Langley was named after a castle in Northern England, though, as a West Highland white terrier, he was actually a Scottish breed.
It didn’t matter. Like many beloved pets, he had a lot of nicknames: “Mr. Langston,” because we felt sometimes as if he owned us, not vice versa. Clangley, because he liked to be in the same room with us, so he was always underfoot, causing us to trip.
Little Langley, Langen-heimer, uber-Langston, Lang-o-stinson. Big Boy Langley, the one given to him by the folks at doggy day care because he was the only one that would play with Tiny, the Great Dane. Opinionated and lively, he’d grunt or prance when he wanted something, whine when he was being ignored, bark at invisible squirrels in the yard and tilt his head from side to side when he was listening.
He was a good listener. As far as I know, he’s kept every secret ever shared.
How do you describe a truly constant companion? For years, he never left the room if we were in it. The only exception to this closeness was when we were outside doing yard work in the hot sun; then he would stay in the air-conditioned house at the window, watching us.
Because he liked to sleep with us but was too short to jump up on the bed, I tried to discourage it. But after a month-long battle of wills, I broke down and bought him some wooden stairs so he’d stop waking me up when he went out at night.
Because he also loved to eat, we also called him “The Chunkston.” His favorite treat was, well, whatever we were slicing in the kitchen. He’d sit for hours hoping for a bite of zucchini, broccoli, carrots or apples. We had to get him one of those special bowls to keep him from eating too fast. Even then he gobbled down his food. We timed him once. The result was a family slogan: “Mealtime: the best 20 seconds of his day!”
That’s how we knew he wasn’t feeling well; last week was the first time he ever refused food. My husband took him to the vet that day, and after a thorough exam they sent him home.
The only symptom besides loss of appetite was lethargy; he slept on the bed with us that night. But by morning he seemed a bit worse so we decided to get him back in to the vet.
Within a few hours his breathing was labored. Blood work from the day before revealed a high white blood count, the sign of a major infection, and our vet immediately made preparations for us to get him to a facility that could better handle whatever was happening with him.
Langley died in my arms on the way to the emergency room. Just like that, he was gone.
No obvious pain, no long suffering, no real chance to prepare. I know in time we will be comforted that his passing was so easy and that we will be grateful that he spent almost 10 years with us. But for today, what I’m feeling is heartbreak, by any name.
Cheryl Dell is the publisher and president of The Sacramento Bee.