I don’t mean to sound cliche but this is the story of a young man and his best friend. The young man is now me and my best friend was a dog named Miller. I’ll never know another dog like him. He was truly one of a kind, a dog loved by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him during his short time on this planet. I feel so blessed that he was able to be a part of my life and I’m typically the cynical type who can’t find the positive side in anything or anyone. But blessed I definitely was and I think of him everyday. He truly was the best friend I’ll ever have and since his passing I can’t help but feel nothing but gratitude for every moment he and I shared together. Our story begins in the summer following my graduation from high school.
I found Miller as a teenager back in the summer of 1996. He was a stray, living on the streets and feeding off the scraps of the unfinished mediocre food prepared by the equally mediocre cooks of a “restaurant”/saloon where I was employed as a part-time dishwasher. I was behind the restaurant one day talking to one of the other employees when I first noticed this short-legged, black-haired dog with a head much too big for his body wandering around in search of what could only have been food or shelter or both. Being a dog lover (growing there were always at least two dogs in my parents’ house) I said hello to him. He approached me without much hesitation and I petted his head and back for a moment. Instead of a collar he wore a faded, dirty handkerchief around his neck. He belonged to someone but obviously something wasn’t quite right. I think I gave him a couple pieces of grilled chicken before going back to work. I do remember that at that moment I really didn’t want to leave him. All I wanted to do was stay with him, pet him, and feed him more of whatever I could get my hands on. That night after the end of my shift I was walking out to my car. I happened to look over in the direction of the Thriftway grocery store that was in the same shopping plaza as the saloon. Lying under a tractor trailer parked in the unloading area of the store was Miller (or whatever his name had been before giving him the name he’d have for the next 12 years). He was lying on his side, asleep I assumed. The urge to go over and take him home with me was overwhelming. But I couldn’t do it. My dad didn’t want anymore pets. He didn’t even want the ones that we had (two poodles named Biddy and Lacey). Reluctantly, I got into my car and closed the door. At that very moment Miller’s head perked up. He watched me in my car for a few seconds before putting his head back down onto the hard pavement. I glanced over at him as I drove away, praying he’d be all right, hoping that maybe he’d come back to the saloon again looking for food and companionship. More than anything I hoped that he’d somehow find his way into the warm and generous home of someone before the night ended.
Miller did come back. I can’t recall exactly when I saw him again but it wasn’t too long before he became an almost constant presence behind the shopping plaza. I say almost because the owner of the saloon didn’t want him around and would chase him away with a broom. I never wanted to beat a person senseless more than I did at the times when I either saw him chase Miller away or heard about it from one of my co-workers. “Don’t feed that damn dog, you hear me?” he’d tell us. We fed “that damn dog” anyway, me more than anyone. It got to the point where seeing Miller at work became my only reason for showing up for my shifts. I hated my job and wanted to quit. If I quit however, this meant I would no longer be able to see Miller. So I stuck around. And so did Miller. He wasn’t afraid of a broom or the asshole owner who swung it at him like a bloodless maniac.
One night the assistant manager announced that he was taking Miller home with him for his young daughter. The news made me feel better knowing that Miller would have a home, a warm bed, decent food, and a child as a companion. He’d never have to be alone or hungry again. On the other hand, I was a little disappointed and perhaps even a little heart-broken. I wanted to be the one to take Miller in. I wanted to be the one to feed him, bathe him, play with him, walk him, and befriend him for the next ten or twelve years. My true feelings aside I was happy that he’d no longer have to beg for food or sleep on concrete under a tractor trailer. So the manager took him home. And that was supposed to be the end of it. But it wasn’t. The next day the assistant manager told me the dog had run away. He’d let him out to go to the bathroom and that was the last he saw him. At that point I figured I’d never see Miller again. Even worse this meant that he was now back to begging for food and finding shelter wherever he could.
Perhaps the strangest thing to happen in this story was Miller’s unexpected return to the saloon. He came back shortly after he’d run away from the assistant manager’s home looking for food and a friend. Looking back I knew that that friend was me. I resumed my old ways feeding and petting Miller whenever I could get away from the dishes. Then came the night when I decided to take him home with me. My parents, who normally never went out of town, were gone for a few days. Where they’d went I don’t remember. I was the man of the house, the boss of my two younger siblings. I wanted to take Miller home and give him at least a few days and nights of a normal life. So I did. That night I started up my car and looked over to see Miller in his usual place at that time of night (lying underneath the tractor trailer). I got out of the car and left the door open. I took a few steps and called to him. “Hey, come here. Come here buddy,” I said in the friendliest voice I could muster. I waved my hand as I called to him. He perked his head up and stared at me for a moment. I continued calling to him. He stood and walked over to me. I led him back to the car and petted him on the head. Then I got in the car, leaned forward, and maneuvered the driver’s seat. “Come on,” I said. “You want to come home with me? Come on. It’s okay.” He was hesitant but only for a second. Next thing I knew he climbed into the back seat. “There you go. Good boy.” I closed the door. We were on our way.
