Last year for Memorial Day, I celebrated the life of Staff Sergeant Ryan Patman Means who lost his best friend on 9/11, joined the U.S. Army, received his Green Beret and served his country in Iraq until cancer cut his life tragically short two years ago – just days after the birth of his second daughter in a hospital across the street from where he was being treated for bile duct cancer.
In the year since, I’ve been working with Ryan’s widow, Heather S. Means, plowing through Ryan’s many emails, letters, messages and journals to compile them into a cohesive, compelling book. At first, the book was meant to be a thorough and permanent story for the two girls, Elizabeth, 4, and Sophie, 2. But Heather, recognizing Ryan’s skill as a lively storyteller and colorful writer, has recently published the material in book form to become more widely available. Even though I’ve read it roughly six times and know the sad ending, I find it compelling still and hard to put down.
One of the pieces in the book that especially stuck with me is the following obituary Ryan wrote for his beloved pet, Brown Dog. This is as graceful and personality-filled a tribute as any of us humans can hope to have.
Always the perfect gentleman, known by many names: Brewster, Brown Dog, Bud, Buddy, Brew Dog, Brew Dogger, it didn't really matter. If you called him, he would come...till the end. An animal so loved, that I seriously considered giving our first born his name (albeit the middle name). Luckily we had a girl, but even then Heather had to convince me that it was a little tacky naming your daughter after your dog, even though he was quite the anomaly and I was totally cool with it.
Amazing how rare it was to get angry with this majestic animal in so many years and even when he did misbehave you simply couldn't stay mad. Brewster was just that good. He was always remembered and loved by anyone and everyone who came into contact with him which was, strangely, a lot of people. More popular with the ladies in Athens [Georgia] than I could ever dream to be. Such a great friend that you would get offended and want to fight people who use the word 'dog' in a derogatory manner. I know that when that word was used to demean someone, I'd immediately think of Brewster and imagine, “Why would anybody be offended with being compared to him?”
It's no wonder that the word God and dog are so similar.
Brown Dog had the potential to do anything: drug dog, bomb sniffer, guide dog, hunting champion, stud, Vice President; but lucky for us he was something so much more. A friend and beloved member of our family.
The uncanny obedience he possessed was matched by his handsome looks, intelligence and undying devotion to his family and, of course, his constant pursuit of perfecting the time honored craft of retrieving. Richard A. Wholters (author of Game Dog, Gun Dog, Water Dog and Family Dog books) wrote that good retrievers would much rather fetch than eat, and Brewster without fail would prefer chasing whatever you threw to a bowl of food. Not so much in my mind because of thousands of years of impeccable breeding or his deep and profound love of fetching, but rather because it was his way of interacting and pleasing you.
Has a more perfect creature ever roamed the earth? Heidi Klum comes close but doesn't quite have the intelligence. Al Einstein had the brains but not the looks. Michelangelo had the talent but lacked the consistent fetching ability. Tom Brady may be able to hang in the pocket and throw touchdowns but he's a poor scrambler and he doesn't dive to the bottom of a pool and retrieve various items on command. Enough said.
Perhaps the neutering was a necessary precaution but certainly a crime against humanity to deprive this world of his genes. Forget cloning ridiculous sheep. Billions of dollars could have been made and world peace achieved simply from having more Brewsters. I'm confident that given enough time and a proper lab, Brewster could've cured multiple diseases, even if using the old head in the lap trick. This dog had more focus in his whiskers than 95% percent of today's teenagers and was probably the world's one and only chance to cure ADD. He was a true Champion of Champions and will always be missed.
Is the adulation and pain worth it? On the surface, it almost seems cynical that in the face of so many perceived crises (high gas prices, cyclones, tyranny, war, recession, etc.) to be so wrought with sadness over the passing of an animal. But as we all know this is the precisely the reason we loved him so much. Regardless of our mood or what may have been going on in the world or how bad the experts and pundits were telling us our lives were, at the end of the day Brewster was there ready to console us, make us feel better, protect us, serve us, make us forget all the bad and remember all the good in the world. He would generally be there in any and every way he could, always.
That dog could read people far better than Dr. Phil and wasn't nearly as annoying, condescending or expensive.
I am comforted by the fact that he is in a better place fetching, swimming, eating garbage, chasing (and hopefully finally catching) squirrels and, of course, taking long naps in the shade. It will undoubtedly take a long time to fill the void left by such a wonderful dog, but fortunately we have another to hopefully assuage the pain. I consider myself lucky to have been a part of such an incredible experience as I know that my life was forever changed by my wise and noble best friend who just happened to be of the canine species.
Long live Brown Dog,
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.