About Dugley (written in 2012): I said goodbye to a good friend yesterday. My buddy, Dugley, aka Charles Dugley Dickens, our chocolate Labrador retriever, passed gently into dog heaven as Beverly and I sat with him at the animal hospital. Dugley’s mind, as well as his appetite, was alert and vital right up to the end, although his thirteen-and-a-half year-old body was wracked with the infirmities of doggy old age. Most of his hearing went away over a year ago, and his hind legs have been failing him since last autumn, though I could usually get them going again by moving behind him, wrapping my arms around his tummy, and giving him a boost.
But, two days ago, even that wasn’t quite enough to keep him on his feet for more than a few seconds at a time. So we made the toughest call any pet owner ever has to make. Dugley was never the dog we wanted him to be. But he certainly became the dog we wanted. We bought him from a breeder a couple months after our black Labrador, Samwell, had passed. Sammy was such a wonderful dog, we figured that we’d just get a milk chocolate version of him. Other than four legs and a tail, Dugley was nothing like Sammy. Right from the beginning, he had his own personality, and his own way of doing things that didn’t usually take our opinions much into consideration. Dugley was a very smart dog, but it’s not always a blessing to have a pet that is constantly trying to outthink you. Worst of all, frequently he’d win.
Dugley’s name came from a computer game that our then-three-year-old daughter, Meredith was playing. It was about Christmas, and, in the game, Santa had an elf helper named Dudley, that Meredith mispronounced as Dugley or sometimes, Dug-ge-ly. Somehow, the name, slightly offbeat, just seemed to fit our offbeat new pup. Dickens came from the fact that I was reading A Christmas Carol at the time, but Dugley was his own kind of dickens. He always seemed to find lots of clever ways of getting into trouble. Dugley marched to the beat of his own drum, and certainly enjoyed the music. One of his loves was sitting on the stairs, his butt parked on one stair while his legs supported him on another. Why, we never knew. Maybe it was to be taller, and be on our eye level, maybe it was just another unique personality quirk. We dubbed him Sir Dugley of the Stairs.
Dug was what some people would call hyper, but to us, he was just overly enthusiastic. Always. He couldn’t ride in the car without thrashing around and whining at all the exciting things he was seeing out the windows. When we took long car trips up to our house in Canada, the only way to ride in the same car with him was through the use of doggie downers, which weren’t enough to keep him from knocking the pump nozzle out of the tank and covering himself with gas at one of our stops. I had to give him a bath with the hose normal people use to fill a radiator. When he was a pup, and we asked the vet about his energy, he told us that the chocolate labs are a lot more energetic than the black labs, and the yellow labs are the most laid back of the breed. Gee, we just thought he was a different color. Not a different dog. Well, Dugley was always kinda “different.” Over time, we learned to love him for it, although we’re sure some of our houseguests didn’t enjoy the drooling ninety-pound friend that just had to be ever so close to them.
When he was about a year old, we took him to obedience training at a local park, where this stout and militaristic German lady named Helga whipped the local dogs and their owners into shape. Dugley would have none of it. His eyes were wild, constantly shifting from dog to dog without the slightest bit of concentration on how he was supposed to follow me on the leash, or come when called, or much of anything we wanted him to do. He would have none of it. Helga would come over to us, shake her head resignedly after taking a look at his wide eyes, ever-sliming pink tongue and constantly panting demeanor, and say “oh, those Labs, their brains don’t kick in until they’re two.” Well, twelve years later, we were still waiting for the obedient part of the brain to kick in. While other dogs in the class were getting ribbons for first, second and third place, Dugley ended up with a certificate that said he was a “Participant.” Which we always thought meant that he showed up, and that was about it.
Dugley entered his prime when we moved to Vancouver, and we could take our lean and muscular buddy for long walks around the neighborhood, or off-leash runs through the woods to the nearby park. He also loved the ocean cove at the end of our street, Copper Cove Road, where he learned to swim. The first time he entered the water, he headed straight out to sea toward Bowen Island over a mile away. Fortunately, he decided at some point to turn around and come to us on the shore. But for a while there, we were convinced he wasn’t coming back.
Other than Beverly, Meredith and I, which we assume he learned to appreciate, Dugley had two great loves in life. Food, and retrieving. The love and constant craving for food never quit. Dug would eat anything. Really, anything. And when he couldn’t eat it, he’d just drool about it. And he always seemed to enjoy his food, especially when he could steal something off the kitchen counter, although he always betrayed a bit of guilt over something stolen. But the potato chip bag, ripped open by teeth was always a give-away. Other than going for a walk, the only time Dug came when called was for dinner. Most of the time, he didn’t have to be called. He was already there, waiting.
And he loved retrieving, a passion that only slowed down when his body wouldn’t allow him to run any longer. But in his day, he would chase the ball or the bubba (our pet-name for any particular dog toy) long past the time in which any human tired of throwing it. Catching the tennis ball was another amazing skill. No matter how hard you whipped it at him, he would snatch it out of the air with superb eye-mouth coordination. Getting it back was another issue. Because as much as he loved to catch or chase the ball, he loved to tease you with it. One of his favorite tricks on us was that he would come up with a ball or bubba in his mouth as if he wanted us to throw it to him. And then as you reached out, just about to take it, he would turn his head and run away, as if he had just put one over on you. This must have tickled his dog sense of humor because he always seemed to be laughing at us as he did this. Then he’d be right back again moments later with the ball, pressing it against your leg, and then as you reached to take it, he’d snatch it away all over again until he had his laughs and was good and ready to let you throw it to him.
