron, one day it will just seem like the right time. I’ll get that look from Bandit that will tell me it’s OK.

Hasn’t happened yet. I guess there will come a time when it does. But as long as he’s here, a part of my mom is here. So, not today … not today.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail dls@peachtree-city.org