Warning To God: Watch Your Meatloaf

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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If there is such a thing as an average dog, it wasn't Rex.

I still remember that first afternoon when he arrived home from the Payson Humane Society, bounded into the house where I was writing, and almost knocked me off my chair.

A black Lab-rottweiler mix, Rex approached 100 pounds of sheer muscle in his prime. He had the rotty "grin" that many people mistook as an expression of fierceness and also the barrel chest of a rotty -- but inside, he was pure, joyous Lab.

It could be a dangerous combination. When somebody came to visit, Rex would run at them full tilt with that leering grin and jump on them -- a gesture that meant nothing more than, "Welcome to my house. Let's play."

But he would scare the bejesus out of people, and my greatest fear was that he would exuberantly knock some old lady down and kill her dead.

He was a fearsome sight and he had a ferocious bark. So it wasn't long before his official name got changed to something more befitting that image -- T Rex.

Over the next 10 years, there were many special moments -- the kind you fellow animal lovers can relate to.

I remember, for example, watching football games with Rex. He would lay on the living room floor and I would lay crosswise with my head on his back like a big, black, furry pillow.

And there were the wrestling matches. Rex was so strong that he would usually end up on top, with me pinned securely to the ground. The trick, then, was to convince him that the match was over and he could let me up.

Rex loved nothing more than to bound through the forest. For years, we would take a daily hike -- just he and I. He, of course, ran circles around me.

Then, when I got my horse, Rex was able to cover some serious ground -- no longer limited by having to stay close to a two-legged mortal.

And when I went through a divorce, Rex and the horse were my constant companions -- three guys against the world.

About the only thing Rex was afraid of was monsoon storms. He could hear them or smell them or somehow detect them long before they arrived.

His body would start to shake all over and he'd crawl under a bar stool for protection. In reality, he was way too big for the stool and ended up wearing it.

Once, when a storm hit in the middle of the night, Rex crawled into bed with me. Usually taboo, I didn't have the heart to kick him out.

Instead, I put my arm around him and laid there wide awake the entire night while the storm rumbled and Rex shook.

To maintain his size and strength, Rex was a voracious eater. It was a trait that would get him into trouble on occasion.

Once, while a fresh-baked meatloaf was cooling on the kitchen counter, I went out to give my horse his nightly carrots -- a ritual Rex normally participated in so he could have a piece or two himself.

On this particular night, it didn't even register with me that Rex had stayed in the house. When I came back in, a giant-sized piece of the meatloaf was gone.

Although he knew the counter was forbidden territory, the lure of fresh meatloaf was more than he could endure. But somehow he knew better than to eat the whole thing -- or perhaps he was interrupted.

Another time, Rex and I were returning from a hike along a row of houses that back up to the forest. Rex suddenly disappeared and then reappeared -- with a whole, cooked chicken in his mouth.

Not knowing where it came from, I tried to chase him down to take it away. He ran on ahead and consumed it as fast as he could.

Later I learned he had found the chicken cooking on a grill in a neighbor's back yard, went over the fence, and helped himself to it. It was vintage Rex.

But over the years, age started to take a toll. The last year, especially, he was a mere shadow of himself.

He lost weight, not to mention a step or two, and was unable to keep up on the horseback rides. He still loved the forest, but he'd be waiting for me at the gate when I got back.

Despite a host of supplements, it finally reached a point where Rex couldn't get up and down the few steps to get outside. Then he stopped eating.

The time had come to bid Rex farewell, and it was so much harder than I ever imagined it would be. But knowing Rex wouldn't live forever, I had already adopted two more black Lab mixes from the shelter.

They're not Rex, of course, but they're special in their own way -- and there are always more dogs where they came from.

And now that Rex has moved on, a word of warning to God: don't turn your back on the meatloaf. Rex is wearing wings now.

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