FRIENDS AND FAVORITES
Have Yourself an Ambivalent Little Christmas
The Golden Age of Spam
Will the Real Renaissance Please Stand Up?
My Life of Crime
My Life of Crime, Pt. 2: The War of the Dandelions
Black (and Blue) Friday
How Not to Celebrate a Holiday
Traffic Report Fall Down
and Go Boom
O, Holy Weekend
You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?
Lessons for Hurricane Preparedness as Taught By Example in Raleigh, North Carolina
You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?, Pt. 2: Are They Gone Yet?
The Last Reality Show
It Builds Character
Sink the Flu
WTF (in C Major)
Kneel before Za
I Got Your Breaking News Right Here, Pal
Christmas in July...or April...or maybe even December
Why I Hate "The Little Drummer Boy"
Longtime readers of the Bush League Factor have gotten many glimpses into my life. My wife gets mentioned quite frequently. The various jobs I've had while I worked on this site have gotten occasional mention. And then there were the guest appearances from my pets: a greyhound named Larson and a Manx cat named Josquin.
It is with some sadness that I tell you that Larson had to be euthanized this past November. We had discovered cancer in one of his front legs. We did some more testing in hopes of finding that this cancer had not metastasized. ("Metastasized" is word I became all to familiar with that month. For those unfamiliar with it, it means that the cancer which began in one area has spread to other parts of the body. Once this happens, there's little hope of recovery.) Had the cancer not metastasized, we could have amputated the leg and he would have been fine for quite some time. Had it metastasized, we would have had a very difficult decision on our hands regarding whether to fight it or just try to make the remainder of his life comfortable. We were blindsided by the results, which were that the cancer in the leg was the metastasis. He also had cancer in his spleen and liver, and it had likely started in one of these places. That made the decision easy. Unbearably painful, but easy.
My family doesn't really do funerals. When both of my mom's parents died, we got together at my uncle's house and told some of our favorite stories about them. It is, in my opinion, a much greater tribute than going to a funeral home and listening to dismal music followed by a eulogy which, no matter how heartfelt, never manages to quite convey the personality of the person being eulogized. So if you'll indulge me, I'd like to do this for Larson, and share with you some of the stories about what made him so wonderful in my opinion (which is, of course, completely unbiased).
Larson took a little getting used to for both me and my wife, but especially me. Growing up, I had had a Yorkshire terrier — that dog could have walked under Larson without even touching him. My wife's family had had a Labrador retriever. Labs aren't small dogs, but they aren't tall enough to, say, grab something off the counter with their teeth while all four feet remain on the ground. Larson was. It took us all a while to alter our habits accordingly. The worst — in my mind, at least — was the pizza incident. I was at home alone (I was working second shift at the time), and was hungry. I walked to the kitchen (which requires going through the living room in our house), noted the dog was asleep, and heated some leftover pizza. I walked back to my room with the pizza, again noting the sleeping dog. I then realized I didn't get any parmesan cheese (a necessary ingredient for pizza in my book). I walked back to the kitchen, noting for the third time the sleeping dog, and got the parmesan cheese, noting the sleeping dog once more. Whoops! I didn't have anything to drink. So back to the kitchen I headed, and noted (for the fifth time, in case you've lost count) the sleeping dog in the living room.
As I walked down the hall, I was greeted with the sight of my dog — no longer sleeping, of course, and now carrying a slice of pizza in his mouth. I took the pizza away, made him get in his crate, and called my wife with the question:
"How do I punish your dog?"
After several seconds she had quit laughing enough to ask what happened. That was the only part of the conversation where she wasn't laughing, because the more I explained, the more she laughed. And — get this — she didn't even let me punish him. She said it was all my fault.
This (along with other, similar incidents) was where Larson picked up his first nickname, "Larsony". It should be noted that he went through over two dozen nicknames in his eight years with us. There was also Needlenose, The Hound, The Dog, Das Hund, Jojo (short for "Jojo the Dog-Faced Boy"), Thirgle (I'll explain that one in a moment), Muttley, and several others that are slipping my mind right now. This sounds excessive, and it probably is. But it's extremely useful to have a way to refer to a pet without using his name so that he won't know you're talking about him. The problem is he kept figuring out his nicknames, so we kept having to make new ones. He also kept figuring out all the names we had for taking him on a walk (we wanted to be able to check with the other to see if we were both in the mood to take him for a walk before he started bouncing up and down with uncontained joy...and for the record, greyhounds can get their heads over six feet in the air when they bounce up and down with uncontained joy).
At some point I concluded that he wasn't even paying attention to the sounds. I figured he was somehow picking up on the intonations we were using or something similar. "We could say to one another 'Thirgle on Bizzenbeck?' and he'd know we were asking each other if we wanted to take him for a walk," I said. So the next day we tried it. My wife looked at me and asked "Thirgle on Bizzenbeck?" And Larson had no clue what we were talking about. So I was wrong, but it looked like we might finally have a way of alluding to the possibility of a walk without him knowing it. So we tried it again the next night. I looked at her and said "Thirgle on Bizzenbeck?" And Larson started bouncing up and down with uncontained joy. So much for that idea.
