I want to take some time before Shabbat begins to share something for Bandit. I start this attempt knowing full well that any words I try to set to him will feel utterly incomplete. Bandit was a once in a lifetime, soulmate kind of dog. My little soul-pup.
When I met Bandit during the summer of 2010, he was a bubble, keep-your-distance kind of dog. This was the result of a life of uncertainty. My knowledge of his early life starts in a shelter in Texas. Adopted by a woman and gifted to her then-boyfriend, Bandit found his first “Pal.”
Pal had never had a dog before. He described how overwhelmed and lost he felt taking Bandit on their first walk through a park. He sat on a park bench, head in his hands thinking, “What the hell am I going to do with a dog?” A small child approached, throwing her arms around Bandit and asking, “What’s his name?”
“I don’t know,” Pal replied.
“Socks!” the child proclaimed and so in the first years of his life Bandit became Socks The Dog.
Pal eventually moved to Wyoming, dumped his girlfriend, and kept the dog. At some point during this transition Bandit’s curiosity won him a face full of porcupine quills, he lived off and on with Pal sometimes staying on a ranch with several other dogs, and he was unsatisfied often running away. That summer of 2010, he was back living with Pal again, in a scary house owned by a buddy with two or three other men and another dog. The men were often loud and drunk. It was not the best environment for me or for the dog, honestly, but there we were and I was determined to get this stand-offish dog to love me. I never felt afraid of Bandit. He was too smart, too sweet and attentive to Pal.
Pal and I started dating and I started bringing old steak bones and scraps to Bandit. When Pal was out of the room, I asserted myself into Bandit’s pack. We play wrestled around and I pinned him, holding him until he admitted defeat, accepting me as the bigger dog. After that, he listened to my commands and he started to snuggle me. Bandit became a dedicated little spoon, the best kind of cuddle dog.
At the time, I was going to school in Virginia and was only in Wyoming on breaks. Pal and I developed a close friendship, in large part thanks to the distance. He was one of my best friends and we talked multiple times every day. At home, Bandit and I grew closer. I tried to describe him to my parents as a smart companion dog, on par with their dog Bo whose mythos I had grown up with. Pal and I would drive around with Bandit, his head in my lap. We played disc golf, Bandit never straying far from our side.
Early that next summer Pal moved into a house closer to my family home in Wyoming with two much quieter and kinder men. One of them was a frisbee guy, also from Texas. A nice man, with a kind heart, I can still hear him telling Bandit, “this is too good for you,” while lazed out on the couch eating a sandwich he made. Despite the heckling, he always gave Bandit a bite at the end.
Pal’s other roommate was just another Tom/Dick/Harry from Wyoming and one of the only men in Pal’s life who actually engaged me in conversation. I always enjoyed this Tom, but he and Bandit did not get along. See, Tom was the first person Bandit ever bit. Back at the scary house where Tom did not live, he walked in without knocking or being accompanied by a resident. Bandit, on edge already, protected the house from an unknown man entering. They had bad blood between them ever since. Bandit was a smart dog who could be a bit of a bully with people and situations he didn’t like. If Pal left him for the weekend, Bandit would leave an unpleasant surprise in Tom’s room. Tom was afraid of Bandit and extremely annoyed by him. He didn’t grow up around dogs and did not know how to communicate with them.
Later that same summer, the oil boom in North Dakota took off. Pal joined thousands of others to cash in on the new work. He continued to pay his rent and all the utilities in Wyoming on the condition his roommates took care of his dog. I walked Bandit until I couldn’t that summer, the same summer I was diagnosed with my allergy. Then I left for college and things seemed to be fine that fall until frisbee guy left for Texas, leaving Bandit alone with Tom for around two months.
It was winter and I must have been recently out of the hospital and desperately working on my latest submission for my history thesis with friends in the student lounge at Pleasants. I remember carrying my computer into an empty classroom, with its thin golden wood floors and seminar seating– I set Pal and the Skype call down on the corner of the table, shutting the door behind me. He explained that Bandit was depressed and not eating. Tom would take him to the vet and put him down. I stopped Pal. No. My winter break started in two days. I would be home and I would see what was going on. If Bandit was sick and needed to be put down it wouldn’t be done with someone he hates, he would be with someone who loves him.
