Now that I am well-aged I naturally have experienced the loss of many people that have been important to me. My parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, mentors, and colleagues. Some of the friends I still tear up over are the dogs with which I shared a special bond. In memorium:
My first dog came as a complete surprise. I was about six when one evening my father came home from work in West LA with a black cocker spaniel puppy. I was in complete euphoria and I spent my younger years growing up close to him. Skipper was not at all spectacular, but was as loyal and as good a friend as could be. Dogs ran free in those days and one day poor Skipper came home with his long floppy ears stuck together over his head with bubble gum.
As Skipper grew old and feeble we added a second dog named Pal, a black and white mongrel shepherd. I was now in my teenage years, living in Reseda, and Pal was able to match the energy that I had more than enough of. He used to bark a lot at night and one morning we found him dead from poisoning evidently at the hand of one of our neighbors.
More than a decade later my wife Helena and I asked a local rancher near Point Arena to find a dog for us. Eventually he came through, but somewhat apologetically brought us what he described as the last pick of the litter. She was a McNab-German Shepherd mix and became the sweetest, most focused and most energetic dog I’ve ever known. She was insanely ball crazy, when we went fishing she’d watch every retrieve of the lure from dawn to dusk, and comprehended just about everything she was told. We lived on a bluff above a beach and sometimes she’d be down below on the sand and would catch balls on the fly from 70 feet above. I don’t expect to see her likeness ever again. There is a saying “If it’s not a McNab, it’s just a dog” which describes her perfectly. She lived 19 years.
Following a period of grieving Helena and Emmet went to the Healdsburg dog pound and came back with a young black and brown Walker Hound mix. No dog could match Molly, but Axis had other attributes, the most notable of which was her speed. When driving home she would start barking a mile and a half from our driveway where we would let her out to race our van the quarter of a mile up to the house. Axis would start up the driveway, cross over our Dutcher Creek bridge, and then veer off across the meadow and up an adjacent hill, yet always get back to the house at the same time we did! She began barking at squirrels first thing in the morning, barked at them all day, and only stopping when night approached. Twice I panicked when I heard her screaming like she was being disembowled only to find that she had treed or cornered a racoon and was absolutely beside herself with the thrill of it all. A slow learner, she came home twice with porcupine quills sticking out of her muzzle. She lived 16 years.
Named after the famous Florentine architect, Brunelleschi, Bruno was an 85# Lab mix who was absolutely devoted to Helena and never left her side. When Helena went upstairs Bruno went upstairs; when Helena came back downstairs Bruno came back downstairs. He was fearless and I’m sure he would have given his life to protect her. We first saw Bruno at a rescue center with a ball in his mouth and have many ball related memories. I remember the first time we took him to the Cloverdale tennis courts. We parked the van, let him out, and were just unloading our gear when I heard screaming coming from one of the courts. Bruno had found his way through the fence, had grabbed the ball from a doubles match and was proudly galloping about while tossing the ball in the air and catching it with screaming tennis players in pursuit. One other thing – when we let him out to run up the driveway Bruno would continuously attack and bite the front license plate and holder of our van until they were eventually chewed into oblivion. Strange. Bruno never saw a dog he wouldn’t fight or a bitch he wouldn’t sniff. I let him out of the van at Safeway Plaza one time and he immediately ran onto a grassy knoll where a female German Shepherd was biding her time. At the same instant he attempted to sniff her she viciously snapped at him and Bruno must have jumped three feet straight up into the air. Pretty funny. On his grave are a handful of tennis balls and a rock with the inscription “until we meet again.” He only lived 10 years. God, I miss him.
We knew it would be unfair to compare any dog to Bruno, but Raven is a real challenge. He came from a rescue center in the Bay Area, is a big (83#) black Shephard/Lab mix, and as it turns out was afraid of almost everything. We’ve been working with him and now he is only afraid of tights spaces, most noises, sudden movements, and deep water (ponds, lakes, and rivers). He has learned where water sources are here on the property and has been drinking from them while getting his paws wet. There may be hope for him. We are committed now so will continue to work with him and see what the future holds.