At 14, having barely breached teenagehood, I’d never been in love. Then a Chocolate Lab stole my heart.
Capone was aptly named for his single moment of rebellion. Our departure from the breeder was delayed by our inability to choose between two chunky puppies; one yellow, one chocolate. We held the goobers under their armpits—examining wet noses, chubby paws, and pink bellies—trying to decide which pup we wouldn’t mind pooping in our yard for the next decade. Then Capone barked, with as much thunder as a puppy can muster.
That was it, he was coming home.
I wrapped the little anarchist in a fleece blanket and let him melt into my lap in our back seat. He wet himself in his sleep effectively soaking my pants in urine; I was in love.
We’d find out later that his personality barely fit that of a gun-wielding, booze-slinging crime boss—the dog was a complete pansy. Gun shy, dog shy, and water shy, Capone never embodied the adventurous canine persona of his predecessors. Not quite skiddish, but certainly sensitive, a little clumsy, and completely danger-avoidant. Basically Cam from Modern Family, only slightly less flamboyant. It was part of his charm.
But he loved humans.
Capone craved closeness and physical contact as much as I do. Blatantly unaware of his 120 pounds, if he saw a lap, he claimed it, and with the execution of a drunken panda. Likewise, his standard greeting involved barreling himself between your legs for a magnificent ass-scratch, often knocking the testicles of many a male visitor. The dog’s lack of spacial awareness was impressive.
According to the American Kennel Club, Labrador Retrievers are described as friendly, even-tempered, and trusting of strangers. They’re also described as athletic, agile, and powerful swimmers. Capone was the first three.
He was a shit-eating, dick-licking, panty-scarfing goofball with a heart of gold, the bark of Thor, and a snore to match. His farts could wreck a building, and his breath smelled like death, but he was the epitome of loyal, and a grand display of unconditional love; everything a good dog should be. And I miss all of it.
But with age, came tumors. And fluid. And muscle atrophy. And knuckling. Couches, beds, and steps were met, but not easily conquered. He struggled to stand and walk without stumbling. His breathing was labored, and despite his wagging tail and lifted spirit, he was more comfortable sleeping than moving. Incontinence came next.
Weeks ago we breached the unavoidable subject. How much longer? After considering quality of life and level of suffering, it was decided—Capone would be euthanized Friday, June 19 in our home. With all of us.
Our veterinarian arrived at 5:45 p.m to our family snuggled near him on the living room floor. I’d done my best to keep myself together throughout the day, knowing I’d be leaving work early to head home for our last hour together. That drive was hell. But when Capone, in true form, tried so desperately to hop up to greet this lovely stranger, the floodgates opened.
I didn’t speak for the duration of the visit. Not because of resentment or fear—I was physically incapable. Sadness gripped my throat. I wanted only to meld myself into this dog so he could feel every ounce of my love before he left.
“I buried my head in his paw as the anesthesia took him under, and after only a moment, his heartbeat stopped. I felt it fade, and then nothing. He was gone, and my heart swelled with 11 years of memories.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 6.19.15
I held his gaze before his lids drooped one last time; he was scared. But the thick blue liquid invading his bloodstream peacefully brought him to sleep, and with one final snore, his head found the floor, and I lost his heartbeat.
Like so many nights, we laid head-to-head, my arms looped through his with one thumb caressing his cheek. His nose was still wet, and his whiskers twitched. But this time, he wouldn’t get up.
My heart sank. He was gone.
“I squeezed his paws, touched the twitches left in his face, and closed my hand on his forehead. He was cooling. I’ve never felt something so lifeless.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 6.19.15
But despite the devastation of that moment, it was necessary. It was right.
Forty minutes later, a wonderful couple arrived to collect him. I untucked my feet from his furry core, and lifted his ear to say goodbye—those were the first words I’d spoken since he died. Then they raised him to the door, and took him.
Now the house is quiet, and our hearts are heavy. We’re coping. But we’re comforted knowing that if puppy heaven exists, Capone is there eating copious amounts of panties, sniffing butts, and farting without consequence.
I love you, Poney.