15 November 2008

Celebrating My Favorite Older Lady: Canine Edition

Today, Nevada is 14 years old.

She was born on this day in 1994. That makes her, in human-equivalent years, roughly 98. Now this may not seem like any big deal, but if you consider the challenges that this little dog has faced over the years, it is pretty damn amazing. You see this really is a remarkable dog. You might even call her a miracle. And I'm going to tell you her story. It's pretty amazing. But first, in her honor, a little poem.


By A.E. Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride,
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

This is, in fact, my favorite poem. A little poem with a little message: Carpe Diem. When your companion approaches the ripe old age of 100, the lesson here is not for Nevada, but for me. So while today is my little dog's birthday, it is one of many days we will celebrate in the time we have remaining.

And this is my celebration of Nevada's life.

Nevada almost wasn't my dog. At the time, I was married and living in Riverside Lawn in the Chicago area. We had this really cool place on the river. It flooded every February, but it was pretty darn cool the rest of the time. My other dog, Dakota was about 7 and was suffering from early onset hip displaysia. She had lost interest in playing and didn't want to interact much with us. So I thought she needed a companion. So I set out to find Dakota a pet. The ex and I looked at shelters and while I did fall for a basset hound in one, the ex refused to consider it. Other than that, we didn't see any dogs that were appropriate for us.

There was a place down First Avenue that sold dogs. Most of them came from private homes. It was November and my ex and I stopped by and found a really cool lab/border collie mix and took him home. The first night the dog became very seriously ill. I suspected parvo. I took him back the next day, they said they would get him to a vet and call me to pick him up when he was better. I called several days later only to learn that the puppy had died. I suspected that they hadn't taken him to a vet at all.

Since I had paid for a dog, they suggested I come in and pick another. I went several times, but could never find anything that struck my fancy. One Saturday in January, I walked in and the place was bursting with puppies. I was looking for a border collie. They didn't have any. So I was just wandering around looking at all the pups. And I came upon a kennel in which there were 13 pups, everyone identical to the other. Twelve pups were yapping and jumping and eating soggy puppy food. In the midst of this cacophony was one pup curled up in the corner, sound asleep. It was like trying to take a nap in the middle of Union Station at rush hour. Amazing.

I took one look at that pup and said "that's the one!"

I put her in my lap. She was scarcely bigger than a stick of butter. She was so tired, she couldn't wake up.

She sat in my lap and slept for at least a half hour. You know how sometimes you just know? Well, I knew. I didn't call the ex. I just took her home. She seemed fine. She met Dakota. She wandered around a bit. But that quiet little dog that I saw in the kennel just hours earlier had big plans in store. She was just waiting. Waiting until nightfall.

That's when the howling began.

These were not just little puppy yaps. These were mournful, heart-wrenching sobs of a dog that was lost and alone and facing certain death. From a litter of thirteen pups, I plucked her half asleep and she wanted to go home. She wanted mama. She wanted the comfort and warmth of twelve wriggling, sleeping litter mates. I tried to comfort her. I tried to console her. I tried to ease her fears. She was having nothing of it. She didn't stop howling for three days. I could only look at her, shake my head and think "you fooled me". It was so bad that my neighbor put a ladder against the house to look in the windows to make sure everything was okay.

Dakota didn't know what to think of this. All in all, I don't think she thought this was a good idea. Soon enough, though, Nevada had found a mama substitute in Dakota. In fact, one of Nevada's favorite things to do was to sit on Dakota. She would straddle Dakota's behind and sit on her. Dakota had the patience of Job. She never once chased her off. Considering that Dakota had hip displaysia, I think that was pretty tolerant. They became fast friends. And Dakota did perk up again for many years.

Out in the back of our house, behind the garage, we had a fire pit. One of Nevada's favorite games was to entice Dakota to chase her around that fire pit. Until the day I die, I will remember the two of them running circles around that pit. They had run a path in the dirt. Nevada could run fast, fast, fast around that fire pit until she almost lapped Dakota. Then Dakota would change direction and Nevada would high-tail-it in the other direction. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Dakota would always run at the same speed. Like a metronome. Cautious always to never seriously threaten to catch Nevada. They loved that game.

