On Valentine’s Day, 2006, I was visiting the animal shelter in St. Croix, US Virgins Islands. I was there to volunteer and I had no intention of coming home with a dog, let alone a puppy. I was a cat person; I liked low maintenance pets. I approached a cage full a tiny, yipping dogs. The shelter personnel told me the mother was dead and the puppies needed homes. There were nine of them, but the cacophony sounded like a circus of dogs.
I wasn’t a fan of small, yipping dogs. As I got closer to the cage, the uproar got worse and the yips reached a crescendo that nearly split my ear drums. The puppies were out of control. Except one. One little guy was silent. As I reached for the bars of the cage, he quietly stood on his back legs and nestled his head into the palm of my hand. Our eyes met and he slow blinked at me without taking his head from my hand. The shelter person said, “Would you like me to start the paperwork?”
When I got him home and took him for his first vet appointment, he weighed 3.4 pounds and had a belly full of worms. He was covered in ticks. I spent what seemed like forever combing ticks and flea off of him. He wasn’t walking correctly and he hadn’t yet mastered dry food.
Since he was so small, I named him Brutal Brutus the Destroyer. The shelter had told me he wouldn’t get much bigger so I wanted him to have a big name.
Our first few weeks were just about getting him healthy. One thing I didn’t have to do was acclimate him to me. He was my soul mate dog from the moment I picked him up. We went everywhere together. I never had to potty train him because he slept on my bed and would cry in the middle of the night when he needed to go out. He didn’t really need to be trained at all. He just wanted me to be happy with him. And I always was.
I was lucky enough to be working as the front desk clerk of a hotel that was closed for renovations so Brutie came to work with me. I carried him around in a giant purse and he accompanied me on errands and to the bar.
For an island dog, Brutie was not a fan of water. I spent many hours trying to teach him to enjoy swimming in that warm, beautiful Caribbean water, but while he would get in the water to be close to me, he would spend the rest of the time climbing up my arms to be out of the water. After getting him a life jacket and trying (and failing) to interest him in kayaking with me, I gave up on him being a water dog and settled for having a beach dog.
While he wasn’t a water dog, he was a hiking dog! Brutus loved to go on long hikes. My friend Aj and I often took him to the top of Blue Mountain and to St Croix’s old lighthouse. He once chased a herd of wild goats over the side of a mountain, giving both Aj and I mini-panic attacks until he popped back over the top with a goofy grin.
When we took him on longer hikes, we’d carry extra water and sometimes ice packs to make sure he never got overheated. Brutus learned to drink out of a squeeze water bottle. I’d call him over and he’d sit at my feet and wait for me to squirt the water at his mouth. Later, that would come to bite me when he went through a stage where he refused to drink from a water bowl in the house and I had to get him a moving water dispenser.
After hikes, Brutie got to hang out at beach bars with us where most of the restaurant owners knew him by name. He was a people dog and most of the time, I kept him off leash because he would never get far enough away from me to give me cause to worry.
Friends also had dogs and it was normal to go to someone’s beach party and be surrounded by half a dozen dogs. Brutie wasn’t that interested in playing with other dogs. Not that he didn’t like them. He was just a people dog.
In February, 2012, Brutus and I moved back to the United States and landed in Ohio in the middle of a snowstorm. For the first time in his six years, he saw the snow. My island dog took to it like he was born for the cold. He had a couple awful moments when he accidentally dunked his wiener in the snow while peeing, but after learning not to squat so far while peeing, he got past that. (Brutie’s never really did lift his leg and pee like a normal boy dog. He did a kind of modified superman pose when he was younger and later, as his hips started hurting a lot, he would just stand up and pee downward, mostly missing his feet.) Other than the initial mishaps, Brutie loved winter. We would go for hikes down to the frozen beach and he’d chased snowballs as long as I’d thrown them. In the states, we found his second favorite activity–Riding in the car. My sister gave me her old mini-van when I moved back and Brutie and I spent many long hours on the road with him sitting in the passenger seat, one paw up on the dashboard, looking ahead earnestly as if to say, “Those squirrels don’t stand a chance at eluding me now.”
We hiked backwoods in Michigan, National Park trails in Iowa, random woods in Wisconsin. We went to Yellow Springs, Ohio and North Dakota. We drove and walked and visited lots of friends and dogs. We lived for a few months in a camper in the woods. We stayed with my mom. We spent time at a Lake House. We drove, we walked, we drove
Sometimes, we’d get to go to visit Aunt Aj, who had since moved back to the states from the Virgin Islands, as well. Aj was Brutie’s best friend – while I was his mom, Aj was his bud. When we’d visit her, or later, when she’d visit us at the Blue House, Brutie would simply follow her around as she’d do chores around the house and cry at the door after she left.
