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.
Pat and Rug’s excellent adventure
When sweet Rug died after six months of diagnostic testing, surgery and two aggressive cancers, I sent an obituary to his friends:
Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Dog Perfect Rug passed from his earthly life. Born in September 1997 and found and rescued at age six weeks by a Good Samaritan whose two little girls nurtured him, he chose Pat to be his life’s companion/pack mate two weeks later. A soft, fuzzy puppy, whose coat elicited his name, Rug grew into a 55-pound shaggy black adult with a commanding presence and a curling tail. Rug made friends wherever he went and never met a child he didn’t like. The only mammal he hesitated to meet was Yellowstone’s buffalo—just stared and growled from within the safety of the car.
Rug attended three increasingly difficult schools and was graduated with a Canine Good Citizen Certificate. With a Service Dog letter and seldom-worn vest, he traveled the western half of the United States visiting rivers, streams, lakes, Oregon Trail, Yellowstone Park, Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark’s trails and Pacific camp, redwoods, Grand Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument, and national, state, and local parks and campgrounds, hotels, motels, restaurants and museums, making it possible for Pat to visit those as well. But for his harness, he would have been washed away by the swift Pecos River in New Mexico. He loved to swim but scared Pat by jumping precipitously into unknown waters.
The Best Dog in the World will be greatly, immensely, never-to-be-forgotten missed and loved. A horribly aggressive set of cancers may have broken his body but never his spirit. Rug lives on in my heart, brain, soul. Being allowed to be his person was one of my life’s best experiences and added joy, love and companionship to my life. He may have been “only a dog” as some say but became the center of expanding my world. He was loving, loyal and loved road trips.
When after months of thinking about getting a dog and how to do a good job raising him, I went to the local pound with the “virtuous” intention of rescuing an older female. The two adult females weren’t adoptable so I began looking at the mound of wriggling bodies that was the puppy pen. At the bottom of the pile were a little black nose and two black velvet ears and I pointed and said, “That one.” The pound person had quite a time getting “that one” and when she did, we stood him on the floor and I ran one finger down his back. His tail went to one side and back, no trembling, no peeing on the floor, just calm reaction. His fur was soft and his tongue pink. My dog.
Found out he was so calm because had only been there two hours. He apparently was petrified and when I got him home and he began growing rapidly in size and confidence, his true puppy self was one who destroyed one each of three pairs of shoes in one day. I’d go to work and declare, “I’m taking him back” every day. Many thought he was a giant Schnauzer mix from a local puppy mill dumping site and he did have that look. Whatever he was, kids fell all over him and were thrilled to get him to sit and stay as long as I gave them a treat to give him. Adults loved him too but his size and very deep bark made strangers hesitate; not a bad thing.
When we hit the road, for about 25,000 miles, his place was beside me on the passenger seat. Friends and strangers would be either amazed or dismayed that I went camping alone. My response? I’m not alone; Rug is here. After Rug joined me, I became a safer driver for fear of injuring him in an accident and after years of cyclical depression, never seriously considered suicide again. I had to be here for Rug.
Other than a flea allergy aggravated by hot weather, he generally was healthy until he turned twelve and the tumors began. As I became more desperate to find a way to help him and took him to the university veterinary specialty clinics, his condition only became more dire. Soon he was on increasingly strong pain medication given to him in a slice of roast beef or ham until one day, he refused to eat or drink. Without pain medication, the cancers were excruciating. It was time.
Writing about the horror of that last hour in the vet’s office is beyond me other than to say that after the first sedating injection was given him, he visibly relaxed, looked at me and opened his mouth. I leaned down and he gently licked my cheek and then was asleep. He wasn’t in pain.
The next few days and weeks were a blur of crying and depression and looking around at every sound. Is it Rug? The lack of the big shaggy dog was palpable. When I began looking at dog rescue sites online, it was a serious search for relief. One day, there was a black shaggy face. Mat (smaller than Rug) has been with me for almost a year, so now is probably about two years old.
When I first brought him home, all his vertebrae and ribs stood out individually, he was shaved due to matting, and he had heartworms. All that is resolved, his thick coat is shiny black and wavy, his tail is a long plume and he is heartworm negative. After the first month of not allowing me to touch his head or face, one day he came up to me and put his mouth and nose to my cheek and that was it. He had decided I was okay.
