Friday, July 19, 2013

The Best Adventure Ever was a Gift

   Fourteen and a half years ago, our family of three drove north of Denver to pick out a puppy at a rescue place. Our daughter was a teenager at the time. As we walked among the cages, there was one full of rambunctious pups, mostly black, but one with more brown that just played with his toys and ignored the siblings who were determined to be noticed by the potential owners. The one just didn't seem to care about the commotion. Our daughter knelt down, picked him up, and we took him to the play area. She fell in love with how he now played and acted silly. This one had personality!  She insisted he be ours.
   And there began our many blessed years with Gus.
   Being the one that spent the most time with him, he soon became my buddy. Followed me everywhere, was always underfoot, cried when I left for the store, yet he had an independent streak in him that annoyed the daylights out of me.
  That dog loved adventures. He was part of our family, so he went hiking, camping, four-wheeling, fishing, and loved every minute of it. Gus was such a people person and he needed to be with his people.
   The signs of his intelligence showed up quickly. Truly the smartest dog we’d ever had. He seemed to understand any and everything we said and responded in the necessary way. His personality was beyond enjoyable. If you talked to him, he would talk back with his “rouw, rouw, rouw” like Scooby Doo.
   He so enjoyed our adventures of four-wheeling in the Colorado mountains. He had a special stance to hold himself in position with his head out the window on the rough roads. He figured out how to hold on quickly.
   We went fishing one particular time with a good friend. Gus came along and sat patiently (most of the time) in the center of the boat. We had caught about four trout and had them in a wire basket over the side of the boat and continued fishing. It drove Gus nuts to see those fish hanging on the side of the boat. He was fascinated and wanted them bad. Not really paying him much attention, we continued to fish. Soon, there’s a scraping and flopping noise inside the boat, Gus barking and the basket hopping around. Gus found a way to lean over the side, grab the container with his teeth and brought those fish on board. He had more fun that day.
   Gus had a playful, happy heart. Content to just be with his family. He loved long trips and traveled very well. Once in the car, if the back window wasn't open for him to stick his head out, he would sit behind Ron knowing the control button was right there next to him. He would bump his nose into Ron’s shoulder then look like the RCA dog at the buttons. His subtle way of saying, “Come on. Open the window now.”
Gus with his buddy Chris
   His favorite people (other than me of course) were his girl (our daughter), her (at the time) boyfriend and future husband and his brother Chris. Chris has a way with animals. And when he pulled up for a visit, Gus barked and carried on like Santa Claus had arrived. I’d let him out and he’d run to the gate waiting and wiggling until Chris got in the yard. There they sat just inside the gate with Gus whining his love and Chris talking to him and petting him. Gus loved to lick our s-i-l's knees just because it drove him crazy.
   Our daughter married and moved away. You could tell Gus missed her and never forgot about her. When we’d go visit, we’d ask Gus if

