A Year In Mill Valley

Archive for July, 2008

Goodbye Oh Noble Dog!

As I write these words Rachel and Sebastian and I are waiting quietly for the vet to come to our house and put our (my) dog Rosie to sleep.

I first met Rosie when she was a three-month old puppy. A woman from a rescue dog service in Muir Beach called to see if I’d be willing to foster sit one of the thirteen dogs she’d just rescued from the Mendocino pound. I wasn’t so sure, but after a bit of arm twisting I said yes, never imagining how quickly I would fall in love with that small bundle of golden fur, refusing to give her back (though of course that’s just what the woman was hoping for).

She was a little thing back then, hardly bigger than my two hands. When I’d pick her up she’d lie there all floppy, folded over my hands like a sock full of pebbles, making it hard to do anything but laugh. We never did find out what kind of dog she was…probably a mix of lab and pit and ridgeback (she definitely had a big jaw that was quite pit-like). Apparently she’d been taken to a vet by a family, and when they heard the words ‘pit bull’ they turned around and walked out the door (and from there she wound up in the pound). That family had it so wrong because she turned out to be great with children. When Nathaniel first started crawling, he’d crawl into Rosie’s bed with her, and she’d growl and get up and move elsewhere. But she quickly learned to first tolerate the little guy, then come to love him as much as he loved her.

Fiercely protective, she’d bark at anyone that came near, then lick their faces off once they passed the sniff test. We called her many things. “Roast beef on legs”. “My little pork loin”. “Ever hopeful dog”. She loved to chase rabbits in the garden at Cornwall, bobcats, mountain lions and deer on Wolfback Ridge, and cats just about anywhere. She’d take off just as fast as her little legs would carry her, and the very few times she caught anything she had no idea what to do with it.

Her ears looked like Sally Field’s habit in the Flying Nun. Always up and out, listening intently, she could hear the words “food” and “walk” whispered at thirty paces. She had a funny hip which caused her to sit side-saddle, her right leg out at an angle and her left leg underneath (you can see it in the picture above). She had the softest fur that never changed from her puppy days, and she could be stroked endlessly (and if you didn’t keep it up she’d drag her claws mercilessly across your leg until you continued).

I’m no longer sure exactly when Rosie entered my life, but it’s either fourteen or fifteen years ago, and until the last six weeks or so she’d been an amazingly healthy, happy, licky, puppy. Yes, puppy. There was something about here that was always puppy-like, maybe it was her color, or her size, the soft fur, or her exuberance, but whatever it was, people meeting her for the first time would invariably say “she’s how old?”

When we went to England for two years we brought Rosie with us. Rachel and I talked about options when we were considering going to England, but we both felt that having an animal isn’t something you do just when it’s convenient, it’s a commitment you make to the animal, especially a rescue dog like Rosie. She was so much a part of the family that we couldn’t imagine giving her away, and we weren’t sure that anyone would really want her for the two years we were expecting to be gone, so we had her micro-chipped, and did the whole “6-month quarantine at home thing” which is available now for pets being brought into the UK. She loved running on the cliffs with me in Cornwall, chasing rabbits in the garden, and sitting with us in front of the fire in the evenings playing games with the boys.

One of her most endearing, and most frustrating qualities, was that she would jump into anyone’s car. An open door, the slightest possibility of food or a treat, and faster than you could say “No Rosie!” she was in your car whether you had other dogs or not. I was convinced that she was missing the loyalty gene. She was great with the boys, and would herd them around the yard and house (some vestige of a sheep dog in there no doubt), but if she saw something interesting on the other side of the street or trail, boom, she was off like a shot. I lived at the top of Wolfback Ridge for many years (on top of the rainbow tunnel in Sausalito), and more times than I care to remember I would get a phone call “Do you have a dog named Rosie? She followed us down the trail…” “Yes,” I’d say, “where are you?” And the answer would invariably be Rodeo Beach, or downtown Sausalito, or once she actually got herself all the way to downtown Mill Valley. She’d sit in the middle of the road, completely oblivious to the cars, and at least once she crossed all eight lanes of highway 101 in Sausalito, and lived to tell the tale. She was a dog with nine lives that seemed to have unlimited refills.

They say that owners and their dogs look alike, but in our case we didn’t so much look alike as act alike. I’m mostly untrainable (just ask Rachel or my old girl friends) as is Rosie, we were both happy to go chasing after the shiny new thing on the other side of the road, and we were both happy to meet new people. I never did train her very well. Looking back I don’t know if I didn’t really care, or if I saw something inside her that I thought didn’t want training, or whether she really wasn’t trainable (or maybe I was just lazy). Whatever the reason, the lack of training lead to more than one encounter on the beach when she’d head straight for someone’s three year old with a hot dog in their hand, and there’s Rosie licking their face then quickly grabbing the hot dog while the child is distracted.

