It was the summer of 2006. We had been married a little over a year, and we decided together it was time to get a dog. We started looking, and buying the stuff we needed. Then one fateful Saturday, we took a trip to the Humane Society on Macklind Avenue.

We had a good idea what we were looking for. We had no idea we were going to find all that and more.

I have a fondness for Labrador retrievers, so we looked at Labradors first. They had a room full of Labs. Mixes of course. And I’ve never seen three dozen dogs so vocally happy to see me before. They were jumping up and down and going nuts, but it was their excited bark, not their guard-dog bark. But there was one dog who stood out.

The dog nobody wanted

Angel at age 2

In 2020, my wife Emily painted this watercolor based on a picture we took of Angel soon after we got her.

She was pretty. But her temperament was completely different from the other dogs. She wasn’t vocal, but rather forlorn. She seemed like she had given up. I walked up to her kennel, and she gingerly approached me. She was friendly, but she’d been disappointed before. I held out my hand, and she gave me a kiss. I reached through the bars and petted her. She wasn’t going to shoo us away, but she sure wasn’t going to get attached.

We found out her story. She was less than 2 years old, maybe as little as 10 months old, and three different families had brought her back. She was potty trained and crate trained, but she was a fence jumper. The fence jumping habit was what kept her from finding a forever home.

I didn’t know this at the time, but my wife had already found her on the Humane Society website, and she had a pretty good idea this was the one. It took both of us about 5 minutes in the same room with her to come to the same conclusion. This dog was coming home with us that day.

Her name was Angel Baby, although she ended up with a lot of nicknames over the years. We usually called her Angel. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

They interviewed us, asking about our experience with dogs. My wife had never owned a dog before, but I had. My dog growing up lived to age 12, and would have lived longer if he had spent more of his life indoors.

Our answers put them at ease, and we paid the $175 or whatever it was to pay for her adoption fees and medical care, and they gave us a notebook with some tips and possibly a leash. Or we may have already gotten a collar and leash in advance. Some of the details are hard to remember after all these years. But I do remember taking her to the car and I’ll never forget that. She was fine with walking with us on a leash, but she did not want to get in that car. But when I picked her up and put her in the car, she didn’t fight. However, she did whine all the way home, and tried to nose herself up into the front seat of our 2002 Honda Civic.

A rocky start in her new home

Angel's first night

I know how to fix these deep scratches in the front door that Angel left on her first night with us, but I never could bring myself to do it.

Those first few days were a mixed bag. She didn’t want to sleep that first night, and before she finally settled down, she scratched up the front door, leaving deep gouges that are still present to this day, and she also slammed herself up against the picture window in the front of the house. She didn’t break the window or injure herself, but those aluminum blinds were never the same. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen aluminum blinds with a Labrador Retriever-shaped dent in them, but I had a set.

The crate was an adventure as well. We should have named her Houdini, because she was an escape artist. When we put her in the crate, she would yap and tap in protest, and she would flick at the latch until it worked its way open. If she could get one of the latches to open, she could squeeze out the door by pushing against it.

Her mistake was doing this one day before I had left, so then I knew how she was escaping. I wasn’t a security professional yet, but I knew enough to secure a dog crate.

She was an escape artist because she was smart. She could convince people she could spell, too.

But don’t get me wrong. Especially once she got the sense that we weren’t going to give up on her right away, she was really well behaved. I only saw her jump on the furniture twice in her life, and both times when she was really excited. She’d go long streaks being a perfect angel, then she’d do something mischievous. But if you’ve ever read the novel or seen the movie Marley and Me, she wasn’t like that. She had that loyalty and unconditional love part down, but when it came to being a one-dog wrecking machine, she only kicked into that mode rarely.

Our routine

Every morning, as I left for work, she followed me to the door. She’d been left before, and she wanted reassurance I would be coming back. I would pat her, and then say, “See you later puppy. Be a good girl. Don’t let any cats or squirrels in here. Yeah, no cats or squirrels.”

