In the early days of September, 2001, our friends Nancy, John and Falisha announced that their dog, Oreo, had given birth to a large litter of mixed-breed puppies.
Having had so much fun with Hobie for the previous year-and-a-half, and having lost Timba in May of 2001, I felt compelled to say, "I'll take one!", figuring it would be fun to have two dogs.
About ten days went by, and on a beautiful sky-blue Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, our lives changed forever. We had just hired several new employees at the travel company, and were projecting one of the most successful years ever. In the blink of an eye, our lives turned upside-down. The new employees were laid off, and we made major cutbacks in our domestic overhead. I stopped attending Weight Watchers meetings, and became totally stressed out.
A few weeks later, I bumped into Nancy, and she told me the pups were growing and when was I going to come by and pick one out. Of course, by that time, I had decided that I wouldn't take a pup after all. But, being a keeper-of-my-word-to-a-fault type of person, I couldn't say no. I told Nancy I'd come by and pick out a pup soon.
Since we were so bummed out at work, I quickly recruited my pal, Roberta, to accompany me on the trek out to the Hunter Farm one Friday afternoon. Playing with puppies would be very therapeutic, and we needed something to make us feel happier. I put Hobie into the car, and away we went.
When we arrived at the Hunter Farm, Nancy put the mother dog, Oreo, away from the litter and let us play with all the pups. I wanted a female, and I wanted a dog with great coloring, but all the females were already spoken for. I had in front of me about four or five remaining male puppies to choose from. They were like little tiny teddy bears with huge paws. Each of them more beautiful than the next. Roberta and I sat on the ground, giggling, with little blind puppies crawling all over our legs. Even Roberta considered adopting one, until she found out how big they were going to grow!
After a few minutes of playing, Hobie came back from wherever he had been galavanting around at, walked up to the pile of male pups, and flipped one over with his nose. I looked at Hobie, and said, "Is that the one you want?" Hobie basically said, "Yes" with his energy, and trotted off to play some more with Nancy's other dog, Maggie.
The puppy Hobie had flipped with his nose was the only tri-colored male of the bunch. He had beautiful white markings all over his underbelly and legs, and black spots on the white mane around his neck. His coloring was very Beagle-like, and I immediately made the connection to Sam, my first dog, who was a Beagle. This puppy was so small, still couldn't see, still couldn't walk. "Well," I said to Nancy, "This is the one." Nancy reserved the pup for me, and said he'd be ready to go home with me in several weeks.
Hector, at the Hunter Farm, with Nancy -- five weeks old.
For the next seven Fridays, Roberta and I drove out to the Hunter Farm to visit Hector and play with him and watch him grow. Each time we would leave the farm, Maggie the dog would chase our car, and we'd have to turn around and bring her back home!
The second time we visited, Hobie was again loose, and we went into the back of the farm after playing with the pups to talk and visit with the horses, chickens and goats. Hobie took one look at those chickens, and barrel-assed right through the electric farmer's fence, got zapped and didn't care, and proceeded to chomp down on a chicken. Seeing what happened, I galloped into action, jumped the electric fence myself and grabbed Hobie just in time to see three llamas bearing down on us. "Get the hell outta there!" John cried. Somehow, I grabbed Hobie by the collar, chicken still in his mouth, and dragged him through the electric fence, where once again he got zapped and did not care. We got away from the llamas just in time. John pried the chicken out of Hobie's mouth, but too late, it was already a goner. I learned later that llamas are kept on a farm for the purposes of guarding the livestock against ... coyotes! They sure did their job well. Talk about a close call. A few days later, Nancy sent me a bill for $3.50 to cover the costs of the dead chicken. I brought her an enormous bag of Purina Dog Chow the following week.
(Here are Hobie's "mug shots"!)
The weeks went by, and it was time to take Hector home with us and away from his mama. I went to Hunter Farm with Roberta, and without Hobie (!!). I decided I'd put Hector in the way-back of the station wagon, inside a box, for the 10-minute drive back to Spencer. As soon as we began driving, Hector began howling. Howling like a banshee. Sounds I'd never think of hearing come out of such a little, young dog. Roberta dubbed him "Devil Dog" because of the sounds. After two minutes of this, I pulled over and took him out of the box and asked Roberta to hold him the rest of the way home. The howling increased ten-fold, accompanied by thrashing and kicking in an attempt to get away from Roberta's hold on the poor little guy. It would take months to get this dog accustomed to riding in a car without flipping out. Five years later, it's one of his favorite things to do, and he still howls as we approach home.
(here's Hector, the car, and the box. Oh, and me with weird hair.)
Hobie and Hector play with a nylon stocking on Hector's first night in his new home.
The as-yet-unnamed Hector came home to our little house in Spencer, and hit it off with Hobie immediately. The two of them played and played. Hector would go outside with Gil, without a leash, and stand in the yard and do his business. Then, he'd go right back in. He never left the yard, and always stayed close to home. He decided Gil was his favorite person.
Hector was filled with worms and fleas the first few days he came to us. And, of course, Hobie caught the parasites immediately. We were infested. We had to give them both antibiotics or whatever it is that you give dogs for worms, and bathe them to get rid of the fleas. Because Hector was crawling with these critters, we didn't cuddle with him much until he was a bit older. He has a definitely different personality from Hobie, that is for sure.
At work the next day, Roberta asked if I'd chosen a name for the little dog. No, I was stumped. All of my dogs had been named by other people in the past. I need to spend a few days getting to know his personality... then maybe it will come to me. Maybe "Tippi" because of the tip of white on his tail.
Roberta and I had worked together, at two different jobs, for many years. Seeing as how those jobs spanned at least two decades, and a lot of technological advances had been made over the years, we always joked that we were a bit "stuck in the 70s" at our office. We often would have conversations with new employees that went something like this:
"Why do you do ____ (fill in the blank)?"
And the answer would be:
"We've been doing it that way since Hector was a pup."
Somehow, Roberta and I got talking that day, and conversations being as they are, somehow the "doing it that way since Hector was a pup" joke came up that afternoon. Roberta and I simultaneously looked at each other and exclaimed, "Hector!" And that's how Hector got his name.
Having two dogs would prove to be one of the biggest challenges of my life. Having one dog is so easy compared to having two, both males, and so close in age. While I may never choose to have a "pack of dogs" again -- I would also never change a thing. It has been the most enriching and wonderful experience of my entire life. These dogs were the inspiration for my writing, my getting into dog behavior stuff, and the creation of this web site and the blogs. My two boys, Hobie and Hector, bring me my happiness and joy each and every day. I will love them both forever, and hope we can be blessed to be together at least as long as Timba and I were.
At five years of age, Hector is the light of our lives. He is, without a doubt, the nicest, kindest dog I've ever known. I have yet to hear him growl. I have never seen him have even a moment of anger toward any other dog, human, or anything. Hector is like a cartoon-character dog. Like Goofy, or Pluto, Scooby Doo or Marmaduke. He loves life. His main focus is to have fun and play. What a lesson for us all! He is smart, but in a different way from Hobie who is intense, almost as if he has a human brain inside his head. Hobie knows words, and can pick them out of a sentence, but give him a toy and he will destroy it in two seconds flat. Hobie doesn't really know how to play. He's a very "serious" dog, very intense and highly intelligent. Mike calls Hobie, "The Coolest Dog". Yup, Hobie is very kewl. Hector reacts to the sound of my voice, doesn't always understand verbal commands, but can do tricks with his toys and tennis balls that amaze people. I often look at Hector and my heart soars, and I say to him, "What a nice dog!" "What a nice, nice dog."
The nicest dog in the world died suddenly, just one week shy of his tenth birthday. Our “9/11” dog didn’t see his birthday on 9/04, nor the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
All that summer, the summer of 2011 – arguably “the best summer ever” – was punctuated by our dear Hector having grand mal seizures.
