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And – Just Like That – He Was Gone: Camo, our Dog

February 9th, 2020 by 
PK

This post isn't about finance. If you can't handle the death of a pet, skip this one – we'll see you next post.

Our dog died this weekend. 

It was recurrent mast cell cancer in the end – but even if it wasn't, a number of his organs were on the precipice of failure.

Camo was an incredible dog, and he loved us wholly and completely. He was a loyal servant – a friend and protector to my wife, kids, and myself. He was dignified, stately, and wise; when Camo's arthritis wasn't bothering him and he sat at attention, he looked like one of those magnificent guard dog statues.

Camo the dog close shot on a dog bed
Glamour shot of Camo on a dog bed

Camo the American Staffordshire Terrier

Camo had a brown brindle coat and was at least half American Staffordshire Terrier mixed with a larger breed – maybe an American Bulldog or (supposedly) a Plott Hound. Even when we first adopted him, he had greying around his snout. He quickly developed grey hair on his legs as well.

All that's to say: we have zero clue how old Camo was; we do have a picture of Camo as an adult from 2008. 

What we do know of his early days is absolutely heartbreaking – Camo was abandoned in a (locked!) backyard in Vallejo, California sometime during the Great Recession. He was rescued by a man who rescues pit bulls and rehomed—twice!—before we adopted him in January of 2012.

His time with us, on the other hand, was almost universally happy. He came to us overweight at nearly 100 pounds, arthritic, with a greasy coat, and smelling of a poor diet. Soon, he found his ideal weight in the 80 - 85 lb. range and his beautiful coat came in – sans grease.

Pit bull Camo on a newly laid floor
Camo unimpressed with our new floor, soon after we adopted him

Low-Energy – but Somehow, Highly Athletic

Camo loved to play – but only for a few minutes. Camo much preferred lying on his side in the sun to running around the yard. 

Despite his recurring arthritis, he was deceivingly athletic when he wanted; when Camo did run, he was terrific – easily 30+ miles per hour, although he was terrible at turning. He was quick too – as one unfortunate possum who was too close to my wife found out. 

(It was one of those: that was scary fast experiences).

But outside the occasional sprint (and the odd rodent who got threatened the yard – and yes, he got skunked once), Camo was predominantly a low-energy dog. He loved laying on his side in the sun, shifting around every 30 minutes to maximize his sun coverage. Inside the house, we had to buy multiple beds so he could laze in different rooms throughout the day, depending primarily on where we were located.

One of his most endearing yet entitled qualities was insisting – stamping and staring at us – that once the kids were in bed, we rolled the coffee table out of the way for his dog bed.

Unfortunately, the arthritis he picked up in his early years never entirely left. 

Camo sometimes had issues with his back, and somehow (impressively?) managed to hurt each of his legs in turn over the years. He never broke anything but did every sort of soft tissue damage you can imagine. We, in turn, never made him jump into a car even once – we employed all kinds of ramps and engineered boxes and steps to make getting in and out of cars easier for our friend.

Somehow, though, he mostly held it together – until his last few days he managed to get around on his own, if sometimes with a temporary limp. 

And yes, he always did it with a smile. Camo always made his walk look natural.

Cam the pit bull in a festive Christmas sweater
Rocking the ugly Christmas sweater

"You Can't Let that Dog Near Your Kids."

Unfortunately, we also dealt with a shocking amount of dirty looks, under-the-breath comments, and all sorts of other ignorance over Camo's breed.

After we adopted him, we took all sorts of grief from (former) acquaintances about how having even a part-pit bull meant our future kids were going to be kibble.

It started early – a company I will never use again – "Progressive" Insurance (or maybe their re-sold partner home insurance, same in my mind) – kicked us off home insurance coverage when they learned Camo's breed. 

(We've been delighted with Einhorn Insurance/Farmers – if you're in California, give them a look.)

But terrible insurance companies aside, most infuriatingly (to my wife and me) was one person even insisted – we're talking 10+ posts – that pit bulls are too smart, and their brains grow up against a too small skull. Supposedly, this causes them to attack their families – note that Chiari-like Malformation is a common ailment for the King Charles Spaniel and mostly much smaller toy breeds, not the full-sized Staffordshire Terrier.

Excuse my language, but even a casual Wikipedia read shows most of these arguments are bullshit. (And Camo, as you might expect, never ate our kids.)

Wait, What About the Kids?

And yeah, kids!

Were we a bit worried about kids? Sure, I'll admit it – we had some of that ignorance as well in the beginning. Luckily though, Camo proved he'd be an incredible kids' dog even before our first daughter was born.

When my wife was first pregnant, she took the common pregnancy advice to take a walk to accelerate labor. With my mother in-law and Camo, she went for a short walk in the park.

It worked a little too well – her water broke, and a zeal came over Camo my wife had never seen before. He started guiding them back home, tugging on the leash in our house's direction, and snarling and giving warning growls snaps at anyone who looked at her for a moment too long.

(Luckily the park is almost next door, he didn't have to stay vigilant long!)

My girls are 3 & 6 now, and he was nothing but the model dog. He really did fulfill the so-called nanny dog role – he was never anything but deferential to them, even in "his" space. Multiple times one of the girls even napped on one of his beds... and Camo instead took the floor by their side.

Camo the pit bull on an undersized bean bag
Camo also sometimes stole the girls' seats

Until We Meet Again

The life of a dog is altogether too short. My good friend Greg McFarlane paraphrased Neil Peart well when he consoled me: "The joy of knowing them was worth the pain of losing them."

Indeed.

For those of you who don't have a pet, this post might seem overwrought. I don't blame you – the pet bond is something that is only fully realized with experience. Funnily enough, the best description I ever found on dog and human relationships was from the Naturalist John Burroughs quoted in Vicki Croke's excellent piece in Southwest's October 2019 in-flight magazine. In-short: "You are alone and not alone; you have both companionship and solitude."

That was Camo – with my wife and me. 

Camo was by my side ever since I started working remotely, through my current role at Twilio. He oversaw the better part of DQYDJ, and most all of this site's growth – those of you reading almost certainly subscribed after he joined the team.

He oversaw the birth of my daughters, and – unfortunately – a few deaths in our extended family. Camo turned more than a few dog-haters into lovers – although some of them told us they only really liked him, not dogs in general.

My heart is broken, and I mourn the loss of my muse, companion, and friend – this is one of the hardest pieces I've ever written. But I'm hopeful – at the same time, I'm dearly looking forward to the love and affection our family can share with another dog. 

(A dog, of course, that Camo would have approved.)

Happy trails until we meet again, dear friend. The pain is gone, but my – and our – love remains. 

You were the best boy.

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