Wyatt Earp, a Welsh Corgi, was nine when he first came to work at Fleming & Curti. He was a rescue dog of sorts -- his owner had gone into the nursing home, and we had represented the owner's daughter when she had to establish a guardianship, and when she asked what she was going to do with Wyatt ... well, you can correctly guess the rest of the story.
Wyatt died Monday, May 5, 2008, at the age of 13. He will be missed by many; clients, colleagues, neighbors among them. He even had a modest following among the national elder law community.
Immediately after joining our family Wyatt started going to work daily. He might have been dozing outside my office door, but he was constantly attuned to the sound of the front-office door. He quickly decided that his job was to trundle out to the reception room to greet new arrivals, most of whom reinforced his behavior by fawning over him. There was something about the conference room that particularly fascinated him; if anyone headed down the hallway toward the conference room, he padded along with them, curled up in a corner of the room and napped semi-attentively through the meeting. He never asked to be excused, never interrupted the proceedings, mostly blended with the furniture. We joked about billing him out at a mere $50/hour because he was so quiet. But he insisted on attending every meeting.
One memorable client visit drove home the value of having Wyatt on staff. A school counselor came to see us about her estate plan, and she was (as clients sometimes are) illogically nervous about talking about her own death. She sat on the edge of the office chair, talking a mile a minute, kneading Wyatt's ears aggressively. "I know why you have him in here," she said from between clenched teeth. "It's to relax me. And it's working." It probably was, but that only made me nervous about how tightly-wound she would have been without Wyatt's presence. Wyatt, incidentally, loved that client; he could handle an aggressive ear-scratching for hours (Corgis do have a lot of ear to work over).
About two years after his arrival Wyatt became disabled. He had, as we learned, been suffering from degenerative myelopathy, a neurological condition that slowly deprived him of the use of first his hind legs and ultimately even his front legs. We had him outfitted with a sort of wheelchair, and he became a notable fixture on the sidewalks in and around our office and home. Every morning and evening he would walk past the coffee shop next door; the regulars may not have known my name or the names of the patrons at the next table, but they all knew Wyatt, and many of them would have a treat to offer him. He invariably, and graciously, accepted.
In the last six months Wyatt's condition deteriorated to the point that he couldn't even use his wheelchair. Nonetheless he insisted on going to work with me every day. Even on holidays I often loaded Wyatt into the car, drove to the office, put him on the rug next to my desk, checked my e-mail, and then brightly announced that it was time to go home, that his workday was over. Somehow even the ten-minute workday made him feel like he had done enough to earn his pay, I guess.
Wyatt was an extremely gentle canine soul. He barked (his vocal cords had been cut as a puppy, years before I met him), but mostly only to let other dogs know that they needed to understand he was still in charge even though immobile. He and I bonded on some extraordinary level -- Wyatt was only the second dog I have ever had, and Freckles, the first one, died in 1969. He will be missed by many, all right, but mostly by me. His advancing disabilities meant that his formal duties had already largely passed to Andy and Chalupa, but I think even they will miss his regular suggestions about how they might better perform those duties.
Goodbye, Wyatt Earp Tomlinson Fleming. I miss you, buddy.
Robert B. Fleming
Fleming & Curti, PLC