Caspar Frogpants

photo

On the coldest day in two decades, I am standing in the driveway over the body of Casper Frogpants, who was my son’s first pet and is now my son’s first dead pet. The tadpole was a gift from his Auntie Harriet. “Here’s to arms and legs in 2014!” her card read. He’d arrived in the mail in the middle of a blizzard so it really was kind of magical to slice open the transport bag and watch him wriggle with life. “I have my own pet, Mom!” Jackson announced. (We have two cats and two dogs, but he understood that Caspar was his.) He took this responsibility more seriously than I imagined, dutifully checking every morning on his pet, who had been placed on a high, cat-proof shelf, then asking me to carry Caspar’s aquarium down to the kitchen so he could “be with the family.” He drew pictures on sticky notes and stuck them face-in against the tank so Caspar could “have art.” For better or worse, it’s my fault he’s this way. Not long after Caspar arrived I announced to my husband that although we were leaving the dogs and cats behind when we traveled to New York City for Christmas, the tadpole was coming with us, though in the end I decided the car trip would be harder on the little guy (the tadpole, not my husband) than the loneliness.

While I tend toward the soft and cuddly, I, too, fell hard for our Caspar. I loved changing his tank, making it all fresh and clean for him. I loved watching Jackson compare him to the pictures of tadpoles in the books we’d borrowed from the library. I loved being part of the nurturing process by which he would one day turn into a frog. I felt lucky. And he, well, he was the luckiest mail-order tadpole in all the land.

When I found him at the bottom of his aquarium, he was flashing me his long bright belly. Instead of popping to life as he usually did the minute I moved the tank, he made a half dozen rolls across the plastic bottom. I started to cry—for my son, my Caspar, my own history of animal loss.

First was our family’s afghan hound, Easy, when I was four. She collapsed in the kitchen, went to the animal hospital, and never came home. My Scottish Terrier, Agatha, died when I was seventeen, one month before I went to college. I had to take a few days off from my summer job because I couldn’t stop crying. (I had a forgiving boss: my dad.) My cat, Pearl, the summer after. Another cat, Joon, when I was twenty-eight. Each time I swore I’d never love another.

When I told Jackson we’d lost Caspar he turned red for a moment then promised a bit too emphatically that he was fine. I told him it’s OK to be sad. He said, “I think I know why Caspar died.” “Why?” “We didn’t bring him downstairs today.” Then he pressed “play” on his Buzz Lightyear CD player and Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City came on. He looked out the window as I walked into the kitchen to clean out Caspar’s tank and figure out what to do with the body. He was right. We’d forgotten. It was the one day Caspar had had no family time. That’s when Jackson came in with one of his baby blankets. “We can wrap him up before we bury him,” he said. “But Mommy, we have to bury him very deep in the snow so that no animals step on him.” Except he said it aMiNals.

I put on my parka and boots while he entertained his sister in the living room. I wrapped Caspar in a paper towel (I had love for the little guy, but not, it turned out, a baby-blanket’s worth). “Ready!” I shouted, heading into the living room with Jackson’s boots in my hands, admiring how good at dead pets—one of the things I find most painful about life—he already was.

“Mommy, I have an even better idea,” he told me from the couch. “How about you go and bury him by yourself and I have a little iPad time.”

Before lowering him down, I feel the top of Caspar’s head, simply for how strange it is to have had an animal I didn’t touch until he was dead. I choose a spot along the side of the driveway near where a toad that visited our porch every night last summer finally got squished. I don’t believe in God, yet somehow I know these two should be together.

My husband appears in the window holding our daughter. I wonder what I look like to him, alone out here, burying a baby frog before our dinner guests arrive. The woman he thought he married? A lunatic? Both?

Rest in peace, Caspar Frogpants. You were the best first dead pet my son could ever have had.