The first seizure happened on a beautiful Friday morning in mid-June. I had let Hector out into the fenced-in yard about 6 a.m., just as the sun was rising, as was our standard routine. He was out for a while, and then I let him back in and went back to bed and, curiously, shut the bedroom door, which I normally don’t do. I heard both dogs go upstairs into my office room, their nails click-click-clicking on the hardwood floor above my head. At about 7:45, a big commotion on the stairs awakened me. It sounded as if both dogs fell down the stairs together. I rolled over and groaned, “What the hell?” A moment later, Hobie stood outside the bedroom door, barking repeatedly. It was a bark like non I’d heard before. When I opened the bedroom door, I found Hector on the floor, apparently unable to stand, his long legs paddling. I knelt down, “Hector, what’s wrong? Get up.” I said. The paddling intensified, his eyes rolled back in his head, his jaw dropped open. I heard myself say, “Hector! What’s wrong?!” and then, “OH MY GOD! HECTOR!” Gil came running out of the bedroom, wearing only a t-shirt. “He’s having a seizure, “ he said, and proceeded to kneel beside Hector and stroke him and speak softly to him. I sprang into action once I realized what was happening. I removed Hobie from the room. I told Gil, “Stay away from his head.” And then, stupidly, I called 9-1-1.
“This call is being recorded, what is your emergency?”
“Well, it’s not… I don’t know why I called you…. My dog is having a seizure. I don’t know what to do.”
“Yeah, we really can’t help you. I mean, I could send animal control over, but they can’t do anything.”
“He seems to be coming out of it now. Oh, my God, I don’t know what to do!”
“Did you call your vet?”
“They aren’t open yet. They open at 8.”
“Don’t they have an emergency number?”
“Oh. Yeah, they do. I just wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry I bothered you. Thank you. Bye.”
Hector stood up. Gil hollered, “He doesn’t know who I am! Come here! Quick! He’s trying to bite me!” I said, “Watch yourself – go put some pants on!” Hector snapped at the air, climbed up onto the leather chair, appearing to be blind, and disoriented. “Hector, hone, it’s me. It’s ok” I whispered. He seemed happy to hear my voice. He jumped on me and knocked me over.
I called Dr. Wang. By this time, 8 o’clock had rolled around. Dr. Wang said to bring Hector in immediately for blood work. It sounded to him as though the dog has “gotten into something”.
I brought Hector to the car. “We’re goin’ for a ride!” I exclaimed. He looked at the open car door, puzzled, as if he’d never seen that before. Again, I broke down with the ol’ “I don’t know what to doooo!” whine. Eventually, we got him into the car. He was wound up like a top, extremely excited.
The five-minute ride to the vet’s office was unusual. Hector behaved like a young puppy. He was all revved up – full of energy. Later, after several more seizures, I would recognize this as the post-ictal phase – one of euphoria. I’m sure he was happy to be alive.
Fifteen minutes in the exam room, trying to get a blood test from a bouncing-off-the-walls Hector (usually “the easy one”) and I finally suggested that I leave the room and let the professionals take over. Our previous vet had insisted on doing things that way – you leave the room and we’ll hold him down. It was one of the reasons, if not THE reason, I switched vets. Dr. Wang is great – he’s like the Dog Whisperer of vets. But I knew that if I left the room and had the vet techs hold Hector down, they’d get the blood sample required.
It was traumatic for the big guy. They needed a mop afterwards to clean up the poop and pee and blood off the floor. I felt terrible putting my lovely dog through this. We had assumed he’d gotten into some poison, so it had to happen. We had to know. Gratefully, we got the results later that day. Absolutely normal. Now what?
Dr. Wang said that given Hector’s age, and the fact that he’d never had a seizure before, we could pretty much rule out epilepsy. Dogs generally develop epilepsy at 2 to 3 years old. We ruled out poisons, so the only thing it could be is a brain tumor. He said we could go to Tufts and have an MRI done to confirm, but why? At his age, we know that’s probably ti, so let’s just treat. We decided to take a wait-and-see approach, since he had only the one seizure.
I started taking the dogs (and cats!) to the lake each day after work. It would become “The Best Summer Ever” because of these excursions. Hobie would “fish” – this is a trick her learned from Timba – walk back and forth, back and forth, in the water for hours and POUNCE when you see a fish! While Hobie fished, Hector stood up, with me (I would sit). I took many photos, and the cats Cali and Newman would regularly join us. It’s quite hilarious bringing cats to the beach. The neighbors point and laugh. The felines are very entertaining. They grew up with the two dogs, so they think they’re part of the pack. They follow us on our daily walks – it’s a riot. But we do need to be careful not to have a following cat with us when we go on longer walks. They aren’t allowed to go near the main road. We live on a dead-end, dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t get much better than that, if you’re an indoor-outdoor kitty.
The very last photo ever taken of Hector. Late August, 2011, Thompson Pond, Spencer, Massachusetts. Hobie “fishing” in background.
To be honest, there wasn’t much danger of taking the cats across the road when Hector was alive. I had developed a significant fear of walking the dogs after being dragged on the ground several times, when, wanting to greet every dog they encountered, they dogs, who out-weight med on-leash, would simply get their way and I’d be dragged along – too stupid to realize the appearance it give to the humans on the other end of that dog’s leash. My dogs are friendly, but that point would rarely, if ever, get made because of the spectacle I know I had created. After a few such awful encounters – people see a big, black dog and that’s all they see – I decided we wouldn’t go for walks anymore. It pains me now to think of the times I would “wish” that I just had one dog; or the times I would sneak away with Hobie alone so we could go for a decent walk like we used to before Hector came along. Hector would get tricked by me and then left behind – he would howl when separated from us. Oh, my neighbors must have been overjoyed! It hurts my heart to remember it now. Be careful what you wish for.
I would only do the sneak-away walks when Gil wasn’t around. He wouldn’t tolerate the howling Hector, and I guess that and the follower cats prompted me to get creative with the visits to the lake. Hector could go off-leash and Hobie on, in certain locations. Occasionally, I’d get spoken to by the park rangers at the Cape: “That dog needs to be on a leash.” Yeah, yeah, bla, bla bla. We walked only in our “safety zones” up and down the two dirt roads at both the lake and the Cape. Anywhere else was simply not doable. I was paralyzed by fear, unable to walk my own dogs together, on-leash, anywhere.
When my friend Sue had her house on the Cape, it was our “pit-stop” on our way to Eastham. Just over the Bourne Bridge, the location of her place was most convenient for stopping to pee and take a break from driving. I would have to walk the dogs when we arrived, which rarely went well since her neighborhood was high-traffic but dog-friendly. You had to pick up the poop, too. I’m used to living in the woods – no poop bags required! So, I was always a little awkward with the poop bags. I never quite got the hang of it. Try picking up two large dogs’ feces while trying to hold onto two leashes – next to impossible! Hector, if loose, had a bad habit of eating Hobie’s feces. Sometimes he’d try to grab it even when both dogs were on-leash. It became a game of who can get to Hobie’s poop faster: me, or Hector. Hector often “won”. Ewww. I discovered that Hector must have thought picking up excrement was his job. He was doing it, at first, to please me. “No, no, Mama. I’ll do it!” “Please, allow me.” The task entailed not just Hobie’s droppings, but also a ritual cleaning of the cats’ litter boxes. Did I mention, ewwww? But somewhere along the line it went from a job to an obsession.
