From scruffy mutt to regal specimen.
I wonder if Duncan’s first owners thought he was a Scottish Terrier. Why else would they have given him such a grand Gaelic name? We met Duncan when he was six-months-old—by then he weighed thirty pounds with legs like stilts and ears like goalposts. Obviously, Duncan was not a Scottish Terrier.
We were visiting the shelter in search of a big dog, but when we saw Duncan we wondered if he was the dog for us. At first glance, he was a somewhat scruffy mutt, but he had beautiful, wise golden eyes and a very happy and confident demeanor. We went back the very next day to bring him home with us.
We enrolled Duncan in obedience class, where he soon became known as “Duncan the Wonder Dog,” because he was the model student and he had the most amazing repertoire of tricks. Okay, maybe your dog can catch anything from any distance, like Duncan, and maybe your dog will wave goodbye when you leave for work, like Duncan…but I wonder if your dog shakes his head from side to side (that’s right, side to side, not up and down, Counselor) when you ask him if he likes lawyers!
Living with a wunderkind of a dog can be a challenge. At first, we tried crating Duncan when we left the house, for his safety and our peace of mind. Within a week, to our wonder, our Houdini hound had figured out how to unhook the latch. We installed a baby gate so that Duncan would be confined to the back of the house, but it didn’t take very long for us to return home to find Duncan on the “wrong” side of the gate—or, if he was on the “right” side, the comforter on our bed would have conspicuous canine creases. Needless to say, we gave up on restricting Duncan to or from any part of HIS house.
All this time, Duncan continued to grow. His legs grew, his torso grew and his fur grew. We wondered when the growth spurts would end. By the time they did, we had the big dog we originally wanted: Duncan weighed 75 pounds, and the somewhat scruffy mutt now was a rather regal specimen!
We could take Duncan anywhere. We never wondered how he would behave. He always was a perfect gentleman—although at parades he would raise his snout to the heavens and howl when the fire engines sounded their sirens, much to the amusement of other parade-goers. On the Friday evening after September 11, 2001, there was a candlelight vigil along Ridge Avenue, which spans the entire length of our town. Duncan and I walked over to be part of that meaningful memorial and—wouldn’t you know it—the city’s police and fire departments had vehicles that traveled the route, sirens sounding, to close the vigil. On that night, Duncan’s howling seemed appropriately mournful.
Duncan and I once won a look-alike contest! We beat out a Dalmatian whose owner sported a black-and-white polka-dotted outfit. I’ll bet you wonder what I wore…nothing! Well, nothing special, Duncan and I won on the merits of our mutual grey hair.
There was never a time that we were out with Duncan that someone didn’t wonder about Duncan’s lineage: “I wonder if he is an Irish Wolfhound.” “I wonder if he is a Briard.” “I wonder if he is an Otterhound.” “I wonder if he is a Giant Schnauzer.” “I wonder…” We wondered too, but to tell the truth, we really didn’t care, because Duncan was a wonderful dog!
Her ruffian spirit will remain with us always.
Nena Zamora, a beloved honorary member of the Puppy Paws Productions pack, left us too soon for doggy heaven on August 4, 2009. At only seven-years-old, she was diagnosed with AIHA (Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia), a blood disorder in which a dog’s immune system destroys his or her own red blood cells. The onset of Nena’s disease was dramatic and sudden. Though she was given every possibility to win her battle against this often-fatal disease, she did not beat the 50/50 odds, and succumbed to the peaceful eternal universe in the loving arms of her human, Mama.
Her unique personality endeared her to us deeply. She had a penchant for hiding her little toys in whatever territory she claimed as her own (and all territories were hers). It was not unusual to find a latex piggy under a sofa pillow, a stuffed horsey under the Christmas tree skirt, or a bunny nestled in the folds of the bedsheets. All seats she believed to be her throne—from the couch to a camp chair to a hammock. She had a disdain of her feet being touched, more than likely from an unpleasant nail-clipping memory. She loved to plow her nose through the sand at Coronado Dog Beach, but cared little for the ocean. She spent many happy times with our CEO Pepper frolicking at Grape St. Park, and though Pepper considered her a pesky little sister, secretly she was rather fond of her adoring ﬁrst little sister. She obligingly sported Ladybug, Chef and a Cheerleader costumes for Halloween, and was a fashion trendsetter in her summer sundress and winter wool sweater. As brothers were added to her adopted family, she ensured, with her alpha dominance, their adherence to pack rules. Her adventurous nature found her enjoying a road trip to San Francisco, camping in Cuyamaca Park and lounging by a dog-friendly resort pool in Palm Springs.
