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.
Strong-willed and self-sufficient, Foxy arrived and departed on her own terms.
Foxy was sitting in my husband’s lap when I got back from church that peaceful autumn morning. There they were, the two of them, on the front porch rocking in the wooden rocker, Foxy’s head hidden in the bend of his arm.
“Look what came to live with us,” he said with a smile.
“Don’t get attached, Eddie,” I said, as I walked up the porch steps. Our four-year-old Blue Healer, Yeti, had just died of a respiratory disease. Both of us were still reeling from that. Now, I wondered how he thought this little pup could ever take her place.
“Cowboy brought her while you were gone,” Eddie said. “He had heard about Yeti.”
“Okay,” I said with raised eyebrows. “Let’s hear it.”
He held Foxy closer as he recounted the visit. “This pup was meant for you and the missus,” Cowboy had said, pulling the little sandy ball of fur out of his backseat. “This here’s Foxy.”
“Where did you come from, little girl?” Eddie asked, when Cowboy handed her over. Foxy was timid and shaking, but as he held her close and talked to her, she calmed down. Eddie has a way with animals.
“My dogs dragged her up out of the woods a while back. I’ve been lookin’ for her a good home ever since. First I thought they’d caught ’em a baby groundhog. Kinda looks like a Pam-a-nar-i-an, don’t she?”
Eddie smiled. He appreciated Cowboy’s down-home use of the English language. And, he was right. She looked like she might have a little Pomeranian in her, but from the size of her fur-covered paws, she was going to be a much larger dog. She looked a lot like some of the coyotes we had seen in the area.
Then, according to my husband’s story, Cowboy drove off without giving him a chance to refuse. Knowing Eddie’s love for animals, I was skeptical.
“Linda, say hello to Foxy,” Eddie said as I studied her from a distance. Her big brown eyes, wild as a wolf, looked away from me as if making eye contact would be too risky. She looked like a little red fox, cute as a button, and a sly one. Her eyes darted from side to side.
Always the optimist, Eddie said, “I like her. Let’s give her a chance.” He held Foxy in his lap much of the day, fearing that if he turned her loose, she’d run away. “Okay, girl,” he finally said. “If you want to stay, it’s up to you.” When he let her go, she circled the house a few times, then, came back to lie on the porch. The decision was made, but it would be on her terms.
Our vet looked Foxy over and said she was probably a “coy dog,” a mix between a coyote and a domesticated dog. She had thick fur instead of hair, pointed ears and nose, and a wild nature that was unmistakable. Now, we understood her a little better. She had a wild side to her on the one hand and a need to be loved on the other. The combination made warming up to Foxy a real challenge.
Progress was slow. The first few months, Foxy continued to keep her distance. She circled us when we walked in the yard and wouldn’t come to us when we called. She and I had one thing in common—we were both afraid of getting too close.
Sometimes, even Eddie, got discouraged, but we could see Foxy gradually coming our way. Her independent personality couldn’t be rushed or forced. We gave her space and backed off. It was up to her.
Eddie taught her to tree squirrels. But, there was one major drawback to teaching her to hunt. Every time he pulled out a gun, she was gone, quick as a whip, back to the house. She loved to hunt so long as the gun stayed out of sight.
One turbulent April night, Foxy jumped up in bed with us. She had never done that, so I knew something was wrong. I tried to coax her out of the bed, but it was no use. She wasn’t leaving our sides. We awoke around three o’clock in the morning to the sound of a freight train. A tornado hit the back of the farm, uprooting many large trees, but, luckily, our house was spared. Foxy’s warning would not go unheeded next time.
Over the years and out of mutual respect, Foxy became our best friend. She accepted us as her family and we, in turn, accepted her odd ways. Although her character remained unchanged, her devotion to us was undeniable. She became a great watchdog, barking at any man or beast that stepped foot on our place. But, that’s all she did. She wouldn’t hurt a flea.
When she sensed danger, we knew it. She would stand between us and the intruder and bark incessantly. Nothing could get her to stop. Eddie often said her judge of character was better than most psychologists. She could read a cold-hearted person like a book.