Then she would nip at me gently as I took my hand away, and I would leave for my 45 minutes commute to work. At the end of the day, she would recognize the sound of my car as I turned onto the street, and she would meet me at the door, jumping up and down like I’d been gone a hundred years.

I worked from home for the last 7 years of her life, so that was the end of her greeting me at the door. That was the only thing I missed about that commute.

But late in life, even as her mobility and her senses were fading, she could sense when I’d turned onto the street. Everyone knew when she started barking that I was almost home.

The kids

Angel was a constant playmate for our sons when they were toddlers. She was always kind and gentle, though that tail could leave a mark.

As far as Angel knew, one day we went to the vet without her, and we came home with a baby son. And a couple years later, it happened again.

Our oldest son didn’t know what to make of this big furry black creature at first. She seemed harmless, but he looked at her with really wide eyes until he got used to her. But he did. I have a picture of the two of them when he was a month old. He was laying on a mat, with a fresh diaper, and Angel had her head perched on the mat next to him. Both of them were looking at the camera, and he seemed to be motioning toward her. He couldn’t talk yet, but seemed to be saying, “That’s my dog.”

She and the kids were inseparable. When we took them outside, she guarded them. No cats or squirrels or vacuum cleaners or mail carriers or anything else were going to mess with either of her little brothers. When either of them needed a diaper change, she would come and find us. If the two of them started fighting, she would come and find one of us.

She was the best big sister they could have possibly asked for.

A month or two before she died, I overheard my oldest in a conversation with a friend. “Bruh,” he said. “All dogs are epic.”

I can’t argue with that. But Angel set a high bar. She was more epic than many.

The pillar

We kept her inside, but we did have places to put her on a chain both in the backyard and, for a while, the front. This was mostly for bathroom time. Using the bathroom sometimes required a project manager. If she needed to go badly enough, she’d get right down to business. Other times, she’d insist on sniffing every square inch of the yard a couple of times to find that one spot that was a fraction of a percent better than all the others. And sometimes I think she just wanted some fresh air. So sometimes, we just put her on a chain in either of the front or backyard, let her enjoy exploring and the fresh air, and come get her in about 15 minutes.

One night we put her outside to do her thing, and a few minutes later, we heard dogs barking, followed by a huge boom. Somehow she got her chain wrapped around a wooden pillar under the porch, and then when the neighbor came home with his dogs, the dogs had a bit of a disagreement. Angel lunged at them with all her might, apparently, and apparently, she had enough might to yank that pillar out from under the overhang. Somehow the pillar didn’t hit her.

I spent an hour with a couple of 2x4s and a car jack trying to raise the overhang enough to get the pillar back in, to no avail. I called a professional, and somehow he got the pillar back into place. The impact with the ground caused some damage, which I repaired with epoxy putty and paint. It wasn’t a perfect repair, but I’m glad for that now. It’s another place Angel left her mark on the house, not to mention four human lives.

Misunderstood

“She is a nervous dog,” my brother-in-law told me. “You need to keep an eye on her.”

Well, we don’t know what exactly she went through in life. Three different families gave up on her. And she could be a bit jumpy if you startled her. It’s possible she had been abused.

Like most dogs, she liked going for a ride in the car, but if it was more than a few minutes, I think her memory would kick in, and she would start to whine. Anytime we took her to the kennel, it was a traumatic event for her. She didn’t know if we were ever coming back. And when we took her on trips, she tended to have the same fear.

She was misunderstood, she’d been given up on three times too many, but she had good intentions and never meant to hurt anyone. She was just like her adopted mom and dad in that way.

She could be hard to take care of sometimes. And she could be infuriating. Then again, can’t we all? But she was so loyal, and so loving, it was impossible to stay mad at her for long.

And I think the fit worked. Even as she advanced into what’s supposed to be old age, she seemed ageless. She could go on long walks until she was 11 or 12. And even after that, as long as she didn’t overexert herself and we gave her supplements to help her joints, she could move around on her own just fine into age 15.

