Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Goodbyes and the Best Dog Ever

I love to tell the story of Bear's first poop in San Diego. At least, it was his first poop under my sole supervision. I'd never had a dog growing up, so I hardly knew the first thing about taking care of one. Due to construction at work, I had a month off to acquaint myself with my new role: dog owner.

By the way, they own us. Yeah, that was lesson #1.

Lesson #2 was picking up poop. No matter how cute a pup is; it poops. It poops a lot. They'll have a schedule, but they'll still poop. And if you're a good human being, you'll pick up the damn poop. Yes, pick it up. No, not with your bare hands! Just use the bag as a glove and bring paper towels as backup. Or figure out what works best for you.

What? That's not enough? You'll still get poop on your hands? Hey, we all touch poop at some point in our lives. Pets, children, and/or incontinence will afflict most of us at some point.

I say this now with the cavalier attitude of someone who has picked up a lot of poop, but that first day, I was on my own with Bear as Dan went back to work. It was a perfect January day in San Diego and by that, I mean it was sunny with blue skies. I picked up the leash, fended off an excited pup trying to jump like it would magically attach the leash, and managed to hook it on to his harness. Off we went with a pulling dog and an inexperienced dog-walker trailing behind. For the first year he lived in San Diego, I was often stopped by folks asking who was walking whom. As if!

Bear must have known he was dealing with a newbie that day, because when the urge came, he did his usual shuffle and hunch. I was prepared with a bag, but I was not prepared for him scooting his butt up to a nearby chain-link fence and pooping on it. Let's also say that Bear was not feeling particularly... solid.

I squealed. I kept squealing as I picked up whatever I could and proceeded to swab the links on the fence with the paper towels I carried. It was 10am and the neighborhood was empty, since it was the first full workday after the holidays. I thought I was alone, until I was done having my squealing squick moment, looked up, and noticed that an SDG&E maintenance person was sitting in his truck working on paperwork. He'd seen the whole thing.

And now he was laughing his ass off. Damn.

Fast forward through life with a pup. I don't have room to tell the millions of awesome stories. There were a few less-than-awesome ones. The training classes that Bear found himself in after a nasty incident. The trainer who suggested that Bear had potential as a therapy dog. A big ham, yes, but also one who loved people and was comfortable with them. He no longer pulled me around the neighborhood, but he was still an exuberant furball who had to (HAD TO!) get the lion's share of attention and belly rubs. As one of the lucky pups in this world, he rarely met a person who didn't oblige him, so he had a warped sense of reality.

Warped? Or loving and optimistic? I'm a cynic, so having a dog who openly loved everybody dampened my curmudgeonly tendencies. I ended up having conversations with everyone in the neighborhood. Our neighbor who adoringly gave all of the neighborhood dogs treats because he couldn't have one at home. Our other neighbors who had a red merle Aussie that was Bear's doppelganger. The homeless guys who camped nearby. The kids who walked to school every morning. The neighborhood drag queens, who had Labs and loved Aussies. The multitude of patients who found comfort in Bear after he became a therapy dog. They all let us into their lives, however briefly, and we came away with moments that brightened our own.

Needless to say, I'm not the same person I was before he moved in. Bear was there through so many of life's events (all Bear posts here), from a proposal, to a wedding, to multiple vacations, illnesses, and so many wonderful walks together. We walked through the neighborhood, on beaches, through hospital rooms, and it seemed like the world is an easier place to deal with when Bear was by my side.

How do I thank a faithful friend for so many good times?

Before I went on my most recent blogging hiatus, I wrote about the tumor that was growing behind Bear's eye. During the hiatus, the tumor had taken a turn for the worse. While our initial discussions were about the eye and the tumor pushing out, we didn't talk a lot about the tumor growing inward. By December, the tumor had snaked inward enough to interfere with his vestibular system, which regulates balance and proprioception (our sense of our relative physical position in space). Bear went from an old dog with a bulging eye to an old and frail dog with an impaired sense of where his paws were at all times.

Drugs reduced the size of the tumor briefly, but we knew it was borrowed time. In a way, we were grateful that the ultimate decline was relatively fast. From December until his death, he was functional enough and seemed comfortable and happy. The very last of the decline happened very quickly. We were walking on the beach one evening and, 36 hours later, we were signing the forms authorizing his cremation.

Bear was the master of knowing where the best food was, where the best places to roost were, and had amazing intuition and timing. Somehow, he knew one last walk on the beach and one last car ride back to his beloved home was exactly how he wanted to end things. On a high note and when things were great.

It's been nearly two months since his death and it's the little things that make me miss him most. Australian Shepherds are notorious for being "Velcro dogs" who insist on being where their people are. It's one of the best (and occasionally most exasperating) attributes about herding dogs. They work alongside you, even if you're not herding sheep. It's the day-to-day activities where I fully expect Bear to push his way into wherever I am. Bathrooms were not sacred. He also never expected a door to be closed on him and on the very few occasions I closed the door, I'd hear the thud of a nose hitting the door and a puzzled huff when the door didn't open. Most of the time, he'd be at my side, so it's lonely without him. Sitting quietly feels weird without an inquisitive nudge from a wet nose. It's eerie how quiet the house is without the clicking of paws on tile or the panting of an excited pup. He was just the right height that I could pat him without moving my arm, so I always expect a furry head to tuck under my hand when I'm moving around the house.

I miss the old guy. I believe he's in a place without pain, with all of his favorite human foods (bread, cheese, and Vietnamese cha lua), and plenty of cats and skunks to chase. I'm sure he's charming whoever he meets and gets all of the attention he wants.

Farewell, old friend. Thanks for all of the wonderful years.

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Barbara said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. Much love to you and Dan and to Bear, may he rest in peace...

Jenny Williams said...

Aw, he was a very special doggie, Im so sorry for your loss.

It was always a pleasure to see him and I do remember his fondness of bread, I think I remember him stealing a burger bun from someone at the food bloggers bakesale after party, very sneaky and clever!

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