Culture: Stories & Lit
On September 1, 2001, I peered into Afghanistan from the very small corridor that touches the Chinese border. Working for a student travel company, this trip along the Chinese portion of the ancient Silk Road had reached its westernmost point. Tomorrow we would retrace our path back eastward to Beijing, to board our plane back to the States on September 11. Life was following its trajectory to extreme and far flung adventure. I had been out of the country on various assignments for nearly two months – time to come home.
The next month would unfold into events far from anyone’s control. On the evening of September 11, I was packing my bags in the Beijing hotel preparing for my flight. With the time difference, we were in horror of what was happening back home on the morning of 9/11. It took another two weeks before I had finally finagled my way back to Boulder after being stranded in Beijing following the terrorist attacks and the chaotic cancelation of international flights. The following week, I was glued to the TV watching anthrax scares after all the employees at my student travel organization were laid off. The director could see the writing on the wall.
Out of all the possible ways to stay sane during those uncertain and CNN-watching times, I chose puppies. I wandered out of my house in the crisp October and into a pet store.
“How many puppies can I have with me in the puppy meeting room at one time?”
“I’ll take a Beagle, a Dalmatian and Golden Retriever, please.”
I sat cross-legged in a sterile 6 X 6 room as they were brought in one by one. They wrestled and tumbled the anxiety right out of me.
Two days later, Roy came home with me from the Humane Society. The dog I named Roy was a three-month-old Bloodhound / Sharpei mix. Yep, try to picture what that looks like. I had no idea what I was doing with my life, but I knew I needed some levity and grounding. I purchased a leash, a food bowl, and a clicker for training at the Boulder Humane Society store. The woman behind the counter said with a knowing smile, “Watch out. When you settle down enough to have a dog, a husband and kids are not far behind. You’re sending a message to the universe - I see it all the time.” It seemed a bit overreaching for the volunteer cashier, but I thought at 31 years old, with some serious curve balls thrown into my career as a travel guide, that a husband and kids might be cool.
“Roy” is a slang word in the Southern Thai dialect (where I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer) that means everything good. Food was roy, clothes were roy, even the weather or a new pickup truck. And my caramel-colored Roy with a wrinkled forehead got me away from the news reel and out of my slump. Like all puppies, he chewed my shoes, needed to be let out to pee two or three times a night and demanded my attention through exercise and socialization – all really good training if you are going to have children one day.
This optimistic, enthusiastic companion bore witness to my next 13+ years: finding the love of my life, three moves, three children and my own wrinkled forehead. He protected me from the fed-ex man and things that go bump in the night, licked the tears of miscarriages away, slept in the bed next to me when my husband traveled or when I had 68 days of pregnancy bed rest. He even kept my feet warm when I was up through the wee hours nursing and soothing my infants and stood guard next to their cribs and infant carriers. Roy is their godfather, after helping me send my message to the universe, my harbinger of life’s gifts.
For the first 3 years we were together, he was my baby. We hiked, I obsessed over his possible ailments on the internet and kept a folder with all his report cards from puppy preschool to adult behavior training. When he was two, Will and I lived in Austin. On the weekends I took him running through the wildness of Barton Creek. He ran three miles for every mile I did - looping ahead and behind, patrolling my perimeter and stopping to hump the smaller dogs he passed. Running, humping, drinking from the fresh creek: good days to be a dog. When we came back to Colorado, we lived on ten acres in Nederland and he chased the huge mule deer and roamed free without a fence. As life progressed, other human babies cornered my attention, we moved to a fenced yard three thousand feet below and I would often look over to him with guilt. I’d love a run too, I thought. How many mornings was I trying to get my three kids to school on time without losing my shit, that I didn’t even turn around to meet his watchful eyes? I’m sorry, buddy.
In two day’s time I have scheduled to have Roy euthanized in our home. I wonder at the tears that lay centimeters below the surface as I go about my day as usual – It’s the logical thing to do. He’s almost 14. He’s lived a great life. He’s suffering. He can’t stand up on his own any more. The drugs have left him a sleepy shell of his former self. Yet, today as I return from the grocery store, his tail thwaps against his dog bed to see me enter. I eat with him in his dog bed. He gets smoked salmon from Whole Foods - all he can eat. I eat my sushi. He sighs his long yogi-ujay breath. I cry.