And it wasn’t until she reached a very advanced age that she developed a fear of storms or fireworks. Her greatest fear was being abandoned again. I think on some level she knew she’d found what she was looking for, and she was going to hold onto that as long as she could.

The Fall

My last photo of Angel

As she got older, I didn’t take as many photos of Angel. When I took this photo in 2020, she was taking a nap with an old Elf on the Shelf the boys gave her. She liked napping with it because it reminded her of them.

It was Thanksgiving 2019. I was sitting at my desk that evening, when she tippy-tapped into the room. I heard the sound of that tippy-tapping over the hardwood floors for years. She’d find someone to plop down next to, then eventually she’d decide she wanted some food or water or to see what else was going on. So she’d tippy-tap off somewhere else for a bit, and then she’d be back.

That wasn’t unusual for her. I must have written a thousand blog posts with her laying down next to me. Probably more. Whatever the number, it was a lot.

So I thought nothing of it when she tippy-tapped into the room that night. But then she fell. The boom shook the house. And she couldn’t get up. And when I helped her get back up, she couldn’t stay standing.

But she wasn’t acting like she was in a pain. She just couldn’t seem to walk. So we put down a big pillow to make her comfortable, and kept food and water near her, and did what we could for her until we could take her to the vet, which wasn’t going to be open until Monday.

On Friday, I made her a dog wheelchair. I went to the hardware store and bought a bunch of PVC pipe, and my wife and oldest son went to the thrift store to find something with suitable wheels we could reuse. Following plans I found on online, I knocked together something to try to help her improve her mobility. She hated it, and quickly lost her balance. So much for that. At least I could say I tried.

We took her to the veterinarian, and he diagnosed her with vertigo. He prescribed a supplement to help her joints and Benadryl to help with her dizziness. Except getting her to take a pill wasn’t exactly easy.

Giving a dog a pill

We’d been giving her joint pills since March 2018, and so we had a system. We would bury pills in a miniature peanut butter sandwich, a precooked meatball, or  a hot dog, and she wouldn’t spit it out if we got her riled up enough. So for the last four years of her life, that was an evening ritual. As time went on, with more pills.

I would hold the treat in front of her face. “See?” I would ask, extending out the vowel and raising the pitch of my voice. “See? Smell?” Usually she would snap at it at least a couple of times. But if I gave it to her then, she would usually spit the pill out. So I would repeat another time or two. Sometimes I would hold the treat in front of her nose and say, gently, “Here, have a whiff.” If she wasn’t riled up before, that would do it.

The snaps would get more frequent. “Oh, you see! Oh you see! Oh you smell! Oh you smell!” I would say as she lunged and I pulled the treat away. And then finally I would give her the treat. She would scarf it down, and completely forget about the pill inside.

Angle

As she aged, she developed a bit more of a mischievous streak. She wasn’t destructive so much as she was strong willed. Eventually, the boys decided that Angel wasn’t the most appropriate name for her, and started calling her Angle. Of course the rest of us followed.

When the boys got older, they would start saying up later on weekends. And sometimes late at night, they would get hungry, and go into the kitchen and make something. Of course, nobody guilts like a Lab, so they always gave her something as well.

The problem was, as she got older, she didn’t do all that well on the linoleum kitchen floor. She had a tendency to slip and lose her balance. We didn’t want her to hurt herself, so she wasn’t allowed in the kitchen, and we would put some obstacle in front of the kitchen entryway to keep her out. But remember, we should have named her Houdini. She got good at sneaking into the kitchen.

My sons would keep track of how many days it had been since Angle had snuck into the kitchen. I think her record was two.

And when either of them were having a hard time, I knew just the thing. I’d show up with Angle, and say six words. “Pet a puppy, you’ll feel better.” It worked every time. Sometimes I didn’t even need to bring her. She’d just show up when she knew they needed her.

Whose girl was Angle?

