(This is the complete story of Mr. Worf that was originally published in four parts. If you would rather read it in installments, they are separated and located in the misc. category)
He was almost 14 years old when he died. He left this world the same way that he lived in it, which was right by my side. On his last visit to the doctor, we were told there was nothing that could be done for him, so we brought him home, made him as comfortable as possible, and waited.
He was still his old self for a few days, bossing the other animals around and following me from room to room as best he could. He couldn’t traverse the linoleum floor in the kitchen without fear of falling, so I would carry him across it, gently holding his 65 pounds until we reached the carpet where he was sure of his footing again.
His last night with us, I made a pallet next to his bed so we could be as close to each other as possible, and I could get in as many pets and hugs as he could stand. He woke me once in the middle of the night, and since I thought he was thirsty, I adjusted his water bowl, rubbed his ears, and went back to sleep.
When I awoke the next morning, he was gone. I tried to wake him, but when he wouldn’t move, I knew it had happened, and the world slipped beneath my feet. My dear, late, ex-wife Maggie took me in her arms and held me, and all I could do was repeat over and over while sobbing that I wasn’t ready for him to go.
She sent me to the bedroom with our chihuahua Twinkie, who was always his little sidecar, and took care of the hard part. She buried him and got rid of his bowls and toys and bed, so I wouldn’t have to look at the physical reminders of what I had lost.
I never knew what grief sickness was until my dog, the best friend I ever had and the most extraordinary and unique canine that ever lived on this earth, Mr. Worf, died in October of 2008.
But this story isn’t about my grief or to make you sad; it’s to celebrate the wonder that was Worf. To share the stories that made him a legend to those who knew him and inspire jealousy and awe in those unfortunate souls that never got the chance.
I had always wanted a Siberian Husky and was determined that when I got my own place, that would be the dog I would get. I quickly realized that a Husky was way out of my price range, so I decided to adopt a puppy from the Humane Society.
When I got there, all the puppies available for adoption were lined up in cages on one side of the wall. I stuck my finger through the wires, and each pup, cuter than the next, nibbled on my finger. Until the last cage, which was inhabited by the craziest looking one, licked me. I decided this little guy would be mine.
I couldn’t take him home until he had been fixed and given his shots, so I came back to pick him up a week later. The puppies waiting for their forever homes were in separate cages. When the lady opened the door for me to pick him up, he feverishly and fervently started doing laps in his little 4 by 10-inch enclosure, ripping the paper lining to shreds.
I brought a little box to put him in for the ride home, and for the whole trip, he stood on his hind legs with his front paws over the rim of the box and just stared at me. I already had a few names for him in mind, and I tried a few out as we drove. I suggested a couple as he just looked at me unimpressed, until I said, “How about Mr. Worf?” and he replied with a sharp little bark. It was decided.
The next year turned out to be a war of attrition. One of us would be the Alpha, and for a while, there were serious questions about who that was going to be. Even though he had been neutered, Mr. Worf lived up to his namesake. There wasn’t a battle he backed down from or a lesson he learned easily.
During the “War of the Housebroken,” there were many skirmishes, none more memorable than the last. I was under the impression that I was gaining ground and that he would soon be doing his business outside, until the night he made one final volley. I was sitting on my recliner watching TV when Worf jumped on the couch, looked me straight in the eye, lifted his leg, and let it fly. I leaped from my chair, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck to throw him outside, and an armistice was soon reached.
His teething issues were terrible. There were times he chewed a perfect circle in the carpet, tore my prized copy of Sports Illustrated with Penny Hardaway on the cover to pieces, and ripped my valuable leather-bound collection of Frank Miller Batman stories to shreds.
He would destroy most anything he could get in his mouth, but magazines were his favorite. Not long after my friend Jay moved in with us, he invited his devoutly religious mother over to see the place. Before she arrived, he made sure to hide all the issues of Playboy and Penthouse I had lying around as part of our bachelor pad décor. Worf had other plans however, after all, it was his den too.
Jay picked his mother up, brought her to the house, and upon unlocking the door, froze in horror as Playmates and Pets of the month from the last six months were strewn about the living room floor like a tornado of teeth had torn through the local adult bookstore. He had his mother wait outside as he quickly cleaned up the bits and pieces while Worf was banished to the backyard to revel in his victory.
When his need to chew everything had been sated, and he was completely housebroken, I decided to teach him only a few commands, as it was my notion that I wanted to encourage him to be his own dog. I taught him to sit, stay, and bark every time I said, “Who is it?” or when he heard a knock at the door.
Once he let me become his Alpha, I rarely, if ever, had to correct him. He did have issues with wanting to greet people who visited by jumping up and down, but that was just his way of welcoming them into his pack, and his burgeoning personality charmed everyone he met.