I went for a run this morning on Mt. Tam, and I was taken back to the days when she and I would run for miles on those trails. I had a 10 mile loop that I used to run a lot, and she would run ahead, up the slope to chase something, down the slope to flush a deer in the woods, easily putting in another 10 miles. She must have been a savannah dog in a former life, because she ran with ease and little need for water. She’d always run on ahead of me, chasing something on the way, and as I turned each corner there she’d be at the end of the straightaway, looking back with that look on her face that said “what’s taking you so long?”, and then she’d turn and dash off again.

About six weeks ago she developed lymphoma, and all her glands swelled up like balloons, especially under her neck. The vet gave us steroids to control the swelling, and she perked right up again. She stopped chasing cats, our walks became progressively shorter, and she started having a harder time getting up and down the stairs. She must have been in some kind of pain, but she didn’t show it at all, so I have no idea how much. About a week ago she made a dash for a sandwich that Sebastian dropped on the ground, and stumbled as Sebastian grabbed it before she got there, hurting her leg in the process. She was holding it at such an odd angle we were sure that she’d broken it. But no, after three hours of watching her hobble around with it out to the side at almost a right angle, we got her to the vet and she hopped out of the car and into the vet’s office (apparently not an uncommon occurrence in which dogs perk up at the vet due to an adrenalin rush). But starting then she stopped bugging me at 11pm to take her for a last walk, and I knew things were going downhill faster. Two days ago we switched the steroid dose, and she had a terrible day, almost unable to get up, eyes closed, barely responsive to her name or food (this from a dog who would eat anything and everything with the slightest provocation).

I’ve been very sad these last several days, so I’ve been taking Rosie to the beginning of Railroad Grade (in Blithedale Canyon) where we used to start and end our runs. I don’t know how many runs and walks I’ve had with her there, but it’s north of 500 and probably a lot closer to 1000. I helped her into and out of the car, and I strolled with her as she sniffed the bushes looking for other dogs’ smells to pee on. When we got to the stream at the gate she’d hobble down into the water and drink for what seemed like minutes because the steroids made her so thirsty. Then she’d stand there not wanting to get out because the cool water made her legs feel so good.

Finally I’d call “Rosie, come on”. Walking ahead of her I’d look back and see her behind me, and think about how the tables had turned. Now I was the one waiting for her, wondering what was taking her so long. It was painful to see how hard it was to walk, and when today she fell after I got her out of the car I knew it was the right thing to have called Dr. Blood. If you ever have to put your animal to sleep, I can’t recommend Dr. Gary Blood highly enough (Veterniary House Calls, office: 415-492-8779). He’s a large, gentle, man, who came quietly into the house, and ever so sweetly looked at Rosie, then turned to us and said gently “you’re doing the right thing”. He gave her a narcotic which put her to sleep, and her labored breathing quieted, and turned into a mild snore of relief. Then he shaved a bit off her right hind leg, plumped up the vein, and gave her a solution that caused her to stop breathing 3 or 4 seconds later. We looked at her, and were sure that we could see an eyelid move, or her chest rising a bit, but no, her heart had stopped, and she was finally at peace and no longer in pain.

Rachel and the boys are sitting next to me as I write these final words, and as I read them what I’ve written so far I keep having to stop to wipe away the tears. This morning I went for a run on Mt. Tam, and I was sure I could hear Rosie saying “don’t worry, I’m right here with you”, and I would catch my breath, and run through the tears, and hope that she really was there with me. When I got home we all sat with her and told her what great a dog she was, how much the boys loved her, and how much we were going to miss her. And when Dr. Blood left we sat with her for awhile. She looked exactly the same, and as we stroked her fur we were sure she was going to wake up and look at us as though to say, “what’s all the fuss about?”

We decided to have her cremated, so we put her in the car to take her to the Marin Humane Society. As we turned onto 101 North I said to Rachel “if you weren’t worried about what I wanted, what would you do with her?” “I’d bury her in our garden” she said after thinking about it for awhile. I felt a huge sigh of relief, got off at the next exit, turned the car south, and brought her home. I dug a hole under a tree, and curled her up at the bottom of the hole. We all blew final kisses, dropped roses and a sprig of rosemary on top of her, then gently shoveled the dirt onto her and filled the hole.

Rachel and the boys are sitting on the couch right now, having pulled all the Rosie photos out of the albums. There are so many great ones…Rosie with her tongue in Nathaniel’s ear when he was 1, Rosie in the garden in Sausalito, in the garden in Cornwall, curled up with the kitties, sleeping with the boys.

She was a good dog. We’ll all miss her.

Thank you Rose. For everything.

— Frank, Rachel, Nathaniel and Sebastian