When someone you love is dying, all the refrigerator magnet platitudes suddenly feel profound. No one else has been such an intimate witness to my life, a bridge through my chapters and cheerleader and non-judgmental friend through my craziness. There’s always some editing to what I show – to even my husband or best friends. Roy has witnessed me trying to squeeze into the too-tight jeans, lip-synching Aretha with a hairbrush, blubbering sad, saying what I wish I’d said to the bathroom mirror and the Madmen evening marathons that I explain away as being really swamped with life. He knows.
My ten-year-old daughter asks me why dogs don’t live as long as we do, why they live seven times faster. Maybe another gift from our pets is to remember that life is brief. We get to witness their silly infancy, their wild and confident teen years and finally the old age that we all might be lucky to face ourselves. All of this happens for them in a decade or so of our own life. Our time here is just a blip – don’t take anything for granted - they remind us.
I hold Roy’s white muzzle in my cupped hands and look into his clouded eyes. I am looking for a message, permission, my further life instructions. I can insert anything I want: “my message to you is _________________. “ A) Yes, I need your help to go. B) Thanks for doing the right thing because I’m hurting. C) You’ve got this, Anni. You don’t need me any more. Or even D) Please remember to wear sunscreen. Instead I just see his goodness, his Royness and maybe that’s all the life instruction I need: remember the goodness.
Slayer was attacked by two large dogs in a moments notice, and he didn’t make it. We buried him earlier this morning.
He was the first person to ever teach me about unconditional love. He would cry if we went in the bathroom and shut the door. He had to be with us no matter what. This dog would hug us. He would lean his two front paws on our shoulders, rub his face against ours, and genuinely embrace us. There’s no denying it for me - dogs are human. They can shut down just like humans do in the face of torture or become as sweet and loving as their owner.
He was a cuddle bug. Mornings we would wake to Slay biting my hair, his soft fur tickling my forehead. If we didn't arise at a time of his liking, he would climb under the covers and jokingly bite our toes! He would come get me when newborn Lars made a peep after we brought him home from the hospital.
But Slay hated not being the baby anymore. When Lars moved into our bed, Slay pouted but eventually found a comfy spot on the side of Daddy instead of on my head. Elongated and now facing our feet, he would keep a vigilant night watch of the bedroom door.
On days when I would try to write at the kitchen desk, Slayer would make the sweetest short bark as he commanded me to give him treats - after all, I was in the kitchen - didn’t that mean it was feeding time?! I spoiled him. I feed him chicken on top of his super expensive no-grain, uber-organic dog food. I gave him cheese, I gave him scraps, I gave him gourmet meals, I gave him everything. And it still feels right.
He came to us a little black fluff ball - he became Mike’s military squadron dog. All the VFA-32 boys knew him. He was always a guardian. Always a little “mayor” who loved everyone.
I will forever be grateful I loved this dog and knew the wholehearted love he bestowed to me and my family. He survived eye cancer only to be taken away from us in this violent way. I fought for him. My arm tells that story. I don’t want the bruises to go away. I want scars. It means I tried to do my job even though I didn’t. Once they fade, Slay’s memory might too.
The tears come in waves. Our family is shaken in a way we luckily have yet to experience. Larsen asked if he will die one day too.
As we came together today to bury my best friend and first born, my heart is heavy, my heart is broken. Of course we will be satisfied with the life we gave him. Yet, we are greedy. We wanted more hugs, more cuddles, more love from this little guy.
How does one write an obituary for a dog?
You just sit down, rub his gray fur, hold his paw for one last time, and let the tears fall into the dirt that you throw on his small white casket, hoping your hurt and love cradles his grave. You remind yourself this is the messy side of life, and you aren’t special enough to avoid it. You graciously accept the ways your son tries to “make you happy again.” You zone out a lot, almost in hopes of deceiving yourself you are living your normal life again and he is just around the corner as you walk in. You leave his bowl out on the counter. It hurts, but it feels like the right thing to do.
You shut the blinds so you can’t see the spot where it happened. You lie in bed a lot. Your friend brings you dirty martinis and croissant sandwiches. You finally face it. You sit in a dark, cold room, drinking hard booze while clutching his collar and clinging to the good times.
You take in the hurt and happiness, swallowing gulps of air after the intense crying, and you tell yourself it will get easier each day. You plan your escape route. You remember how you repeated “He’s a fighter” a zillion times at the emergency vet, with the prospects that positive thinking and words really do create reality. You take in the love that family and friends provide. You tell yourself it’s okay to keep grieving, even if its over a dog-eat-dog world.