Her private memorial was held in the backyard. We laid her for one last time in the hammock she loved to share with her human, and surrounded her with Black-Eyed Susans. Her bright ruffian spirit will remain with us always.
For more information about AIHA and the research being done to eradicate this disease, visit the Morris Animal Foundation.
About the Author
A trio of short, sweet tributes to lost friends.
Our Darling Chelsea, 1989-2009
Annie the Qween
She had the shortest little legs I’ve ever seen on a Basset, she did not care for walking on a leash, and I’m pretty convinced that she practiced mind control on me as she could always communicate what she wanted and always got it. She was friendly to all people and dogs, loved children, but was also a great huntress who just a month before she died killed a squirrel in our backyard and of course brought it to me as a gift.
What I’ve come to realize is that Cleo is in such a better place … doggie heaven. She, at least in my mind, received the greatest gift I could give her—me at her side for her last morning on earth. Is that too presumptuous? I hope she took it in the spirit meant—that as her human companion, I would have my hand on her back, lean down and whisper that I loved her in her ear as the vet shaved the front of her paw for the big injection. She was my big, oversized, double-coated blond Golden Retriever best friend for six years. I would have liked to have shared the first five years of her life too. Selfishly, I think she would have preferred it that way as well.
I hope this doesn’t sound morose but I found a sense of personal, albeit stoic, comfort and satisfaction from (once I made up my mind that it had to be done) taking her next door to Paul and Pandora’s backyard for a last romp in the grass she loved. There she quickly found a prickly dwarf lemon tree to “hide” under. And from which it would have been a thorny time getting her out, had she not come when I asked. That’s how much she trusted me. Of course, she probably would have been perfectly happy to die there as it was cool against the cinderblock wall with the smell of Meyer lemons and Pandora’s ripe beefsteak tomato plants. Note: Paul and Pandora are thankfully out of town, but would have approved of this use of their big backyard.
When I led Cleo home from next door, I did not put the leash on her. I wanted her to move under her own steam without the old “rudder” that typically connected us on our outside walks.
Her coat looked a little mussed. I brushed her beautiful fur one last time—as I didn’t want the vet to think we had not been taking good care of her. But, of course, also because I wanted to remember the moment, the feel of her fur, how thin it had become, how so “not” like her body she had become. When I pulled her fur out of the brush and placed it in the trashcan, I knew that it would be for the last time—and remembered all the “good times” we done “brushin’.” She loved to be brushed. And brushed. And brushed. She would lean into me as if to say, “You can just brush me forever and ever.” This last time she could have cared less. She tolerated my whim—making me whole right to the end.
I checked inside her ears and saw they needed cleaning. I wiped them out—so, I guess when she “met her maker,” she would have clean ears. By then, a piece of “schmutz,” as we called it, had formed in her left eye. As if (yes, I know this is anthropomorphizing. Who cares?) she had cried. As if she knew this would be the last of everything and that she had to start memorizing everything about her life with us to carry it with her to doggie heaven.
Often I have thought that dogs don’t like to go to the vets because they can “sniff” the death of one of their kin. So I made up my mind that I wanted her to be able to smell “me” in her last moments. I put on a bit of the lavender scent that I’ve worn the whole time we shared her life, and dabbed a bit on her, too. I made sure that I put it on my legs and arms so that when I sat on the vet’s cold linoleum office floor next to her, she would be sure to smell the lavender, and not the antiseptic, other sick dogs, the other stuff.
I think she knew that I would have done anything for her—to make her passing more comfortable for her as I had made her life as whole and well and healthy as it could be.
This memory reminds me of my father’s last hours. I washed his face, tried to clean his hands and fingernails (the hospital certainly didn’t do it), and bought a small bottle of his favorite long-time after shave (Mennen) and dabbed some on his cheeks. He loved that manly scent. I don’t know if he was able to smell it, but maybe he did. It was as if this act of Mennen After Shave would create some bond between us, which, of course, it had long, long ago. As if I knew this would be the last of everything that I saw of him, that I had to start memorizing everything about my father as he lay dying in his sweaty hospital gown. That I would have to carry all the memories like logs, including these, to remember him by. I wanted to remember it all. The good. The bad. Everything in between.