One time, on a pit-stop at Sue’s, I was a little lax with guard duty of the door and the dogs escaped. They cut through several yards and ended up on the soggy, clam-digging beach near the harbor by Sue’s house, near where you can see Massachusetts Maritime Academy across the bay, in the distance. I ran, and ran, and ran behind the dogs. Hector, such a good dog, would run back to me when I called; and then back to Hobie, repeatedly. The herding instinct in him, I suppose. Hobie, ever tied to a leash, had just one thought, that of freedom. He would run, and run, and run. My worst nightmare is losing a pet on Cape Cod. Thanks to JFK, there’s nothing but wide, open spaces there. My favorite place on Earth, don’t get me wrong, and so absolutely, stunningly beautiful. But scary when you think of how far a dog can journey in such a short time. I caught up with Hobie that day. He decided to lie down and rest in the sand. Hector stood over him, smiling, “Look! I herded him home really well, didn’t I?!, Hector seemed to say. I snapped a photo with my iPhone – one of the best photos of the pair of them, in fact. From a bad (at the time) experience, can come a lasting memory.
By the summer of 2011, Sue no longer owned the house at the Cape. Gil had just returned from his winter away, and Abby’s Chicago wedding, and it rained most of June.
Abby came to visit for the 4th of July and Gil’s birthday. Oh, how Hector feared fireworks and thunderstorms. Hobie, too. I bought them “Thundershirts”. The product doesn’t work on Hobie at all, but calmed Hector down immediately. Just put the Thundershirt on, and he was relaxed as could be. Amazing!
On Saturday, the 9th of July, Hector had another seizure, and another, and another. These are known as seizure clusters and are quite common. Hector had spent the entire day with me. First, playing in the back yard. Then, an afternoon at the lake, and two meals: one at 9 am and the other at 5 pm. Our standard routine, we went to the cottage and watched soaps for a couple hours. He was never out of my sight the whole day. Gil and I decided to go see our friend Ric Porter’s band play. We were gone maybe an hour and a half at the most. When we returned, we decided to watch a movie. Hector was beside me on the couch – “My Couch Buddy” – and all was hunky-dory. I looked over at Hector and he looked up at the ceiling as if he saw a bug or bird flying. He stood up off the couch, then fell over on hit side and began seizing in the exact same location as before – right in front of the basement door, just outside our bedroom. We performed the same routine: get Hobie and the cats into another room; stay away from Hector’s head; and pat him and talk soothingly. He came out of it quickly, but appeared to be blind and totally disoriented. He ran around the house like a puppy, jumping on us and knocking us over. I tried to bring him outside thinking maybe he would need to pee or poo. It was as if he had no idea what to do out there. We went back inside. He was ravenous. He drank a whole bowl of water and begged for food. We gave him dog biscuits – we probably shouldn’t have, who knows?
We stayed up late that night. He had another seizure on the dining room floor about an hour later; and then a third one, in his sleep, at the foot of our bed at 3:30 a.m. Each time, the post-ictal phase found him puppy-like, high-energy, disoriented and temporarily blind.
He would try to crawl into small spaces: the bedroom closet, the fireplace, under a desk, the bathtub. It was difficult to watch.
I called Dr. Wang at 4 am that Sunday. “Sorry to bother you, Hector had another seizure and then two more – that’s three since 9:30 tonight.” Dr. Wang needed a reminder on who Hector was, ah, yes, the tall hound-dog. Come to the office after 9 am and we will give him Phenobarbital (an anti-seizure medication). I was planning to go to the Cape with the dogs that very morning. “Is it OK for him to travel?” “Yes, just bring the medication with you.”
We postponed the road trip until Monday. It was decided that Hector would get one pill, twice a day, of the Phenobarbital. It’s a powerful drug. Dr. Wang warned if he gets extremely lethargic of is unable to walk or stand, call right away, we’ll adjust the dosage.
The first four days of our vacation were also the first four days of his medication. The meds made Hector mellow and less aggressive. I was actually able to walk both dogs on-leash on our dirt road. No more whining from the rangers, or the neighbors. But this wouldn’t last long.
By Thursday, it was clear the medication was just a bit too powerful for Hector. Not much, just a little. He would “drag” his rear legs and was crashing into furniture. I called Dr. Wang’s office and spoke to Ethan. He called me back a few minutes later with instructions from Dr. Wang to lower the dose: half a pill twice a day.
We stayed at the Cape another week, and then spent three glorious weeks seizure-free. This was working!
It was in early August when Gil took his first 2011 trip to the Cape, at all. I stayed in Spencer with the animals.
It wouldn’t be fair to not mention our third cat, Tux, a.k.a. “The Electric Bullet” or “Bullet” for short.
During The Best Summer Ever, during that extended stay at the Cape fromJuly 11th to the 20th, Gil stayed in Spencer with the cats. He’d been away all winter, then to Chicago for Abby’s wedding at the end of May, and was just getting started on the lawn and plants when I decided it was time to go to the Cape. He didn’t come with us, and we would end up not spending even one single day together on the Cape in 2011, not one.
All was great with the cats in our absence. Oh, they’d come and go, but they’d each appear daily so Gil could give me a good report. I had a wonderful time at the Cape with the dogs. I joined the Eastham Dog Owners Association and actually took my dogs, together, to the dog park and met people and other dogs. It was a major breakthrough. I had overcome my fear – even though I shook like a leaf the entire time, had to stop Hobie from mounting a couple other dogs, and still had great difficulty with this whole poop-bag fiasco. I had the dogs each on a long-line, 30-foot training lead with a purse, a bottle of water and poop bags which were really plastic grocery bags. What an idiot! The other EDOA members were awesome. I forgot to mention that a week before, I had spent a hot afternoon helping them search for a 12 year-old missing dog who, later, it was confirmed, was found dead near a coyote den. My willingness to crawl through tick-infested thickets near a swamp on the most humid day of the year was not overlooked. “Hey,” I said, when asked, “If that ever happened to me, I would want people to help me. My worst nightmare is to lose a dog on the Cape – all that wide-open space.” And so, I made some new friends.
Triumphant that I had conquered the dog park , I went back to Spencer on a Tuesday. Gil had last seen Tux on Monday, and Tux, being the “homebody” and most “foodie” of the three, well, it was unusual for him not to appear for feeding time on Tuesday.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, I searched the neighborhood for Tux, calling and calling, “Here, kitty, kitty!”. I went on foot, with dogs, without dogs, by car, on my bicycle. No Tux. I asked neighbors if they’d seen him. “There are so many cats around here. I could have.” Said one.
Another: “Yes, my dog chased him.”
“When was that?” I asked.
Aha! Good, there was a sighting Monday morning – same day Gil last saw him.
Wednesday night, after work, I walked up and down the dirt road “Here, kitty-kittying” with the dogs. Just there, right in the bushes across from our house – there he was! Hector didn’t even see or smell him, but once I did, Hector charged and the cat tried to take off, but was unable.
I should point out here that Hector and Tux had a love/hate relationship. It was a game more than anything else, but it was simply their normal existence. Tux stalked and killed rodents. Hector wanted those rodents. They would vie for the squirrels and chipmunks. But every time Hector saw Tux, he would charge and chase. And whenever Tux saw Hector, he’d fun and “fly” through the air, always staying in high places, his feet not touching the ground – thus the nickname, Bullet.
Hector chased Tux that day, deeper into the bushes just alongside the grimy shore of the lake, and he must have thought “Well, this is just no fun” because he stopped, and I was able to put both dogs in the house. I went back and picked up Bullet in my arms. He began making “devil noises”. Bullet is the sweetest cat and he’s never said one mean word to me, so I knew something was wrong. I ran to the garage, threw him inside and shut the door. Phew! I hollered to Gil, “I found Bullet! He’s in the garage. Something is definitely wrong.”