Two days later, I found myself using the spare key to pickup Bandit when no one was home. Ecstatic to see me he hollered himself hoarse, spinning circles as I inspected his area. In the garage, there was an empty bag of dog food torn up by Bandit in search of something to eat. There was no water anywhere for him to drink. His nose was red, torn up and a little bloody from being left out in the cold. I grabbed my keys and shook them, “Let’s get out of here.” He winced. This dog loved car rides, he celebrated car rides the way he celebrated my arrival. Now he winced.
My mom couldn’t help but spoil him. He clung to me. If I took a classic home-from-college-nap, there was no walking into the room and waking me up. After my dad came home from work in Alaska, I asked my parents why they weren’t hugging me. My dad replied, “your dog won’t let us.” I tried explaining, “he is my Bo.” But only trusting me, warming up to my mom, and assuming that all men are the same, Bandit wasn’t exactly on a campaign to win over any hearts. He was on a campaign to stay with me. But he couldn’t. I had another semester left at Hollins in Virginia and my parents refused to take him on. Our dog Chip had recently been put down with elbow dysplasia and my Grandma in Nebraska was starting to have trouble with her heart. They needed to be able to leave at a moment’s notice to be with her.
Pal wasn’t happy that I didn’t take him to the vet to be put down but I pleaded for time. I put him on the list for the no-kill shelter. I gave my name and number to pet stores around town. I argued with one woman on the phone about the definition of a lapdog, “but he is literally in my lap right now!” She hung up on me.
As if to illustrate my parents’ point, my Grandma had a stroke. We had to leave for Nebraska just a week or so away from Christmas. I didn’t have much support. I couldn’t afford to put him in a kennel even if I could have found a spot for him. My dad insisted that I picked him up from somewhere and that I take him back there. When I called to talk to Pal about it he asked me, “why don’t you just do what you’re told?”
I came undone. Pal had two amazing sisters who would not have put up with any sort of shrinking violet in his life. They would never, “do as they were told.” Bandit was too smart, too young and full of life to be killed. I wasn’t about to make someone who dedicated their lives to saving animals put down one who was so good. I called Pal a coward and told him to kill Bandit himself if he wanted it done.
Pal relented. It was a hard-fought non-victory. Bandit would stay with Tom again while I was in Nebraska and I would continue to look for a new home. I chose a time when Tom wasn’t home from work, hiding cheap burgers and piles of wet dog food around the backyard. I was determined that Bandit would at least have something to eat. Then I said goodbye and left to finish packing. Hours later, the car finally packed and minutes away from leaving I got a text asking if I dropped Bandit off yet. He had already run away.
My dad and I drove around, finding Bandit heading east through the neighborhoods. He ran to me as soon as he saw me. He followed me without a leash back to the house until he saw Tom on the stoop. He dashed into the bushes, cowering. Tom screamed, “Socks! Socks!”
Not raising my voice, I gritted out, “Socks, here. Now.” I pointed beside me. Head lowered with his ears back he slowly crept to me, hiding behind my legs. Leaving him there was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I scooped him up and carried him into the house. Grabbing his precious face in my hands I looked him in the eyes and promised I would be back for him. Then I stuck my finger in Tom’s face and told him to “take good care of that dog.”
Five hours down the road, an hour away from my Grandma’s, and a text that Bandit ran away again. Pal, still in North Dakota, was to drive to Wyoming, then to Nebraska to see me, and finally Texas for a holiday with his family. Instead, he broke up with me over Skype. I cried and went a week not knowing if he found Bandit or not.
In the meantime, Wyoming saw a heavy snowfall, my Grandma’s new stint seemed to work and we headed home. There we found a yard untouched save the small animal tracks all around the fence line. By the garage a few boards and been pulled loose, falling back against the fence as if purposefully placed there. We opened the garage and a gray flash bolted out to the backyard.
He had broken in through the fence and thankfully we had left the doggy door open. There was evidence of a devoured dove for food, but at least he had a sheltered place to sleep. My mom renamed him Bandit because he broke in and stole our hearts. I took him to the vet, updated his shots and registered him under my name. All things that Pal had neglected doing over the years, never having had a dog before.
There is nothing quite like having someone know they want to be with you and fighting against all odds to make it possible. Bandit was an inspiration, he saw the life he wanted for himself and he made it happen. He didn’t accept his circumstances, he changed them and survived. Bandit never ran away again. Why would he? He ran away to me.
My dad almost took him to North Dakota when I returned to Hollins, driving part of the way there before turning around deciding that Pal did not deserve a dog that good. Bandit was too good at road trips, he was undeniably smart and aware.
