Denzel the rescue poodle, who loved the slowest walks, the squeakiest part of his toys, every single meal and anytime someone forgot to close the trash can, died July 31 of prostate cancer.
He was 10, and he was my family’s first dog.
We were not dog people.
Growing up, I had parakeets and fish and hamsters whose names I remember but whose lives I’ve forgotten. My husband’s family raised a parrot and a turkey, which is another story. We both liked the idea of a family dog — the walks, the snuggles, the tail wagging hello. And we wanted our kids, then 10 and 6, to have the responsibility of caring for something other than themselves.
“That dog will be your dog,” my cousin warned.
And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
In 2017, we started working with Florida Poodle Rescue and envisioned a miniature poodle like our nephew-dog Charlie — someone who could fly home with us to Missouri in a cute shoulder bag and happily join outings at restaurants and parks.
Instead, we adopted a five-year-old silver 20-something-pound poodle mix who came with an amazing name and a ton to teach us.
Denzel joined our family, and somehow all the things we didn’t know grew.
For instance, all we’d learned about his first five years was this: Denzel had lived with chihuahuas.
He had training. We did not. Slowly, we decoded each other — a hand held up, he sat; an open door, people first; every single tree, a must sniff. I learned not to leave unless he watched me walk out the door. For our rescue, disappearances were scary and led to puddles.
Together (and with several calls and emails to the good volunteers at the rescue), we figured it out.
Along the way, Denzel earned several nicknames: Shadow for how close he stuck to me, Mr. Puddles for the way he showed worry, and Buddy, the one we used the most. Denzel’s soft, curly gray fur absorbed tears shed during puberty and the pandemic and offered a resting place for my kids’ infrequent broken bones.
He seemed happiest at home, but joined us on adventures to beach rentals and spent several sleepovers with two families whose kids showered him with pets when our family couldn’t.
He did not think much of thunderstorms and fireworks and had a deep distrust for helium balloons.
He loved other dogs, napping in the sunshine while kids splashed in the pool, and always wagged his tail when visitors asked “you can smell my dog, can’t you?” Our family suspected he could, but if he could not, he was too polite to indicate otherwise.
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We braced for the barks of a dog to fill the house.
But Denzel was the sweet and silent type.
Instead, he taught us all the ways dogs communicate. He announced himself with tippy-taps across tile floors, scratched the bedroom and office doors when it was time to move along, huffed at all the trips he had to take up and down the stairs to keep watch over me, and hovered hopefully any time my husband was in the kitchen. He sighed at the end of each day when he curled up with us on the couch. And at night, he often snored softly from his spot on the end of our bed.
On Sunday, July 31, after a rapid decline in his health due to cancer, Denzel had a few bites of steak, a ride in the car in my son’s arms with the windows down and several uninterrupted hours on the couch with his family. Then, a soft-voiced vet from Lap of Love knelt on the rug and helped Denzel across the rainbow bridge.
We’re still adjusting to the quiet.
For now, we agree we’ll never find another dog as good as our dog, but loving Denzel taught us we should at least try. Early next year, we plan to become a foster family to help dogs like him get the people they deserve.
In lieu of condolences, hug a dog, donate to a rescue, and, like Denzel, stick close to the people you love.
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