Jay only lived with us a short time, and soon after he moved out, I joined a band. Worf quickly became the unofficial fifth member and entertained us between practice sessions by play fighting, forcing us to commit to marathon games of tug-of-war with his rope and running laps around the tiny living room we were lounging in. He even contributed some uncredited vocals on one of the hidden tracks on our CD.
Fighting was his favorite pastime. He would never hurt anyone, but his gnashing teeth and vicious growls would instill fear into people witnessing this ritual for the first time, as they were sure that he was trying to murder us. He was ready to go in an instant, and I could incite his faux wrath by merely clapping my hands and pointing at him.
One time – at another band house I shared with our bass player Dan – we had some people over to hang out, a few of which didn’t know Worf. We were casually just sitting around, and Worf was pacing back and forth, mainly because he couldn’t lay on the couch, as there was a friend of ours named Tim sitting next to me, and he didn’t have enough room.
I decided to liven things up. Worf stopped at the coffee table in front of me. I looked him straight in the eyes (which he immediately took as a challenge), smacked my hands together, and pointed menacingly at him. He responded by jumping on Dan, who was sitting on the couch closest to him, and then jumping to the couch I was on and over Tim instantly, growling and snarling the whole time. As he was attacking me, I looked at Tim’s face, and the horror that I saw there made me and Dan fall into a laughing fit.
My bandmate Jody could also get him riled up by calling him “Poonces” – a variation on the old SNL skit ‘Toonces the Driving Cat.’ At that point, Worf would bare his teeth and attack Jody with the intent of maiming him for his indiscretion, only to curl up beside him moments later, asking for belly rubs. Soon it became a term of endearment between the two, but if Jody ever uttered it with the wrong inflection, Worf was ready to regulate.
While I was Worf’s Alpha, no one else was. He feared nothing. Once there were a couple of stray Dobermans roaming the neighborhood, and as they headed down the sidewalk on our side of the street, I realized I had left the storm door open. I never had to worry about Worf getting out because he would never leave his yard, even if he did. But this was different; interlopers were approaching his domain.
Before I could cut off his access to the door, he was out and in the yard barking like he was out for blood. I wondered how I would diffuse this situation without getting mauled, but as the two Dobermans got closer to our yard, they crossed the street and kept going, never once even glancing in Worf’s direction. There were many times like these that I wished I had a universal translator set to the canine setting.
He loved people but couldn’t stand other dogs, especially males. The only male dog he ever tolerated was his cousin Gizmo, my Aunt Karen’s dog, who would travel the block and a half to our house, bark at the door to be let in, and help himself to Worf’s bowl. He was ok with this, but when a friend of the band’s named Jeff visited and brought his extremely large, male German Shepard called Deogee with him, Worf perceived it as a transgression of the highest order. I had no idea this visit was happening, or I could have warned it was not advisable.
We were sitting around playing Goldeneye when suddenly Worf ferociously jumped on the storm door, which would not latch properly, and started his attack on the unsuspecting Deogee, who was coming in with Jeff. Deogee probably had Worf by 15 pounds and a couple of inches, but he was super laid back and unprepared for the deathmatch that was about to take place. I was able to get to Worf before he did any damage, and I will never forget the look on poor Deogee’s face, who presumably just wanted to hang out and be easy. Worf wasn’t having it though, and Deogee spent the remainder of Jeff’s visit in his truck.
Another instance of his disdain for other male dogs occurred when we visited Jay at his new house. Jay’s backyard was separated from his landlord’s yard by a chain-link fence. The landlord owned a crabby, inhospitable terrier mix, who greeted everyone and everything with angry, rude, and incessant barking. Upon our arrival, we put Worf in the backyard and then hurried to Jay’s bedroom so we would have a front-row seat to what would be a most memorable encounter.
While he was casually investigating this foreign terrain, the landlord’s dog jumped off his porch and ran furiously to the fence to give Worf the business. Without even looking at this little terror, Worf casually lifted his leg, sprayed his mark on the dog’s face, and then kicked dirt on him for good measure. As the little dog slunk back to his porch with his tail between his legs, I simultaneously felt immense pride for Worf and deep sympathy for the cur that had dared challenge him.
I still wonder what breed he was mixed with. The Humane Shelter said he was a Chow mix, but I think that was just their catchall for any big dog. His coat wasn’t fluffy, and his tongue wasn’t marked. The only thing remotely like a chow about him was the way his tail curled over his back. As he matured, his coat showcased five different colors, and his muzzle was perpetually gray, giving him an aged and wizened look his entire life.
