Chloe and Me...and Buckley, Too

Duff McKagan
Buckley, the well-traveled dog. Duff McKagan's column appears every Thursday on Reverb. He also writes about what tracks are making their way through his iPod every Monday.
At this moment I am sitting on a train awaiting departure from Glasgow, Scotland, south to Newcastle. My wife just left this morning, heading back home. The rest of the band is already in Newcastle, as they chose to have their day off down there while I stayed up here. Yes, yesterday was a much-coveted rest day, a day to let the bruises heal and the various joint-swellings recess a bit.

Yesterday, I finally watched Marley and Me. I had read the book when it came out, but had resisted actually seeing the movie as the subject matter hits a little too close to home for me. You see, I had a yellow lab in my adult years who was a LOT like Marley except that she was a girl named Chloe.

To me, the parallels of the Marley story to my life are almost uncanny. I write a column, as does John Grogan, the author of Marley and Me. Chloe was a naughty and mischievous girl in her youth, as was Marley. Chloe chewed up anything and everything . . . so did Marley. Chloe helped us raise our daughters, and would know beforehand when one of them was going to be sick or otherwise out of tilt. Chloe would help nurse us back to health without expectation of reward. Chloe loved us without condition, and she in return became the love of our lives. When she got sick with liver cancer at the age of 13, we nursed her back and did anything and everything to ease her pain. When the stairs at our house became too much of a hurdle for my girl, I would carry her up so that she could sleep with us, her family.

When it came time to put Chloe down, my wife and I bawled as we loaded her into the back of my Ford Bronco. I called my English professor at Seattle University to tell him that I would not be able to make class that day, and he heard the pain in my voice. Professor Sam Greene was a visiting poet, and I was fortunate enough to get into his class. As I told him the reason for my absence, he began to cry right along with me over the phone. I will never forget that. Just before the vet put the catheter into Chloe's vein, she gave me an un-rushed private moment with my girl. I told her how much I loved her and thanked her for helping me grow into a man. I thanked her for the well-being of my daughters and for all the service she selflessly gave. She told me with her eyes that she understood and that she was ready and that she was tired from fighting. She was ready to rest. As the life left her body, I cried harder that I ever had before or since. I loved my girl Chloe.

When we brought our first baby home from the hospital, we had no idea what to expect from Chloe. Until then, she had sort of ruled the roost, as it were, as our only child. Chloe had previous experience in motherhood. As a 1-year-old pre-spayed young lass, she snuck out of the house and got knocked up. A few months later, she had a record 14 PUPPIES!!! It was one of the happiest times in my life having all of those little guys in my house, and Chloe tirelessly handled her motherly duties like a pro. A few years later, as we brought our new infant home, Chloe instantly knew that her role in the family had changed. She slept underneath Grace's crib every night and gently played ball with her as she grew.

When we had our second daughter, Chloe accepted her duties without question or forlon, but she did start to tire more easily. In return, my girls let her rest when she needed it, and the girls got an early sense of responsibility as they seemed to sense that Chloe now needed THEM too.

Chloe was quite a swimmer, and was delighted when we moved to our house on Lake Washington. For years, a beaver lived under our dock who played a daily and spirited game of cat-and-mouse with poor Chloe. Chloe never caught that beaver. When Chloe started to slow down and could only sit on the step that led to the water, the beaver would come in close and sort of visit Chloe. After Chloe died, that poor beaver would search for Chloe every day, but finally gave up after a few weeks--missing her friend, I am quite sure.

When my girls got a bit older, they started to pine for a new dog. My traveling schedule dictated that we would need to get a dog that could travel with us. I had never had a small dog, and never really even been around them. Yappy little dogs are not my style. We found our new little buddy--a King Charles Cavalier spaniel--after scouring dog breeds for months. What he lacks in smarts, he makes up for with love. Our little boy Buckley asks for no more than some food and to be with us. He travels pretty much everywhere we go, and if I must travel away on my own, he tries to sneak into my bag before I zip it up. He is always trying to go on man trips with me. I love you too, buddy.

Watching Marley and Me made me realize somehow that I have a full and rich life, that everyone has problems and fights and issues. But a strong family and an unruly dog are privileges and not nuisances. Sure, I see myself as a sort of wandering bandolero at times, and I am allowed that in my family. They let me be who I am and I give back EVERYTHING I have in return. I may mumble and grumble about living in a houseful of women at times, but really I don't know what I would do without them. I get to go out and rock like a badass (in my own mind, anyway) and ride my motorcycles like a hardass (again, that is how I view myself). Actually, I think I AM all of those things AND a damn good father and husband. Maybe lacking in romance at times, and lacking in a general understanding of what little girls are all about. I am, however, the protector . . . and I know I have learned a lot of this from my life with dogs.

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