This was one of Larson's most notable traits — he was too smart. In case you are wondering, yes, there is such a thing. We had to get a tiny bag to hold the tags on his collar together because he had learned the art of waking us up by standing beside the bed and shaking his head to make them jingle as loudly as possible. (This was no accident, either: he could move silently when the mood struck.) He even figured out how the doorknob worked. He didn't have the strength to actually open it, but both my wife and I noticed on several occasions that if we spent too much time on the porch fumbling for our keys, the doorknob would start jiggling. As best as we could figure, he was trying to open it with his mouth. I can deal with a human telling me to hurry up when I'm fumbling around with my keys. Somehow, a dog telling me that is a little bit more embarrassing.
To make matters worse, he had a wicked sense of humor. For example, he knew that my wife didn't mind him licking her on the face but I did. So he spent years trying to lick my face. It turned into an ongoing game. And I was pretty good at it. It must have been four or five years before I slipped.
But here's the thing: when I did finally slip, he didn't lick my face. He got close enough that there was no way I could stop him, and he got right in my face and grinned. But that was it. Are you familiar with the Great Plains tribes' practice of counting coup? That's what he was doing. He was smiling at me because he knew he could get me, I knew he could get me, we both knew the other knew he could get me, and we both knew that he didn't need to actually do anything because he'd already won. And then he walked away, looking at my wife and grinning all the while.
Also, the couple of times he managed to get out of the house, he took off like a shot down the street we live on (fortunately he headed away from the highway our subdivision connects to, rather than toward it). Then after a couple of blocks, he stopped. No surprise there — greyhounds are sprinters (a typical race is only 550 yards, a little less than a third of a mile). So my wife and I jogged a little, caught up to within ten feet of him...and watched as he took off like a shot again. He repeated this two more times before finally getting tired. Once, he actually started trotting toward me, and veered off at the last second.
There's nothing more frustrating than a dog that likes messing with your head.
And not just mine. We left him with my brother when we went to visit my wife's parents on Christmas. Like all greyhounds, Larson had grown up sleeping in a crate. We had kept the crate out for a long time, but after a while he decided he was done with it. Nevertheless, we took the crate to my brother's house and told him (my brother) that it was his decision whether Larson slept there or not.
At bedtime, my brother told looked at the dog and said, "Larson, box!" ("Box" was the command for Larson to get inside the crate). Larson looked at the crate, looked at Randall, walked over to the dog pillow on the other side of the room, and lay down.
"Larson, up!" He got up. "Larson, box!" He walked over to the crate, looked at Randall, and turned around and went back to the pillow and lay down.
"A-ha!" my brother thought, "he wants to lie on the pillow instead of the mattress that's in the crate." So Randall pulled the mattress out of the crate, made Larson get up, picked up the pillow, put the pillow in the crate, and said "Larson, box!" And Larson looked at the crate with the pillow in it, looked at my brother, walked over to the mattress on the other side of the room, and lay down.
I could go on forever with the stories, but I won't. I also won't say much about his death, except to say that the events leading up to it were quite sudden. Some dogs show their age. I've seen some dogs whose health slowly but surely deteriorates over the years. Larson wasn't like that. He turned ten last June, but had energy levels more in line with a ten-year-old human than a ten-year-old dog. Then one day he had a limp, and within a month he was dead. Don't get me wrong; we made the decision to end his life. But within a month it became clear that it was the only humane thing to do.
I don't think about those last few weeks much — I prefer to remember the happy moments. And rarely (if ever) does a day pass that I don't think about him. You know how it is when you lose a person in your life, whether it's because that person dies or dumps you or moves away or you name it. Every time you do something without that someone that you used to do with, you're reminded. It's no different with Larson. I go into the back yard think about the way he would run in a circle at the end of his leash after doing his business. I walk through the neighborhood and think of the way he loved it when the neighborhood kids came up to pet him while we were taking him for a walk. I stay up late and think of the way he would look at me like it was time to go to bed, and then lie down and make a sarcastic, exaggerated sigh when I refused to do so. Just about everything reminds me of him. These are the things I like to remember. These are happy memories, even if there are tears are running down my face as I write this. Even that damn pizza incident brings a smile to my face. If there are any words, in any language, to describe the joy he brought me in the eight years I had with him, I don't know what they are.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I decided it was time to look into getting another greyhound. Last weekend we went to a place that adopts out retired racing greyhounds a bit south of Greensboro. We looked at about a dozen dogs, and I'm sure there were a few we'd have been happy with, but one clearly stood out as the right one. You'll either know exactly what I'm talking about or think I'm being loopy when I say that not only did we choose this dog, he chose us. We haven't brought him home yet (the vet needs to remove some parts first), but we should be doing so this coming weekend. We didn't know it when we picked him out, but it turns out he's Larson's second cousin, once removed.
So after a two-month break from it, we're going to have to start worrying about getting home in time to take the dog out, paying lots of money for dog food and vet bills, going out on walks when it's way too cold or hot for any sane person to be going outside, et cetera, et cetera.
Oh, who am I kidding? You know I can't wait.
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