Our Best Friend Right Through it All

If I were to draw up the perfect male dog it would be Chopper.  He was everything I could have ever asked for in a dog.  His name, his colors, his hair, his size, his look, his athleticism, and his smarts were an amazing package.  He was just a cool dog.  I can’t believe how blessed I was to have him.

I often repeated my mantra for Chopper as polite, respectful, and loyal.  He was all of those.  He was loyal above everything.  He was truly the definition of Man’s Best Friend.  At least for me.

Chopper was tasked oriented and loved having something to do.  He could rarely sit still and slept with one eye open for most of his life.  He would follow me from room to room as he was always at my side for the most part.  He was always waiting on his next assignment.

The easiest way to talk about Chopper is to talk about what he loved to do the most.  In addition to being my best buddy for 14.5 years Chopper was put on this earth for four things:

  1. Protect his Pack
  2. Hunt Squirrels
  3. Go for Rides
  4. Charm the Ladies

Protect his Pack:

Chopper lived by the code of the pack which means every pack needs a protector that watches over everyone and keeps the pack safe.  This dog must be the first to react to any threats to the pack.

I like to think Chopper wasn’t aggressive but he wasn’t submissive for sure.  He never submitted to another dog that I saw.  Being willing to be the Alpha comes at a cost and it’s to show you’re willing to establish the pecking order of the pack.  Chopper was always willing to establish the pecking order so it was clear.  Just a rule of the pack.

The dude loved to brawl if need be and I broke up a few fights where two dogs were looking to establish a pecking order.  Luckily over the years I got good at recognizing escalating situations and got him out of them before things went south.  To Choppers credit he was good at de-escalating himself as soon as I got involved.  Fortunately, no fight ever got too far where either dog got hurt.

While protecting his pack of dogs was important the most important pack Chopper ever protected was his pack of people.  I said earlier he was loyal above all else.  He was loyal to his pack of humans and that meant protecting them.

Whenever I was with Chopper I always knew I had a sidekick ready to protect me.  It felt cool. 

His loyalty was on display daily as he usually waited outside for me to come home from work.  My house in Fort Worth was next to a doctor’s office parking lot.  I had a metal fence on that side of the house and there was a gate near where I parked in that parking lot.  Most every day when I came home from work he was laying just inside that gate with his head pointed to the street.

As soon as my truck came in sight, he’d jump on all four paws and show major excitement.  I’d get out of the truck and talk sweet to him and then head to the front door.  Once I did that he would race around to the dog door and meet me inside at the front door.  I don’t know how long he’d wait on me each day but he was usually there waiting.  It was cool to have that kind of loyalty.  It was even cooler that it was Chopper.

Even at my house in Houston where he couldn’t see me drive up I’d get out of the truck and look around the corner to the side gate and he’d be standing there.  He couldn’t see me driving but I guess he’d just wait there to hear the sound of my truck backing down the driveway.  I’d acknowledge him and he’d run to the front door to meet me.

When Kelly and I moved to our house he did the same for her.  We have a detached garage beyond our backyard where we enter from the alley.  Kelly would go for a workout or errand and he’d be standing outside the garage when she came back.  The dude lived for his people.  Waiting on them to get back home was part of the deal.  The second he could be next to his people he wanted to be there.

You can’t put a price on that loyalty.  Protect his pack at all costs is what he was put on this earth to do.  It was awesome to be the main thing he protected.

Hunt Squirrels:

Most of you know but Chopper LOVED to hunt squirrels.  I don’t mean chase squirrels.  I mean hunt.  The dude had every intention of catching every squirrel he went after and have them meet their demise.

I don’t know the exact number but it was somewhere around 20.  That means he got at least 1 squirrel for every year he was on this earth.  He hadn’t caught one in his last three years as his squirrel gear faded on him.  However, he still loved the pursuit as he aged.  He was like the hunter that still enjoyed sitting in the stand or field even though he had no intention to shoot.  His wall was full of skins but he still enjoyed the thought of the pursuit.

