A member of the family


SHE WAS standing on the street in front of a deli in Charles Village holding a string with a puppy on the other end. "Somebody take this dog," she said. "I'm going to give him away today."

She seemed short on patience, as if at any moment she might drop the string and walk off. The puppy was shivering as he pawed at a piece of chewing gum frozen into the sidewalk.

"We can't," my daughter and I told each other. "It's out of the question. Perfectly ridiculous." Then, "Well, maybe, if she's still there after lunch. . ."

Of course, she was still there, and we took the puppy. And named him Homewood.

We brought him home to a house already filled with children, two dogs, two cats and a husband and father who was, at first, skeptical.

Homewood was never an easy dog. He seemed to prefer chair rungs and sofa cushions, lamp shades and slippers. He grew to be big and black, with funny ears and a curling tail (there was Labrador retriever somewhere in his background, and maybe some shepherd, too.) He scoffed at obedience school and needed a tutor, and then another one.

He scaled our five-foot fence and slipped out of the house before even the most agile among us could slam the door. He dug up rose bushes from the garden and ran in circles, seeming to grin over the branches.

His health was always iffy. He was allergic to everything and had to be taken to Rockville to an allergist. But he never even flinched at the shots he needed every two weeks for the rest of his life.

It wasn't long before he established himself as a top dog, and when our other two dogs died he clearly took charge and ruled us with a benevolent hand.

Somewhere along the way he also wedged himself into our lives and our hearts.

The children grew up and moved away but there was always Homewood, needing a walk, a bath, a trip to the vet. We took to telling him where we were going when we went out, calling out a greeting when we came home.

And somewhere along the way he mellowed so that by the time the grandchildren started to arrive he was convinced that they were for his amusement. He would push his way into their midst when they played on the floor, sharing their games -- and their snacks.

He seemed to bypass middle age entirely until one day, almost without our knowing it, he was old, and very sick. There were even more trips to the vet, where he seemed to have a raft of wonderful friends.

There were tests and medicine, and then bits of waffles and cottage cheese, scrambled eggs.

There were times when we would think surely this was the end and he would rally, bringing his bone to a friend who stopped in, joining the grandchildren in the backyard.

His doctor said we would know when the time came and one day we knew. We took him to the veterinarian and stayed with him until it was over.

And then we came home alone.

Colby Rodowsky writes from Baltimore.

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