On the car ride there, my dad locked eyes with me and my mom.
“We are just looking.”
“Yes, we know,” I said.
“No buying,” my dad said.
“No buying,” my mom said.
Cut to Raleigh. Small, yellow and without the ability to slow himself down before sliding into walls. His ears were soft, his paws were soft, his eyes were full of life. We shared the backseat on the car ride home.
I whispered to him, the runt of the litter, that everything was going to be great. He had never been in a car before. We had never owned a dog before. At that point, we didn’t even own a leash.
Raleigh quickly became one of us: athletic, curious, loving, obstinate and skilled at taking naps. He learned how to use a pillow and how to nose open a door. He liked to play frisbee but only for a few throws. If you tried to run with him, he’d zig zag in front of you, a true defender at heart. If you tried snuggling next to him, he’d have no problem getting up and moving away from you. He was a Randel in many ways.
These were the names he would respond to: Raleigh, Raleigh Roo, Rals, Rooster, Mr. Wandel, Pumpkin Butt, Shmoopers/Shmoop-a-loop.
These were the words we had to spell out if we wanted to discuss them in his presence: BEACH, COOKIE, FRISBEE, FOOTBALL.
One of Raleigh’s favorite games involved swiping a dish towel so we’d have to chase him around the house. Rooster loved swimming and would frequently embarrass us by going to the bathroom in a crowded Lake Michigan. With age, he slowed down. His favorite thing became sneaking out of the house so he could lay out in the sun. He loved the sun and snow.
Once I watched my dad and Rals hang out on our block with a few neighbors. There were two distinct groups: the dads sipping beers in a circle and the dogs running around, chasing one another. Raleigh? He was sitting nicely in the dad circle, lapping up whatever booze they spilled. After a while, he stood and walked back to our house, abandoning my dad in the street like: Eh, you do your thing. I’ll do mine.
The most amazing thing about Raleigh was not how much he changed, although he did. He went from a small ball of mischief to a big-hearted curmudgeon. He stopped stealing napkins off people’s laps and started joining my parents as they did yoga. He sat by my brother’s feet when he played guitar. He helped me finish my string cheese.
The most amazing thing about Raleigh was how much he changed us. My family was in love with him. If he did something cute, we immediately had to call the others, even if it was something as simple as him sitting on the top of the steps with his favorite blanket. He got us to use goofy voices and yell phrases like, “Where’s blue football?!” Neighbors I didn’t even know knew Raleigh. We took him on long walks and let him hold the leash in his mouth on the way back. My mom once tried to ride her bike with him running alongside—a hilarious failure. For holidays, we bought him bones too big to fit through doorways. He joined us on road trips, both long and short. My brother and I took him hiking in southern Illinois. One time he travelled ten hours to State College, PA with my parents, just to surprise me. The three of them walked the 5K I had organized. They finished in last place.
Raleigh brought us together. At a time when we were drifting—my brother was two years into college when we got Rals and I was two years away—Raleigh made us feel more together. More of a family. He made us complete.
Yesterday was Raleigh’s last day. I’ve never known anyone who lived as fully as he did. He was there, in every way. I am going to miss him, my big yellow dog who was scared of flies. He was the best.