Gil and I spent the next hour trying to capture Bullet, who was hiding in the loft of the garage, and rather artfully so. We had a can of food, a bowl of water, and a cat carrier. He was having none of it! We left him enclosed in the garage for a few hours, and somehow I got him into the cat carrier and brought him to the basement where he stayed, convalescing for four days. My friend raises motherless kittens for the local animal rescue league and told me to get Karo syrup and get it into his mouth by all means possible so as to prevent dehydration and hypoglycemia. I did, but to no avail. Things were not looking good for Tux. But then, on the third day, he who is normally ravenous ate two small bites of canned cat food, and was able to jump up onto the table when previously he was unable to move from the floor. On day four, he ate a whole can of food, and went upstairs. On day five he was “80 percent” as I told people who asked, at the time. And a week later, he was completely back to normal. We’ll never know what happened to Tux that weekend, but he pulled through and was able to play the silly game with Hector again.
My selfishly spending as much time as possible at the Cape that summer meant that I had kept Gil and Hector apart, unintentionally, of course. I feel so sad about that now. Hector was really Gil’s dog – Hector worshipped Gil. It was Gil who took him out, off-leash, when Hector was just a tiny pup, and taught him to stick around in the yard. It didn’t take much training – Hector caught on immediately. Within the first few days with us, he was housebroken, and he would never, ever really have to walk on-leash. He always came when called. We’d be out o a walk, and if he saw a black convertible, well, it just HAD to be Daddy! He would get so excited, and I would laugh and say, “Hector, no, that’s not him!” If we were home, waiting for Gil to return – or most especially when Gil was away –Hector would scrutinize every car that drove down our street – “IS that him?!” “Is that?” When we were outside, on our dirt road, if Gil came driving down the road in his black Jaguar, Hector would trot, get behind the car, and “herd” Gil into the driveway. It was amazing observing that herding instinct being used on an automobile. He also used it on Hobie, and of course, Bullet.
There was a period of roughly two weeks when the doors of our bedroom closet were stuck. You couldn’t open or close the doors. We blamed it on the cleaning lady .
From late July and most of August, I had things to do at the travel company and didn’t get to go back to the Cape. Each day, I’d take the dogs to the lake. Hobie would fish, Hector would stand up the whole time, in the sun.
This business about standing up all the time in the end became a clue, but too late. I believe the dog was being driven mad by the tumor in his brain, if there was one. He would go ballistic if he saw a squirrel walking along the fence. Why, after he was gone, I swear the squirrels knew. “The coast is clear” they seemed to say, and 3,000 squirrels showed up in our back yard.
Yet no seizure ever occurred on Cape Cod, and none on any day of the week other than Saturdays, after that first one which occurred on a Friday. What was different about Saturdays in Spencer, vs. Saturdays at the Cape, or other days of the week in Spencer? One thing was the entire time in the back yard in the morning. Another was maybe an extra hour or more standing up, in the sun, at the lake. Also, there was guarding Mommy, something he had a break from on weekdays, when he could snooze all afternoon when I was at work. I guess we’ll never know.
I was religious about the doses of Phenobarbital. They were given precisely at 10 am and 10 pm. No matter what. It because such as well known routine for me, so fast that HE would tell ME when it was time. I sang a little song, “Hector needs a pill” in a sort of doggie cartoon-character low voice, sort of like Yogi Bear-ish. Those people who created dog cartoons, by the way? All of them… they had a dog like Hector. He was a cartoon character. So full of life, larger than life. We had no idea.
It was a shock, therefore, when, on a Saturday in early August, when Gil was on his very first trip to the Cape, and the weather had already changed, and the Phenobarbital was being used all the time, that Hector had another seizure – his last, that we know of.
I had managed to fix the close door in Gil’s absence. Took it off its tracks and put it back in. I was proud. I announced this fact to Gil at our daily check-in. We still figured the cleaning lady had done it.
Most days, in the summer, we go to the travel office for only a couple hours each day, so we leave the sliding door in the kitchen open so the pets can come and go. Hector usually sleeps during that time, or so we assumed.
It had been a Saturday, just like all those I’ve described. This would be the first time I witnessed a seizure alone, and the last. Since we, the pack, moved “as a unit”, we watched a movie and went to bed late that night. Just as I fell asleep, around 1 am, Hector had a seizure in his sleep. It lasted only 30 seconds, and both Hobie and I comforted him. When he came out of it, the crazy post-ictal phase occurred. He was bouncing off the walls, jumping on me, knocking me over. We went outside. He chased Bullet around the back yard. I probably should not have allowed that, but Hector was impossible to control in the post-ictal phase. We came back inside. He tried to climb into the closet – broke the doors off their tracks. That’s when it dawned on me – the cleaning woman hadn’t busted the door off its track – Hector had been having seizures when we were not home. Perhaps dozens, who knows?
He tried to climb into the fireplace, under the desks, under grandma’s church organ (a Hammond B3!), into the bathtub whose doors he also nearly broke. He fell down the stairs. He forgot how to urinate. He didn’t know who I was, or what he was doing outdoors. He didn’t recognize his own back yard.
That night, the seizure lasted only 30 seconds, but the post-ictal crazies lasted three hours. We went back to bed at 4 am.
The next day, at daily check-in, I had to give Gil the bad news over the phone. This, on the heels of reporting to him the day before a weird occurrence in which a local woman “propositioned” me into a ménage a trios with herself and her husband – a guy I thought just had a small “crush” on me, but had obviously taken my friendliness as something deeper! NOOOOO! I hollered at her, my jaw agape in disbelief! After I picked my eyeballs up off the sidewalk, I told her, “I love Gil. I would never THINK of doing such a thing, and I am NOT interested in your husband!”
“OK,” she said, dejectedly. “I’ll tell him.”
Upon reporting this incident to Gil, he remarked, “How ugly.” One can imagine how I must have felt, calling him just two days later to report that his beloved hound had another seizure. It meant the medicine was probably not working. It never occurred to me, though, that Hector would soon die. He was the younger of our two dogs, full of vim and vigor, a force to be reckoned with, strong and fierce, and filled with unconditional love.
When I announced the seizure, Gil said, “This is not good.”
It’s hard to remember, but I suppose Gil was gone for 10 -14 days. Once he goes, it’s just as difficult for him to come back as it was to leave in the first place, and vice-versa. Once again, without realizing it, we had separated Gil and Hector. If you think about it, they were not together very much in 2011, yet they remained devoted, each to the other, as soul mates always are.
Normally, vacation time after the 10th of August is frowned upon at Passports. Everyone needs to be on duty, present and accounted for, to kick off the sales season which coincides with the academic school year. Any vacation time is usually not granted. But 2011 was different – I and three other colleagues happened to have plans on Cape Cod the weekend of August 17th. I had invited all of them to my house in Eastham for an afternoon swim and shrimp and drinks. By the time the 15th rolled around, though, the weather was miserable. I cancelled my trip, but they all still went because they were renting various cottages or had hotel reservations. My friend, Irene, was coming to the Cape the following week, on the 23rd, and so I was really pushing it by planning to take BOTH weekends off. Gil was not particularly amused. He was getting worried of my being on the road constantly, running around to all these various commitments. So, when the weather turned bad, I cancelled trip number one, and delayed trip number two. Seeing Irene, who came all the way from California, was more important than seeing co-workers I see every day. I blew off the co-workers (sorry!).
I arrived on the Cape very late on Wednesday, August 24th. Irene was already in Hyannis and the big joke was that a major hurricane was coming this way and its name was… Irene! You can’t make this shit up! I thought it was the funniest damn thing in the world. Irene didn’t, at first, but after a day or two she came around. We tried to use it to our advantage to get free lemonade or discounts. Surprisingly, it didn’t work!