"My girl came home!" They'd fall
on the floor in greeting. 
he wanted to go see his girl. He would get so excited and run for the door. He knew we’d go for a car ride to see her. And our son-in-law’s name would cause equal excitement. When they came to visit, it was a happy reunion for Gus.
   Then they got two Pomeranians. Gus had a great degree of tolerance for small, energetic dogs. They would try to get him to play and he’d just turn his head, do an Elvis lip and walk away.
   Around the house, when it was time to go do yard work or feed the birds, all I had to do was start putting in a ponytail and his ears went up and he ran for the door barking. He loved being outside. He loved when we were going with him out in the yard. Not that he would play or fetch or anything like that, he just wanted to be outside with his family.
   When he was younger, he would play fetch for a little while, until he got bored. Which happened after about four throws. Then he’d take his position on the top step of the porch and watch “his” neighborhood. If another dog came down our street, Gus ran to the fence and the race time began. There is a permanent path wore into the ground from our porch to the fence, around the lilac bush down to the spruce at the other end. As the other dog walked by with their master, Gus raced back and forth almost like a personal challenge of how many times he could make the laps before they made it past our property. Neighborhood kids ran with him encouraging him to race them. He was a character.
   He hated thunder and flashes of light, he loved to lick out the tuna cans, yogurt containers, fruit smoothies, chasing snakes, being with people and cool weather. He loved doggie play days in our yard when the neighborhood dogs would come hang out.
   He insisted on being right in the midst of everything we did, regardless of the task. It didn't work out too well for him the day we had to change the magenta toner cartridge for the printer. Have you ever tried to vacuum a dog?
   We never had to worry about him leaving the yard until one particular winter when we received 72 inches of snow (yes, really. SIX FEET of snow) in a couple days time. Once it finally finished snowing, he figured out that if he walked carefully on the crusted top of that six feet of white stuff that he managed to get on top of from the shoveled path we made for him, his gentle steps led him right over the top of the fence. Off he’d go to find us. As the snow melted, it trained him to jump higher until he could do it from bare ground. We’re talking a chain link fence here. From that point on, he had to stay in the house while we were gone.
   Our dog could tell time too. I’m not kidding. He got a treat in the morning, one at noon, one at 3:00 and one at bedtime. As the years went on, he began to sense when treat time was near. At first we’d just find him sitting in front of the stove by the fridge. The treats sat on top. He would start pacing and “talking” to me telling me it was time. In the last couple of years, his patience waned and the pacing started half an hour to the appointed treat time. His talking turned to constant barking, ordering me to get the treat now. Not. (Okay, so I did give in a lot.) At bedtime, he would get two jerky treats. The first a freebie, but then he had to work for the next one. We taught him hand signals rather than verbal commands. He picked up on those easily. He’d sit, shake, lay down and the best was a high five. If he really wanted that jerky right away, he’d do them all at once without any prompting.
   Ron taught him how to sing along with the Happy Birthday song. The dog would not “sing” to any other song, only Happy Birthday. Ron could sing that, the dog sang along, then Ron would start singing Amazing Grace or something, and Gus would just look at him. And of course we delighted family every year for their birthdays with a chorus over the phone with Gus.
   Gus loved to open his presents at Christmas and his birthday. Yes, I spoiled him with presents. He was my buddy. We had two cats at the same time as Gus. They’d all get something under the tree. One particular year, Gus had gained in the intelligence department and knew that under that tree were presents for HIM. There had been a lot of packages that year, so the pet presents were furthest to the
middle of the highly decorated tree. We’d gone to bed, and apparently Gus could not tolerate the suspense any longer. During the night, he pulled every present out from under the tree. He found his, I guess he learned to read as well, and opened ONLY his. The cat gifts lay to the side and all of our gifts were in disarray, but no paper torn. So we woke to his wrapping paper and the stuffing from his toys all over the living room, and a smiling happy dog lying in the midst of it all. That was the last time his presents were put under the tree. They were kept up high till Christmas morning.
   Gus had his favorite dog sitters too when we took trips and he couldn't come. Our neighbor with her dog Dudley, who I wrote about a while ago on this blog, were his favorite friends for a long time. Then it became our pastor and his wife. Gus would just stay home alone and they’d come let him out and play with him. He loved seeing them. Even when we were home and they pulled up, he would get SO excited.
   We got a camper a couple years ago. He seemed to agree, that is the only way to camp. We both had
arthritis setting in, so sleeping on the ground, no, not so much. He’d get so excited as we packed up the camper knowing he’d get to go. And it always included four-wheeling after the camp was set up. He loved the mountains as much as we do. He loved to romp through the forest, try to catch chipmunks, he’d put in miles on hikes to our half a mile walk. He could scramble up rocks like a mountain goat with no fear of the edge. In the car, his head stuck out the window, tongue hanging, he watched everything and even knew when to brace if a big hole was ahead in the dirt road.
   He struggled with his arthritis in recent years. At 14, in people years that was like 99, so it stands to reason he’d have difficulties. It broke our heart to see him struggle to stand, and laying down took extra long to position his legs to drop. He really didn't have any other health issues. Even his teeth were good.
   Thursday morning, June 27, I knew something had changed. Something was going wrong with his legs and it was happening rapidly. His mind was fine, he still wanted to do things, he saw a puppy in the next yard and literally dragged his back leg all the way down the steps and across the yard to go nose to nose with the little one. He kept trying. He fought to get around. He didn't want to be in the house, so I sat next to him on the cold flagstone all morning. I talked to him, I hugged him, I cried. I told him how great a dog he’d been. The best ever. He laid his head on the hard surface and just rested. I laid beside him and pet him.

   Ron came home early and we proceeded to do the hardest thing we’d ever done. The most heartbreaking time of our lives. We said goodbye to our best buddy. Our traveling companion. My eyes and ears, since mine don’t work very well. My friend. The friend who never judged me, never held a grudge, even if I got mad at him, he would be so sad that he’d disappointed me and immediately try to make up. He protected me, he loved me unconditionally, he stood by me through everything. He was my gift from God. I was blessed to have had this amazing dog for nearly 15 years and not one day will go by that I won’t miss him completely and totally. There is a little hole in my heart now where he took up residence. But his memory will eventually heal that hole and I’ll smile as I remember the best friend I ever had.