Having just realized the similarity between Cleo’s passing and that of my father, I guess these acts of goodbye are what we create for ourselves to carry on. Memories we will hold on to like perfect nuggets of gold or ice. They are what make our final interactions meaningful to us… the living.
Don’t we always want just one more song?
I spent the last few weeks carrying my German Shepherd up the stairs at night. I couldn’t bear the thought of Tirowa waking in the night alone. He would surely try to climb the stairs to be with his people. He would fall, and be dishonored by his defeat. My once-heroic dog was reduced to a frail body riddled with cancer. However, his downy white coat covered the protruding bones with velvety softness.
On our last full night together, I slept downstairs on the floor with him. His breathing so labored, I worried he might not make it through the night. A part of me wished he would go quietly that night so I would not be faced with the task of driving him to the vet. I had spoken to Dr. Latta the day before. They had special hours set aside for when we humans have to undertake this last step in our furry companions’ lives. I had been patiently waiting for some sort of sign from Tirowa that he no longer wanted to go on. But that sign was not going to come without horrific suffering on his part. Tirowa just wanted to be by my side silently and adoringly. It was now my job to be strong.
I knew that my beast of a boy hated the vet’s office. He would shake and cry in the waiting room, and climb in my lap when Dr. Latta entered the room. He refused her biscuits. But Dr. Latta had taken care of my boy for the last 12 years with kindness that one does not often see. She rushed in after hours to stitch his wounds with just me for an assistant. And now, Tirowa and I would be making the journey to West Chester one last time.
There were two conversations I was trying to avoid almost as much as the evening’s appointment. I would have to call Seth in Cooperstown and tell him. And I would have to tell my girls. I thought about trying to shield them from the pain, take the dog after they went to bed. But I recalled my own childhood emotions when faced with loss. I always felt guilt for not saying goodbye properly. So this I granted them—Kaya to her long-time guardian and Marley to her playmate. They took it harder than I had imagined but Seth was strong for us, trying to gently calm the sadness.
On the drive to Dr. Latta’s, I pulled over in a quiet park. I sat in the back of the jeep with Tirowa, listening to music. I wanted to stay there, in the dark and peace, soaking up the sweet scent of his puppy feet for one more song. Don’t we always want just one more song?
He died in my arms, beautiful and loyal to the absolute end. Fare thee well my doggy….
Maxwelton arrives at the Pearly Gates.
Yesterday, as he finally let us cuddle and pet him to our heart’s content, Maxwelton Madison Legman slipped off to his final nap, snoring along the way. For 14 years, Max has been my muse and my inspiration, my companion and my pizza buddy. He’s protected our family from all manner of trick-or-treaters, mail carriers, squirrels, cats and doorbells. He introduced us to neighbors and their lawns and inspired us to explore the wonderful hikes and paths in our area. He kept us friends with those same lovely neighbors who had house keys to let Max out and tell him to “get busy” in case we were running late getting home. He introduced us to many carpet cleaning companies and ever-stronger vacuums. Goodbye Max. We already miss your bark. We love you and hope there are doorbells in heaven.
Last weekend, I wrote a letter to a special friend that I’ll never have the chance to read to him.
How did 13 years go by so quickly? I remember you being a three-month-old ball of fur that fit in my right hand, the runt who edged-out his littermates by snuggling into Momma’s neck and giving her a kiss the first time she picked you up. (You always were a great schmooze.)
We shared six homes, four cities and so many campsites I can’t even count. You loved to hike, and swim, and chase rabbits. You hated geese with a passion, and we never figured out why.
You drove us crazy, refusing to be house-trained, but then learned to ring a bell when you needed to go out, and you were our only child during those long, dark years when we couldn’t have a baby. You were Grandpa’s “buddy,” who got fed from the table when neither of you thought we were looking, and finally, you became our daughter’s favorite baby. Her first word was, “Puppy.”
She also fed you from the table when you thought we weren’t looking.
Your love could be bought with a pizza crust or an ear skritch.
You were our “Hoover Hound,” who ate five pounds of raw chicken wings, a two-pound loaf of uncooked bread dough, and an entire bag of mini peanut butter cups. But, you only had to go to the vet on that last one, ’cause you didn’t bother to unwrap them first!
You ruined our carpets, raided our (and others’) pantries, invaded our bed and filled our lives with all of the frustration, worry, love and laughter that only a member of the family can.
As hard as it was, I’m glad I was there at the end. I’m glad you could feel my hand, and hear my voice. I’m glad I could say, “Good dog!” one last time.
