Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Old Soldiers Never Die -- Remembering MacArthur (aka Mackie) 1992-2006

Mackie chilling out after a spirited swim in Lake Michigan

Editor's note: This is a reprint of the life story and obituary that I wrote 1 year ago about my dog and faithful canine companion, MacArthur, on the anniversary of his passing. It is the longest, and perhaps, most soulful thing that I ever wrote and posted here.

He was my true and fine companion thru everything from blazing Virginia summers to bone-chilling Chicago blizzards.

It has been 4 years since his passing and I haven't yet been able to bring myself to find a replacement for him -- which probably says as much about my personal limitations as it does about his unique and irreplacable qualities.

One thing about the headline, that many may not understand. When the great 5 star General, Douglas MacArthur -- under whom my father served -- gave his famous speech before a joint session of Congress on the occasion of his retirement, his famous statement was "Old soldiers never die -- they just fade away..."

What he meant by that was that many very wonderful American boys in their late teens and early 20s -- like my dad -- who served in his army, died in hellish fighting on the beaches and in the jungles of obscure places -- fighting to preserve our freedom and unique and exceptional American way of life.

And those who survived became "Old Soldiers."

The great General MacArthur was actually belittling himself and paying homage to the young men who died heroically, rather than just "fading away" as old men.

I hope you enjoy the tale of my own, wonderful, MacArthur -- aka -- "Mr. Mackie."

The Tale of MacArthur -- the Extraordinary SuperDog -- First Published in the Chicago Lampoon on November 7th, 2009

Some years back, I was sitting in a bar in River North and as the after work crowd began to filter in, a 20-something guy in a business suit sat on the stool next to me. He was obviously distraught -- actually fighting back tears -- and he explained to me that his dog had just died.

I tried to be as sympathetic as possible, but I thought it rather peculiar at the time -- almost unmanly.

Today I certainly wouldn't entertain such thoughts.

Three years ago today, my faithful canine companion of almost 15 years passed away.

I first met MacArthur at a farm in Winchester, Virginia.

A farmer by the name of Robert Jewell had posted an ad in the Valley Trader, a local farm newspaper that a co-worker had brought in for me, notifying that he had lab-setter puppies, free to good home. So I called him, got a general description of the 6 week old pups and told him that I would be out to pick up one of the long-haired buff colored males.

I made the 1 hour or so drive from Washington D.C. out to get him.

At Jewell's farm, I saw a group of about 8 or 10 little pups, playfully climbing onto each others' backs and onto the back of a tolerant farm cat.

Jewell said, "Yours is over here," and he went over to a barrel and pulled out little MacArthur. "I knew you were coming and I didn't want him to get away."

Apparently Mackie was the hellion of the litter -- the obvious alpha-male. The farmer's children had named him "Sebastian," after Sebastian Cabot, the rotund Mr. French in the Family Affair reruns that they watched -- because he ate more than any of the other pups and they figured he would end up being fat.

He obviously had a vigorous spirit and a powerful life-force, something that I would come to fully appreciate over the next decade and a half.

So after letting him say goodbye to his mother and his litter mates, he made the drive with us back to the Nation's Capitol.

I had just read, How to be Your Dog's Best Friend, by the Monks of New Skete, a best selling dog training book at the time and a classic today. The authors suggested that the first few days away from the litter are traumatic for the new pup and suggested that for the for the first few weeks, you should try to recreate the warmth and intimacy of the litter environment by sleeping on the floor with him.

So like a damned fool, I spent the next few weeks in a sleeping bag on the floor with him at night. I was periodically awoken by the sensation of his little snout, nuzzling thru my hair searching for a source of milk.

But it really worked. In our regular walks it became apparent that he had recognized me as the new central force in our new "2 man "litter."
Our new "2 man litter"
Mackie and me at 8 weeks

The Clintonistas had just assumed power in Washington, so I was out of a job and had lots of time to devote to him in those early days. That was fortuitous. On the floor of the apartment, we would play with a little ball that I would toss and he was easily coaxed into bringing back to me.

He was an unusually smart dog.

Before long, to my great amazement, he was catching the ball in his little mouth and prancing back pridefully in recognition of my applause.

He was a glutton for attention.

I recall sitting on the floor, reading The Washington Post, only to have a little head push thru the bottom of the paper as if to say, "aren't we supposed to be doing something more important, like playing ball?"

After a month or two, he was so totally bonded with me that when we took our walks in the famous Meridian Park with its massive marble stairway, I could let him off the leash and he would bound down the stairs, turn the corner by a fountain, and when I would whistle and call his name, he would come exuberantly scurrying back up the stairs.

