Monday, August 1, 2011

Duncan Munchkin Kittel

11/17/01 – 7/27/11

Who loved: hot dogs, peanut butter, coconuts, snow, bones, tennis balls, other dog’s toys

And hated: fireworks, loud noises, delivery trucks, mailmen, people touching his ears, that old woman who walked on Second Beach with a white hat

Duncan was born the runt of his litter to Tatum Smallwood on the coast of Oregon and became ours as a promise fulfilled to Christiana with the vision of a mid-sized dog. (He never knew his father.) When we moved to Rhode Island from Salem in 1999 we left our dog, Dude, behind with Andy’s parents and Christiana begged us to let her have one of the first-grade classroom quails. Andy said no but promised her she could get a new dog after we settled in. He flew across country the following December and brought her promise home in time for Christmas and snow. From then on, Duncan always loved snow and would bury his nose in it and sneeze. As we traveled home from the airport we tried on names and asked, “What would be a good east-coast name?” Dunkin Donuts being the quintessential representation of New England, we answered, “Dunkin Munchkin!” And so he was.

Duncan chewed on our stairs and scratched our floors, growing in our hearts and family and vastly exceeding everyone’s expectations until he reached 110 pounds. He was one year younger than Isaiah and they grew up together with Isaiah riding him like a horse. He went to puppy training at the Potter Shelter and passed K-9 training and when we moved to Portugal he stayed with Matt, his trainer, spending a lot of time in Vermont that winter playing in the snow and sneezing with Matt’s other dogs. When we returned, Duncan was five and graced the cover of the Newport Daily News in full color walking Second Beach on a winter day with Andy and I during the controversial leash law debate. He had no leash. Duncan spent many, many happy hours walking with us on the beaches of Rhode Island, Oregon, and Costa Rica chasing tennis balls (each ball lasted only one walk), sticks and coconuts.

Duncan ruled Mohawk Drive, often laying in the middle of the road and blocking traffic. Our yard was littered with his collection of stolen pet toys from the neighborhood animals. His morning routine consisted of walking the kids to the bus and waiting for the bus driver, Gene, to give him a dog treat. After waving goodbye he trotted over to the horse barn and played with the dogs that lived there. Once when he wore the cone of shame for some minor surgery these folks signed it as if it were a cast and it was then that we began to realize that Duncan knew everyone in the ‘hood,’ including folks whom we did not. He spent his days between our house and Jack and Kathy’s across the street where he tortured their cats, Grace and Buddy. When the hour approached each day for Don and Rosemary to come home, Duncan headed across the street to await his daily treat from them. He knew everyone and their schedules and was doubtlessly more popular than were we.

When we moved to Costa Rica, Duncan drove with Andy and Micah in the Black Panther from Rhode Island to Playa Conchal, riding in the back seat as their security guard. It was in the tropics that he developed his obsession with coconuts, ripping them open with his teeth, no easy feat, until he came to the nut inside. He waited all day for someone to throw them to him and never tired of retrieving it. Sometimes he dropped them in the pool and sat and stared at them for hours. He was relentless and could carry them, whole and heavy, to the beach where we would do our best to shot-put all 20 pounds of them into the ocean for him to swim after. He loved to swim in the warm, salty Pacific and we always laugh about the time he was chasing a ball around the pool and he slipped and fell into the deep end. When it came time for us to leave, Duncan flew solo internationally on Continental to Oregon where the Smallwoods picked him up and he hung with his ornery mom until we arrived to build the yurts. A few months later we went up the river to a bonfire and brought Duncan along to see his mom, thinking she would be happy to see her son. She was not, barking at him like he was an intruder.

Duncan was a great friend to G’ma Kittel while we lived with her and she spoiled him with treats and let him sleep in the house. When we finished building the yurts and moved up the creek he made himself at home and usually slept underneath the yurt right beneath where our bed was. Any time we arrived home he came out from under the shade of the yurt to greet us, running alongside the car as we came around the yurts and parked. He was always a very happy fellow and befriended everyone he met. He took to sunning himself in the middle of the forest service road just above our yurts which is where that the Lincoln County dog officer picked him up. It was then that he earned his title, “a dog at large” while serving his time behind bars, even though Andy attempted to inform them that he was simply “a large dog.”

Duncan was diagnosed with bone cancer as we packed up to come home from our second year in Costa Rica in June. When the kids and I arrived on Father’s Day he was so happy to see us and still managed to walk the road with us. But the cancer spread rapidly and he must have been in a lot of pain as the tumors grew daily before our eyes and his hind leg became useless. Still, he rarely complained. He visited Christiana in RI in a dream and told her he could wait for her arrival at the end of July. And he did. He waited for her in the shade under the yurt, gradually coming out only to eat. His friend, Mocha, visited him daily and kept him company. Christiana arrived and Duncan rallied enough to take one last evening stroll with us down along the creek. The next day we loaded him into the van for his final trip to the beach. He made it down the ramp to where we all collapsed in the warm, soft sand and pet him. He watched the other dogs playing and even socialized with a few of them as we made our way back to the car for the sad trip to the vet. The vet came out to the car and relieved Duncan of all of his pain while reciting the poem, All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”

Duncan’s pain was erased and ours began. He left us with sand in our ears and tears streaming down our faces for our great and terrible loss. We brought his body home and laid him to rest in a large hole under a gnarled apple tree, scattering wildflowers in the freshly turned earth. A moss-covered crook in the branch juts out over the foot of his grave and it is lovely to sit in and swing your feet. It is Bella’s favorite place to climb to and practice her jumping off. Countless times in the ten lovely years that Duncan was ours I would find myself on his tail end as he greeted one friend or another, bearing the brunt of his enthusiasm unhappily as he smacked me with the strength of his strong appendage. Duncan lived the motto, “Wag More, Bark Less.” Now we will sit on a mossy cushion watching the flowers bloom and blanket our beloved Duncan, wishing forever to complain so again.

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