After ten years with us, Foxy’s health began to wane and her eyesight started to fail. Since she could no longer hunt for her meals, we fed her by hand. For the first time in her life, she accepted our help and we were glad to oblige, but we didn’t want her to suffer. We discussed putting her down, but not yet. We’d take it a day at a time. Fortunately, we would never have to face that day. Foxy had another plan.
One fall morning, just like the Sunday morning Cowboy had brought her, I went to church. When I got back in, Eddie was awful quiet.
“Where’s Foxy?” I asked.
“She went to the woods,” he said.
That wasn’t unusual, so I shrugged it off and went on about my day.
That afternoon, Foxy still hadn’t returned. That was unusual. Her pilgrimages to the woods never lasted more than a few hours. Then, I noticed Eddie’s long face.
“She’s gone, Linda,” he said with finality.
“Oh, that’s not so. You know how she wanders. She’ll be back.” My husband has a sixth sense, but I didn’t want to consider our dear Foxy might be gone for good.
When she hadn’t returned by bedtime, he told me what had happened. “After you left for church this morning, I went out to do my chores. As I worked, I saw Foxy walking past me on her way to the woods. She did something I’d never seen her do. She stopped and looked back at me. I talked to her, told her what a good old girl she was, then, she dropped her head, turned toward the woods and disappeared. Don’t ask me how I knew, but I could tell she was saying goodbye. I wanted to call her, try to stop her, but that would have been wrong. I had to let her go.”
We looked for her for days, but she was nowhere to be found. Something instilled in her by her Creator was stronger than her love for us. For Foxy, leaving us behind with her dignity intact was the most natural thing in the world. Had she planned it this way?
From the very first day, we knew she was strong-willed and self-sufficient. Now, in her final hours, she not only kept her sense of pride, she helped us let go. How could she have known that act of courage would give us solace? We would miss her, but it was her decision. She knew what she had to do. She was born in the woods and she would die in the woods. It was Foxy’s way.
The world was Maggie's stinky oyster.
Born and raised on California’s central coast, I thought I had experienced all the travel adventures it had to offer. But one fine spring day, I discovered there was something I had missed. I’m not talking about a previously undiscovered Big Sur panorama here. But a Big Sur odor-rama? That one had eluded me.
It was Maggie, my calendar-pretty, 100-pound Shepherd-Collie mix, who introduced me to this new perspective. Most of the time, Maggie was at the top of her class when it came to dignified behavior. But put her within smelling proximity of putrid substances, and all pretence at Lassie went down the tubes. Like many of her species, she saw the world through her nose, and I have never met another so completely committed to the rank and rancid. When it came to disgusting, Maggie was a connoisseur.
On my day of discovery, we left San Francisco for a drive down Highway 1; it was a work trip requiring my arrival in San Luis Obispo for a potluck dinner and meeting that evening. I intended to stop along the way to check out a few project sites for my employer, a California conservation organization. Some of these spots were remote and lonely. Maggie would be my protector.
As soon as I opened the door at our first stop just south of Carmel, Maggie took off like a rocket, muzzle high in the wind. Ten minutes later I found her tunneling through a mountain of deer poop. Scolding her was useless. Her eyes had glazed over, a sure sign of retreat into the foul. Leaping into the car, she settled into her co-pilot position and pointed her nose south. “Onward, Jeeves,” she all but said. “There’s even better up ahead.”
She was right. Our next stop was a Big Sur beach, requiring a long climb down a steep cliff. As I descended the rocky trail, Maggie shot by, nearly knocking me over. Emerging from the brush five minutes later, I found her knee-deep in a long-dead elephant seal. Maggots squirmed in panic as she flung herself upon them with unrestrained gusto. Each time she did, her body hit the carcass with the power of an asteroid, forcing chunks of putrefied blubber and maggots to erupt onto my pants leg.
