Pictures are worth a thousand words or so, depending on the current value of the dollar, but there are many things that a picture cannot hope to capture that words more accurately can. One of those things is the beauty and value of a loyal fraternity dog. The frathound is hard to come by. You can’t just pick a cute puppy and trust that he’ll grow into his position. For my chapter, our dog was a black lab named Brutus. But we didn’t adopt him as a chapter. He came to us from two of my fraternity brothers, both of whom are now my postgrad roommates and best friends, the Zahodnik brothers. They received the news only a few hours before my writing of this column that Brutus passed away. This is his story.
The Zahodnik boys wanted a great dane. Why wouldn’t you? They’re sleek, majestic creatures who represent poise and class. But after much discussion with their parents, they agreed to adopt a black lab puppy. When they saw the litter, they immediately gravitated toward the largest of the group, because they wanted a big dog. But a smaller, more active puppy caught their eye. They ended up choosing him, and bringing him home. They chose Brutus as his name.
Little did they realize that they would actually end up with the large dog they wanted. By the time they came to college, Brutus was a 110-pound mountain of a dog. He traveled with them to school in Cinnamon, the 1998 Mustang belonging to the older of the brothers. He rode in the back, and alternated between posturing his feet proudly on the console, and slumping in the seat in tired resignation throughout the ride. They stopped periodically in several small Texas towns on the way to let him stretch his legs and desecrate the grass.
I first met Brutus as a pledge. The Zahodnik brothers were one and two years above me in school. Myself and the other 35 guys I pledged with were lined up outside when I first saw Brutus. While we stood at attention with our heads down, he casually walked back and forth down the line, stoically. He was like any other active. His attitude was that of “I don’t know you, but you seem like you have potential. But in the meantime, I own your ass.” And such as it was at every pledging activity he was around for.
A year later, I moved in with one of the brothers, and Brutus became a part of my household, as well. He and I got along great, until one day, he got me. I was hungover, sitting on the end of the couch watching TV with a couple of of guys, eating a Beefy 5-Layer Burrito, as you do when you’re hungover. Little did I know, sneaky-ass Brutus had secretly wedged himself in between the couch and the wall, and just as I let my burrito-laden hand down, he scurried in and snatched it from my grasp. He swallowed it before I even had the chance to completely turn to look at him, and immediately disappeared. I looked over at his owner in disbelief. The younger Zahodnik’s response to this travesty? “Protect your shit, bro.”
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Brutus was exactly the same as any of my other fraternity brothers. You can always trust them with your life, but always watch your beer when they’re around. Brutus and I had a fun rivalry that way for a while, but I always regarded him as the greatest party dog I’d ever seen. We would have 200 people clustered in and around our house on a Saturday night, and I probably didn’t know who 150 of them were. Brutus acted the same way every time. He would push his way through the randoms with his broad-ass shoulders, saying with his movement, “I don’t know you, I don’t know you, fuck you, oh, here’s a guy I know.” And once he found one of the members, he’d plant himself and look up as if to say, “Ok, it’s party time. What’s the plan?”
Brutus was also there for the lazy days. All through the summer, we would play croquet on the front lawn. It was a beautiful juxtaposition of high class and college living. We would stand around in tanks or shirtless, with beer hanging in our neck koozies, and attempt to kill the shit out of each others’ croquet balls. But Brutus had another game — there was a huge oak tree that had a huge branch hanging down from it, and while we drank beer and ran around with wooden mallets, he would focus all his effort on bringing that branch down. Every day, he’d sprint and jump at it, and grasp it in his jaw, trying to pry it from its position. And much as we failed most days to look like professional croquet players, he would fail to bring it down. But one beautiful summer day, he launched on it, and wouldn’t let go. And his massive body struggled and finally pulled it down off that damn tree. We paused our game and watched him drag it around the yard. He enjoyed it for a good five minutes, but quickly became tired of it. He was all about the journey. Once he had the prize, he was over it. He left it alone. That is until our buddy’s dog, Scout, came over and started playing with it. Once he saw her enjoying his prize, he immediately chased after her, barking “Wait! Nevermind! I wasn’t done with it!”
After we graduated, the Zahodniks and I moved to California. Brutus went back to live with their parents. He lived his postgrad life much as if he was in retirement. He lived his life much as he had before, knocking over the trashcan for fun, wedging his way under the covers, and growling at their dad until he realized he was there to give him food. The last few years, though, had been tough. He struggled to make his way up the stairs to sleep in bed with anyone who was in the house, but he fucking did it anyway. No matter how long people were gone, they always found Brutus waiting for them in his trademark spot next to the door. The last time the Zahodnik brothers got to see Brutus in person was last Christmas. But through the magic of Steve Jobs, they got to FaceTime with him a week ago. And even though it had been months since he’d seen them, he immediately recognized their faces and voices, and started barking his ass off. He’s like any of your other best friends you pledged with who you’ve lost touch with. No matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other, when one of them finally visits, it’s as if the last time you saw them was last night when you both tried to hook up with the hot bartender and both of you struck out.
Too often, the frathound is considered the mascot of the fraternity. We throw a bow tie on him and put him in the composite. Everyone takes turns walking him around campus to use him as a girl magnet. He’s always the most energetic member of the crowd at intramural games. But what I don’t think we give proper credit to the frathound for is that he always embodies the perfection of what brotherhood should look like. He hates you until you’ve been inducted. He’s often the only one who gives a shit when some floozy breaks your heart. He might sometimes lick a girl’s ass when y’all are hooking up, but that’s only because he wants you to know he approves of what you’re doing. The frathound also keeps trying much longer than most of us do. While many actives start skipping events, and mostly just sit around talking about how much better the chapter was back in their day, the frathound is always putting in effort as if he’s still a pledge. In fact, that may be the best way to describe the frathound’s role. He’s the only person who gets an automatic bid, but he’s also the only one who continually puts in the effort after everyone else has become complacent.
No matter what, we all move on when we leave college. The world continues moving, and requires that we do the same. And ultimately, we forget things. We forget most of the facts we studied so hard to remember for tests. We forget the names of the founders we memorized as pledges. And often, we forget what the frathound did for us. While the rest of us gave each other the grip because of tradition, he shook our hands out of love and loyalty. You might forget the brief four years that you spent with him, but he’ll never forget the 28 years of his life he spent sharing a house with you. We all had a Brutus. He might have had another name. He might have been a different breed. Hell, he might’ve even been a she. But the frathound’s importance to his chapter eternally remains the same. We were forced to learn loyalty and brotherhood by being put through the fire together. The frathound never needed to, because he was born with it.
So, I’d like to ask all of you to tip your beer or take a shot for Brutus. Because God knows, if he was here, he’d be toasting to you, too. He lived to the age of 14, which is 98 in our years, for those of you without calculators or basic math skills. I know for a fact that there’s no way in hell I’ll reach 50, let alone 98, so Brutus has easily lived a longer, fuller life than I ever will. He’s not just the best dog I’ve ever known; he’s the most loyal member of our fraternity, and always will be.