The night Hector had the seizure when Gil was away, Hector kept jumping on me and had planted a gigantic bruise about the size of a golf ball on my upper arm. It was hideous. I’m anemic due to an inherited blood cell membrane defect, and I not only bruise very easily, but also when I get bruises they’re thrice as ugly as any other bruise you’ve ever seen. Just what a fair maiden needs just prior to a beach vacation with a “goddess” from L.A. (and I mean that in a truthful, loving way – Irene is a stunner!).
Hector, at 85 pounds, stood about 5 foot 4 on his hind legs, compared to my five foot two on a good day. His paws were the size of my hands, his nails needed to be trimmed. When he jumped on me, I took a blow. He was a gentle soul who had no sense of his own strength.
Irene (the human) and I decided to get together on the Thursday, the 25th of August and go to Martha’s Vineyard on the ferry. That meant catching the vessel at 9:30 a.m. and being gone all day, away from the dogs, which I hate: a) I can’t be anywhere by 9:30, ever; b) Hyannis is one hour away from Eastham on a weekday morning; and c) the hurricane was coming so the seas would be rough. But I consider Irene a true friend, so I did the thing.
It was a spectacular and memorable day. President Obama and family were vacationing on the Vineyard at the time. We didn’t see them, but joked all day that we might. We rented bicycles and rode to Edgartown and back. It was a flat trail and you have to pedal the entire time, not like the Cape Cod Rail Trail which is flat but with sloping hills. This was hard work. And I ride all the time, mind you. But it was delightful and quite beautiful. We stopped and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Irene wore a flesh-colored, crocheted bathing suit under her yellow sundress. On the bike, wearing only her bikini, I joked that she was Lady Godiva. We visited “Jaws Beach” where the movie was filmed, and just had a thoroughly enjoyable day. Yeah, I had to take off my t-shirt at the beach and everyone saw my hideous, freak bruise. Oh, Hector!
Gil was frantic about my being away with a hurricane approaching. So, we decided I would come back to Spencer on Friday night, instead of the original plan of Sunday. Was all this panic and traveling pushing forward Hector’s imminent demise? We’ll never know. We had no idea his passing would come so soon.
Irene (the human) wanted to see my house and meet the dogs, so we arranged for her to come to Eastham for lunch at the Box Lunch, and a walk on the beach. Irene is a vegan and I’m a semi-vegetarian who tries real hard. I like to think I inspired her veganism. I’m six years older than her, and I was a vegetarian when we first met – she was 15 and I was 21 – I was a vegetarian the first time it was cool, back in the early ‘80s.
Irene came to the house, met the dogs, saw how much of a love Hector was. We went to Box Lunch and ate, came back, went to the beach, took a walk, came back to the house and she left while I started battening down the hatches for Hurricane Irene, and packing up the car to make the return trip to Spencer. It was the ridiculous trip – the dogs came with me for those two days basically to stay in the house by themselves.
But that Thursday night, Hector slept in the bed, snuggling with me, the entire night.
It was our little naughty, naughty guilty pleasure – me and the dogs. When we were at the Cape without Gil, the dogs were allowed on the bed, as they were at no other time or place. We had spent The Best Summer Ever, snuggling together in that bed, the three of us.
Only another “dog person” can understand that sentiment. There’s just something about letting your dog sleep in your bed. It’s like when you were a kid – you had a stuffed animal- a teddy bear – only this one is alive, and it loves you.
I’m so grateful I had that last night of snuggles with Hector. Who would have ever guessed it would be the last? Not me. Maybe Hobie, who, curiously, did not get onto the bed that entire night.
I decided to spend the whole Friday with Irene and leave at 6:00 to avoid work traffic and Friday night and hurricane escape crazies. Normally, I refuse to drive on Fridays and refuse to drive at night. This time, I did both. The storm, Irene, was bearing down on the coast. I had to get the hell out of there.
Not that Spencer would, in the end, turn out to be any safer. In fact, Spencer got hit far worse than Cape Cod by Irene (the storm).
The dogs are not used to traveling at night, either. I was frantic besides, and Hector always picked up on my emotions. He, like me, was a nervous wreck that night. By the time we reached I-495 at around 7:15 that night, it was beginning to get dark. I had the music blaring, and I was singing at the top of my voice to keep myself alert. Often, when I sang in the car, or elsewhere, Hector would react. I think maybe he equated it with my calling out to him or Hobie, a cat, or Gil. Maybe I just have an irritating voice. In any case, this trip, Hector stood up during the entire car ride and did not lie down for the remaining 90 minutes of the trip.
As far back as I can remember, and through at least four different Subarus, Hector would stand up in the “way back” of the car. I always have had Subaru station wagons or SUVs. They’re dog-friendly, practical, versatile, reliable and the greatest winter-driving machines ever made. Have I told you lately that I love my car? I should be on a Subaru commercial, there is no doubt about it. So, Hector would stand up! Like George Washington in the rowboat on the Potomac. I’d call Hector “George Washington”.
“Hey, George Washington, back there!” I’d shout over the music while looking in the rearview mirror. “Howza ‘bout lying down?” Hector would just look at the horizon for a bit, standing, and would eventually lie down and go to sleep. He might stand up again a few times, just to shift position or stretch his legs. The ever-snoozing Hobie curled up by his side. There’s plenty of room for two 85-pounders in the back of a Subaru with the seats folded flat.
That night, on Route 495, he didn’t lie down. He stood up, for three hours. I should have known then that something was not right. Was the brain tumor driving him crazy? The loud music, which he was VERY used to? The impending storm with its barometric pressure? I should have seen it as a sign. I did not.
We arrived home safely on Friday night, August 26th, 2011.
Originally, I had had big plans for August 27th, that Saturday. Two high school classmates who now live on the Cape year-round and are both “dog people” were going to Marconi Beach with their dogs and families for the day. A sort of last hurrah of summer.
Admittedly, I was a little nervous about joining such an excursion with the two dogs, but I had such success at Wiley Park a few weeks earlier, I decided I would give it a try. Hurricane Irene put the kibosh on that! But was it really the hurricane that caused us to leave the Cape on that Friday? Or was it God (Dog) stepping in to say “Hector is going to die. You need to go home.”
That Saturday in Spencer was like all the rest. I let the pets out early, they came back inside for a couple hours. At feeding time (9:00), Hector didn’t want to eat. Not the most unusual occurrende, but generally I could coax him to eat a bowl of food by putting a few dog biscuits into his food. This time, he tossed his cookies – right on the carpet in the hallway between the bedroom and bathroom. He had not eaten anything at all that day. He vomited just the one time – at 11:00. Some time between 11 and 12, he had diarrhea in the back yard, and then appeared to be straining to defecate, but nothing more came out.
We continued our usual routine. I worked for a couple hours on the computer. Hector laid in the living room and seemed to be slightly unwell, but not terribly.
I took my shower and brought the dogs and cats to the cottage to watch All My Children, as I did every Saturday when we were home in Spencer. (I had watched the soap opera All My Children since the very day it premiered in 1971. Its final show would be one month later, on September 26, 2011. I never missed an episode.)
At the cottage, Hector laid down and went to sleep as usual. A little while later, a car drove by and true to form, he ran after it at high-speed, hightailing it out the front door of the cottage, and running alongside of the car behind the protective fence in our hard. Hobie, slower, was with him.
When they returned to the cottage, this is when it got weird…
Two days after Hector died, the grandkids came over with their other grandmother, Nancy. She whispered to me “They don’t know [about Hector].” As she hugged me in greeting. I was pretty much still an emotional mess , and, having no kids of my own, I had no idea how to handle this. I remembered when pets died when I was a kid – I lost my mind, but then again, I was a hysterical child and an animal lover from the earliest days. That is another tale, for another book.