Miller’s first night at my house was just as I wanted it to be: uneventful. I had no idea if he was house-broken or if he had any bad habits like chewing on furniture. When I opened of the car door and moved the seat he climbed out and immediately began exploring his surroundings. My sister and one of her friends were there (don’t recall exactly where my brother was on that night). They thought he was adorable with his short, muscular legs, long body, curly tail, and large head. He was. He continued sniffing the ground and looking around while we admired him from a very short distance. Then my sister reminded of an inevitable fact. Our dad would not be happy about me bringing a stray dog home. “I know,” I said. “I’ll figure something out.” I actually had no idea what I was going to do or say. What I did know was that I was going to enjoy the time that I had with my new friend while my parents were MIA. That night Miller played with the two poodles (I believe he also tried to hump the younger one), ate some dog food, drank clean water from their water bowl, and slept on the nice warm, carpeted floor in my bedroom.
Before long the time had arrived for my parents’ return and I still hadn’t decided what I was going to do or say. Finally I went ahead and did what I thought was best. I chickened out and took Miller back to the saloon before the start of my next shift and on the day my parents were coming back. Inside I felt awful. The last thing I wanted to do was give this poor innocent dog back to the lonely streets where I’d found him. But I knew my father would never go for another dog in the house. An outside dog maybe but not another inside one. There was no way I was going to let Miller sleep outside. He was too small to be an outside dog. The following day I confessed to my folks about what had transpired over the past several days. Predictably they weren’t happy, my father especially. The time had come for me to use every weapon at my disposal to convince them that Miller was a good dog and would make a great addition to the family. So I did what any good son would do to get what he really wanted. I begged. And it worked. I could keep Miller as long as I agreed to be the only one that would take care of him all the time no matter the circumstances. Even though I knew this was an almost impossible scenario to live up to I agreed. Wasting no time I got into my car and drove back to the saloon where I found Miller in his usual spot. I called to him and he came to me. We got into my car and drove back to the house. I was happy and so too it seemed was he.
A week or so went by and my parents seemed fine with their decision. We discovered that Miller (I had since officially named him that after my favorite beer at the time) had tapeworm and desperately needed to be fixed before he impregnated the poodle Lacey. On the bright side he was house-broken. I planned on taking Miller to the vet as soon as possible to take care of his condition. Then my parents dropped a bombshell on me. They wanted me to get rid of Miller. I was crushed. They suggested I try to find someone to take him before going to the last resort of handing him over to the SPCA. Reluctantly, I made some calls to friends and even took Miller to a farm where I’d worked the two previous summers in hopes that maybe the farmer’s son, who was a friend of mine, would want another dog since his had died a few years back. To my dismay he turned me down (more accurately his father turned me down). He had been my last resort. The next day I drove with my father to the local SPCA. We took Miller inside and went through all the necessary steps before officially handing him over. One of the SPCA workers when describing Miller to a co-worker in charge of the paperwork noted Miller was a mixed breed, part Black Labrador Retriever, part Basset Hound. As he led Miller away to the back where other dogs barked from behind locked cages I thought it was the last I’d ever see him. On the ride home I spoke only when spoken to.
A day or so went by. I moped around the house, going through the motions in whatever I did. I thought about Miller and what was to come of him. Hopefully, he’d find a new home before the SPCA had their way with him. I hoped for a miracle. Something good had to come out of all of this. And much to my surprise something good did happen. My parents changed their minds. To this day I’m still don’t know the exact reason why they had such a sudden change of heart. I can only it’s because they loved me (do love me) and didn’t want to see their oldest son hurting. When they told me their decision my heart nearly burst out of my chest with joy. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They reminded me of our agreement that I would be Miller’s sole owner and provider and that I would take him to the vet as soon as possible to take care of the tapeworm and have him fixed (which I did). Then it was back to the SPCA to get Miller. Again, my father went with me. Miller was still there. Upon seeing me he wagged his tail looking excited and I’m sure relieved that I was there to take him home, this time for good. The car ride home was the happiest I can remember. Miller and me were reunited, destined to be pals forever.
Miller was my dog and best friend for the next twelve years. He’s still my best friend and always will be. He was with me through good times and bad, lied next to me on the floor for what seemed like forever the night I returned home from the military, and was there by my side when I was alone and without anyone. But I was never alone. I had him. And he had me. It wasn’t just his appearance that made him so different from other dogs. We (my parents and I) always felt that if he could talk he would have. I never knew a dog to growl and bark the way he did almost as if he was trying to really speak to you. He was liked and loved by so many. Children gravitated to him, my friends thought he was the coolest dog, and I will never again know loyalty like the kind Miller gave me. He died from complications of double pneumonia on Friday, April 4, 2008 around 8:30 p.m. I’d been with him earlier that day, petting him, comforting him the best I could, letting him know that he wasn’t alone and never would be. Wherever you are now Miller Boy I know you’re just as loved as you were when you were with us in this life. I will always miss you and I will always love you.