No, he isn’t Rug and I don’t pretend he is or ever will be but he is a great goofy dog who never got a chance to really grow into his huge feet and long legs. He will happily roll around on the floor or on grass with mouth wide open—no reason, just being alive. Yes, he likes to wander—all that time on the streets, I think. He has lots of fears but his confidence is growing. I love him. Last week, he went on his first camping trip (and my first since Rug’s death) and discovered wading in lakes and scaring geese.
Perhaps we don’t “save” the dogs in the pounds and shelters; more often the dogs save us.
Memories of a great dog
At the farmer’s market, a dog—the same sort of big black dog with a massive head and handsome gray goatee as you—sat proudly on the front seat of a new truck. We locked eyes. Just for a second my heart jumped because, well, I had a quick fantasy: I was seeing you again. For a moment, I allowed myself to feel how much I miss you every single day. Memories hold me hostage, too often mixed with sadness and pain and so many other things. I look forward to the days where every thought of you will bring a smile but they are not here yet. For now, I am still teary-eyed and heartsick.
Years ago, your shelter card mentioned you chewed up a couch. Well, yeah, you were an oversized young dog stuck in the house for 10-12 hours every single day. In the same circumstance, I’d eat a couch. Then again, with Labrador Retriever and hunting Hound blood surging through your veins, attempting to eat inanimate objects or questionable cuisine was to be a lifelong sporting event with you: Find it; eat it; do not get caught!
The boy, at first, was nose to nose with you. As his chubby finger touched your long pink tongue, your thick tail thwacked the wall. The two of you bonded on the spot. “He’s my little brother,” was our son’s decision, “And, he’s Benbow.” Love at first slobber from both sides was how it looked to us, how it remained, and how we wanted it to stay forever.
When I read My Dog Skip and Dog Years, the grief of parting was so very far away from us, right? You had so much time to play with your boy, hike with us in the mountains, swim in alpine lakes, take walks, sleep by the woodstove, to grow, to enjoy one another.
Even though you became an XXL dog and a powerful swimmer, we aren’t sorry we made you wear the neon-colored canine life vest every single time we were out in the kayak and canoe. It was too bad when you bellowed at other dogs, chasing the interlopers up over the lake’s small island, only to be greeted with roars of friendly laughter on the other shore.
A fun-loving, gregarious, always up for the next adventure dog-dude, you never went on a road trip or met a person you didn’t like. Even when old age settled in your gut after years of sampling foul loot, a glance in your direction or a slow walk around the block to see your neighbor-friends was met with a sparkle in your eyes and a Lab-Hound smile on your face.
Then, much too fast, it happened: Our time together was up. Things were moving along just fine and then they were not. We rushed you to the veterinarian’s office. Sitting on the shiny floor of Exam Room 2, we held your big head and your tail in our laps. Busy office noises faded away. Thirteen years and now here we were hoping, waiting, knowing. The veterinarian sat on the floor with us. Quietly, he talked about his father’s late dog and his father’s death. For a brief moment, you opened your eyes to watch him, listening. Then, in one breath, you were gone from us.
Later, one of the neighbors asked for an update on how you were doing and I told her you were gone. With tears in her eyes, she asked if we, and our son who left for college 2 years before, were okay. In my mind’s eye, I saw the trip we took three short months earlier to see our 6’ 4” son in college, taking you with us. When you saw your boy walking toward you, your ageless tail thumped against the seat of the car; you tilted your head back and a hoarse hound bark greeting filled the air. “Well,” I tried to tell her, “You know, losing Benbow is a huge change for our family. And, his death officially closes the book on our son’s childhood.”
When someone asked my husband about Benbow, he told them, “All dogs are good dogs and some dogs are great. Benbow was a great dog.” He’s right, of course. Our son’s Benbow River Otter Molly Lincoln Tyriffian Humboldt Bear Shelter Dog is and always will be a great one.
Recovering from heartbreak
Shaking my umbrella, I unbuttoned my coat. I was drenched. I needed a cup of hot tea.
I poured our tea and went to sit by the fireplace. I closed my eyes a moment when my husband spoke.