He’s been with us since a few days after we were married. Nine years we’ve known his love. It’s funny how we found him. He was named “Teddy” and was in a Hawaiian shirt. He seemed just as laid back as us in that photograph. I imagine taking him to dog beach in San Diego one last time, letting him people watch and catch the ball in the waves.
He will be forever missed.
She was their baby in the beginning.
She was calm, laid back,
And then the human puppies were born.
She didn’t seem to mind the missed walks.
One of the grandfathers took her
The other grandfather brought her
Grandmothers bought her new collars
All the grandparents slipped her treats
When the human babies were learning
She was so calm, laid back,
When I spent the night at her house,
Her sweetness broke my heart.
She had knee surgery a year and a half ago.
And yesterday, Ben called to tell me
The vet came to the house.
Surrounded by the people
Oh, you sweet dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Its been a rough few months around here with a great deal of loss. I remember in January and February sitting with the dogs one evening after work and knowing that 4 of them were likely not going to be around much longer. Three of the four were past ten with a variety of age related issues. Tyra was the youngest at only about 6 but Great Danes have one of the shortest lifespans of any breed and she suffered from wobblers disease and other serious issues common in the breed. The first to go was our dear old German shepherd Dillon who we took in with another dog, Molly, when their home burned in the Valley fires. Dillon was old and frail when he came to us. He was in liver failure, heartworm positive and had advanced hip dysplasia. He had 5 good months with us before his issues took a toll and we had to say good bye. Exactly one week later, 13 year old blind pit bull Patty had declined to the point we couldn’t keep her comfortable and our hearts broke again. Patty came to us at age eleven as part of a felony cruelty case and we had 2 ½ wonderful years with her. Patty was perfection in dog form. She had a gentleness, presence and wisdom I had rarely seen even with 30 plus years of working with dogs. I was feeling incredibly fragile when Paul and I got home from the vet after letting Patty go. Two dogs in one week was heartbreaking and overwhelming. We walked in the door and our sweet Tyra was down and in distress. She had been failing for months and in fact several times it had seemed as if she would be the first to go. Tyra had wobblers disease, common in Great Danes and we had been having to help her up for months. She had nerve damage, intermittent incontinence, weakness and other ongoing issues. I was usually able to help Tyra get up but at 120 pounds it wasn’t easy and that time I couldn’t get her up at all. After trying several times with no success I knelt beside her and took her big beautiful head in my hands. I knew it wasn’t fair but I couldn’t help it. I’ve never been one to prolong the inevitable for my own needs but I was crushed with sadness and I struggled to breathe as I looked into her sweet brown eyes. “Sweetheart, I can’t do this. Please give me more time. You have to hold on a little longer for me. Just a week,” I begged her. ”Please, I just need a week to pull myself together”. We held each others gaze for a moment and then with Paul’s help we were able to get her up and moving. Tyra actually rallied for several months and it was a daily struggle but she still had a lot of joy in that time. We monitored her quality of life on a daily and often hourly basis, constantly weighing her comfort and happiness against the inevitable. We kept in touch with her vet, tried acupuncture, pain meds, anti-inflammatorys and more. In the past week it finally came to the point that her bad days outweighed the good and we knew we had to let her go. The vet came to the house and she slipped away in her own bed surrounded by those who loved her. The pain is still sharp and raw and the tears are quick to spill but that is the price of love. The greater the love, the greater the pain. And dogs are so worth it. So incredibly, amazingly worth it. I could have easily spared myself the agony of loss by just not taking them in. But how much richer my life was by knowing them. How sweet was the time I spent with them. And not only did they bring such precious love and joy to my life but what would have happened to them had I not taken them? Certainly there are worse things than a humane end in the arms of caring shelter staff, but how much better to be embraced by someone who loves you deeply and fully. Every dog deserves to take that last breath in the arms of someone who loves them so much that the tears flow but the sobs are held back until the last heartbeat to spare them the worry of seeing your grief.
The happiness, the laughs,
The sorrow, the pain,
The smiling eyes, the golden fur
He died peacefully cradled in my arms, the last sound he heard being my voice speaking to him softly: “It’s okay, buddy, it’s okay…” We had been inseparable for almost 20 years and in those years experienced a lifetime together.
