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Mason was born in the barrio, most likely the result of a Maltese – Poodle mingling. By the time I met him, he was old enough to be a legend. He was the terminator of all dogs with the fur of an angel. Grooming the thin blonde hair that knotted easily in his armpits were the moments he struck. Some dogs just loathe being groomed. Beyond the basic brush, we pulled out the trimming scissors. Mason was fearless even though he only had two teeth left, launching his fangs like a viper he snarled with victory.
After a warm bath, which he tolerated but never enjoyed, Mason shook off the injustice sauntering out of the bathroom and back to the couch. Here he would curl up in a blanket, especially in the winter and once in a while, in times like these, Mason would show affection.
In his younger days, once even for me, he would lay his head on my chest and although I never put my face too close to his teeth, it seemed we had finally bonded. Mason was a step-dog to me. The first time I met him, he was with “the other woman”. Being a dog person, even to a terrier/poodle/what? I knelt down, always able to win over a dog. Mason snapped at the air and kept his gums curled. He was the fluffy type, but did not harbor the cuddle gene except to an elite few and even then, use caution.
Mason was the sort of dog that comes along in life, he was the dog that no one planned for. You know when you’re related to people that treat dogs as an after thought? You think “There’s no way these are my relatives” because to you, dogs are forever, dogs are life. Mason was the cute puppy a distant cousin purportedly adopted from an animal shelter in the remote desert. After a few months the cousin passed off puppy Mason to Grandma Maria because Mason was the proverbial “Old lady’s dog”. After a year of two Grandma Maria could no longer care for Mason. She was after all a centenarian. That’s when the dog loving family members stepped in and said, “I’ll take him”.
We never knew exactly how old Mason was until years later when Uncle and Auntie so-and-so drove up for a visit. Pulling up to the house they were greeted by an ancient dog we called Mason. The sister, a grown woman, stomped her feet in excitement, “Fredo Fredo Fredo! Look! They still have Fredo!” Practically in unison, they said, “I can’t believe he’s still alive!”
Mason tilted his head to one side, half way through a chewy treat. Like a scene out of a Clint Eastwood western, Mason stopped chewing and I could see his brain thinking, “Fredo…It’s been a long time since someone called me that”. It was as if Mason had emerged from a dusty past he wanted to forget.
Just how old was Mason? Uncle Johnny had been the transport that brought Mason to his “Forever Home”. He squinted into his memories searching for what year it was that he delivered Mason into a life of luxury. Uncle Johnny remembered that he was driving a new car that year: “It was a 1999… 2000…no it was a 2001 Mercury Mountaineer and it was brand new”. Adding up the years plus the year or two Mason had lived with the cousin with the new Oakley sunglasses and the year Mason lived with Grandma Maria, he was definitely skirting the seventeen year old dog mark.
Several years before at one of those mediocre Mexican food places by the mall we had enjoyed a family birthday/reunion with my husband’s extended family. People he hadn’t seen in years were there. It was one of those huge Mexican food restaurants branded with that faux “We’re almost in Mexico” Cantina vibe. We’re led to one of the private party rooms with a table that seats twenty four people.
Catching up with distant family, it’s easiest to talk about your dogs. While others spoke of their children’s weddings and the new baby on the way, we talked about our dogs. Pulling out our phones as that distracting saving grace in uncomfortable situations, we swiped for the most striking current photo of Mason dog.
“Here, Look—It’s Mason”. My husband’s aunts peered into the phone and in perfect unison exclaimed “He’s still alive!”. They almost cheered in amazement as if their home team had scored a point on the T.V. in the bar. As if somehow they cared, but really they didn’t. These were people who had never experienced the natural lifespan of a dog. They had never been “dog people”.
We returned that night to the dog that defied science, marveling at the extra-ordinary life he was living. Mason was never a likable dog. Other dogs, big and small detested him. In his early years of life, when Mason lived under the identity, “Fredo” he lived with large dogs that attacked him on several occasions. Mason would always live among other dogs, large and small, but they were never friends. It was more like roommates that drew a line down the living space. Some how even though Mason lacked charisma, there was still something lovable about him. That night, as usual Mason slept with righteous confidence that never wavered, nestled in the armpit of my husband.
Mason topped the scale at almost eighteen pounds, just under the airline weight limit for a carry on pet. For a while we pushed him around in a vintage stroller. In the winter he wore a jacket but sometimes it was a little dangerous reaching for the Velcro strap to secure the jacket. The veterinarian had tagged Mason’s file with a euphemism for, “This dog bites when being examined”. Lucky for everyone, aside from a collapsing trachea, Mason lived a long healthy life.
I shed a tear for Mason, this notorious “non-cuddler” of the dog kingdom. The night before he died, I laid with him on the kitchen floor and he managed to walk over to me. His fur was silky and he stood there stoically. I knew he was saying good bye and that forever I would love what was ferocious and commanding, no matter how scrappy. Mason stood for something and that something was to keep going no matter what.
It was the early morning hours of Christmas Eve 2017 when Mason went to rainbow bridge, where all the great dogs go. It’s where all dogs go because all dogs are great. He’d seen his last horizon in a scabby, worn out dog body and died at home. I knew Mason for nearly ten years of his life and photographed him for two of Species Spectrum’s™ designs.
The day after Mason died, on Christmas Day, my husband and I took our dwindling pack of “two dogs left” for a walk. Coming the other direction was a man and a leashed dog and then trailing behind off leash was “A little Mason dog”. This dog was young and spry, gallivanting and smiling, he trotted off to pee on some weeds. Was it an apparition dog? Somewhere out there in this vast universe, the Mason spirit continues to live well.