It amazed a friendly National Park Policeman there, that a pup so young would not simply run off. It amazed me too.
The Monks of New Skete
"How to be your dog's best friend"

So, one thing led to another and we packed up the Mercury Cougar and headed back to Chicago.

A few months later, in our first summer together, some guys saw us along the Lakefront and commented that since he would go about 10 yards, leap in the air and catch a tennis ball in his mouth, I should try throwing him a frisbee.

They handed us theirs and on the second throw, he caught it and brought it back to me.

It was the beginning of a career that would span 21 of the Alpo/Friskies Canine Frisbee Disc Tournaments. The next summer, when he was 1 1/2, we went into the community dog frisbee tournament in Park Ridge and he scored 18 points in his very first competition.

That is like a ballplayer hitting .275 in his rookie season. In a few years, at his athletic prime, he would win that tournament.

We would play frisbee with almost each walk in the park and his dexterity and flair brought amazement and joy to innumerable people who witnessed it -- not the least of which was me.

He lived for it. It was his work -- his job. When I would pick up the leash for a walk, he would run back in and emerge with his frisbee in his mouth -- only then were we ready to take on the outer world.

But it wasn't all work. Mackie had a canine sense of humor as well.

When a good looking chick would come over to chat and ask me about his athletic prowess, he would run over and begin humping my leg with this silly grin on his face as if to say, "buzz off baby, this guy is spoken for and we have important work to do out here."

So much for his being a chick magnet.

General of the Army
Douglas MacArthur
And it wasn't all just bird dog retrieving. He was protective too.

On one warm August night, I was sitting on a park bench in Chicago under a lampost, reading a book and he assumed the spot on the cool packed earth underneath the bench. Three punks approached me and said, "hey man, you gotta quarter?" I told them no. Seeing me smoking, they said, "you gotta cigarette?" I said, "not for you." The leader said, "what the hell you mean you don't gotta cigarette for us?" And all of a sudden this white canine head emerged from under the bench -- growling. The growls transformed into loud barks as he moved forward and the three punks began running off with MacArthur in hot pursuit.

He wouldn't have hurt them, but they didn't know that. His protective and herding instincts had kicked in and he was simply herding them out of the vicinity.

Mackie got an extra can of Alpo on his kibbles that night.

As time went on, MacArthur and I engaged in a wide array of activities together. When I would manage a political campaign, he would become the official campaign headquarters dog and would sit under my desk as I pecked away at the keyboard or he would entertain the kids of the volunteers when we adults were having a meeting.

He marched with various political groups in no fewer than a half dozen 4th of July parades, always carrying his trademark frisbee in his mouth and invariably being the main attraction.

And we had our quiet personal moments as well.

When I would be depressed at the events of a given day, the sympathetic Lab in him came out and he would gently put his snout on my knee as if to say, "It's alright buddy."

And in his waning days, he would come up to me and bury his head in my chest as if to say "Can't you make this all better for me, pal?"

I couldn't.

In his fourteenth year, cancer had begun to eat away at his once invincible constitution and in the early morning hours of November 7, 2006 the distress became untenable.

I insisted that the nurses at the 911 veterinary clinic in Skokie give him as much morphine as possible, because I didn't want him to go out writhing in pain. They did. And he had a peaceful look on his face as I caressed his face and uttered soothing words as he crossed the River Styx.

He is buried in a peaceful corner of the yard along with his favorite blanket and a ball and a frisbee and his tags and a little note for archeologists to find.

The Catholics and the mainstream Protestants suggest that a dog is merely a soulless chattel, put here for our benefit, but incapable of living on. The Buddhists, however, believe that they are part of the eternal life force and do have a soul.

I would like to believe the Buddhist view.

I would like to believe that at some future time, I might see him again under a warm, blue summer sky on the Elysian Fields and that he would be restored to his full youthful vigor and I in my 30-something vigor would be flinging frisbees 40 yards and he would leap in the air and snare them and afterwards we'd chill out in the waters of the clear, cool spring.

So until then,

Good Night,

Sweet Prince.


  1. It's hard to lose the furry babies. I'm sorry for your loss. He was a good friend.

  2. I'm afraid he was much more to me than simply that. As it turns out, I spent more time with him than with any girl in my life --- he was much more dependable and much more faithful ( and as it turns out, a whole helluva lot cheaper.) !!! LOL!!!

  3. This message is for a fine gentleman I met while playing catch with my yellow Lab on Dodge and Main. She is still energetic as ever thanks for your kindness.

    1. Thanks for your kind words -- and it's serendipitous that your message arrived right around the anniversary of his passing, when I usually think about him the most.


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