– Chloe

Betty

betty 2Image

The Sunday before she died was a beautiful and rare sunny early spring day in Portland.  We spent the morning in the garden doing the first yard work of the year.  Betty, our 10-year-old Pit Bull mix lay in the sun on the porch, soaking up the warmth.  For a few days, she hadn’t been eating.  But that had happened before.  She would become sort of disenchanted with her food for a chunk of time, eating only once every few days.  And then, after a week, she would be back to normal.  So we didn’t worry too much.  She didn’t really seem like herself that afternoon as we walked to the community garden, but my concern dissipated as soon as we got to the garden—Betty’s usual behaviors started back up:  barking at people arriving (because of her breed, the mom arriving with her kids made them stay away from her, even though all she wanted was to say hello and lick their hands) and whining when I walked too far away from her.  Betty’s whining was sort of a “bane of our existence” kind of thing for most of her 9 years with us.  It was, as usual, high-pitched and pathetic, but when she was really anxious (which was often) it would take on a grating, desperate, growling sound.  Betty was a worrier and a whiner, but all out of love.  She was desperate, always, to be with her people.

She came to us in 2004, a year after my husband and I had married.  I was a first year teacher, he was in his second year of law school.  Both of us had grown up in families in which we weren’t allowed to have dogs:  mine because of allergies and his because of the theory that city dogs didn’t have the best lives.  We had both always yearned for a dog and we were finally able to get one.  We knew we wanted to adopt a shelter dog and we were drawn to Pits because of their history of being misunderstood, abused, and put down.  Betty arrived at our house one sunny Seattle afternoon in the trunk of the car belonging to a man who had been fostering her.  She had been rescued from a shelter in Oregon days before she was to be put down and then fostered in Seattle with various families.  She was a bundle of nerves and energy—she never held still, not for a moment, and she was absolutely desperate to be loved.  We took her for a walk with the foster owner and despite the fact that she pulled us around the block, despite the fact that she whined out of excitement and anxiety the whole time, we decided to keep her overnight to see how we got along. Continue reading

Dickens

image

November 14, 1997 –– January 28, 2013

I would like to take a moment to remember a very special girl. Not your usual Labrador retriever, Dickens seemed to understand the “Labrador” part of herself better than the “retrieving” part. In our summers in Canada, people would come to our island to witness the famous dog who was afraid of water. Nonetheless, she has certainly lived an adventurous life; almost dying from a rattlesnake bite, attacked by a porcupine, and undergoing surgery to remove a clam lodged in her throat. She starred in various home-movies featuring her in large frumpy dresses … very good at playing the “Norma Rae” type character, though she often struggled with staying awake during a scene. Laryngeal paralysis was Dickens’s last battle, one that she couldn’t win. Struggling for air, she was uncomfortable and frightened. Relieving her of the pain and fear, the girl is finally at rest. Despite her unfortunate habit of eating anything and everything foul, Dickens was the greatest friend I have ever known. She never failed to be there for me when I most needed her love and support. This past Christmas vacation, I was sick with a high fever of 104. Though it was hard for her to stand up, she managed to walk her way over to my couch and sit beside me, resting her head in my hands. You’ll always be my favorite girl, Dick. I’m blessed to have had you for these past fifteen years. Rest in peace girly.

– Everett

Roselle

Though it’s impossible to get past the central truth of September 11th, 2001 – that nearly 3,000 people were killed as they went about what felt like another normal, albeit extraordinarily beautiful, fall day – we have all read and clung to the incredible stories of survival of that day in an effort to at least try. We’ve read about the people who got out, who reunited with their loved ones, after all; we’ve heard stories of first responders working tirelessly for days; we’ve heard about the nearly 300 search and rescue dogs who worked just as tirelessly by their side. Of course, there are never enough stories of survival when thousands still died. But some stories are so remarkable they bring life back into focus again. The story of a yellow lab named Roselle is such a story. Somehow I only just learned of it, eleven years later.

She was a guide dog for Michael Hingson, a blind man who worked on the 78th floor of Tower One. And that’s where they were when American Airlines Flight 11 struck between the 93rd and 99th floors. Roselle calmly led Michael (and others) down 78 flights of stairs and out onto the street. They were two blocks away when the tower collapsed. Despite the dense air and falling debris, they found their way together into a subway station where they were safe.

Michael emphasized that working with a guide dog is a team effort. Many people mistakenly think that it’s the dog doing all the work when, in fact, it’s his job to tell Roselle where he wants to go and her job to get him there. Roselle was Michael’s fifth guide dog, and though all of them had expertly guided him through many an actual normal day, it was Roselle who saved his life.

