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Leaves Off the Trees

By Larry Gross · December 1st, 2010 · Living Out Loud
Most of the leaves are off the trees now. In walks that I take in my neighborhood, I watch neighbors rake up those leaves — a job I haven’t done in years. However, I remember the last time I did, and it always brings back memories of an old friend.

In the early 1980s, my then wife and I decided we wanted a puppy. We answered an ad in the paper for a puppy being given away.

We went to this house, where it was I can’t remember, but there was this puppy, licking ice cream off the floor where small children were dripping it off their ice cream cones. He was an odd looking dog.

Half dachshund and half terrier, he had a long body, longish blonde hair, floppy ears, a long nose and a tail that never stopped wagging. He already had a name. He was Bandi, and he became a part of our modest home in Colerain Township.

We had a big fenced-in backyard. Bandit loved running in it, returning sticks I would throw him or chasing me when we made up a very loose version of tag.

When raking leaves in the fall, he wasn’t much help, as he would always play in the pile of leaves I was trying to bag up. I couldn’t get angry with him. He was just having fun.

Some time passed and our children were born — first my daughter, then my son three years later. Our family was growing and Bandit was still a part of it.

He was a docile dog who was always happy — even when my young son once tried to pull his head off. It was the only time I ever heard Bandit yell out an angry bark. His nature was to seldom bark at all. He was too busy wagging his tail.

With the falling leaves in the fall, I now had more help raking them up.

Bandit was still his usual “helpful” self, but now my young kids were assisting with their toy rakes and putting leaves in small plastic bags. Perhaps the raking of leaves was a strange way to bond, but that’s how it felt to me. It was a tradition I always looked forward to.

Years went by. My children got older and so did Bandit. In the spring of 1990, we moved to a bigger house on the West Side of Cincinnati. This house didn’t have a fenced-in back yard, so Bandit now had to be walked with a leash.

I don’t think I had to train him at all. He took to it quickly and we had many adventures walking down the sidewalks of our new neighborhood. But something was happening to Bandit.

He didn’t seem happy and he wasn’t eating. We took him to a veterinary clinic on Colerain Avenue. After X-rays and tests, it was determined that our beloved dog had stomach cancer.

The operation was expensive, over $400, but he was a part of our family and we didn’t think twice about the cost. Two days after the operation, we picked him up from the animal hospital and took him home.

Bandit’s tail was wagging more now, but something wasn't quite right. As the days turned into weeks, he became lifeless and seemed to be in pain. I would try to get him to play, but he wasn’t interested.

In the fall of 1990, the leaves were off the trees again. It was time to rake them up. On this particular Sunday afternoon, my wife took the kids to visit their grandmother and Bandit was in the house yet again sleeping. I would be raking leaves alone.

It was cold and the leaves were wet. As I started to rake up those leaves, tears came to my eyes. As I continued to rake, I started crying, then sobbing.

My mind was on Bandit. In my heart, I knew he was dying and would never help me rake up leaves again.

Some evenings later, my wife took him to another veterinary clinic. After more tests and more X-rays, our worst fears were confirmed. The operation had not been successful. The cancer had spread. Bandit was not going to get better.

My wife gave me this information over the phone while still at the veterinary clinic. We made the decision to have him put to sleep. It was up to her to watch this procedure done on a dog we loved and had known for so long. It was up to me to tell our children.

There was no point in me trying to keep a stiff upper lip and put on a brave face. We all loved Bandit and there were plenty of tears to be shed. When my wife got home, she shared in those tears.

She said as Bandit was being put down, as he was being given the shot that would end his life, his tail was still wagging. That was the kind of dog he was — loving everybody right up until the end.

Pets come into our lives. We come to love them and accept them for who they are. They become a part of us. They become family. Then they leave us and cause our hearts to break.

Bandit died in the fall of 1990. When the leaves fall off the trees, I still think of him. I probably always will.



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