"When a man's servant shall play the cur with him,
look you, it goes hard: one that I brought up of a
puppy; one that I saved from drowning, when three or
four of his blind brothers and sisters went to it.
I have taught him, even as one would say precisely,
'thus I would teach a dog.' I was sent to deliver
him as a present to Mistress Silvia from my master;
and I came no sooner into the dining-chamber but he
steps me to her trencher and steals her capon's leg"
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act IV, Scene iv, li 1-9
Four hundred years ago Shakespeare wrote about the relationship between a servant named Launce and his grouchy dog Crab. Crab stole a chicken leg in the above passage, and in another scene, Crab had gas and it offended the Duke. Launce stepped up and said it was his fault, and took the whipping to protect the dog. When I read that play in high school, Crab was just a background detail, but now I think he's my favorite part of that particular comedy. Wolfgang was not above stealing a sandwich or famously pooping on the floor during a first date, and though the Bard was not fond of dogs, I'm sure he would have found much humor in my pup's exploits over the years.
The Roommate and I hadn't been living together long when, in the summer of 1998, she announced that we needed a dog. She'd grown up with lots of dogs, and despite a brief period with a black Labrador named Duke in my first two years that I don't remember, I didn't have dogs in my life as a child. I was 21, living a semi-Bohemian life in an East Memphis apartment, and thought, "Why not?"
We went to the Germantown Animal Shelter and looked over the dozen dogs in their cells. One stood out: a nine week-old puppy with light yellow fur and a sad, Oliver Twist look about him. He was not friendly or aggressive, but quiet and kept to himself. We debated the decision over Chinese food for lunch, and then realized we had to adopt him. "He's got short fur, so he shouldn't shed too much. He looks like a wolf cub, so we'll call him Wolfgang."
Fifteen years and five vacuum cleaners later, I know that I'll have Wolfie fur following me around for the rest of my life. Once we got some protein into that little coyote, he took on many of the traits of an Alaskan sled dog, but Memphis weather meant that the Arctic fur flew off at every opportunity.
Wolfie and I were pretty tight for the past fifteen years, a great run for a scraggly little shelter dog. He never got above fifty pounds, never had any serious health issues, and was content to keep to himself--the perfect companion for an introvert like me. We could respect each others space, get together for meals, and he'd keep a warm spot on my bed all night.
We hiked thousands of miles together, and every night would go out to look at the stars while he did his business. In fact, something I miss the most is that celestial observation each evening. Having dogs means that you have an internal timer of feeding and peeing and other daily events, and when that little alarm goes off but there's no dog ready to receive your attention, it hurts.
One of the great things about Wolfgang was that we enjoyed living with him so much that we added Macbeth, and then my parents adopted Mac's mother Goldie, and my brother and his wife got three dogs, and my buddy Paul got three of his own over the past decade. I can't give him credit for all of those relationships, but Wolfgang taught me the magical bond that has existed between man and dog for the past fifteen thousand years, and it was a pleasure to share that joy with friends and family.
This is the last photo I took of Wolfie, a few days before he passed away. He was very old, but up to the end was in good shape, and, aside from a a particularly sad 72 hour period, was able to walk and eat and do everything else under his own power.
Wolfie, you were a grouchy coyote dog, but we all loved you, and are better people for having had you in our lives. I hope that heaven is full of field mice to chase, cow hide to chew on, and soft couches for sleeping. Until we meet again, you're a good boy, Wolfie dog.