We met her about ten years ago during an icy rainstorm in California’s Sierra. Visiting the Tuolumne County Humane Society had been pitched to me by my kids as a healthy alternative to sitting inside our dark cabin for the 3rd straight day. I was encouraged, both by their initiative (They found a listing for the shelter themselves and unprompted while reading the local newspaper.) and their interest in looking at dogs (We’d lost our beloved Buck a couple of years before and none of us showed any real interest in finding a new pet after that heartbreak.).
There were lots of dogs available for adoption when we walked back into the drafty, bunker-like, concrete room, each in their own chain-link enclosure. Most seemed to clearly understand what it meant when people, that is to say strangers, walked in, so the noise and activity level rose accordingly. Some dogs barked and jumped, many ran up to their kennel gates, tails wagging.
On the other hand, there was DeeDee, even then marching to her own beat. She moved to the front of her enclosure – I don’t remember any deliberate speed or particular noise about it – and sat at her gate. She didn’t bark or whine. She simply leaned against the fencing and looked up at us with her big brown eyes.
That, as they say, was that. Within the hour, we were talking about the particularities of adoption with the center staff.
They told us she’d not been treated well. She’d been mostly, almost entirely, chained outside. She’d not been part of family life. She’d been hit, abused, cursed, yelled at, intimidated. She would be, we were told, a challenging pet: a good family dog, eventually, with the right family.
We took a walk outside. She seemed to like us well enough. Our kids adored her immediately. So, we took our risks, signed the papers and loaded her in our van. Thus began our journey together.
The quirks and issues surfaced more or less immediately. Since she wasn’t used to an indoor life, she urinated more or less wherever she pleased. While she chewed shoes, gloves and other handy pieces of clothing, she hadn’t the slightest idea what to do with an honest-to-God dog toy. She loathed water; she wouldn’t easily allow herself to be bathed and wouldn’t swim. Also, she barked and growled fiercely at men, especially men with facial hair. And the UPS delivery people were apparently objects of special hatred not visited upon the USPS, FedEX or representatives of other delivery enterprises.
Why? Was it the brown uniforms? We hadn’t the foggiest notion.
Eventually, we guided her away from those unpleasant habits we could change and mostly tolerated those we couldn’t. DeeDee became our sort of in-house, daily, canine reminder of the AA prayer.
The longer we were together, of course, the more her loving and playful side came out. She loved chasing balls – could do it all day on the right day with the right partner(s). She loved walking together on the bluffs above the mighty Pacific, at Fort Funston. She loved playing in the snow. When in the right mood and with the right person, she loved being hugged and whispered to. She loved laying by the fire at our mountain cabin after a day in the great outdoors. She would lay down with each family member in turn every night as they went to bed – Giggy first, then Ella, then Erika and I, where she would generally make herself comfortable on our bed for the duration.
And yes, she was a terrible bed hog, couch hog, chair hog.
It was only a few months ago that DeeDee’s cancer was diagnosed, so her period of visible suffering was brief; in that I can take some measure of solace. Since her early life was marked by pain, emotional and otherwise, I thought it completely unfair that she should suffer at the end of her life as well but no one assures us that life follows our particular conception of fairness. What I can say is that DeeDee spent her final day on this earth in the company of people who honestly loved her, will miss her and will keep her memory as long as they live.
We hope you rest in peace, dear friend.
A couple of endnotes:
- Colorado State University runs a leading center for research on animal cancer. The results are promising not only for pets but also people. When our dog Buck died, also of cancer, we contributed to support the center’s work. You can learn more here: http://www.csuanimalcancercenter.org/
- DeeDee passed in the care of Dr. Elyse Hammer of VCA Veterinary Specialists in San Francisco. Dr. Hammer was extraordinarily humane and gentle with DeeDee (and the family) and we thank her most sincerely along with the rest of the VCA staff.