It’s hard to think of Dugley without also thinking of the third great love of his life, our blonde mutt-spaniel Buffy. We got Buffy to be Meredith’s dog, but in reality, she was Dugley’s. She was his girlfriend, constant companion, his bed-mate, and his wrestling partner, usually during the time we were trying to have a dinnertime conversation. They’d eat, we’d sit down to dinner, and then they’d wrestle around the table giving us meal-time entertainment. Buffy and Dugley went together like peas and carrots, soup and sandwich, or any great twosome. I don’t know what she’s going to do now that he’s gone. She already seems to be more than a little bit lost. We’re glad we have her to comfort us, but it’s probably a two-way street at the moment.
One of the best parts of working at home, as I have done for years, is having family around. But if Beverly or Meredith weren’t around, Buffy and Dugley always were. They’d migrate with me wherever I (or whoever was home with them) would go. From my office, to the kitchen, to the living room, to the backyard, to the bedroom, they were always with us. They were our constant companions, sleeping soundly at our feet, but ready at a moment’s notice to spring up for a walk or whatever we had in mind.
As Dugley got older and more infirm, he found that with age comes some benefits. I think he actually enjoyed having me wait on him. Walking and getting up from the floor got harder and harder. He could manage getting up on his feet when he was laying on our carpeted floors, but the hardwood and tile floors were the bane of his existence, as his hind legs struggled for purchase, often without success. So, quite frequently, he’d be lying on the floor, unable to get up, and he’d issue two sharp barks, pause a few seconds to see if I responded, and if not, give another two barks. He’d do this until I came when called. At least one of us learned something in obedience class. So I’d arrive, and give him a boost to get him on his feet, and he’d be off wherever he needed to go until the next time he fell and couldn’t get up.
As his legs gave him more trouble, the stairs, which were once his domain, presented a new challenge. Going upstairs was a struggle, but it was possible. Going down was a different matter. After experiencing a few falls, he decided that he needed assistance from Beverly or me. So he’d stand at the top of the stairs and bark his two barks until we came as called. For a while, it was just steadying him, but as he grew more lame we helped him move each of his hind legs down the stairs for him. We had just seen the film War Horse when he started having trouble going up the stairs to the bedroom. In his prime, he could bound up the stairs in two seconds flat, but those days ended a while ago. We were reminded of the movie when we saw Dugley crawling up the stairs, struggling to plant each paw on a higher stair before moving on to the next. We called it “War Horsing” up the stairs. Two nights ago, he struggled so much that I knew it was probably has last War Horsing. We both slept downstairs the next night.
And now, as I sit here writing about him, I’m actually thinking how much I’m already missing those two sharp barks that lately called me to attention. It’s strange to say, but I think, as his body failed him and he grew ever more dependent on me, that we got a lot closer. Perhaps he, or God, was preparing me for old age, helping me understand a bit of the future that awaits us all, and helping me to be at peace with it.
So goodbye for now, Dugley, my best friend. And try to look up a black lab named Samwell. I think you two would get along great. You have a lot in common. 04.21.12
About Buffy (2015): It’s always so hard to say goodbye to a member of your family. We took Buffy to the vet today for an ailment that we knew could be the end. It was cancer, and pretty advanced, so we had to make that tough choice. Buffy was at least fifteen years old, perhaps more because we never knew her actual birth date.
Buffy, our beautiful blonde spaniel mutt, came to us via a dog rescue agency in Beverly Hills. Meredith wanted another dog for her sixth birthday and we all found Buffy on the internet. It was a really hot day when we met her in a cage at the end of the hall, passing other dogs that just didn’t fit the bill. When we took her for her first walk outside the rescue center, she immediately endeared herself to us by splashing into a small kid’s pool to cool off. We knew she had a great personality. It was love at first sight for Buffy and Dugley, our chocolate lab, who was about three at the time. They were inseparable for the rest of his life as we discovered that while having one dog is great, having two is many times better.
Buffy was the most independent dog. If we didn’t close the door or the back gate tight enough, she would be gone… running down the street to the wild area at the bottom of the hill we called the gulley. There, we’d find her exploring, finding her own adventures. It must have happened a dozen times over her life, when we’d get a call from one of the neighbors, calling the number on her tag and saying “are you missing a dog named Buffy?” We’d look around, notice she was gone, and tear out of the house to bring her back. We always joked that because we found her at a Beverly Hills rescue shelter that she must have thought she was going to do better than the home in Sherman Oaks to which we brought her. She was apparently looking for a better life.
But we know in her heart that she loved us, as we loved her. In the evenings she followed me around the house, into whatever room I was in, and she wouldn’t go up to the bedroom for the night until I did so first. And she looked out for us, sitting in her perch on the back of the couch, looking out the front window and barking at anybody (man or dog) who had the temerity to pass by our house.
She accepted the pup Coco that we brought in three years ago, and, though they had their spats, even looked out for her, barking at the back patio door when Coco was outside and wanted to come in. Guess Coco is now going to have to learn to bark for herself. Three years ago we said goodbye to Dugley, Buffy’s best friend since she joined our family. She’s always seemed a bit diminished by his absence. Perhaps they are together today. We can only hope so. 12.29.15
Oh, forgot to mention that, in her younger days, Buffy could fly.