About five months ago, our little dog Fitz decided he loved car rides. It happened suddenly one day when I was getting ready to run a stack of errands. As soon as I picked up my purse, there was Fitz at the back door in determined athletic stance. Then, he turned slightly, jutted out his chin and said, “Yes, mother, I am coming with you.”
So, I picked him up, put him in his car seat (yes, I’m that dog mum) and he immediately sat down, sniffing with satisfaction.
This incident came soon after the first time I took Fitz to University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center. Fitz hadn’t been feeling well for a while and, with the help of our incredible vet Dr. Hutchison, we got him scheduled for a brain MRI at UT. The imaging showed Fitz, just 3 years old, had a very large brain tumor, one that we subsequently had treated with radiation.
That meant many more beautiful car rides to Knoxville and back, rides where Fitz would snooze, stare out the window at the hazy Smokies, and look forward to his little nature breaks, which took place everywhere from cheerful rest areas to some dodgy patches of grass near truck stops.
Along the way, I learned what a joy it is to have a dog in the car. I’d always delighted in seeing dogs hanging their heads out the window, their faces to the wind, but I hadn’t considered how nice it was to simply have a companion seated alongside you. One who doesn’t complain he’s hungry or bored. One who doesn’t change the music. One who’s just happy to go wherever you’re going.
Soon, Fitz was riding with me everywhere. I would simply say the words “car ride” and he would jump up and race to the door. It didn’t matter if he was sleepy from his meds, wearing the dreaded cone, or a hooded cap so we could help his skin heal, that little dog aimed to see the world.
At first, he had a little learning to do. Drive-thrus, for example, threw him for a loop. As soon as I’d open the window, he’d start talking — loudly — to whoever was serving us. Granted, what he considered “talking” anyone else might consider “torturing,” so we had to have a little chat about etiquette. Soon, though, he picked up on the process and just quietly watched the transactions with the self-satisfied air of a king.
He also needed to get used to me running out to do my shopping and leaving him behind. Or, rather, I needed to get used to leaving my car running with the key inside it so it wouldn’t beep like crazy on Fitz when I was in the store. Since any enterprising thief could easily just jump into the driver’s seat and speed away with both my car and my dog, this made me extremely efficient at running errands. In fact, god help the hapless shopper who got in my way, resulting in me speeding around them like I was negotiating Bergwerk at Nürburgring.
Thinking on it, it’s possible little Fitz first developed his love for car rides while watching countless hours of Formula-1 with my husband William. For a good piece of every race, no matter how much we all knew Lewis Hamilton was going to win again, Fitz would dutifully watch the TV, his little eyebrows bopping up and down in anticipation.
As the weather cooled, I added a red plaid blanket to Fitzi’s car seat and he would snuggle under it on our rides. We traveled to Lexington and took a jaunty walk around the grounds of Henry Clay’s estate. We got hot fudge sundaes at the Dairy Mart at Science Hill. We picked up donuts at Amon’s. We went to see our beloved Dr. Hutchison for tests. We went to UT for more.
And then about two weeks ago, Fitz changed. And then about a week ago, he changed some more. He didn’t feel like eating or drinking anymore. He had trouble keeping focused. But he always wanted a car ride.
So, last Sunday, we went for our last one. I asked him where he wanted to go and, as usual, he said he was open to anywhere. So, we headed to the dock at Fishing Creek. It was raining out and the water was low and the whole world felt like it was crying. We sat in the car and I told Fitz I loved him completely. I told him about all the ways he’d changed my life and our family. I told him about all the things he had taught me and how thankful I was for that.
Later that day, we said goodbye to our sweet, determined, gentlemanly little guy.
Today, Fitz and I were supposed to be on our way to Knoxville again. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and I know he would have loved to go. But if there is any fairness in the universe, any fairness at all, he is out there somewhere enjoying the ride.