Farewell, My Sweet Girl

DeeDee at Funston

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.

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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.

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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.

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One of Us Was Adopted

It was a cold rainy day in the Sierra Nevada foothills, somewhere just west of Sonora, where we first met a few years back. It all started as a lark, as these things often do. Just something to do because we were all damn tired of looking at each other in the closed confines of the dark cabin.

The four of us had taken quite a while before we were ready to even think about getting another dog after our beloved Buck passed. (Anyone who’s known me for any length of time might still remember dear Buck’s writing as my alter ego.) So, it was a genuine surprise that the kids asked to visit the humane society and look at the dogs they had for adoption.

Good to kill a couple of hours, I thought. I should have known better; we never stood a chance.

The moment we walked in, she sat attentively, leaning against the chain-link fencing that separated the dogs from the people. Her big brown eyes never left us. Not as we walked toward her. Not as we walked around to look at her kennel mates.

Looking back, I think she knew she had us from the first look.

We talked with her. Walked outside together. Tested our chemistry.

The kids loved her immediately. The staff told us, in a very serious whisper, that she’d not had a happy young life. She’d been abused. She had some behavioral issues. She was fearful and sometimes aggressive. We had to be ready for that, had to be in it with her for the long haul. She’d be a great dog, they said, with a real family.

And so, we adopted Dee Dee.

From the first day, we noticed the odd quirks (She barks fiercely at UPS trucks but is perfectly fine with FedEX.), the anger coming out of nowhere (Dee Dee reacts violently to Giggy’s former pre-school teacher because, we assume, he has a beard.), the piggishness around bed space (It’s okay because I’m flexible and, heck, I can always sleep in the shape of a pretzel if I have to.).

She’s been part of the family now for about five years. Her neuroses have, if not completely disappeared, moderated a lot. I can’t imagine walking at Fort Funston, or going up to the mountains, or even sitting down in the evening without her.

We may have given her a loving family, but she’s given us plenty in return. Which we knew from the day she adopted us.

My Dog Speaks French

What do we know about dogs and the way they communicate with human beings?

Scientific American concludes they don’t, at least not really.

Numerous times in fiction, especially in films, dogs can give voice to very complex ideas.

In his wildly popular comic, The Far Side, artist and lunatic Gary Larson hypothesized a very low level of canine understanding (or is it interest in?) of our spoken commands, much less ability to respond verbally.

But human propensity to dress dogs up, babble at them endlessly, and make them into little playthings leads me to conclude that we humans believe dogs can indeed understand, if not communicate in response. Given my long experience living closely in the familiar company of “man’s best friend,” I have come to believe that (1) dogs do talk, but (2) they don’t speak all languages equally well.

Evidence?

There’s a professional dog walker I’ve observed speaking to his pack in a sort of pidgin Gaelic; and they never listen to him. He’s constantly repeating commands again and again, to no apparent result.

 On the other hand, here’s my dog, DeeDee.
I speak to DeeDee, most often in English, but sometimes in Greek and every so often in French. Why? Just to see if she notices any difference and, probably most of all, just because I find it funny.
Does she respond any differently to “Let’s go!” than she would to, say, “Allez!”? (Or should that properly be “Allons!”?) Not that I’ve noticed. She also responds to French and English, and only sometimes Greek, in a soft verbal response that is not barking. I would classify this as speaking.
Therefore, from my scientific – albeit not exhaustive – study, I can conclude that DeeDee’s understanding of French is equal her understanding of English.
What can we conclude? Dogs understand English and French, and some Greek, but not Gaelic.

I know just what DeeDee would say: “Ca ne fait rien.”