Needless to say, the car was not a pleasant place to be after this, but we had just begun. Our next stops involved fish guts, seaweed, guano, a dolphin head and the remains of an unidentifiable shorebird, in that order. Some of these items were rolled in, with enthusiasm undiminished since the elephant seal. Others were quickly gulped, their rancid vapors emerging from Maggie’s digestive track at regular intervals, forcing me to turn on the car’s 4WRD.
This was our air-conditioning system, identified for me by an Arizona gas station attendant one boiling summer day years earlier. “Hey, I see ya got 4WRD in your car,” he deadpanned, as I wiped my dripping forehead with an already-drenched handkerchief. Not wanting to be seen as an ignorant bimbo, I nodded in agreement. “Yep, Four Windows Rolled Down,” he shrieked, as he fell over in hysterics. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
Ears flat to the wind, Maggie inhaled the bracing coastal air as we sped past Hearst Castle. But the welcome relief of fresh air was soon denied me when I realized I had forgotten to buy a promised dessert for the potluck that evening. At a rural grocery store, I chose a baked but frozen fruit pie over Ho Hos and Twinkies. I drove with closed windows and the car heater at full throttle to thaw it out.
During the remaining 50 miles, the car morphed into a germ warfare lab. Maggie’s carefully concocted blend of deer poop, rotten seal, fish guts, seaweed, rancid dolphin, fresh guano and dead shorebird wafted off her coat like a biological weapon.
I wondered about the effect on the pie. Would it be edible? Should I serve it? Pondering my future as a homicide-by-poisoning suspect, I glanced over at Maggie. Ensconced on her throne like a fine-perfumed princess, she was clearly proud of a job well done. I pulled over and tossed the pie in a dumpster.
Maggie is now gone, but one of the many ways I remember her is in my heightened awareness of the full range of adventures the California coast has to offer. As I wax poetic over the deep violet hues of a Pacific sunset, I can imagine her on high, winging her way through fluffy white clouds from one holy stench to another. As committed to fetid foraging as she was here on earth, she has probably opened a business. “Maggie’s Heavenly Tours,” she calls it. “Divine Panoramas? Definitely not! Divine Odor-ramas? Guaranteed!”
Reader tribute to a maddening, but beautiful Aussie.
You know how you have that one dog—the one you are closer to than all the others you lived with over the years. Not the most obedient, nor the most talented, but the one to whom you are bound more tightly than any others. You hate to say it, but you do love that one more.
And that was Molly. She was willful, difficult, made me crazy. I’d yell in frustration at her and at myself. Over the years I’m not sure if she got better or I just adjusted to her.
At 45 pounds, she was a big Aussie Shepherd-mix with the most beautiful blue merle coat. She was so unique it became annoying to walk her anywhere because people constantly stopped to admire her and ask her breed. A rescue, I couldn’t be sure. But she knew she looked good and ate up the attention. Maybe a Catahoula, someone said. A what?
After the total failure of obedience class, our new personal trainer told me Molly needed mental stimulation. “What do you mean, like a magazine subscription?” No, try a herd of ducks. She also said Molly had no respect for me. That wasn’t really new information.
I tried a long lead of clothesline, really long, to work with her. She wrapped it around me and pulled. The rope burns on my ankles got me dubious looks at work. When not leashed, she would take the opportunity to run down the driveway, dash across the road to visit the neighbor’s horses. And, of course, check out the manure piles. After a horse kicked her, I hoped that would end her fascination. It didn’t. Next time she ran over to see the horses, she just stayed on our side of the fence and barked. What fun! For her, maybe.
For fourteen years, less two after her heart condition slowed us down, we traveled the country. We explored national parks first in the Celica and then in the little red truck full of our camping gear. She was ever-alert, barking at cows and horses grazing in fields. And she loved staring out the front window, checking the road ahead. The roar of the big trucks and motorcycles woke her; she would stand cramped against the car roof watching them pass. And when she sat in the passenger seat next to me, and needed attention, I’d get a quick paw on my arm until I pet her. She wasn’t really a camper though, preferring hotel rooms where she could jump on the beds and slurp from a toilet full of nice cold water.