The first words ouf of their mouths were “Where’s the black dog?” in unison. What did we think was gonna happen?!
Every time they’d been to our house, their entire lives, Hector would announce their arrival, like a blast of canon fire. This time, dead quiet – no pun intended. Hobie, since the death of his mate – ok, really well before, though we didn’t notice – had taken to simply not barking when people visited. It turns out that Hobie is an exquisitely well-behaved canine citizen. And Hector was a larger than life cartoon character! I spent the afternoon avoiding the answer to the boys’ insistent and repetitive question about the whereabouts of the other dog.
At one point, Nancy was trying to make a phone call, so I used that, “Shhh – Grandma’s trying to make a phone call.”
Or, “He’s not here.”
“Where is he?”
Finally, Gil said, “He’s not here, and he’s not gonna be,” or something, and that must have intimidated them, because they didn’t ask again.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving weekend – 90 days later. The boys had not visited since (not good, I know, we aren’t the greatest grandparents, ok?). Saturday afternoon of Thanksgiving weekend, their dad calls – they’re in the neighborhood and can they stop by in, say, five or six minutes? Sure! I was unaware at the time if their parents had ever had “the discussion” about the dead dog. When they arrived, Hobie quietly accompanies me to the door. Their dad leans into my ear and whispers in much the same way his mom did 90 days ago: “They don’t know [about Hector].” I sit down with the kids in the living room. The TV has been pre-tuned to PBS’s cartoon channel. They plunk down to watch and about two minutes later, Ben, 5, says, “How come you have only one dog bowl?” That’s actually not the case, both dog bowls are still in the kitchen, since we can’t bear to take the final step of removing all of Hector’s things from the house. But I get Ben’s drift. He’s no dope. He wants to know about the dog. Hobie lies quietly at our feet while we watch cartoons – another first for the boys, since I used to put both dogs in the basement, outdoors, or in the bedroom during grandkid time. I reply, “Well, Hobie eats out of that.”
And then, the inevitable, “Where’s the other dog?” gets asked.
Here we go again. “He’s not here.” I try. God, at this moment, I wish you had made me a parent!
Ben: “Did he die?”
Me: (blow away) “Yes.”
Me: “He got really sick.”
“You couldn’t make him better?”
“I tried, really, really hard, but no. I couldn’t.”
“Did you bring him to a vet?”
“Yes, we did. But they couldn’t do anything either.”
“Did you put him in the back yard?”
“Do you have something to put with him?”
“Yes, we do, but we haven’t put it there yet.” (In fact, we had just picked up the headstone ordered 60 days ago, the day before Thanksgiving!)
Roark: “He got sick, and died?”
And that was the end of that. We watched cartoons for an hour. As they were leaving, Roark, 3, patted and massaged Hobie and even stuck a finger in the dog’s mouth! [I do not recommend this!] Which didn’t amuse me, but Roark, fearless Roark, loved it and Hobie was a true gentleman.
Ben is still a little afraid of Hobie. Not much, just a little.
It’s taken me months to write this part. I still don’t know if I can. I’ll try.
Hector laid down behind the couch in the cottage that day. He wasn’t “collapsed,” he was lying like a Sphinx, head and shoulders upright. He seemed like he just wanted to hold still in that position, and the guilt I have for forcing him to get up and walk will never leave me. It is the same feeling I’ve carried with me for 12 years after having let the dying Timba become infested with flies and maggots, herself deteriorating on a holiday weekend. The same guilt I feel when I think of my mother, stuck in that nursing home, dying, and me stupidly answering “Yes” when asked “Is she always like this?” What I meant was “Yes, she likes to sleep in the afternoon.” Not, “Yes, she always sleeps slumped over the dining room table in a wheelchair, drooling.” If I hadn’t answered in the affirmative, might she have lived longer? If I had taken Timba to Tufts, might she have died with dignity instead of crying in horror as flies ate her rotting flesh while she was still alive? If I had left Hector in the cottage… would he still be here today? We know he probably had a brain tumor, and probably would have died soon anyway, but still the memory haunts me – what if?
Hobie and the cats had joined us at the cottage as usual. Hector was always in the lead when we went back to the house, but not this time. He stayed in his Sphinx post as I walked Hobie to the house. He stayed as I carefully carried each cat back to the house. I even propped the door open and still he didn’t follow. We needed to get all of us, the whole “family”, to the main house. Hurricane Irene was bearing down on us and night was falling. No one could be left behind in the cottage. I asked Gil to come to the cottage to help coax Hector. Maybe his voice would be commanding enough. Hector loved Gil so much. Gil said no, just force him to come. So, I did. I put a leash on the 850pound hound, picked up his rear end with my arms, and pushed him out the door “wheelbarrow-style” as I simultaneously yanked on the leash. I got him outside. He sat on the grass. I pleaded, dragged, pushed, pulled. He sat again – this time in the back yard, halfway between the cottage and the house. The sky was darkening, ominous clouds and howling winds, and a sprinkling of rain had begun. I pleaded, “Come on, Hector!” He sat. I propped open the basement door, after asking Gil to keep all other critters away from access to the basement. The last thing we needed was an escaping cat at the eleventh hour. The wind was picking up and rattled the aluminum, propped-open door. I pulled on the leash. Eighty-five pounds of nothin’. I pleaded, “Let’s go!” Nope. I got behind Hector, I picked up both hinds legs and “wheel-barrowed” him into the basement, and shut the door. “Good boy! Good boy!” I cried. I couldn’t stop saying, “Good boy!”
The cleaning ladies had just finished cleaning the basement and made the laundry room really nice. They put two bath rugs down in the laundry room, one in front of the washer, and one in front of the dryer. Hector went and laid down Sphinx-style again, on one of the rugs. “Good dog!” I waited, I don’t know how long, and asked him to come upstairs. Nope. He was reluctant, no, refusing, to ascend the stairs. He was standing and walking, but wouldn’t climb. I remember when he was a puppy, he was afraid to descend stairs. He would go over to Mike’s house, go upstairs, poop in Mike’s bedroom, and then need to be carried downstairs (after, of course, I cleaned up the poop!).
After a while, I brought Hector’s dog bowl down to the basement and filled it with water. I tried to give him food. He wanted none. He drank a little water.
At around 7 pm, it was clear something was really wrong. He just paid there, Sphinx-style, wouldn’t drink and kept getting up and moving to another part of the basement. I called the vet.
“Hi, it’s Kathy Mueller. I have another problem with Hector, but it’s not a seizure…” and then I explained what had happened earlier in the morning up until this point. The vet thought maybe it was bloat and asked me a few appropriate questions. By this time, I think , Hector was lying on his side, not Sphinx-style. The vet said, “He probably has upset tummy. Go to store and get Pepcid AC.” Store??? A hurricane is coming!! I dove into the car and drove like a maniac to the closets store, six miles away. I bought the Pepcid AC and drove home. It was already raining hard. Andrea called in the midst of all this. “Sick dog,” I texted her instead of answering the call, “will call u soon.” I shoved two Pepcids down Hector’s throat . Like an idiot, I did not read the directions and didn’t realize water should also be given, until two hours later when I poured nearly a whole bottle down his throat.
I had mentioned to the vet that Hector’s tongue and pads of his feet were cold. Very cold. He seemed unconcerned, almost. I look back now, and know that was a sign that the poor dear was dying. And the truth is, it was probably way too late at that point to do anything. I also wonder if the vet “knew” this, too and knew he could do nothing to save the dog, but I guess we’ll never know. The decline was so rapid. One minute he was pretty much “ok,” the next, he was growing cold. Why? What had we allowed to happen? What had we done wrong?