She died at the age of thirteen in the early summer of 2011. Here she is with her grateful person.

– Chloe

Freckles

Image

There are many different kinds of love. There is love between humans, love between animals, love between humans and animals. And then there is the love between a woman and her dog. It’s a place where innocence and trust collide, joy and sorrow meet, life and death breathe. This is the love that is hardest to grieve, hardest to let go, hardest to say goodbye to. Such was the love I had for my Freckles. This is her story.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009. Ordinary in every way, at least the ways that matter. But it was the last day of life for Freckles, my poodle, and it was something I did not know. At least I think I didn’t; I don’t know. Denial can be so strong when one is faced with loss. It’s a funny thing – it promises today will be no different than yesterday. And because you love, you listen.

Freckles appetite had waned. She’d even been turning her nose up at the canned food I’d give her as a special treat, something she used to love so much. I made her grilled chicken with rice and broth. She’d eat the chicken and leave the rest, sniffing at it, then walking away. I made her pancakes, a favorite. They sat in her dish untouched. She wasn’t keeping much down. And she slept and slept, not particularly unusual for a dog of 15. Most days she just wanted to snuggle and sleep. And I had convinced myself that her loss of appetite had more to do with less physical activity than an actual medical problem. She still enjoyed short walks and was occasionally able to jump up on the sofa despite her arthritic joints. So that morning, before I left for a few hours, I gingerly lifted her up on my king-size bed, high off the ground and completely inaccessible to her, her favorite place to sleep.  I wrapped her up in her favorite brown blanket, a soft mix of fleece and fuzz, arranged her stuffed animals, and kissed her goodbye. She fell asleep quickly. I left the house, Freckles safe in bed. I would be home soon, and all would be well. Continue reading

Stormy

Image

I grew up in a family of cats.  Three of them entered my world a week before Christmas in 1988.  They were a colorful crowd over the years.  All but one donned a beautiful coat of stripes or splotches.  The exception was Stormy, the plain Jane of my flamboyant family.  She was dressed in solid black – so black that when she closed her eyes in the dark she disappeared.

For reasons that I still fully don’t understand, Stormy’s two tabby siblings never really liked her.  She was an outsider to their feline world, often hissed at, usually ignored.  As such, she made the conscious decision early on to cross over into the human realm.  Her sole objective on earth, as far as I could tell, was to get as physically close to humans as possible.

Stormy’s favorite activity was to sit upright on my lap, rest her paws on my shoulders and nestle her face into my ear. She would bury her wet nose into my neck with determined intensity as if searching for something. Her purr within centimeters of my eardrum could sound like a roar.

If humans were not accessible, Stormy settled for lamps.  She would climb under the shade, rest her paws on either side of the light bulb and bask in her warm little house. Three lamps met their end this way, crashing to the floor when Stormy would lean too heavily into them.

She had other qualities worth mentioning, the most important being her pliability and forgiveness. As a child I would spin her in circles, strap her around my neck and shoulders (a very chic scarf, I would remind her), and toss her into bathtubs.  She hated these things but tolerated them with grace, sometimes hissing but rarely holding grudges.

By the time I left for college, Stormy was aging and seemed to recognize, intuitively, a new kinship with my mother. Neither enjoyed the role of empty nester. My mom had quit her job to go back to school and would sit for long stretches at the computer to write papers.  Stormy joined her on these late-night missions, unfailingly.  Here the two old ladies worked tirelessly together—the first reading her sentences out loud, the second agreeing whole-heartedly and purring the words back to her. Continue reading

Zoe, Tasha & Fritz

It was coming home that felt the best.

The sound of her short and electric snorts mixed with the tap-dancing of her paws towards the door always brought me to a place of pure childhood. A place where there were no bills to pay, or jobs to hold – it was a place for a girl and her dog.

Zoe wasn’t the kind of dog I had grown up with. Before her, there was Tasha, a large and calm German Shepherd. She had loved me in the way a grandmother loved the newborn that gave her that title. I would lay with her on a fur-laden dog bed and wrap my small arms around her mane. I remember the way she smelled – like autumn and hay. It was comforting to look into her large, dark eyes, and there were many nights that I cried myself to sleep with her because she was the one who understood.