I finished my semester at Hollins, graduated and moved back home saving money while working overtime at a government job.
Bandit didn’t move with me to Lincoln for grad school right away, coming to stay with me for an extended visit when my Grandma passed in the fall of 2013 and then permanently soon after. We took care of each other, going on long walks around the neighborhood on the outskirts of town. He would herd me to bed, remind me to eat, and insist I take a break from my work.
When I was stuck for a month passing a kidney stone, Bandit hardly left my side. My cohort took turns taking him out for walks to go to the bathroom, but they couldn’t take him very far before he would drag them back to my apartment and me. I drove us home, still passing a kidney stone and having to stay overnight in a dog-friendly hotel because of a blizzard. I don’t know how I would have survived without the help of my friends and Bandit. Bandit could sense when I was in pain and would lay beside me or over my middle like a breathing weighted blanket. He gave me the comfort and strength I needed to pull through an extremely painful time.
We lived a happy life just the two of us in Lincoln. As I struggled with my health, Bandit was there for me. Always happy to see me, he brought a joyous light into my daily life.
After a difficult spring semester in 2015, I moved back to Wyoming to finish my thesis for grad school. Bandit was the best writing companion, no matter where we were.
He loved Wyoming and my family. Bandit relaxed into a friendly dog, who didn’t fear the world around him. He loved food, being outside, and sleeping in. Family hugs were his favorite and he would insist on being included. He would curl his body around my legs until I would squat down and wrap my arms around him. I never met a dog who loved hugs as much as him. He loved working on the in-progress pond in my backyard, his best digging spot. He buried bones like a stereotypical dog cartoon. Comfort was a top priority and he puppy-eyed his way into sitting on the couch regularly. Early to sleep, late to rise and with plenty of naps, Bandit enjoyed a sunny porch as much as a cozy bed. He had a precious faint snore that made me feel safe every time I heard it. He was happiest when he was next to me, no matter what I was doing. His favorite holiday was Hanukkah and he looked forward to Shabbat each week. Tonight, no doubt, I will cry after lighting my Shabbat candles, missing Bandit at my side watching attentively as I say the prayers, waiting patiently for his special Shabbat treat.
Last October, Bandit’s on and off limp was diagnosed as bone cancer. Over the next week, I struggled with the decision to amputate. It was his front leg and he was an older dog, but he was also otherwise healthy and, if not for this cancer, bound to have a much longer life. I put the decision to Bandit and had the vet wrap his arm in a mock amputation. Bandit hated it. He could move but all the joy was sucked out of him. He sat and complained at me for a long while. Barely interested in his treats that night, I unwrapped him and made the difficult decision to not put him through surgery. I still wonder if I made the right choice. Bandit was always a fighter, it was hard to walk away from this particular fight.
I did as much research as I could and began making him homemade dog food and giving him supplements. It did little, his health in rapid decline. We took one last trip to Colorado to visit my sister and see if he would be happier with fewer stairs to deal with in her home. It was a last-ditch effort and ultimately our last trip together. He cried the entire way home and all through the night when we got there. The next day I made the call to the vet. The pain pills from the day before finally kicked in and Bandit was calm.
Bandit never really was the type of dog who stole food, except for a slice of homemade pizza on my last birthday and any hidden chocolate he could find. He was a longtime chocolate addict, no matter how well I hid it, he would find a way to it. Thankfully over the years, I haven’t been eating that much chocolate and Bandit never ate enough to end up with something terrible like a heart attack– no just enough to bounce off the walls for a few hours and then feel achy the next day with a stomach ache. Never enough to learn his lesson, he always looked for that fix. On our way to the vet, my family each slipped him an m&m, one last forbidden treat. At first, he was uninterested as dogs in severe pain are but he couldn’t resist one last bite of chocolate and finally slowly nibbled on them as we drove around, avoiding the office for as long as possible.
We buried him in the back yard, between two trees, and near my other dogs Sayko and Chip. I read a To Blossoms by Robert Herrick and we sobbed at his graveside.
His loss to me is overwhelming. I fought so hard to not put him down and then eight years later I made that phone call. I held his head in my hands and told him that I loved him and that he was a good dog. He watched me until the light left his eyes and he was gone. I felt a cracking pain across my chest. I just wanted to hold him, hug him, having him climb in my lap and be my little spoon. He comforted me through grief and pain, but now he is gone. I will never stop missing that dog.