I have a story to tell about a dog. A dog I hated from the moment I saw him.
It all began eighteen years ago. I built a beautiful six-foot-tall picket fence around our lot, in anticipation of our family buying a dog for our eight-year-old daughter Liana. The day came when my wife and daughter set out to shop for a puppy. Our agreement was to buy a dog that would be at least sixty pounds, maybe one hundred.
They came home with looked like a baby sewer rat. I was furious. “What is that?!” I yelled. It was a Jack Russell Terrior. All ten pounds of him. My fence was rendered useless. “We had an agreement!” I yelled. I wanted it returned immediately.
“She loves him “my wife pleaded. I looked at my daughter, arms wrapped around him, whispering in his ear. Suddenly, I could feel her love for that little rat dog, and I couldn’t bear it. I had to retreat to the garage to stew in my hatred. At that point I knew, the rat had to stay.
My daughter named him Bandit for the racoon-like mask on his face. As the months went by, he got big enough that our fence now held him tight, but I still resented him and let him know it daily.
My daughter and he were inseparable. Everywhere she went, he was there. She loved him so much and he loved her. He would jump into her bed every night. When I would look in on her, his head would raise, as if to say “I got it covered.” I respected that.
One morning a couple years later, my daughter screamed outside. I ran to the front porch just in time to see Bandit bite a stray dog that was at least one hundred pounds bigger than him – right on the snout. Sent the big dog packing. “Nice job,” I thought. My hatred turned into tolerance, my tolerance into respect.
In 2010, our daughter left for college and my wife began working second shift. So, it was just me and Bandit all night, every night. I was now in my fifties, Bandit was past ten. I noticed he was having eyesight problems. One day I came in the house with a big pumpkin from our garden and I set it in the foyer. When I whistled for him to go for a walk, he came around the corner and slammed his head right into the pumpkin. I felt horrible. This was around the same time my doctor told me I need glasses, as I could no longer read, no matter how far I held the paper.
As the years went by, I could tell that we both could feel our age. He couldn’t make the leap into Liana’s bed anymore and had to be picked up. I had to build him a ramp to the dog run since he could no longer climb the stairs either. I myself was having trouble walking scaffolding at work due to leg weakness and balance problems. I went to the doctor and had an EMG test. Turns out I have a condition of the nerves causing my balance and weakness problems. Now, I have a ramp to my front porch for me. Me and Bandit, getting old.
Our daughter has since entered medical college in Rockford. Bandit and I still spend our days together. He sleeps right next to my bed now. Follows me everywhere like a shadow. I hold him every morning when I leave for work and every night before I go to bed.
Last night I heard him yipe. I leaned over my bed, and looked down at him. He was yiping with all four legs moving full blast. He was dreaming. I wondered, “Is he chasing a rabbit? A squirrel? Protecting Liana from a huge dog?” Yes, he was having a really exciting dream.
I laid there and began to think of when I was young. Hitting a home run in the ninth inning to win it, returning an interception for a touchdown. I remember the first day I met my wife, and dancing with her at our wedding.
Suddenly, I heard a noise. I sat up. It was light outside. It was morning. I had just had one of the best dreams of my life. I looked down and there was Bandit, sound asleep on his blanky. I love this dog.
From him, I learned compassion, love, faithfulness, courage, and companionship. I’m not sure how long we have together, but I really love this dog. In retrospect, Bandit was the best name for him. He stole my heart.