His approach was awesome to watch.  He’d try and sneak up as close as he could.  He’d either take off in full sprint once the squirrel saw him or he felt he was close enough.  He’d sneak for minutes at a time just trying to inch closer.  He never got impatient.  Over the years he got good at identifying the angles he needed to beat a squirrel to a tree.  I could always tell when he had that angle as he’d hit a little extra speed and pick the squirrel clean right before they got to the tree.  People would always stop to watch him do his work.

Chopper’s heyday for squirrel hunting was a place called Haden Park in Houston.  It was about a ½ mile from the house I lived in before I moved in with Kelly.  It wasn’t a dog park but it was 10 acres of wide open land with trees.  It wasn’t the nicest park so it was PERFECT for Chopper as he could roam free without anyone bothering him.  Just Chopper and the squirrels.

Chopper would spend a solid 30 minutes going from tree to tree looking for squirrels.  I once put my GPS watch on his collar just to see how active he was.  This was even as he was getting older.  Even as he got older he still covered 2 miles in those 30 minutes.  Here’s the photo. 

There’s no doubt in his prime he was covering 3-4 miles in those 30 minutes.  That’s a lot of sprinting so it was one hell of a workout.  He never wore out though as he wanted to maximize those 30 minutes.  There would be time for resting back at the house.  Haden Park was all about squirrel hunting.

He absolutely loved that park.  When I came home from work he’d get so excited as I changed clothes.  He knew what was coming and waiting those 10 minutes for me to change was agonizing.  He was ready to go.  Once we got there I’d make him sit and stay as I took his leash off.  When I told him, “Okay” he’d release to a dead sprint to the middle of the trees while the squirrels scattered.  He loved it.

When it was time to go I’d find him and make him look at me.  I’d clap my hands and say, “Let’s go”.  He’d make a mad sprint to the exit point where he’d get leashed up and we’d make the walk back.  Even on his way out he was covering as much ground as possible.

Go for Rides:

Chopper was always up for a ride.  The dude absolutely loved to hop in a vehicle and go somewhere. 

Chopper always had a good notion of when a ride was about to happen.  He’d hear the click of my remote start and freeze.  When the diesel sound started he’d make a bee line for the truck and do a full lap around it.  He’d stop at the passenger door pointing his nose right in the crack waiting for the door to open.  He’d sit or stand there until I came over to let him in.  As soon as the door was open he’d jump right in.

When he got in the truck he had one place he’d ride.  He LOVED to stand on the console and keep his head pointed forward looking out the windshield.  The dude was running point and he wanted to see where we were going.  Maybe he was just looking for squirrels but he was looking for some kind of action.

Even when he slept in the truck he’d sleep right on top of the console.  If we came to a stop he’d stand up and look around to make sure everything was okay.  The only downside was when he’d stand he’d block my line of vision out the passenger window and mirror.  I seriously couldn’t see out one side of my truck.  I didn’t mind.  The dude loved going for rides so much.  If he was happy I was happy.

I’ll miss that brown fella riding on the console blocking my view to the passenger side.

Charm the Ladies:

When the pack was safe, squirrels on the run, and no more rides to be had Chopper loved to spend his time charming the ladies.  Chopper loved the ladies and the ladies loved Chop.  His long brindle hair and charming demeanor was quite the force.

His go to move was to find a lady sitting quietly and saunter up near her.  He’d either take a seat in front of her or just kind of stand there.  If she wasn’t paying him any mind he’d offer a light paw and bat his eyes.  It was quite effective and truth be told made me a little jealous.  He was a smooth operator.

The list of ladies he charmed is too long to list.  They know who they are.  He used his charming powers to get pets or treats.  I’m not sure which he enjoyed most but there’s no doubt scoring both pets and treats was the ultimate achievement.

The greatest charm job Chop ever did was on his mom Kelly.  Kelly didn’t grow up with any animals.  She never had a pet her entire life.  Obviously if she was going to get serious with me she had to accept Chopper and Sterling as a part of her life.

Chopper did more than his fair share of work as Kelly did more than accept Chop and Sterls into her life.  She fell in love with Chopper and learned to accept Sterling.  Fair enough on all accounts.  Kelly and Chopper became best buddies.

