I don’t remember the date when Willie first joined me at the foot of my writing desk, but I know he was less than a year old.
My writing routine, born out of working many years at afternoon newspapers, began around 3:30 in the morning. I would climb out of bed, make a pot of coffee and make that solitary journey upstairs. I glanced down one morning and there was Willie, asleep at my feet.
Through two books and for 13 years, Willie was always with me, voluntarily leaving his cozy bed in our bedroom in the wee hours to come upstairs and see me through the morning. Even with arthritic hips in his later years, he never missed a morning. I referred to him as my “writing dog.”
The arrangement worked well since usually I wrote for only two to three hours. When the coffee was gone and the writing was done, it was time for Willie to take his stroll outside. He would make the rounds of his regular bushes and then look up at me, seemingly to ask: How did we do today? Then, it was time for breakfast.
Willie came to live with us on a whim. I was getting our retirement place ready in Tennessee while my wife was finishing up in Indiana, and I was lonesome. When I saw a flyer with photos taped on a window at a convenience store, I moved quickly.
Knowing it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission (we already had a Boston terrier in Indiana), I made my way to the address, a house trailer. Yes, they still had the pup with the brown patch around its left eye. The price on the flyer had been $200 each, but they said I could have two for $100. I told the owner I would take just the one but would gladly pay the $200 if they promised to find the others good homes.
While Willie was not technically a rescue boxer, I hoped at least some of his brothers and sisters were rescued. White boxers are not widely sought after because they are prone to deafness caused by a lack of pigment in their inner ear. We quickly learned Willie could hear us opening a treat box from several rooms away.
Though we retired to our small farm, Willie was always an inside dog. He watched all comings and goings from what my wife called “Willie’s window,” always alert when he heard a vehicle on the long gravel driveway. He would spend hours watching deer, wild turkey, rabbits and squirrels dining in “his yard.” He didn’t seem to mind.
Everyone marveled at how instinctively Willie knew how to act around children. He gave all crawlers a wide berth. He walked gently as the toddlers hung on to him. He rough-housed when the boys called and cuddled with the girls. Truly, a dog for all seasons and all grandchildren.
Willie and I spent our last full day together on the couch on Sunday, April 14, 2019, watching Tiger Woods win the Master’s, one of the biggest comeback stories in sports. I knew there was no “coming back” for Willie. He was in his last hours with pancreatic cancer before he would take his final trip to the veterinarian the next day. Willie at one time had been 75-pounds of pure joy and love. He weighed less than 50 pounds and couldn’t stand on his own as I held him while the final shot was administered.
Other dogs, even other boxers, have always been a part of me, but Willie joined me at a critical juncture in my life, finally writing the stories I knew I was meant to write. When I’m privileged to talk to young people and writing groups, I always stress how fulfilling but how lonely the writing process can be. I smile when I think of Willie. It’s possible I could have written the books without him, but I can’t be sure.
I continue to make the solitary climb up the stairs early in the mornings. Over my writing desk is a magical likeness of Willie painted by a close friend who knew how much Willie meant to me. I made the crude frame, covered with shellac and tears.
Willie is buried with two of his friends on the back of our property, the highest point around. I like to think of it as Willie’s new window. When I need to, I make the solitary trek up the hill to talk to him. He will always be my writing dog.