She tried to push me off a cliff in the Porcupine Mountains. We listened to coyotes in New Mexico. Explored the Kansas tall-grass prairie, where I watched the grass part above her as she ran through the fields. And Sleeping Bear Dunes was great for a swim in Lake Michigan. We left Molly-holes under the picnic tables at each of our campsites—evidence of frustration at being tied to the table.
Although she successfully learned really reliable recall, she still had her moments. I’d see that backward glance at me, the glint in her eye, then, off she’d race on her adventure. I had to learn not to move away from where she last saw me; I had to learn to wait.
The last two years were hard. I hoped she might die quickly, make it easier on me. It could have happened when she would collapse and go unconscious. But it didn’t. And then it came time to make that ever-so-hard decision, and take her to the vet, for the last time. Her eyes looked tired and sad.
Dear Molly, it was a great run!
A tribute to our beautiful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel sisters
One was Sugar, one was Spice;
Both were so very, sweet, precious and nice.
That they were “Royal” there is no doubt;
They were charming and gracious, and they’d never pout;
Just far too cute and way too smart;
It is no wonder they take over your heart.
They’d run and play, smiling and happy all day;
They brought kisses and joy wherever they’d stay.
God made them to be “Comfort” dogs but they were so much more;
With hearts and eyes so full of love, they’d make your spirit soar!
At the end of each day, come what may, their tails were always wagging;
They’d make it their goal to enter your soul and keep your will from sagging.
With fur so soft, beauty so great and eyes like large pools of honey;
You’d get lost in their love and thank God above for making your life so sunny.
We question not the love they brought will be with us until the end;
You could search the world over and over again and find no more loyal companion, shadow and friend.
Our Gabrielle and our Josephine were entrusted into our care
That their lives were so short, but sweet none-the-less, just doesn’t seem very fair.
They will be missed beyond words…our precious little Cavalier “forever-baby” angels!
The little round stuffed Santa with pompoms for arms and legs sat under the tree waiting for its dog. We had adopted Algren (then named Buddy) on Christmas Eve but could not bring him home from the shelter until the day after Christmas. I couldn’t wait. It was love at first sight when I saw him.
We didn’t choose Daisy, our other dog. A friend told us about her and how she needed a new home. She was so different from Algren. Daisy was a force, the heart of our home. But Algren seemed to need us. He inspired you to want to protect him. But of course, as with all dogs, it turned out that we needed Algren. It wasn’t just that he was a good dog. He was that. And it wasn’t just that he was the best dog ever. He certainly was. The thing about Algren that made you need him was that he was pure. He became the quiet, ever-present soul of our home.
Anyone who met Algren was struck with the same sentiment—there was something special about him and you just wanted to protect him. He was a stout, timid Boxer/English Bulldog mix. People often thought he was a Boxer puppy. It was partly this, along with his sweet disposition and his worried eyes, that inspired people who knew him to want to protect him. As you got to know him though, it was his gentle kindness and loyalty that compelled you to watch over him. It was that same kindness and loyalty that made you need him in your life.
He displayed that loyalty whenever we went out to a dog park or the forest preserve in a group. Algren would hang back to make sure the last of the group was coming, whether a human or a dog. He would be the person you would want as your partner if you were a police officer. He would be the soldier you wanted in your troop. He never left anyone behind.
Algren grew to be a strong dog, although he remained wary of unfamiliar people and situations. His actions made me realize something: When the world was that scary for you, every day outside was an act of bravery. That is what bravery is—standing up to what you fear most. This is what Algren did.
He displayed this bravery to the end, when we had to say goodbye. A tumor pushed on his heart, causing fluid to build up, making it difficult to breathe. In the hospital room, Algren’s eyes met ours when he was brought in and I saw relief. But I also saw something else. It wasn’t fear. It was gratitude. Something about the way he gave us kisses that day told me he was saying, among other things, thank you. To that I must reply: Yes Algren, you were the best dog who ever lived and it is I who must say thanks. Thanks for letting me take care of you. It was an honor.
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