Like so many good things often do, he came into my life unexpectedly. Arriving home from work one day, my wife announced she had something she wanted to show me. From the car she produced a small black furry bundle and sat it down in the floor. The bundle, a black puppy. She told me she had found him that afternoon wandering outside the school where she taught. “He was running around with some other stray adult dogs, just like he was one of them,” she said hopefully. Unsure if I was ready for another dog, I watched dubiously as the energetic pup set about inspecting the place, sniffing legs of chairs and peering into the kitchen. When he came over to inspect my shoe, I reached down and shook him playfully; he immediately latched onto my pant leg and began to pull vigorously. “OK”, I thought to myself, all doubts immediately swept aside, “I guess you’ll do.”
With all that said, I now come to what I really wanted to say at the start. Never was there a more faithful companion or better friend than this little mixed breed terrier we called Beau. Through the many years we spent together, through the ups and downs of living, the illnesses, the accidents, the happy times and the sad, he was always there for me. Regardless of my mood or the season, blind to the vicissitudes of my sometimes selfish and thoughtless behavior, he remained steadfastly committed to me, seeing me through every crisis and every disappointment. Days when things weren’t going well, his antics, like the black birds in the Robert Frost poem, had a way of lifting my spirits and so “has given my heart/A change of mood/And saved some part/Of a day I had rued.” That was my dog Beau, always coming to my rescue, far more than I ever came to his. In providing him a home and shelter, he returned the favor a thousand times over through his devotion, his patience, and, above all, his good company. After all this time I still miss him and sometimes dream we are together again walking in some green open space. Humorist Will Rogers once said that if dogs don’t go to heaven, then he wanted to go where they do. Oh yes. Yes.
It's been good to know yuh
As at least half of the world knows by now, tonight is Jon Stewart’s final night at the helm of the Daily Show. I must admit that I get choked up just contemplating what we’ll do without him. Accolades, reflections and perhaps some Fox-directed gibes, have been pouring down on him, so it’s hard to add much more. Except that I really want to thank him again, and the writers, producers, staff and all the office dogs, for letting me share one whole day with them in 2012. That will always be one of the highlights of my Bark career. Being invited to “do the Daily Show dogs” was quite the honor for us. And being given free rein to use the show’s set with our photographer KC Bailey, including excited dogs being able to sit in his chair and climb up on to the desk (leaving a few scratches here and there), and then allowing me to trail along for the day, poking into offices, chatting with all the people behind this amazingly creative show, well, you probably can guess it—how much more fun could there be?
Jon Stewart is a man with a big heart and a wise head who gave us endless hours of insightful entertainment and now what might he do? In a recent interview with his wife, Tracey Stewart, whose delightful book, Do Unto Animals comes out in Oct., she let us know that the family is about to grow a little furrier and feathery when they add an animal sanctuary to their New Jersey homestead. She also revealed one of Jon’s secret passions—but you gotta tune into our fall issue to find out what that might be! Let’s also hope that he’ll follow in the footsteps of Sen. Franken—another dog-loving comedian/politico—and make a play for public office. Who knows, there might be a future opening in his state’s governor’s office.
But for now I just want to add our “thanks for the memories” to Jon Stewart for all that he has given us and wish him and his family the best in their next chapter. And yes, the tears are now flowing.
Culture: Readers Write
Unexpected death brings new beginnings for one family.
She was a long hair mini dachshund and we did not know exactly how old she was. I do know that when I first rescued Tessie eight years ago, she could not see or hear well, but she sure could smell another dog a mile away. She was so energetic, happy, loved her walks, food and lots of people attention. I thought she was quite young.
On December 22 while I was getting ready for work, Tessie and I did our usual routine of breakfast and outside for her. After she ate her breakfast and jumped around a bit, she just lied down on the floor and could not get up. I could see something was very wrong and rushed her to the emergency pet hospital at 6:30am but she died in my lap on the way.
I was devastated and in absolute shock. It was a good thing I was on vacation for two weeks because I did not stop crying for four straight days. I was obligated to cook dinner for my children and their friends and in looking back it was good short term distraction. While I shopped for dinner, I cried all through the store. I would run across people that cried with me as they remembered their lost pets.
I guess perception is everything; I thought I had about 10 more years with Tessie. We now realize that she was most likely 6 or 7 years older than we thought. That would have made her 13 or 14 years old.