I returned Andrea’s call while Gil went outside to retrieve the dog bed from the back of the car. I sat on the basement stairs with all the animals. Hector kept getting up and moving to a different spot to lie down. I talked to Andrea for a while. She had just lost her eleven-year-old dog, Lucky, not that long before. Neither of us thought Hector’s symptoms seemed too severe. Boy, were we everwrong.
For hours, Hector would move from spot to spot in the basement, and drink a little water. We kept checking on Hector. Suddenly, horrified, I realized I hadn’t read the Pepcid AC instructions. The vet said to give him two, he didn’t mention water. I read “with a full glass of water,” and my heart sank. Hector was now visibly ill. Listless, but still wagging his tail and clear-eyed. But cold, and lying on his side with legs outstretched. I poured water down his throat. He accepted it, swallowed it. I brought out the bottle of Karo Syrup I had bought for Tux just weeks earlier at Kathi’s suggestion. I took several spoonfuls’ worth of Karo Syrup and slathered it inside of Hector’s mouth with my fingers, then held his mouth closed so he would swallow. The sugar seemed to work! He rallied! Maybe he was just dehydrated and hypoglycemic! He sat up! Sphinx-like, and gave me “kisses”, and I said, “I love you. What a good dog!” I was so proud. I had saved him. It was just hypoglycemia, yay!
But then, his eyes rolled back in his head, as if he were seasick or about to faint. Do dogs faint? And then he “collapsed” back to lying on his side with a wag of the tail and a look in my eyes as if to say, “Sorry, I tried, Mom, but I just don’t feel good.”
Gil heard me saying “Good dog!” and giggling. He came downstairs. Hector stood up! He walked over to Gil, he laid down at Gil’s lap, and gave Gil many, many kisses. And then, his eyes rolled back in his head and he did the near faint, and laid his head on Gil’s lap. I left them alone, so they could commune. I was still in denial – I thought I had saved Hector, since he had gotten up and walked. Later on, Gil told me, he knew at that moment that Hector was going to die. The dog was saying goodbye to Gil, and telling Gil how much he loved Gil.
We stayed up all night and took turns checking on Hector. He continued to move about the basement. I honestly thought it would be ok.
At 4 a.m., I looked down the stairs to discover Hector and Newman, the cat, sharing the pink dog bed. I patted Hector and said “I love you,” all the while chuckling about him and Newman. I went back to bed and told Gil what I saw. We both laughed.
Hector made us laugh every day of his life. In the mornings, he and Hobie would put their paws up on the side of our bed and yawn in unison. Hector’s yawn sounded like “I love you!” or a “Hello!” a la Mrs. Doubtfire! I would bust out laughing every morning, and that’s how my day started. Laughing at Hector. Up until the moment he died, practically, he made us laugh. He was a presence in our lives that is sorely missed, every minute of every day, even months and months after his passing. His spirit is everywhere.
Two hours later, at 6 a.m., I went downstairs to check on him again. Newman had moved up to the dresser, and Hector was on the dog bed alone, in a position different from that of the 4 a.m. visit. Upon closer inspection, I discovered he was dead. He looked so peaceful, just as if he was asleep. I expected a tail wag, but none came. I moaned, “Noooo….” I went over to him. I shook him. He was cold. His eyes were open, staring, like glass, staring into nothing. One of his back legs was crumpled up beneath him in what appeared to be an impossibly uncomfortable position. “Oh my God! HECTOR!” I cried, and went back upstairs. I can’t remember if Gil was already awake, or not. I can’t remember much except sitting on the bed and hearing what I think was myself, wailing “He’s dead! Hector’s dead! WHY DOES EVERYBODY HAVE TO DIE?!” and I collapsed into a sobbing heap in Gil’s arms, and we both wept and sobbed.
We covered Hector’s stiff body with the red blanket that we kept in the basement. I tucked all the corners in underneath his body to prevent any odors while we decided whether to bury him or have him cremated. Even though we’re not supposed to, all our other pets who died are buried in the yard, in an area we call “The Timba Memorial Park”. Timba, her buddy Mr. Kitty, Pointy and Maggie are buried there. Love Kitty is buried in the neighbor’s property next door (long story). Filkin was our only pet to be cremated, because she died in mid-winter and we couldn’t dig the frozen ground. Filkin’s ashes reside in a small wooden box near my desk. In fact, right this minute, I’m going to move the box back over to the TV set – where she loved to sleep.
Some time later, we decided we would bury the dog, and we took pictures of both of us kneeling over the dead dog’s body, and we let Hobie sniff and inspect and see Hector so he’d understand his pal was dead.
The most extraordinary thing happened. The arthritic Hobie, who has had great difficulty going up and down stairs during the last two years, took ahold of the red blanket and un-tucked its corners from under Hector’s body. He took that big, full-size blanket in his teeth, and carried it up the basement stairs, into the living room, through the dining/music room, through the kitchen, out the sliding door, across the deck, down the back stairs and into the yard where he then laid down and proceeded to chew and suck on the blanket.
Gil attempted to take video of this incredible moment, but alas, funny how things work out, the camera was broken. Gil and Hobie shared this moment, I never saw a thing until Gil hollered for me to come quickly, and by that time Hobie was already in the yard with the blanket. I got the idea immediately – he had carried it there himself, but what I didn’t know was that he didn’t go out the basement door (right beside Hector’s body), no, he carried the blanket like a talisman over hill and dale. We will never understand the great things that dogs and cats know that people do not. Perhaps Hobie thought the blanket was smothering Hector and by pulling it off, Hector would live. Perhaps Hobie thought the blanket contained Hector’s spirit, and he brought it into the back yard to bring his pal back to life, or to commune with the spirit. Perhaps, he just liked the smell of the blanket. Dogs have senses we humans do not use, and do not understand.
Cats are no exception. A little while later, Kent was nice enough to dig a grave, and together we carried Hector’s body to the back yard on the pink dog bed like a stretcher, and we had a little “funeral”. Gil videotaped the funeral, having gotten the camera to mysteriously work again. After we put the body into the hole in the ground, something amazing happened. All three cats, and Hobie came to the grave site. Each of the cats jumped into the hole and walked on Hector’s body and smelled him, individually. Then, each cat came out of the hole, and laid down in various places near the grave. Hobie went to step into the grave, and we were concerned about his arthritis and made him stop. We let him smell Hector from the edge. Hobie laid down beside me, and I sobbed a few words about how great Hector was, and how he made me/us laugh every single day. Gil said something. Kent said a word or two. And then we each tossed some dirt into the grave, before Kent covered it all back again; and while he did so, Hobie and the cats laid in a circle beside the grave, and watched.
It was August 28, 2011. The Hurricane, Irene, had done zero damage at the Cape, and minimal damage in Spencer. A limb or two was down, in the yard. The power, though, was out for 6 days!
Be careful what you wish for. As mentioned, I had sometimes felt it was hard having two dogs, and often pined for the time when Hobie and I were alone, how we loved our long walks together, just the two of us. These thoughts would occur to me after a bad time at the Cape, being dragged down on the ground by both dogs, or some other type of challenge involving the dogs. Together, they outweighed me and it was not easy to physically control them.
And now I found myself with just one dog, and it was Hobie again. I never thought Hobie would outlive Hector, not in a million years. So, I got my “wish”, but too late, for Hobie was arthritic and not able to walk long distances. He had the will, but not the ability. Still, we finished up that fall on the Cape, and in Spencer, taking long, long walks. Often times, he would just lie down if I tried to turn around towards home, in protest. Were it up to Hobie, he would walk for miles and hours on end. But I’m the human and I know best, so we had to turn around. Another “wish come true” developed: after 12 years of having Hobie attached to me by a leash, he was able to be loose or just let the leash drag on the ground. He never tried to run away anymore. He had become the perfect dog. Too bad we had to lose Hector in order to make that achievement.
