This one is hard to write. Not sure if this one will even get published. We’ll have to see when it’s finished.
Then again, if you are reading these words now, it clearly means I’ve posted it. So, I ought to tell you up front that there’s not likely to be much about bikes or riding in this missive. And, I think it’s going to be kinda sad in places. Won’t try to dwell there too long, but, it’s a bit unavoidable given the subject matter.
The facts are this: this past Wednesday, Dr. M came out to the house and helped our dog Tashi to move on to whatever is next. She expired a little after 1 pm as my wife and I held her. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t make that kind of housecall for many clients, and it has to be one of the tougher things he gets called upon to do. He was tender and efficient, smooth in his voice, caring both for us and Tashi. The injections went quickly and by all visible signs pretty painlessly. Well, for her. For us, it still hurts.
We’ve picked up her beds, cleaned her food and water bowls and rolled up the mats that kept her from slipping on the slicker parts of the floor. Now, the house feels large and echoey, yet quiet in a very bad way. Too much room in the corners where her bed and mat lay, and hours are no longer punctuated by the clacking of her nails or the mild thump of a 30 pound Cocker Spaniel hitting the floor when she stumbled, tumbled or sagged. For the first time in a couple years, we haven’t been driven by the clock to be home so she can get her pill on time. It’s oddly disorienting.
So is sleep. It had been a slow but steady adaption to the demands of her failing biological rhythms. She’d always gotten up early - normally 6 am or so. I haven’t had to set an alarm most days for years. But as she aged, she’d stay up a bit later and then get up closer to 5. In the past year, she began waking up in the hours between. We couldn’t let her wander around, as she tended to get stuck in or behind things she’d nosed her way into. Or she’d fall, which sounds pretty damned loud at 3:30 am. Or, there’d be cleanup duty. No fun at any hour of the day. Finally, it was to the point where if I was getting a couple hours of uninterupted sleep at a shot, it was a good night.
Rereading that last paragraph, it’s beginning to sound more like a complaint. That simply isn’t at all how I feel. These past months have been maybe a bit of payback - us helping her through the difficult times after she’d brought us so much joy. I’d sigh a little, get out of bed and hang out with her until she could get comfortable again. Now and again I’d get a little cranky, particularly if sleep had been fleeting, or if she had slowly eased herself into a lying position only to suddenly decide to pop up and do more laps around the house. I’d try to breathe a bit more calmly, remind myself that there would be a time when she wouldn’t be there to hold up. Kinda like now.
She’d come to us in July of 2000. Originally, we were just going to “foster” her. The rescue group we’d worked with - Hopalong - worked to place adult dogs who were getting passed over at the shelters. In this case, she was on the 15th day of her stay - which was only supposed to be 14. If someone didn’t take her out of the clink, she was going to be put down.
I’ll never forget that first time we saw her. We were in the main chamber of the shelter and a myriad of dogs anxiously barked in every pen. They put us in a “meeting room” with a door and one of the volunteers appeared with the “unclaimed cocker”. She looked tiny in the doorway, and seemed to be trying to look smaller still, her large dark eyes scanning the room to see what other incomprehensible thing would befall her next.
She’d been found wandering, tagless and clearly having had a recent litter. When they closed the door to the room, she just kind of walked up to us and sat. We greeted her and petted her a bit. The volunteer asked if we wanted to go out to the lawn, so we could get to know each other in a nicer setting. We all went outside, where the dog gratefully did her business on the grass. She was housebroken, the volunteer said. We nodded a little and walked a bit further along to a bench. After a little more petting, she rolled onto her back and looked up at us. She’d pretty much decided that we were hers. It only took us a little longer to figure it out. We agreed to take responsibility for her on a trial basis - to foster her “at least.”
As we drove away, with this dirty and matted Cocker Spaniel lying in a blanket on the back seat of the car, both my wife and I knew it would be a bit more permanent. We didn’t even have to say anything to one another. She’d pretty much found us, and we all decided that was OK.
The volunteers had directed us to the a local groomer, who donated her services to bathe and give a quick trim to the dog. We walked around the town for a little bit and came back to find she’d lightened at least 4 shades to a buff color. She was quietly sitting in the center of a cage, but when we came in, her ears dropped and she clearly recognized us - she made a furtive little nose nudge of hope and excitement. We brought her home and let her sniff around the house a bit. She made her way into the back yard and then under a tree, where she just sat for a while and caught the smells of her new home.
We called her Tashi. It was a name we’d heard up in Ashland, OR at the “Tashi Tea House”. The server had told us that it was Tibetan for “auspicious”. It fit well. There was someting auspicous about her arrival.
She wasn’t too well for a while. Underweight, worn out and a bit sickly, she liked to just sit and be petted while she panted lightly. Walks weren’t a lot of fun at first, as she didn’t have much energy. She’d poop out pretty quickly and just sort of trudge along. Her back end was pretty weak, so we took little micro-walks, researched everything we could about diet and showered her with love.
As she gained strength over the next couple months, more of her personality began to emerge. She had an unerring ability to catch tossed food - we figure that served her well when she was living on the streets. She tended to “herd” us along toward the kitchen, particularly at meal times, with a soft bump of the head into our ankles or calves. We finally heard her use her voice - she had a good strong bark. She also tended to snore lightly when she slept. It was endearing rather than annoying. Her coat began to grow in more fully, and she began to get stronger.
