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King-sized hole is hard to fill

June 25, 2003

My mother called the other day to tell me my brother's dog, Charlie,

had to be put down. Charlie was this little yappy dog who had been

around for years. He seemed perfectly healthy one day, and could

barely move the next. My brother took him to a vet, who told him

Charlie had a degenerative back problem and advised him to put the

dog to sleep.

Michael was beside himself with sorrow, Mom said. He was

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inconsolable.

I didn't know Charlie that well, but he was a likable, talented

little fellow who knew a host of tricks my brother never tired of

showing off to the family at gatherings.

"Hey, Davey! Davey! Watch Charlie do a back flip," Michael would

say as he sat on all fours in front of the dog. "Come on, Charlie! Do

a back flip! Back flip, Charlie!"

Flip. "Yap! Yap! Yap!"

"Again!"

Flip. "Yap! Yap! Yap!"

"Good boy, Charlie!" Michael would sing, then hug the animal until

the poor creature's eyes bulged. "Good boooy!"

This, from a 240-pound alpha male who used to give me charley

horses mercilessly as a child.

But I understood. Dogs have played a long and memorable role in my

family. All of us are big dog lovers. Or little-dog lovers, given my

mother and siblings' recent fondness for little yappy dogs. Until

Charlie and his progeny came along, the only dog to paw his way into

our hearts was an enormous, black-brown German shepherd named King.

My parents got King when I was an infant, and for the first five

or six years of my life I just assumed he was another brother of

mine. He talked back when spoken to, destroyed everything he was left

alone with and smelled to high heaven. He had to be related. In fact,

the only thing that separated King from my brothers was that he was

almost always friendly toward me. As far as I was concerned, we

needed more brothers like him.

King was the greatest companion a child could ask for. He was

always in the mood to play and was a wonderful listener. I would talk

to him for hours about all my crazy plans and ideas about the world,

and he would sit and smile with that wide-eyed "Sounds good to me!"

expression of his. He saved my hide on more than a few occasions,

showing up with a snarl when I was being chased by bigger kids or

other neighborhood dogs. King had a strong sense of propriety: By his

reckoning, no one had a right to lay a hand or fang on me who wasn't

family.

He also showed an amazing amount of patience for me as I learned

through trial and error what a dog could or could not do. The only

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