This is the Scruffy Dogs post I never wanted to write. Our beloved dog, Baxter, has passed away. It has taken me a while to get to the point where I can even begin writing about him. And even now, more than a month later, it is incredibly difficult.
Baxter Henri Campagnard was the scruffy dog who inspired this blog a number of years ago. He and our little dog Kirby, who came along later, provided fodder for most of my musings about dog companionship over the years. Baxter made it easy. He was the sweetest, gentlest, most soulful dog I have ever known. And while all dogs are special, I can’t tell you how many people over the years Baxter was in our lives told us what a truly unique and special dog he was. Of course, we knew that. We knew it from day one, when the family who bred his litter opened the gate to their back yard and that little, scruffy puppy with the golden eyes just sat there, right in front of the gate, looking straight at us as if to say “well it’s about time you got here!”
The connection was immediate for both my husband and me. As for Baxter, his place in our lives seemed perfectly natural, expected. There was no transition period, no crying for his mother or littermates. Baxter just nestled into our lives with a comfort and confidence that he was exactly where he was meant to be.
He charmed us, inspired us and made us laugh. He drove us crazy at times with his puppyhood antics: the shredding of whatever we put into his puppy crate; the discovery of the bowl of Belgian seashell chocolates that, when consumed, set off a frenzy involving a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a turkey baster; the penchant for eating whatever stinky things he found along the sidewalk; the insatiable curiosity that had us following him around the house saying “no” and “leave it” almost constantly for a few months. He tested his boundaries and he tested our patience at times, but every moment of puppyhood and adolescence was worth it because Baxter grew into a thoughtful, loyal and trustworthy dog – a dog who never destroyed anything in our house that wasn’t in his crate (people don’t always believe me when I say that, but it’s true); a dog who learned not to touch the food we left within easy reach; a dog we could trust around the delicate pieces of artwork throughout our house. (There was the mysterious disappearance of a hotdog off the hibachi at a 4th of July cookout, but I’m still not sure it wasn’t eaten by one of the human family members...) Baxter earned our trust and that, among other things, made him an incredibly free, relaxed and easy dog to live with.
Everyone in our lives who came to know Baxter – even those who didn’t particularly like dogs – were quickly won over by him. Baxter was a consummate diplomat, at the dog park and among humans as well. There was just something incredibly charming and disarming and goofy and completely non-threatening about him. If he sensed that anyone, dog or human, didn’t want him around, he took it on as his challenge to get them on his side. He managed to break down the defenses of some of the most grouchy dogs at the park (and a few people as well). Part of it was his gentle nature from the get-go. I'll never forget his first encounter with a toddler, on a hiking trail. Baxter was still a puppy, less than a year old at the time. We rounded a corner and he came face-to-face with a little girl, a pre-verbal toddler, who had managed to run ahead of her parents. The girl ran right up to Baxter without an ounce of fear, reached out and grabbed his big, brown nose with her little hand. Baxter just stood there. He wasn't afraid, he didn't jump or try to play with her as he might have done with us. He just calmly waited as the little girl giggled. Finally his eyes rolled up to look at us as if to say "it will be nice when this nose-squeezing stops...can you help that along perhaps?" From then on, babies, toddlers and children of all energy levels were immediate friends.
Baxter had a way of looking at you, directly in the eyes, with an earnestness and an inquisitiveness that felt like he was reading your mind. That look was never confrontational. Rather, it felt like he was striving to connect with you, to understand you – to read your words, your intentions, your wishes. He did seem to comprehend human language better than any dog I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and he usually responded to our thoughts and spoken words with an uncanny accuracy that further demonstrated his level of understanding. I could go on for hours about all the words and even concepts he understood. I think I sometimes took his communication intelligence for granted because it was just such a part of who he was. I’m realizing now just how rare that is, among people and dogs. And I realize how much he served as a dog-human translator for Kirby.
There is so much more I could say about Baxter and his life with us, but most of it is already here, in the blog entries over the past six years. I want to celebrate Baxter’s life somehow. Perhaps this blog is part of it, celebrated over time. And I’m glad that I spent a lot of time appreciating him while he was alive, even more so during the past couple of years. Baxter still had an incredible joie de vivre, but the changes that come with age were apparent. He was slowing down. And while I missed the energetic, lively, athletic dog of his youth, I grew even more deeply attached as we moved into the soulful calm of his senior years. There is something about a dog who just knows how the world works. Nothing rattled him (except the neighbor cat, still). And he seemed so perfectly happy to just be with us, to pad around the house following us from room to room, to nap with his head on Jamie’s shoulder every afternoon, to curl up on the couch at my feet every evening.
I knew every inch of that dog. I studied him, held him, spent countless hours stroking his wiry brown-gray coat, looking into his expressive eyes and caressing the soft hair on his head and ears. I miss those times. I miss hearing his breathing – even his snoring – when we go to sleep at night. I miss his big brown nose and his giant pink tongue, lolling out the side of his mouth on a hot day. I miss the sound of his dog tags jingling as he shook-off a nap. I miss how he insisted on standing in the yard smelling the wind when I was impatiently waiting for him to do his late-night business. I miss the paw on my lap and the earnest stare that told me it was time to get up from my desk and go outside. I miss the impish, playful glance and the bay-like howl that let me know it was play time. I miss his warmth. I miss his energy. I miss his earnestness. I miss his presence.
I still have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that he is no longer with us. Sometimes I forget, just for a second, and expect him to come along with Kirby to greet me when I come in the door. Sometimes I can feel his presence. One evening, before bed, I looked up at the stairway landing and I saw him there, just for a second, looking down at me. It felt so real, and so fleeting. I don’t want these apparitions to ever go away. At the same time, I hope Baxter’s soul is at peace. And I take comfort in knowing that he is with me in all the wonderful memories of our time together.
Baxter Henri Campagnard will always have a special place in my heart.