My pup before her – my very first dog – was Fritz, a German Short-Haired Pointer. I remember that he was fast. He had a sharp, whiplike tail, and his hair was short and flat against his skin. Fritz liked to escape and roam the neighborhood, searching for squirrels, I imagine. We had a large, chain-link-fenced dog yard in the back for him with a door that latched open and shut.

I remember having to lure him back into the yard with a trail of sliced bologna. He was always a sucker for deli-meat. It was like winning a gold metal in the Olympics when I had gotten him completely into the gate with me. There was a lot of jumping and shouting – if you could imagine a denim-clad seven-year-old with light-up shoes and sparkled stretch pants doing such a thing.

But Zoe was much different. She was small and not German at all. I was 15 years old when we went to some lady’s house and saw her for the first time. The tiniest Boston Terrier I had ever seen. I had sat on the foreign kitchen floor, criss-cross style, and plopped the small pup inbetween my legs. She cozied herself and looked up at me – her eyes, the biggest feature on her body. Continue reading

Bony

Growing up, our family always had black cocker spaniels, going back, at least, to my mother’s childhood. Bony (hardly… his large head, majestic like a male lion, his sturdy body larger than today’s overbred, overeager-to-please and dainty versions; his official name simply was Ebony) was our family dog from my middle single digits, right up to my seventeenth year. Thus, Bony – always offering up only empathy, never a discouraging word – saw me through the most traumatic years of change from a young boy to… to, well, a young man with a serious girlfriend.

To describe Bony as noble is to underestimate him. A loyal family dog – he devotedly loved his family and was, in turn, loved by them – he also could be a loner. Once, when the family moved to a new neighborhood, he decided he liked his old stomping grounds better and walked back, 3 miles, crossing many busy suburban roads. His noble good looks made him quite a ladies man (we knew no one in the fifties who “fixed” their dogs), and for this aspect of his loner-life, he would disappear for a few days once or twice a year. We never met his other family(ies) but have no doubt some of our more far-flung neighbors wondered why their little Fluffy Sweet had yet another litter.

Bony’s death was as noble as his life. Clueless as we were that he was even sick since he displayed no symptoms (yet, he knew…), he wandered away in the late autumn and was gone for several days. Thinking he was tending to his other family – or creating a new one – we were not overly concerned and expected his imminent return.

On a cold, rainy Saturday night my serious girlfriend and I were in our family room watching television. Knock on the door. Rarely seen across-the-street neighbor.  Dead dog hidden under piles of leaves behind my shrub border. Think he may be yours….

As the only family member home that cold, wet night, it fell to me to identify the body.  Stricken with a grief I had never known, I quickly gathered up the serious girlfriend and took her home… much to her surprise and displeasure. I knew then and there she had to be rear-view mirror material – and soon was. Until this telling episode, nothing had separated us.

Digging the grave myself the next day, face awash with salty tears mixed with fresh rain, and then burying this noble canine (perhaps gaining some of his wisdom during this grim procedure), I knew the first phase of my life had come to an end and I became a man.

– Fred (For Chloe on her birthday from her loving Pa)

Woody & Puddy

Image

Woody and Puddy are now together again in Heaven. Woody has been gone for two years now and I still have times when I just miss him so much that I can’t hold back the tears. Puddy, too. My love for animals has grown since I lost both of them. They just touch our lives like nothing else.

– Tom

Petro

Image

Petro was 3 months old when I was born into the family, so we literally grew up together. She was black as petroleum, hence her name, and she was the world’s kindest dog. She would let me, an annoying kid, pull her food right out of her mouth. She was my best friend and my protector. When I was finally old enough to walk down the path to my friend’s house, but was too scared to, she would walk with me and then return home. It was no surprise that when she passed at the age of twelve, I was devastated. I happened to be staying with friends while my parents were out of town. My response required my parents to return from five thousand miles away. My despair was more than our friends knew what to do with. I have had multiple dogs since, but still remember my first best friend with the most fondness.

– Bebeth