There were some tough and even tougher times ahead. I ended up falling asleep on the floor with her the night after we had her spayed. She had come off the anestethic some time in the night, and groaned and moaned softly for a bit. I scruffled her ears and rubbed her chest and the two of us fell asleep at some point. I think it was then that she knew we’d truly take care of her, and she began to trust us fully.
The first mammary tumor felt like a large grain of rice. She always loved having her belly rubbed, and both my wife and I noticed the change. The vet said that it wasn’t uncommon with adult spayed dogs. It was worth watching. It kept growing, and we found another as well. The vet wanted to do something, and so she went under the knife. This time, it was a couple more uncomfortable nights. But, it seemed to do the trick.
I remember feeling another growth maybe 6 months later. This one was pretty weirdly shaped, almost like a corkscrew. It was also deeper and could at first be felt only when she stood. We had another doctor do that operation. It took longer than he thought it would, and afterwards, he said it was “pretty tricky” to get everything. We both shook a little when we saw how many staples were in her belly. She looked like she had train tracks on her stomach. She was kinda miserable for a few days, along with us. But, she slowly regained her spirit and movement, and the long scar and missing teets became her badge of honor. She was a tough little monkey. We changed her diet a bit and used the supplements which the doctor recommended, plus others we’d found in our research.
Every day with us was a blessing. That second operation just helped to crystalize that thought. Her strength came back again and short walks became longer, her movements grew fluid again and she began to once more become the tricky little minx we loved. Tashi remained cancer-free for the rest of her life.
We used to explain to people that she wasn’t spoiled - just “well tended-to.” She always would help herself to soft chairs and couches, and certainly any food that was within reach. We’d take her over on visits to our parents’ houses, get involved with eating or conversation and find her nestled nicely in the corner of their fancy couch, softly snoring. I got involved in a phone call at home one day and looked up to see her delicately lifting my sandwich off the plate I’d left on our just-low-enough-thank-you coffee table.
One time we had her with us in the car, coming back from a walk and trying to do a few quick errands. We’d been to the market and had to stop in a bookstore briefly. Returning to the car, we realized with a panic that she wasn’t lying down in the back seat as she tended to do. Then we saw her in the hatchback area of the car, sitting up and trying not to look guilty. She’d managed to hop over the seat (not an inconsequential trick for a small dog), get the cover out of the way, and make her way through about a half a loaf of french bread and a quarter package of cheese. She just gave us a sorrowful “I know I shouldn’t have done that, but you guys really shouldn’t have left such good smelling stuff in here with me…” look.
The dog parks were never really a favorite of hers. When we were caring for Jubilee the Poodle, we’d go there. Tashi never really romped or played with the other dogs, but she did seem to find some of them interesting - we used to say that she liked the idea of other dogs, but didn’t really care for dogs specifically. Although, she always got very inerested in Bernese Mountain Dogs when they showed up. She would go up to them and look directly into their face as though asking a very important question. It was always a curious sight to see a stocky 30 pound Cocker Spaniel going nose to nose with a 100-plus pounds of big, furry, black white and tan dog. Never got a photo of that, but it’s burned into my mind indelibly.
In fact, she seemed to have no fear of anything. The biggest, bounciest dog would come up to her and she’d just look up at it, calmly saying, “um, yes?” One time on a walk up in the hills, we met up with three horse riders, and the lead horse lowered her head down, down, down until she could get a closeup look at this little furry thing. Tashi looked up a this huge thing and studied it just as closely, but didn’t shake or tremor or even get too excited.
She came with us on trips, vacations and errands. Tashi enjoyed the car and would sit up watching the world come towards her through the windows. Or she’d sack out on longer trips, knowing something interesting would be happening once we arrived. She was always interested in whereever we took her, happy to be with us discovering whatever the day chanced to bring our way.
Like most dogs, she loved the beach and would get incredibly playful - trotting out in front, circling back to make sure we stayed nearby, then tossing her head and loping around on another loop. We’d chase each other around and just enjoy the salt breeze and the sure maneuverability of damp sand. One time, a sneaky wave caught her and washed her up the beach a bit. She gave the most incredible look of “What the hell?”, shook herself off and happily nestled under my wool shirt until she warmed back up.
I could continue with small stories for a long time. After the operations, she had a good number of great years. Tashi reminded us constantly to expect to find great things in the world, to enjoy those moments and relish the afternoon nap, when you could sneak one in.
Those are the things I want to think about right now: Tashi getting into good-natured trouble, the big furry feet and heavy floppy ears, the way she wagged her tail by wiggling her entire butt, sitting and watching us eat and silently willing us to save her a bite (she was particularly fond of salmon), all the tiny little events that made up our day.
The tougher stuff - the heart stuff, more recent difficulties - none of that really matters too much right now. When I felt her last few breaths on my fingers the other day and the hollow knot in my chest hardened and grew heavier, all that stuff just evaporated. Right now, I just want to remember the good stuff that made up most of our time together.
As I alluded to earlier, this kind of writing is probably more therapy for me than anyone else. If you read this far, I appreciate it. Maybe we often write about what we don’t understand. By describing it, we might gain some insight, a partial understanding, somehow come to grips with the tougher bits. But, right now, I’m still very sad and I miss her.
Sweet dreams, little cocker spaniel…