I believe he was partly a German Shepherd mix, mainly because he was only ever interested in patrolling his perimeter, never in roaming and marking his territory all over the place. My friends and I would speculate that his other half was some wild and untameable beast, presumably a Dingo, wolf, or possibly even a jackal. I do know that whatever it was, it was a perfect mix, as it imbued him with intelligence, loyalty, personality, and a regality that made him every other dog’s Alpha.
A couple of years after the band started, I decided to only sporadically work and focus on music, which eventually led to me being practically homeless. So, for a few months, the best thing for Worf was to let my bandmate Cody provide a foster home for him. Cody and his family were awesome to offer and provided a loving home for him, but it was hard for me. I couldn’t bring myself to visit more than once because I felt like I was neglecting my best friend, and I rationalized the choice by convincing myself it was better for him to not see me.
Fortunately, it passed quickly. Dan and I found a new band house, and Worf was back where he belonged. The more people that entered the band’s orbit, the more friends he made. He welcomed everyone into his den and even allied with Dan’s cat Madison, who was cranky and kept to herself, but she was sweet and grudgingly allowed his presence.
It was at this new house he displayed intuitiveness I did not know he possessed. He had never been around small children before the day our friends Jeff and his girlfriend Tricia brought her son Taylor with them to visit. Taylor couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4, and he immediately picked Worf’s rope up and brought it to him. Worf loved that rope and was notorious for playing extremely rough with it. But when Taylor put it in his face, he gently took the end of it and let Taylor rip it away from him time and time again. My heart swelled with pride at yet another trait of his I had nothing to do with.
He had a big backyard to play in, and if one were to look out the rear window at the opportune moment, they might be a spectator to Worf running his laps from end to end or jumping off the deck to try and catch a bird in mid-flight, after they would audaciously try to steal his food. He loved being outside and ruled the grounds he roamed inside the fence with an iron paw.
It was in this same backyard that Dan witnessed an event I will forever be envious of. He and a friend of ours named Andy were sitting around after work one day when they heard a commotion coming from outside. Dan went to the back door to see what was up and was immediately panic-stricken at what he saw. He observed Worf unpretentiously walking around with a squirming Pomeranian in his mouth while another was desperately nipping at his heels.
The neighbors across the street owned these two nihilists, who had apparently gotten out to tempt fate by squeezing their way through the wrought iron bars of the gate to our backyard. With visions of lawsuits and Animal Control dancing in his head, Dan yelled at Worf to drop the dog, which fortunately he did, and then watched the two Poms run frantically back to safety while Worf sauntered back inside as if nothing had happened.
The time we shared the house with Dan looms large in my memory. It was the best years of our band’s lifespan and the formative years of Worf’s singular personality. Through the constant practices, parties, jam sessions, and all-nighters, he was right there with us, serving as our de facto good luck charm and guardian angel.
We lived with Dan the next few years until I met the woman of my dreams and eventually got married. There was a long list of reasons why I adored Maggie, chief among them being her and her 3-year-old son Isaiah loved Worf. We were a package deal, and they accepted us both with open arms.
After attempting to make a start in Memphis, in time, we moved to Heber Springs and began our life there. In Heber, he was gifted with more ground to roam and learned to share his domain with other dogs, female of course, the first one being our Chihuahua, Twinkie.
At first, he wanted nothing to do with her but learned to tolerate her company as he went outside to do his business and make his daily patrols. I had no fear of her running off or being attacked by a larger animal because she had her big brother Worf in tow, and she was part of his pack.
Along the way, his herd expanded to Brownie (our Dachshund – Bassett Hound mix) and Sunshine (a stray that just appeared one day and wouldn’t leave), as well as the first of many cats, Ariel. His time with Madison prepared him for dealing with felines, and while he never particularly cared for them like he did Madison, he reluctantly sanctioned their presence.
He also viewed Isaiah as a member of his brood and was gentle and careful, always maintaining a watchful eye over him. Whenever Isaiah went outside, which was often, Worf would always tag along to make sure he didn’t wander too far or get into any trouble.
One afternoon at our first house in Heber, the two went out as I positioned myself in front of the television, being sure to keep the window open so I could listen for any shenanigans. About 10 minutes into a recorded episode of 24, Worf began to excitedly bark under my window, strenuously trying to get my attention.
I looked outside and saw him looking up at me as if to say, “What are you waiting for!?” so I got up to see what was going on. He met me at the door and led me around the house to a patch of bushes and trees that ran alongside. Inside the undergrowth, Isaiah had gotten stuck in a briar patch among the bramble and was unable to move. After helping him escape, the three of us went back inside, where I comforted Isaiah with ice cream and gave Worf the biggest hug and all the treats he could eat.