She and I were inseparable for about 14 years. But in her later years, Angel took to Emily, especially after Em had some health scares in 2018. She was a Lab, so she was all about the unconditional love, but she did play favorites. But that was OK. She’d been our best friend a long time, and for our boys’ entire lives.

As time went on, she had more and more trouble on our hardwood floors. And for a while, probably close to a year, we were able to keep her mobile by putting down area rugs and runners so she could get better traction.

But her back legs got weaker and weaker as time moved on. She would come outside with us to help us water plants and to take a walk to the end of the yard and back, but for the last two years she was alive, that was about all she was up for.

I don’t remember exactly when it was anymore, but eventually she stopped sneaking into the kitchen. She just didn’t have the strength and dexterity to do it anymore. Six months before she died, we got a sling to help support her when she needed to walk.

But even in decline, she had her moments. One night, she decided to go walkabout after we all were asleep. She got as far as my desk, then she fell, and she broke the desk. Fixing it was my project for that weekend. But I didn’t mind. I knew she didn’t have much time left, and I’d always have the desk. I wouldn’t always have her.

Making the most of life with an aged dog

To keep her from injuring herself, we got a big bamboo rug for the middle room, and we kept her in there most of the time. She was fine with that. It was the highest-traffic room in the house, and there was room to sit with her. She still got plenty of attention.

If she made a mess on the bamboo rug, it was easy enough to clean up. At that point she had limited mobility on either the carpet or the bamboo, but she was less likely to hurt herself on the bamboo. She would bark at us when she needed something. Or when she didn’t know what she wanted. And she would tap. I took to calling her Yappy Tappy.

I meant well. We all knew we’d miss those yaps and taps when they were gone.

She gave us a few scares along the way, but she always bounced back. We all knew she was declining. I think even she knew she was declining, but she was determined to hold on. If she had anything left to give, she was going to give it.

The approaching end

Then in the spring of 2022, our elderly next door neighbor died. They liked each other as they advanced in age. She and my wife would sit in the driveway and talk, while Angle enjoyed laying in her yard. She always liked the neighbor’s yard better than her own. Our neighbor was a survivor too. She beat cancer at an advanced age, then she beat COVID, but the things that came after COVID proved to be too much.

Within a few weeks, Angle started declining. It started with trouble eating. But I found she could eat rice and drink chicken broth for sustenance, and a few days of that helped her to regain quite a bit of strength. It also made her a very picky eater. She ate better than any of us did for that last month or so that she was alive. But that was okay. She’d earned it. She also seemed to be losing weight no matter how much she ate, but I let her eat as much as she wanted.

My friends told me we would know when she didn’t have anything left, because she would lose interest in food. When she wouldn’t eat, it was time.

And sadly, that day came on April 7th, 2022. She lost interest in food the night of the sixth. That hadn’t been the first time that had happened, but sometimes she was full. The appetite always seemed to come back by morning, or at least by noon. But not this time. No appetite. And the fight and the spunk was gone.

On recommendation from a friend, we called and scheduled an in-home euthanasia for the 8th. That way she could spend her remaining time in her forever home, with the only family who ever understood her. But she didn’t make it that long. I heard her whimpering overnight, around 1am. So I went to her and I did what I could to comfort her, and told her I had help coming for her in the morning. Our current understanding is that dogs don’t like to die alone, and it’s possible she knew her time had come and she wanted reassurance it was OK to go.

I checked on her again around 6 am. And I thought I saw her breathing, but I think that was wishful thinking. I thought about petting her but didn’t want to wake her from a peaceful sleep. When we checked on her again at 7:30, she was gone. She had died in her sleep.

She was one of a kind. That’s probably a good thing, but we loved that dog, and that dog loved us more. She was with us through a lot of good times, and a lot of bad times. She was our best friend for 16 years, even on those days it seemed like she was our only friend. Or maybe I should say especially on those days. We rescued her, but in more ways, she rescued us.