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Foster, Danny Heitman's terrier

Foster, our old terrier, died this month, his passing long expected by everyone but him. Two and a half years ago, the vet found a cancerous lump, sending us home to wait for the end. Foster, blissfully oblivious to the grim diagnosis, continued his routine, beating slim odds in the bargain.

Throughout his life, Foster seemed undaunted by big opponents. At a dozen pounds, he wasn’t much bigger than a Christmas ham, but he never shook the comic delusion that he was a Great Dane. He was fond of sniffing out mutts thrice his size, confident of holding his own beneath their shadow.

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He had, like most terriers, a novelist’s mind, spinning rich fictions as he dozed beneath an old baby blanket we’d once used for our daughter. Touched by the shameful canine bigotry against postal workers, he barked expletives at mail carriers of all sorts, firmly convinced of their treachery. Lawn mowers loomed in his imagination as even bigger threats to the republic. He’d recklessly rush at the running blade, fancying himself an Arthurian knight against a dragon.

There was no prying a foolish idea out of Foster’s head once it had lodged there. He turned up his wet little nose at the bland gruel of fact, preferring to feed his tiny terrier brain on a savory diet of gossip and fantasy. I marveled that his little skull, tight as a chestnut, could hold such mythic notions.

Among his most imaginative projects was a plan to marry the golden retriever across the street. Wedding bells never chimed, though she obliged his lecherous advances, their sidewalk liaisons creating a scandalous spectacle for the neighbors. Foster’s blond mistress eventually moved away, which only enlarged his grandiose sense of life as a star-crossed struggle.

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The real love of Foster’s life was my wife, for whom he waited outside our bedroom door each morning. He greeted her daily emergence as a high matter of state, trotting ahead of her like a royal color guard advancing the queen. Every night, he patrolled the corridor between couch and coffee table, careful to touch my wife’s feet as he passed, as if she were the Blarney stone that guided his fate.

In his final weeks, he would sometimes approach her with a plaintive stare, maybe sensing that he was headed to a place she couldn’t go. He began to fall, too sick to go on. We phoned the daughter, now grown, whose baby blanket had warmed his days. She joined her brother in saying goodbye, and the blanket swaddled Foster at the vet’s office as he yawned peacefully and breathed his last.

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The world carries greater griefs right now than the death of a dog, so we’ll try not to dwell on his absence. Maybe it will be enough to remember a little terrier who never thought himself too small for the fight.

The times, it seems, demand the same of us.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.