Hobie, age 12, photo courtesy of Patricia Glennon
People asked if we’d get another dog. I always say that I will always have dogs, as long as I am physically able. And of course we will get another dog, but I’m enjoying my time alone with Hobie, and we’re not in any hurry. Many friends who had lost an “only” dog, rushed right out to get another to fill the void – not to replace the previous dog, which is impossible, but to “fill this hole in my heart” as one friend described it. The house is so quiet without a dog. But, we have Hobie, and we learned that our house got quiet too. Hector was larger than life, and he was running the show, we just didn’t know it. After Hector’s death, we discovered that Hobie doesn’t bark when people come to the house to visit or do repairs or whatnot, he can walk without a leash, and he sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. Like I said, he became the perfect dog, and yes our home became quiet, perhaps too quiet, but we got into a nice routine.
The cats all began to love Hobie. They would climb on him, follow us on our walks up and down Oak Lane, and cuddle with Hobie while he slept. We had a nice little routine going, where everything was set in perfect time to the clock, like clockwork as they say. But all that, unbeknownst to us, was about to change.
Chapter 29 Charlie Brown
Four months had passed, and around Christmas time, I started looking at puppies available at the various shelters and rescues in the area. This was not a serious quest, in fact, I was reluctant for so many reasons, the least of which was that I had never adopted or paid for a pet in my life. All my pets had come to me, arguably as “rescues” but were given to me for free: “Can you take a dog?[cat]? It needs a good home” and most times, I would. We had 7 dogs and dozens of cats over my lifetime as a result of this. Everybody looked to me if they knew of a dog or cat who needed a home. So many times, I had to say no, in fact.
I would find a cute puppy online, similar to Hector, and I would forward the web posting to Gil who never remarked about any of them. At one point, he remarked, “Our next dog should be a cross between Schulz and Hector.” Schulz was Gil’s dog before he met me, a Collie mix and anecdotally the smartest dog, ever. (Sorry, Timba, Hector, Caesar and Hobie! I’m just reporting what I’ve heard!) Let’s remember that our dear Hector was a hound-dog, through and through.
Then, in mid-January 2012, I happened to see that my friend Robin had clicked “Like” on a Facebook page entitled “Great Dog Rescue of New England”. Because Robin had once run an organization called “Great DANE Rescue of New England”, and I had helped her with their web site, I was intrigued. I thought maybe she had begun another non-profit with a similar name, or something. So, I looked at what she had clicked on. Oh, ho-hum, yet another dog rescue organization in Massachusetts. Yawn! Big deal. I absentmindedly scrolled down on their Facebook page, yawning and bored. There, about halfway down the page was a picture of a little puppy who needs a home. His name was Charlie Brown, they said, and he was a collie/hound mix. How amusing, I thought, and forwarded the little guy’s picture to Gil in an email. Gil was just downstairs, in the same house as me, by the way. Moments later, he yells up the stairs to me: “I LIKE CHARLIE BROWN!” And I asked, “Do you want me to see if we can adopt him?” And he said, “Sure.” I don’t think either of us were 100% ready to adopt another dog, nor was this a dog we “had to have, now!” or anything like that. It was a very relaxed, casual thing. I later told people, “If it’s meant to be, he will be ours. If not, no big deal. We’ll know when the right dog comes along.”
A couple more days went by, and I figured what the hell, and sent an email to Great Dog Rescue with a bunch of questions about Charlie Brown. They wrote back and said they would not answer any questions unless an adoption application was submitted. I filled out the application, reluctantly, and sent it in. They wrote back and said someone had gotten in ahead of us! Could they not have told me that the first time?! This reminded me of house-buying – those realtors have a little ploy, I’m convinced, “Someone got in ahead of you.” It’s a way to make you pony up that high offer because you love the house so much. Would dog adoption people do the same thing, I wondered? The woman said she would contact us if the other family ended up not adopting Charlie Brown. I asked her instead if she would contact me either way, regardless, and she said she would.
About two weeks went by, and I heard nothing. I decided to write a brief, one-liner asking if the family had definitely adopted Charlie Brown. The woman wrote back, no, she said, the adoption had fallen through, but her computer had broken and she just got it back today – she said our application was next on her list and she was just about to contact me. Still not believing this process to the fullest extent, I played along. Ok, great, what do we do next? A full battery of tests ensued! I had never experienced anything like this just to get a dog. Even though I had volunteered for Great Dane Rescue of NE, I had no idea what “dog rescue” really meant. This was a learning experience, that ‘s for sure. In the midst of all of it, a friend posted an article on Facebook entitled, “Want to adopt a pet? Prepare for an inquisition!” While that article was a bit slanted in the direction of disagreeing with the process – or, more to the point, of recounting some of the more “extreme” cases of inquisition-like behavior on the part of the rescue organizations, the experience that I had been thrust into seemed to indicate that they would be doing background checks and the like. I referred to it not as an inquisition, but as “An act of Congress”. Same difference. It was interesting, to say the least. I wasn’t sure whether I liked it, or not. But, I went along with it – after all Charlie Brown was the combination between Schulz and Hector we had been looking for, right?
Charlie Brown, 7 weeks old
Suddenly, things escalated. They never called my references or my vet, but they conducted a telephone interview with Gil and another with me, and they wanted to send someone here for a home visit. A home visit is conducted by a volunteer for their organization, or, in this case, another organization that was closer to us. They come to your house to make sure you are who you say you are, that you have a fenced-in yard, and what your other animals are like, and to observe how you treat your other animals. We had plans to go to Chicago for Abby’s long-awaited thesis defense and birthday party, so we had to put off the home visit until our return, which would have been that Sunday, January 29th.
The home visit went well, and things ramped up. We were instructed to print out and sign the adoption papers and pay the non-refundable $425 adoption fee which covered a multitude of things including the neutering of the pet (he was neutered at 7 weeks, we think); shots; foster care, etc. Mind you, we have never laid eyes on this dog, knew little about him, and were being asked to pony up four hundred and twenty five bucks and sign a major contract! Buying a house was easier than this! People give birth to children every day in hospitals, and don’t have to go through this! It was quite astonishing, but you know what? We did it. We paid the $425 on PayPal online, and emailed back the signed adoption papers. Two phone calls, and two days later, and I was on my way to the New Hampshire border to pick up our new charge. My head was spinning. In a million years, I never would have thought we’d get another dog so soon after Hector’s death.
I arrived at Charlie Brown’s foster home and was again astonished to discover not only that the yard was really not fenced-in (certainly not like our beautiful yard, often called “K2’s Dog and Cat Park” for its beauty and safety), but also the dogs were all running loose and there were three big horses there as well. It seemed like a nice place, all in all, and the woman, whose name happened to also be Kathy, was a real peach. All of the dogs took an immediate liking to me. Charlie Brown himself was the first to run out the door, bound down the stairs, jump up to greet me and lick my face!! I wondered, secretly, “Is that Hector in there?”
When I put Charlie Brown in the car, and drove away, he started howling. Just like Hector, only even MORE “devil dog” sounding noises. Sounds I never heard coming out of a dog before… a combination of Linda Blair (The Exorcist) and Chewbaka (Star Wars)!
We’ve had Charlie Brown for four days as of this writing. He is quite a handful, and that’s putting the best face on it. I’m still not sure we’re ready for another dog, but as I always tell everyone, if you want to adopt a dog or cat, it’s a 15-year commitment. I hope the time goes by a lot slower than it did with Hector and Hobie. I wonder what Charlie Brown will be like 10 or 12 years from now, or even 15 if we are so lucky. I’ll keep you posted.
All original material copyright © Kathleen S. Mueller. All rights reserved.