TROMSO, Norway: Sled dog puppies gnaw the sleeves of my Italian-snobwear at the Wilderness Center. They bunch around my legs six, seven, eight at a time worrying my shoelaces, headbutting my hands, snagging the secondhand Moschino jacket. But who cares?
The fur smell drags me back in time.
Rainbow swam in Padilla Bay until he sank, and pulped sticks and duck decoys: typical traits of a Black Lab-Collie Mix, I'm told.
His backcountry manners were impeccable. "Trail," we'd say, when he was offleash and encountered a stranger. Bo would circle to the end of the hiking queue, sit and then smile, as all the best dogs can.
Yes, his name was corny. But we lived in Bow, Washington. It rained a lot. And guess what laced the sky, as we drove home with that small, sooty puddle of puppy in my lap, nearly 20 years ago?
"He's your dog of a lifetime," my father, John, explained. "You'll love other critters, but the ones you come of age with can't be replaced or surpassed."
A doctor once offered us $500 dollar for the mutt. We laughed.
A portrait of Rainbow formed the logo of my parents' walking and hiking company, the brief but brilliant Tired Dawg Tours.
He was wag and wilderness; he was boundless grins and rolling in seaweed. Bo was our best, distilled into a politically correct fur coat.
These Tromso dogs the pullers and shakers of the Arctic are lovely. But they aren't my dog.
I was abroad, gogogotogetgone, when my folks put Rainbow to sleep.
Arthritis crippled his movements until he couldn't lift a leg or squat. They'd caress Bo's head, as he whimpered, ashamed. Then they'd swab the mess from the floors and his fur.
Home from Europe, I'd stare shocked by the wastefulness at the fist-sized bloom of rags in the washer.
"Are you going to run this next-to-empty?" I'd call.
"You want to throw your clothes in there, go ahead," dad would say.
John Castleman added years to Bo's life by scrubbing and lifting and those spendthrift loads of laundry.
When my dog-of-a-lifetime could no longer rise even to chase a tennis ball or greet a loved one they drove him to the vet.
From Rome, I couldn't say goodbye. And I'm still sorry, five years later.
So I do the next best thing: I kneel in the Norwegian dirt and rub the belly of another beast.
And she smiles.