It was during this period Isaiah gave him the moniker “Worfie Poots.” The first time Worf let one loose and then was startled by his own flatulence, he naturally thought it was the funniest thing in the history of the world. “Worfie Poots” quickly evolved into “Pooter” and then “Mr. Poots”, etc., which Worf never appreciated, but would condone with a wag of his tail due to Isaiah’s laughter that would always follow.
In 2005, we moved further into the county and rented a house on 2 acres connected to a 7-acre plot my mother-in-law purchased. Not only did this move give him more land to claim as his own, but it also provided him with a larger pack and an opportunity to meet other animals.
My mother-in-law had three dogs of her own – two of which were Twinkie’s puppies, making Worf a somewhat reluctant Uncle – as well as two horses. He made friends with a Tennessee Walker named Zephyr, and they would often bump noses and walk the fence line together, but he had no use for the Paint Horse who was unfriendly and kept to himself.
Our neighbors all had dogs that they let roam free, and the heavily wooded area behind them was populated by coyotes who you could hear howling most nights. Of course, this did not deter Worf, who was still firmly in charge even in his old age.
None of the strays, coyotes, or neighbor’s dogs ever ventured onto our property, and even though there was no fencing, Worf never left his perimeter, which he had expanded to include my mother-in-law’s acreage. He was never the most imposing dog, but there was something about him that even roughneck country dogs didn’t want any part of.
Shortly after we moved in, one evening Worf accompanied me to the car to retrieve something I had left in the console. As we opened the door and stepped into the darkness, we were greeted by a cacophony of barking and howling from the mongrels on our road, who had apparently been engaged in a war of words with the coyotes deep in the woods.
Just as I was wondering how the “owners” of these dogs across the way could bear the unrelenting clamor, Worf had heard enough. With one sharp, commanding bark, the noise immediately stopped. We completed our errand with only the sound of chirping crickets, and I once again marveled at him, as he never broke stride and led me back inside.
He asserted his iron will on everyone but me. He was the unquestioned Alpha of the three other dogs and four cats and could put any of them back in line simply by soundlessly showing them his teeth. They all knew that no matter how thirsty or famished or tired they were, Worf always had dibs on any of the water and food bowls, as well as the comfiest spot on the couch. Everything was at his discretion.
This domineering spirit even extended to Maggie, who would be the victim of a Worf drive-by anytime she brought a plate of food to eat in the den. If there was something she was having for dinner that he wanted, he would simply walk by and casually take it off her plate. In all honesty, she encouraged this and even got a kick out of it, but no one ever told Worf. We let him continue to think it was her penance for eating in front of him.
However, there was one animal we had that was beyond his posturing and dominance. Her name was Annie, and she was a Pygmy Goat. Maggie had always wanted a goat, so one day, after much persuading and cajoling, I relented, and she brought one home. She thought it was a good idea to let the new baby stay in the house for a couple of days, and she got what she wanted.
No one had consulted Worf, though, and he voiced his displeasure each time Annie got in his line of sight. By this time, he couldn’t get around as well as he used to, so while there was no attempted cloven animal homicide, there was constant bleating, barking, and gnashing of teeth. So, eventually, he got his way, and Annie made her permanent residence in a pen outside.
He eventually developed hip dysplasia, which manifested itself by him lying around more and not being able to walk across the non-carpeted floors. We couldn’t afford surgery, so we tried to combat it with supplements, massages, and anti-inflammatories, but his condition worsened.
His trips outside lessened to only a few a day, but they increased in the time spent on his walks. He would be gone for what seemed like an eternity, only to show up at the porch, barking to be let back inside with his entire back half-covered in sludge and dirt. He had found his own treatment in mud baths taken on the banks of my mother-in-law’s ponds. It was hard to be irritated when he had a big smile on his face and a temporarily renewed pep back in his step. So, I would wash him off, dry him and gingerly carry him back inside.
When his appetite diminished, we took him to my brother-in-law Brett’s veterinarian practice, where I hoped against all odds there was something he could do. When he gently gave us the inevitable news, we drove back home in my mother’s station wagon. I rode in the back with him, laying at his side while tears streamed down my face. I thought about all the stories I just laid out for you and wondered how I would get through the trials of life without my best friend.
It was extremely difficult, but eventually, with the love of Maggie and our other animals’ companionship, my grief passed. Now I am filled with joy each time I get to recount one of the fantastic tales of his exploits, and I don’t care one bit if I’m boring the daylights out of the person who is hearing them for the first, or hundredth time.
The recounting of those stories is as much for me as anyone else. They help to keep him alive and give me the feeling that he’s still in the other room, just a call away from being at my side again. He visits me in my dreams at least once a month, smiling, wagging his tail, and being the best boy anyone could ever hope for.
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