“What’s that? I’m sorry; I wasn’t listening.”
He said, “Would you like to go for a ride after we eat lunch?”
“A ride? In this downpour? To where?”
“Uh…I’d like to ride up to the dog pound. The guys at work say they’ve got a lot of really good…”
“I thought we’ve talked about this. Delilah has only been gone a month. I understand you were not able to do it, but you know, I had to sit with Delilah, and our last three dogs while they took their last breath. I looked into their sad eyes and said, ‘It’s okay, Baby.’ It wasn’t okay. I sat stroking their heads and lied. I vowed Delilah was the last one…ever!”
I burst into tears.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
He sat there and stared at the floor. I knew he missed Delilah, too. Maybe I was being selfish and should let him, at least, look at the dogs.
“I’ll go, but please don’t ask to bring one home. We’ll just look. Okay?”
“I promise, I won’t pressure you. We’ll look and that’s all.”
Delilah, our Doberman Pinscher, had broken down in the her hips and spine. We spent quite a bit on treatment but the money really wasn’t the issue. It was seeing our beloved pet suffer and, finally, putting her down.
Caring for such a large dog was difficult. She was heavy and couldn’t stand on her own. We had to support her with a towel under her stomach so she could even relieve herself. We were older, with physical issues of our own, but we gave her all the care and comfort possible.
Once at the dog pound, I asked to see dogs that were a little older, thinking they wouldn’t tempt me like a puppy might.
The lady asked a young man to show us dogs six months to a year. There were ten cages. I quickly walked up and down the row. I was afraid to look at them, for fear I would weaken.
The bulletin board contained 3-by-5 cards with information about the dogs.
My eyes came to rest on one card. It read “Lab” and no other breed. I felt I was being pulled to that card by some invisible force. I moved in closer to read it.
Breed: Lab (female)
Age: 7 months
Reason: Moved to apartment. Wouldn’t take dogs.
My husband was squatting in front of a cage that contained a small dog, who was busily licking his fingers.
Across the aisle, directly behind him, a dog was springing up and down like a yo-yo. I said, “Where’s number 6, it’s supposed to be a Lab.”
Cage #6 happened to be the bouncing dog desperately trying to get my husband’s attention. She was long, thin and a shiny jet black. She did look like a Lab, except for a little white on her chest and back paws. I said, “She looks more ‘Curbside Terrier’ than pure Lab.”
The boy approached and asked if he should take her into the “visiting room.” I said, “Oh no, we are just looking, not shopping.”
He said, “She would enjoy getting out of the cage for a while.”
“I … suppose it wouldn’t hurt to visit for a few minutes.”
You can guess the rest.
She was delightful—affectionate, calm, good-natured and beautiful.
We came to pick her up on Valentine’s Day. She pranced along, happily, as though she was going home. In the car, she flopped down between us, resting her head on my knee.
We renamed her “Phoebe,” as “Spuds” didn’t suit her at all. She was a marvelous dog from day one. We crated her only a few days. It was obvious she could be trusted. She never got on the furniture, had accidents or chewed.
She was the easiest dog I ever obedience trained. The first time I gave the “heel” command and began walking, I started to tug to move her up. To my surprise, there she was, already in position. She mastered commands, quickly. By graduation night, she was among the best in class. She had two close competitors: a Great Dane and a Standard Schnauzer.
After all candidates had completed their routines, we lined up to face the judge, to await her decision. She announced, “Third place, the Dane, second place, the Schnauzer, and first place, a mixed breed (guess who?), Phoebe.” I was so proud her. She had performed like a grand champion.
During the months that followed, one or two trainers called to encourage me to show Phoebe in “fun matches.” They kept telling me what a wonderful obedience dog she was.
As Phoebe grew older, I wondered if it had even been necessary to take her to class. She was devoted, humble, compliant, but also protective.
The techs at our veterinarian’s office teased and asked if we “polished” her. She was so shiny. Everyone there loved Phoebe. She was as good with them as with us. She was absolutely perfect.
Time began taking its toll. Phoebe’s muzzle grayed, her gait slowed, and she slept more. One day, we took her for her checkup. The vet discovered a huge mass under her ribcage. We had noticed she seemed a little heavier, which we contributed to age and inactivity. There was a large tumor was on her spleen. The doctor removed it, sent samples for biopsy, and later called with “good news.” It was benign. We were elated.