As I was lying in bed grieving, I started looking on PetFinder.com for dachshund rescues. I decided to rescue another dachshund because I understand their quirky and stubborn personalities. In honor of Tessie, I decided to rescue a senior dog.
Even though my friends and family kept telling me to wait, I just could not. It was just too painful and I knew that I wanted to have a dog in my life at all times. I was still able to go through the grieving process even though I was looking for another rescue. I did everything to get out of my heart, went to the animal shelter and dropped off items they needed for the shelter dogs, and took long walks.
I contacted Phyllis Van Boxtel, rescue director, of Recycle Love Dog Rescue to enquire about a little red dachshund mix that was apparently dropped off at a shelter by someone who could no longer take care of her. I was not sure about it, but it made me feel better just to find out more about her. Her name was Flower.
I live in Northern California and was in no shape to fly or drive to San Diego (400 miles) to pick her up. When I told this to Phyllis she said it was not a problem and they would fly her to me. I asked how much this would cost and she said it was free as she is affiliated with a company called Pilots n Paws who flies dogs for free to good homes. I could not believe it! So I just went with it, filled out the application and sent my adoption fee in. Sight-unseen I agreed to take her.
Three days later, I drove to the Palo Alto municipal airport and waited in a little building near the tarmac for the plane. Once landed, I was able to go out and greet them when they opened the airplane doors. It was amazing!
I renamed her Jolie Fleur (pretty flower in French). I’ve now had my little Jolie for 3 weeks. She is doing very well and taken me on as her person.
I believe my little Tessie led me to Jolie as I do believe she was trying to tell me something before she died. She was clingy and not her usual self for a few weeks before she died. Her signs were so subtle and I didn’t notice because she did not appear to be ill before she died.
I know that eventually I will go through a grieving period with Jolie because she is older. I don’t know how long we have together, but I am going to make it the best time I can for her.
It is worth rescuing senior dogs. They are so lovely and really know when they are safe and loved.
I would like to thank the following people for making this miracle happen: Phyllis Van Boxtel of Recycled Love Dog Rescue. Angel Pilots of Pilots n Paws. Luke Freeman for taking all the photos and being my best support of the Day! Thanks Luke, you are a trooper.
I am so happy to know that there are so many human angels still helping and loving the innocent animals that do not have a voice of their own and cannot defend themselves.
A tribute to my dog.
He loved adventures and Christmas presents.
I loved the weight of his tiny body resting on my lap, and the sound of him walking on the hardwood floor in the morning.
He had a mind of his own, but knew when to listen.
Foster dogs now fill the space he once did, on an endless rotation as long as they need, using the things that once belonged to him.
He runs and plays in spirit along side them in our home, and he is never far from my thoughts and heart.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just about every Monday morning finds me at the local off-leash dog beach with a group of dogs and a friend or two. It is such a welcome break from my demanding and stressful job as an animal control officer. The dogs I see at the beach are beautiful, happy and loved. Old and young, large and small, they are having a blast getting exercise, playtime and social interaction. It’s a delightful change from some of the heartbreak I see at work.
On a recent beach day I came across a scene which touched me deeply. A couple stood looking out at the ocean. Between them was a canvas stretcher with a handle that could be pulled across the sand. There was a thick dog bed on the stretcher and a very old dog lay flat on the bed. I paused for a moment, gazing at the gray muzzle and alert but cloudy eyes of the old dog. One of my dogs came up and before I could call her, the two dogs sniffed noses. The old dog was unable to even lift his head, but I could see that he was aware of what was happening around him and seemed to enjoy the interaction. I called my dog and apologized to the couple for the intrusion.
The dog and his people were calm and accepting and I continued on my way with a lump in my throat. I’m guessing that this was good-bye and that the people wanted the dog to have a last visit to a place he loved. To smell the salt air and feel the sweet ocean breeze. It was so obvious that this dog was adored, cherished, beloved. I teared up at the thought of what was coming and yet, in my world, I found it to be a beautiful scene. I’ve seen the old dogs, abandoned and alone in the shelter. I’ve held those unwanted dogs and tenderly stroked their gray muzzles. I’ve told them they were loved and kissed them as they drew their last breath.
This is what every dog deserves, I thought, as I took a final backward glance at the little family. All three were gazing out to sea.
I would love to hear how readers have made good-bye special for an adored companion.
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