We lost Tug Dog this year, something we knew would happen eventually but always hoped was many more years away.
Tug had only been with us for a little while - since about May 2010. But we knew him a few years before that when he lived with my brother's family outside of Leavenworth for several years before he came to live with us.
They first met him at Uncle Uli's Tavern in Leavenworth. He was a young dog back then and lived with a friend of my brother's about three miles down the road in the Chumstick Canyon.
He had a rough life back then, living outside year round, even in the cold mountain winters. After Tug had visited my brother's place a few times, he decided he liked it there and figured he'd adopt my brother and his family.
There were times when Tuggy would walk the three miles in the middle of the night, in the snow, to get to my brother's place. So eventually he began living there full time.
I remember the first time I met Tug - as everyone does. We were at a Mother's Day gathering at my grandmothers' farm. When he jumped out of the truck I said "Wo!" - like everyone does.
Yeah, Tuggy was big boy. Perhaps a hundred pounds of big boy. Ultimately intimidating, yet gentle as a teddy bear. He truly was a gentle giant, unless he was defending his territory, of course. One time I saw him attack a truck he didn't like - and Tuggy won!
During the NFL playoffs last year, he wore an extra-large Seahawks jersey for good luck. Not only did it fit him but the 'Hawks pulled off a miraculous victory.
When we took him into the pet store to find treats, the folks that worked there would say "Wo!" - and they see animals of all sizes every day. Yep, he was something special. Everyone who met Tuggy loved him - he just had that cool dog charisma about him.
The first time my brother brought him way out here to Walkers Ranch, Tuggy inadvertently smuggled some frog eggs here. Earlier that day he had been in the neighbor's frog pond and then, as soon as he got here, found one of our small ponds to lie in and cool off.
A couple weeks later I noticed a bunch of pollywogs in the pond. We affectionately called them "tugfrogs" and now there is quite an established population of them still here. Every time I hear them croaking at night I think of Tuggy and smile.
Tuggy ended up living with us at Walkers Ranch after an incident at my brother's place. His two boys, Holt, age 3 at the time, and 1-year-old Ford had been playing with and on Tuggy, which normally he didn't mind. This time though, the play somehow caused Tug to take a nip at young Holt.
Anyhow, it was an accident on both parts but we all decided it would be better if Tuggy came down to Walkers Ranch. We knew he would fit in well. Our other dogs, Otis and Bakkus, had always liked hangin' with him.
He thoroughly enjoyed his "retirement" way out here. He spent a lot of time outside just watching what was going on and making sure everything was on the up and up. He also liked hanging out inside wherever people were - and he usually sprawled in the middle of walkways, so you would have to pet him as you walked by.
He'd been a strong old man for a while, but recently his health had taken a turn. He'd been getting slower and slower, which was to be expected. But in the last month his hind legs had completely given out - they just didn't work anymore - nor did he feel like eating or drinking much.
By the time I sat and had a serious talk with him, he had already decided he was done. Of course, I did most of the talking, but like all animals, dogs can communicate with you in a very real way. I hoped I wouldn't have to have that conversation with him. I had hoped that if he was going to go he would just go in his sleep one night. But despite that he felt done, he was just too damn innately strong. I think he could have gone on for many more months, but his quality of life just wasn't what it should be for anyone.
So we made the painfully heartbreaking decision to let him go out with some dignity before things grew worse.
The vet estimated that he was about 100 years old in "human years," and since he was such a big boy, she said she could give him the shots right in the back of my truck.
As passing on goes for a dog, is there any better place than in the bed of a pickup truck? I think not!
So Tuggy now lies beneath a big fir tree in our front yard that we transplanted from my brothers' place. I'm sure he's riding in the eternal pickup truck, or maybe just chillin' in the shade and barkin' at passersby, just to let 'em know he's there.
Yep, Tug Dog was a real bad boy and we miss him terribly. Rest in peace, old friend.
Burbank-area writer Erik D. Walker, author of "In Pursuit of the Perfect Burger," can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.