Whenever Kelly would come over to my house I’d meet her at the door and give her a hug and kiss.  A couple feet behind me would be Chopper.  As soon as Kelly took another step inside she’d see Chopper wagging his tail in excitement.  They’d lock eyes and she would ask him, “Chopper!  Do you want a treat?”

Chopper would run back to their bedroom parking himself in front of the treats on top of his crate.  Kelly would chase after him.  She’d excitedly give him a treat while he’d excitedly accept.  This became their routine.  When she got her own key Chopper would excitedly run to her waiting on her to ask the big question.  It was a fun game for both.

Kelly even started keeping treats at her house for when Chop and Sterls came over.  We’d come through the front door and Chopper would immediately run to the kitchen and stand in front of the pantry door where the treats were.  After Kelly and I said our hellos she’d head to the kitchen where Chopper was dancing waiting on his treat.  It didn’t matter the location as Kelly loved giving Chopper treats and he’d happily accept them.

When we moved in together her and Chopper became even closer.  We moved into the house right at the beginning of COVID and Kelly was working from the house the entire time.  Kelly would work in the study attached to our master bedroom upstairs.

At some point in the morning after Chopper had done all of his outside security patrols and deemed the outside safe he’d go upstairs.  He’d sleep right at the entrance to the study as if he was protecting Kelly.  Kelly didn’t mind one bit as she felt a little more secure but most importantly her buddy was by her side for some company.

She also loved Chopper waiting on her when she’d come back from a workout or running an errand.  Most of the time Chopper would be outside waiting on her to come in from the garage and would follow her inside.  I’m sure he was also looking for a treat and I’m sure he often got it.  Chopper was loving but he was also damn smart.  Kelly didn’t mind.  Company for treats seemed like a fair trade.

Chopper quit asking me for treats for the most part.  If we were in the living room and Chopper wanted a treat he’d just go up to Kelly on the couch where he’d get real close.  He’d gaze into her eyes with his brown eyes until she gave in.  He’d also pant on her which also worked because Kelly quickly realized if he got a treat the panting stopped.  Once again, Chopper was smart.

Kelly did an amazing job incorporating Chopper and Sterling into our home and lives.  For Christmas she made sure to get them stockings that matched ours.  We added a carpeted stair runner to make it easier on the dogs to get up and down the stairs.  For our wedding it was Kelly’s idea to have the specialty drinks named after them including having our artist draw super cute renderings of them.

On the day we made the decision to put Chopper down Kelly and I bawled our eyes out.  Her two most poignant statements of what he meant were these:

“I can’t believe I’m crying this much over a dog but I can’t quit crying.”

“I can’t imagine our home without Chopper.  He means so much to us.”

The following day when we put him down we both cried a lot.  It wore on both of us.  It was probably the longest day of our life.  It seemed so unfair yet necessary.  As we laid Chopper down on the grass in our backyard Kelly sat right in front of his head and petted him.  She talked sweet to him the entire time he slipped into eternal peace.  Chopper was calm as can be and I’m sure it’s because he knew how much he was loved by both of us.

Somebody made the comment maybe he went so peacefully because part of his job was to be the bridge between my ex-wife and Kelly. His job was complete and he knew it.  There’s no doubt I could have survived that period on my own without Chopper and Sterling.  However, my life was MUCH better with Chop and Sterls.  There’s no doubt Kelly and I would have grown just as close without the hounds.  However, our life was MUCH better with Chop and Sterls in it.  Dogs have that effect on people.

Maybe Chopper spent all those years honing his charming skills so he was ready when Kelly came along.  Nah.  Chop Man was born a Ladies Man and died a Ladies Man.  He just happened to do his best work on Kelly.  I’m glad he did.

It’s been almost a month without Chopper now.  We are all fine but we still miss him dearly.  We still have Sterling and her sassy attitude so we’re not totally alone.  We miss our pack protector though.  Our life will never be the same as it was when Chopper was in it.  We’ll say the same when Sterling’s gone as well.  Dogs just have this strange effect on you.  Words can’t describe it.  You just have to live it.