He had sent three large samples of the mass, but the biopsy was misleading. Though Phoebe recovered from surgery, she started breaking down. X-rays and an ultrasound revealed cancer in her liver, pancreas, lungs, intestines and kidneys. Death was imminent. We asked if we needed to make a final decision. Our vet assured us she wasn’t in pain and that we would know when it was time. He said, “Take her home and enjoy her while you can.”
It had been 13-and-a-half years since we had cared for Delilah. Phoebe was seventy-five pounds of dog. Caring for her was hard. However, we did it. She was with us, which was all she ever wanted.
One month passed, when I noticed Phoebe trembling for the first time. I said, “She’s in pain. I’m afraid it’s time. I can’t let her suffer. We have to do something.”
My husband’s face went pale and he turned away. “Maybe she’s just cold or something.” (It was July, that wasn’t likely.)
I said, “The doctor told us we would know ‘when.’ I’m afraid ‘when’ is now.”
He paced back and forth, and finally said, “I guess you’d better call and we’ll take her.”
I stayed with her until she was gone. My heart was broken and I sobbed uncontrollably. We had lost the finest pet and companion we had ever had.
Breeding isn’t everything. Phoebe proved that. To refer to her as “mixed breed” is mislabeling. More appropriately, she was a “special blend.” She inherited the best qualities of whatever breeds had contributed to her lineage.
From that dog pound in the pouring rain to unexplainably being drawn to her card on the bulletin board, it was meant to be. She will be forever tied to our heartstrings.
Did I learn my lesson? No, I didn’t. Two months after Phoebe died, we brought home a teacup Chihuahua, whom we adore.
Somehow, we just can’t seem to live without the “patter of little paws” around our house.
Exercising a neglected muscle
“One, two, three—go!” We often yelled this battle cry to our dogs as we played with them. The response was the same—Daisy charged and Algren sidestepped. Always. Equal parts Boxer and English Bulldog (we think), Algren’s move could be viewed either as the energetic Boxer encouraging an attack or his Bulldog side looking to evade the action. Either way, his lively moments were fleeting. Mostly, he was a couch potato.Daisy, on the other hand, was full Boxer. Wiggling, barking, leaping, running full-throttle through the field. Always. So, at the word “Go” she took off toward Algren to bulldoze him and he took his characteristic sidestep to avoid it. This was life and play between Daisy and Algren. She was in your face, giving love and wanting attention. Algren usually sat back hoping to avoid notice. She was the yin to his yang; the crazy to his lazy. Being of mixed breeds is serving Algren well health-wise. He has an iron stomach and is in good health. Poor Daisy had most of the ailments typical to Boxers. The diseases that afflict Boxers seem particularly unfair. Each one, from hip problems and arthritis to heart problems and cancer, completely devastate the body. Really, I would wish no dogs be afflicted with diseases they can’t name or understand, but Boxers particularly are free spirits. They are runners. They are silly. They should not be taken down in such ways. I say this but then I am reminded it took three major diseases to get to Daisy. She had mast cell tumors, which she survived; cardiomyopathy, which was controlled by medication; and hemangiosarcoma, which was unfortunately deadly. She beat the odds for a while, though, and I realize fully what I’ve always known, she was an amazing dog. She was a force—demanding of attention, jealous if she wasn’t getting it, but always ready to love and be loved. The strongest muscle we have is our heart. Yet, if something is wrong with it, there is almost a frailty to it. Daisy never was frail though. Nothing stopped her from living. She lived with her heart. For most of us, the heart is our most neglected muscle. We fail to exercise our hearts. But Daisy didn’t. The simplest truth I ever will learn I learned from her: The best thing we can do for ourselves in this life, and the most important thing we need to do in this world, is love. Daisy took that risk and loved. And her risk paid off. Oftentimes, it is said that someone has lost her battle with cancer—that there can be no victory if death is the result. That, however, is not the case with Daisy. We most certainly lost her. But she won. One of the last things I said to her, besides that I loved her, was “Get ready to run Daisy.” And I know she took off, full-throttle.
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