On October of 2014, we bought a house and settled down in Lansing, Michigan. We got a cat. Brutie was none too please about the cat, but I think he was happy to settle down in his own home. We had a nice yard and a big park with walking trails on the next street. He was almost nine by then and our walks were not quite the massive undertakings they had been.
In 2016, I met my future wife and Brutie (and Gordo the cat) and I started the long process to becoming a Canadian resident. The traveling dog became a traveler again as we would drive across the border to visit Joy every other weekend. On alternate weekends, Joy came to Michigan and somehow, Brutie would always know when she was getting close because he would run to the door every few moments as she neared the end of each trip. While we were road-tripping and dealing with immigration, Brutus was diagnosed with diabetes. We went on a routine of twice daily struggles to get him to eat so he could get his shot. Then he went on pills for his hip pain. We spent way more time napping than hiking.
Finally, in March of 2019, I got my permanent resident card. We tolerated just over two months in Joy’s tiny studio apartment and in May, Joy and I packed all of our stuff and the two boys into our sprinter van and drove from St. Catharine’s, Ontario to Princeton, British Columbia. Brutus was, as always, the ultimate road trip dog. He got to take a short hike to Lake Louise along our trip and he also had the excitement of watching bears cross the road in front of us while driving through Banff National Park.
Brutus thrived in Princeton. We had him out every day on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. When the walks were too long, we put him in a giant dog stroller where he could rest, but still get out. He splashed through the river, chased deer, and got to meet marmots for the first time in his life. He thrived in the snow, climbed snow hills with ease, and begged for walks even in the coldest parts of winter. Brutus made British Columbia his own.
Brutie got almost a good, solid year and a half in British Columbia. In December, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and given six months to live. He held on for eight months after that diagnosis. As we neared the end, our walks got slower and shorter. He had less interest in chasing deer. He started to go blind and would sometimes get lost in the backyard. He still had moments where he wanted to play with his toys and he was always excited to go for a walk, but as time went on, we knew we were getting closer to the end. His pill dosage was upped, but he was still in pain. Finally, one day he couldn’t stop crying no matter which way he turned and we knew. We took him for an emergency visit to the vet to ask about upping the dosage again and the vet told us Brutie was in a lot of pain, despite the medicine. And the higher dose of medicine meant he was knocked out most of the time, in a sleep so deep, it was getting hard to wake him up. We went home from that visit and promised we’d think about it. To be fair, we had been thinking about it for eight months. But it turns out there’s a huge gulf between knowing it’s almost time in an intellectual way and being confronted with the knowledge that it is time. We had thought we were accepting of the idea that it was almost time to let him go, but it turns out, we weren’t ready at all.
That night, Brutie didn’t sleep at all and neither did we. He was up and crying most of the night and we knew we couldn’t keep him here just because we weren’t ready to let him go. We cried all night and most of the morning. I made an appointment for later in the day on Wednesday, September 23rd. then Joy went to the grocery store and bought burger meat. We made him cheeseburgers and sat on the floor with him, hand-feeding him. When it was time to take him in, we lifted him into the van and took him to the vet. We sat on the floor with him while they gave him a sedative, then left us alone with him. I was trying not to cry because I didn’t want to upset with him, but tears just kept rolling down my cheeks. Brutus kept tilting his head up to lick my face, whether to make me feel better or because he could sense my sadness, I don’t know.
After a while, he fell asleep and the vet came back in to give him the final shot. We stayed with him until he was gone. We didn’t linger long in the vet’s office, but leaving him there, looking just like he had fallen into a deep sleep was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Joy wrapped him in a blanket and we walked away. I ran back to our van and sobbed as soon as I was safely inside.
It’s been two weeks and it still feels so lonely without him. We keep thinking we hear his collar or his nails clicking against the floor. I still randomly burst into “Brutie” songs like “Boopity Booper, the Brutie Puppy” without realizing he’s no longer around to hear them. This morning, the vet called to let us know his remains are ready for pick up. We’re going to go get him and take him to his favorite pond in the woods and say goodbye again.
I was lucky to have him in my life for as long as I did. From his earliest days as a three week old puppy to his final days as the most chill senior dog I’ve ever known, Brutie was in my life for 14 years, seven months, and 10 days. He was more than my dog, more than my constant companion and best friend; he was my family. My heart still breaks every day, but its tempered with the knowledge that Brutie and I were meant to find each other and I think I brought as much joy and love to his life as he did to mine.