If there is a special place in heaven for pets, I hope that it’s filled with fast-food and slow geese.
Goodbye, “Trouble”…we’ll miss you.
Dad, Momma and Gracie
Remembering a good friend in verse.
Always loyal and trusting, except when going to the vet!
Jack the Dog Dowdell died at 11:58 a.m., March 16, 2009. He died under the care of a veterinarian, from a lovingly administered overdose of barbiturates. One can assume that if he felt anything at all at the time, it was good.
Jack was born in October of 1994, and was rescued from the streets by the ASPCA as a very small pup, reportedly foraging on his own along Stanley Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y. At 12 weeks, he was put up for adoption at the ASPCA animal shelter on Staten Island, N.Y., where he met and seduced Eva Marie and Stephen Dowdell, a young couple who claimed they had gone to the shelter as an excuse to avoid Christmas shopping.
At the time, Jack had a skin disease that required painful bathing treatments. An acute distaste for baths stayed with him his entire life, and he only tolerated them in order to make his humans happy and to continue to be fed. Still, he was generally fastidious for a dog, except for a few instances of finding dead fish at the shore of a lake and rubbing their stink onto his fur.
Jack was a mutt, exhibiting physical characteristics of the Labrador Retriever and Pit Bull breeds. He was mostly black, with smooth fur that curled slightly when wet. His markings were white, including a swath down his chest and at the tips of three of his paws. His demeanor was one of confidence and independence, as well as good humor and intelligence. Overall, the effect was that of a man-about-town in tux and spats, but with a hardened edge that would make a tough think twice about attempting to roll him.
Indeed, Jack was the classic Alpha male. In the early weeks of his adoption, he was what his behavioral trainer, a Vietnam vet and military guard dog trainer, would call “a terror.” The advice: “Get this dog fixed as soon as you can.” Even as a young puppy and skinny adolescent, he would bound into the neighborhood dog run crowd—first at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island and later in Prospect Park, Brooklyn—to find the biggest male on the scene and “get into his face” to establish his position in the order.
At the same time, he exhibited a strong streak of loyalty to those he learned he could trust, and who had earned the status of a member of his pack. Such humans and dogs from the old days could always count on Jack’s instant acceptance, affection and respect, even years later.
Jack was also a self-taught watchdog. When he would arrive at a location, he typically would assess the immediate territory that needed to be protected, and establish a protective perimeter within which no unwelcome entity, man nor beast, would be allowed to enter. It was his way of feeling safe, and of keeping his inner circle protected. While other dogs, including his adopted brother Sam, would typically end up clamoring to be inside with their humans, Jack often was most at ease on the outside, keeping watch, for long stretches of time.
On walks, he was also adept at spotting dirt bags and miscreants, and keeping them at arms’ length. His “freakometer” was well tuned. Still, he never deliberately bit anyone, except for Sam I Am once during the first 24 hours of their time together to firmly establish his dominance and a possum who’d invaded one of his safe zones and was too slow to get away.
In his younger years, Jack showed athletic talent as a tireless tennis ball chaser, duck hunter, soccer player and wrestler, and was known to catapult up onto beds in the morning when it was time for his humans to prepare his breakfast. Throughout his life he displayed a mischievous sense of humor, which at times led to a shoe being chewed beyond usefulness or a car stick shift or a plastic dish being permanently scarred. But he also knew how to make his humans laugh, and in particular could elicit giggles from Eva at will, up until the very end.
Given his independent nature, his kisses were rare, and when bestowed, they were like gold.
Jack the Dog is survived by the members of his innermost pack, including his human parents Eva and Stephen, his brother Sam; his grandhumans Momma Kleist and Momma and Poppa Dowdell; his Aunt Sue, and a small number of other aunts and uncles to whom he offered his lifetime devotion.
And possibly, by that squirrel who used to make faces at him from just outside the kitchen window.
Darling Dave lived for fourteen years with our neighbors Gary and Nancy. They adopted him from sheep farmers at the greenmarket in Union Square, NYC. He was the last puppy in the box, a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix. Dave loved his toys, his people, his treats. Many of us loved Dave. I was one. Dave had a set of ears that were like gorgeous instruments, and he played them. Nancy called in February to commission me to make portraits of Dave as a surprise for Gary’s birthday. Dave died in March, just after his 14th birthday and a few days before Gary’s 50th. I loved spending the time with him to make these portraits. His eyes gazed back at me with such depth and clarity. Sweet dreams, you beautiful Dave, you.
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