It’s been twelve years now, it will be in the fall anyway, and it still chokes me up every time I think about her. For some reason loosing that dog hit me harder than either of my parents. Good grief, I literally have tears rolling down my cheeks writing this, and its freeking noon on a holiday and I feel fine.
My first wife loved Alaskan Malamutes. She was from Michigan and had had several in her youth, so the first thing we did after getting married was to go to a very reputable AKC breeder and grab ourselves a descendant of several grand champions. His name was Duke, and he was a gorgeous creature. Like many physically perfect human specimens he could also be a bit of a butthead. I remember him getting loose once when a friend was walking him and he wouldn’t respond to his own name, but when shouted at with the name “Asshole” he responded. Fitting. Actually he was a great and loving dog, and actually did put up with lots from the kids and eccentric parents.
We had this thing about dress-up. Still do come to think of it, but that is REALLY another story. While one dog is great, I have always had a tender spot for leaving a dog alone all day while we go to work and go about our lives. Having been an only child, I could relate to wanting a brother or somebody around all the time to play with, so one dog just wasn’t going to make it. I had always loved labs, although never had one. I set my mind on finding one, much against my wife’s urgings. Not being a patient person, it had to be “right now.” There was a breeder way up in the redwoods by Humboldt that had a litter ready for adoption so we piled in the van and made the trek up to the snow to get my puppy. Immediately upon arrival we were ushered into the den with the litter and this little scrawny runt came out of the back of the pen and stuck her nose in my face. That was it. She had picked us. My wife was aghast that it should be such, as she put it, a “magnificent creature.” Guess she was all about looks, but how wrong she ended up being. There was more heart in that little ball of fur than an elephant.
We brought her home and Duke took right to her. One of the first weekends we had together we brought them to Tahoe to one of those ski cabin rentals where 10 people slept in the loft and another 6 or so crammed the bedrooms and fold-out couch. I remember them all running and cavorting in the snow with Larry’s dog Eddie, named of course after his father !?! They loved the snow, the Malamute was right at home, and Daisy was up for anything. They used to run behind my van up in the hills after getting home from work. It was a good way to combine dad’s “quiet time” (read: happy hour) with a dog run. Thankfully there are loads of quiet mountain streets with almost no traffic. That little black puppy would run for miles, keeping up with the Malamute twice her size because she didn’t know any better.
Then came the summer and the aforementioned boat. Before we found our “Shangri-la” at Sly Creek we went places like Whiskytown and Lake Tulloch. Fuzzy had already taught Duke how to swim by tossing sticks in the ocean, but Daisy needed no external motivation. She took to the water like, well like a Lab takes to the water. Once when we had been out skiing for about an hour we returned to find that she had been trying to “retrieve” the anchor buoy the entire time and almost drowned herself in the effort. It happened to be tied to the anchor at the time.
As we progressed to the great camping lake mentioned so often in the previous two blogs, http://wp.me/pY9Fa-9v the dogs were in their element. They loved all the people, the freedom to wander, and the music and attention of the evenings. Only one consideration for a rowdy bunch of evening frolickers with a minimum level of sobriety: Beware the sleeping black dog at night! Poor Daisy claimed the balance (and usually beverage in hand) of many an unsuspecting camper. Duke and Daisy both loved the boat. Duke got a hair up his backside and jumped off in Whiskytown once about a mile offshore and insisted on swimming the way back. They both used to sit up in the bow with the wind blowing through their muzzles like some strange byzantine kazoo.
Duke also decided to go AWAL once on a long holiday weekend and we had to stay over an extra day to go bail him out of the doggy penitentiary in Redding. He was getting on in years for a big dog, and his hip dysplasia was making him more and more grumpy. He made the mistake of snapping at one of the babies one afternoon and was with his honorable ancestors about an hour later. It wouldn’t have been my choice at the time, but mama bear was not happy with a 150lb doggy snapping at a two year old.
Daisy gave us a scare the next summer at the lake. As always, things like bursted water heaters, broken axles, or animal emergencies, happen on weekend when there is nobody at work to help. We had piled kids, tubes, coolers, skis, and friends on the boat for the morning run and were ready to push off. As was customary there were the checks of lines, glance over the shoulder to see that nothing was behind us, and we started to back out of shore. No sooner than the prop was engaged we heard a piteous whine which caused me (thank God) to immediately kill the engine. Recognizing the source of the scream I reached into the water and hauled the 85lb dog onto the boat with one hand. Amazing what adrenalin will do. There was no “vet” open on a Sunday, so we really didn’t have anything that we could do but my Boy Scout first aid and keep her quiet. Benadryl is good for putting dogs asleep too! Later that day, thankfully, a county sheriff (a dog lover) shows up and put butterfly bandages on her arms and paws so that we felt better about her safety. Thank you God and Karma. Next morning I was in the truck and off to the vet to find that her injuries were such that her tendons were spared by about 1/16 of an inch. Daisy Mae rocks, and God was lookin out.
We had so many other wonderful experiences with her it would take months to document. God only knows what patience that dog had to exhibit on New Year’s Eve with Dad and Uncle Paul. I think we were trying to dress her up like a can-can dancer. My lasting impression of her is her loving patience, her devotion to me, her brother Duke, and most importantly my girls. She allowed them to put skirts on her, to sit on her, to pull her ears, to drag her around any physical object available; that dog had more patience than the kids mother and I had combined. I sincerely believe that was part of what made the “family” as centered and “normal” as it was. There were other things that contradicted both of those terms, but it certainly was not the dogs fault.
The last trip Daisy was to take to Sly was in 1999. We had a great time and she never failed to return the Frisbee and set herself for another toss. Ad infinitum. There was no lack of spunk in her step as she ran the campground searching for food. She was above all a loving sensitive… but LAB. She had a way about food, but didn’t hold a candle to her new sister “Oakley” who we will discuss later. There was no lack of enthusiasm in the attack of the lake and the Frisbee, nor that in the love of French fries she inhaled on the way home at “In and Out Burgers” in Davis. The only thing that we noticed was that for the first time she had become incontinent and “peed” herself while sitting on the cement in front of our favorite in-route stop (“In-and-Out” in Davis). With concern we proceeded home.
Over the next two days it became apparent the this was not an arbitration and that Daisy was winding down. She began to lie in a particular area on the side of the yard instead of her usual spot on the porch. It was bizarre, but we finally began to feel that she was choosing her place to die. The incontinence got worse, but she did her best to hide it from us. Her visits to the bush, and the restful spot she had chosen were more frequently.. The decision was somehow clear to me, my love – my little black soul-mate, had lived her years. I spent the next three nights on the porch with her crying my eyes out telling her every story I could remember; preparing her (bullshit, me) for the fact that she was going to be put down. I actually don’t really understand how it is that we think that we get to play God, but when it comes to animals it seems OK. Is it that our love is conditional? Oh jaez! My ex once said “the second she can’t make it up the stairs on her own, she’s gone.” Is that what we really want to do to the things that we love?
Anyway that is what we do to dogs, and in this case I was convinced that it was for her good. That would have been the only way I would have ever parted with Daisy. Our mobile pet doctor Petra Drake was called and responded immediately. She is a wonderful doctor and person. It made me feel much better that she was there. Daisy was laid in my lap, in front of the whole family, and given an injection that removed her spirit from this earthly vessel. Dr. Petra simply said “She is gone.” What a lovely setting for Daisy, and what a meaningful way to go out. By God’s infinite design, my great friend Martin (see previous blogs) arrived just then to say “Hi” and ended up helping me dig a grave for Daisy in the exact place that she had been frequenting for the past week.
There are no coincidences.