I’m sure one day we’ll get a new pack.  There’s no doubt that’s the way Chopper would want it.  Give some more dogs the life he got.  I’m sure the next dogs we get will be wonderful.  It’s just hard to imagine when you think you’ve had the perfect male dog how another can match up to Chopper.  We’ll give it a go though.

Rest in Peace, Chopper.  You were truly our best friend and will always have a special place in our hearts.  We love you, buddy.

For you people familiar with Fort Worth here’s a little bonus story about Chop and Sterls:

Magnolia Avenue Years:

Chopper and Sterling’s first main era of life was living off Magnolia Avenue in Fort Worth.  For those of you that know Fort Worth you know that Magnolia Avenue is a vibrant scene these days.  It didn’t use to be that way.  When I first moved in Magnolia Avenue was still a little sketchy.  It was improving dramatically but it certainly wasn’t a destination in Fort Worth.  Avoca Coffee Shop was a dirty mechanic shop.  There’s a whole list of places that changed over time and I’d like to think Chop and Sterls had a little bit to do with that.

Every weekday after work I’d walk the hounds the full length of Magnolia Avenue.  We’d head towards Hemphill from 6th and then back from Hemphill to 8th.  We also did this on weekend mornings.

We did this for about 5 years and I feel like the hounds became “Celibridogs” along the way.  Whenever I’d go into places on Magnolia Avenue I’d often get asked, “Are you the guy that walks the dogs every day?”  I’d say yes and they’d say how cool they thought Chop and Sterls were and how they loved seeing them walking.

On one afternoon this guy comes out from Cat City Grill and yells at me across the street.  He tells me he’s the owner and would love to have me come eat there because he loves seeing the dogs walk by.  A couple days later I went in like a celebrity myself as he comes over to introduce himself.  Let’s be real.  Chop and Sterls were the main draw as I was just the guy holding the leash.

The best part of their Magnolia Avenue walks was Saturday mornings.  On weekends I’d let them walk off leash.  They knew how to heel on command and not cross curbs into the street.  It’s hard to describe in words.  As we walked they would wait at the end of each block for me to allow them to go into the street and onto the next block.  I’d take a few steps into the street to make sure there were no cars and say, “Okay.”  At that point they’d sprint across the street to the next block.  Chopper would usually dead sprint to the end of the block and then work back to me.  Sterling would do whatever caught her fancy which mainly involved following her nose.

On one end of Magnolia Avenue was Hemphill and a place called Paris Coffee Shop.  It was very popular on Saturday mornings.  Our walks would take us across Magnolia from Paris Coffee Shop.  As Chop and Sterls first started walking off leash they looked like a scary sight to the waitresses at Paris.  They would see the two dogs running loose along Magnolia Avenue thinking they were going to get run over.  The first couple of times they saw this they’d run out of the coffee shop trying to help them.  They didn’t realize they were trained to not run into the street and I was right behind them.

Whenever I’d cross over Magnolia to go to the Paris side I’d make Chopper and Sterling heel next to me.  They were good at it and truthfully it looked impressive to watch two dogs off leash walk right next to their owner after running so wild.  I did this across Magnolia and in front of Paris since there was usually people outside.  People were usually entertained by it.

It got to a point where some days the waitresses would come out of the coffee shop and tell the hounds hello.  As soon as they saw Chop and Sterls on the other side of Magnolia they’d come stand outside.  They’d tell people waiting outside I was their owner and to watch me walk them across Magnolia next to me.  They’d tell us hello and go back inside to wait tables.  It was cool and a lot of fun to see people enjoying the hounds.  I’m sure some people were annoyed but whatever.

It was a good five years and I like to think there’s still some people on Magnolia Avenue that remember the brown and silver dog running off leash but never into the street.  Nothing kept Magnolia Avenue safe and entertained like Chop and Sterls.  They certainly did their part to make it a better place.

The City of Fort Worth can thank them for increasing the property values on the tax rolls.

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