Dakota was a world-class Frisbee dog until her hips gave out. I mean the twisty, aerobatic superdog-like-on-tv kind of Frisbee dog. So I thought I'd teach Nevada Frisbee. I tossed a Frisbee at her once. It hit her in the head. I tossed it again. Frisbee. Flinch. Head. I tried one more time. Whether Nevada intended it or whether it was amazing coincidence, she opened her mouth and t he Frisbee landed between her choppers and seemed to catch on one of her canines. She dropped it immediately. Blood poured from her mouth. Somehow, in that single game of Frisbee, Nevada had split her tongue. I never did heal back together. The split remains. Her Frisbee days were over.

Dakota got older. In January, 2000, Dakota died of liver failure at the age of 12. While Dakota could have lived out her days alone, Nevada was not a loner. Nevada was heartbroken. So was I.

Shortly after Dakota's death, my marriage failed and the ex moved out of the house. Undeterred, I sought out a companion for Nevada. A friend had gotten a dog at a border collie rescue, so I went on the site and began my search.

I couldn't find any dogs that seemed appropriate. They recommended Jake, who back then was known as Keifer. Keifer! What a name. Ugh. I didn't think he looked like much, but I agreed to meet him. He had big bat ears and a goofy look in the picture they posted. But I invited them to check us out and his foster parents drove "Keifer" down from Janesville, Wisconsin. He seemed okay. But I'll tell you what, Nevada was star struck. She had picked her companion. When Jake left she was heartbroken again. Now Jake has his own set of issues for another day, but for now we'll set those aside. Jake has been a wonderful companion to Nevada. He's allowed her to dote on him, lick his ears, his eyes, push him around, tell him who and what to attack...he's allowed Nevada to be the mother she never was. I don't think she was ever happier.

In late April 2005, Nevada became ill. She began to stumble. I took her to the vet. It was a mystery. She got very, very sick. Very sick. The vet didn't know what was wrong with her. I was trying to prepare to defend my masters thesis. I was sleeping on the floor with the dog at night, fully expecting to wake up next to a dead dog in the morning. I tried to work, unsuccessfully during the day. I was at the vet's every other day looking for an answer. I was frustrated. I watched Nevada waste away to nearly nothing. She was miserable. She couldn't walk. She had to be carried in and out of the house to relieve herself. She couldn't keep any food down. Finally, I decided she couldn't take it any longer. I asked the vet to put her down.

He talked me out of it and scolded Nevada to stop scaring me.

Two days later, he figured it out. Nevada has Addison's disease. Her adrenal glands are non-functioning. She is on lifetime hormone replacement to keep her sodium-potassium pumps running. I expected her to live six months. I think the vet thought that was being generous.

But she got better. A lot better. It was nothing short of a miracle. Oh things changed. Nevada never wanted to chase ball again. She became fixated on eating red worms in the yard. I chalked it up to a little brain damage perhaps from her health ordeal. A little bit squirrely, but still my same ol' girl.

Three years have passed since then. Nevada is fourteen years old today. I don't want to think about how much I have spent in vet bills and medicine keeping this wonderful old dog of mine alive. She has been worth every penny. Despite getting really, really old and crapping on the wheelchair ramps and waking me up in the middle of the night, she is still my girl. We've had Christmases I never thought we'd get.

Nevada has always been my rock. She's the one that used to rest her head next to me on the couch while I watched tv. The one who follows me wherever I go in the house. The one who snores so loud that sometimes I have to wake her up in the night just to make her stop. The one that reminds me it's 10 o'clock and time for biscuits. The one who gives kisses just for the asking. The one whose fur absorbs my tears in my moments of weakness and sorrow. The one who comes in the bathroom when I'm getting ready in the morning and just leans her head against my leg. The one who reminds me, in her old age, that slowing down isn't always a bad thing.

Nevada is a world-class dog and today I am thankful for every day I've shared of her 14 years.


  1. So well said--every dog deserves an ode like that one.

  2. Aaaawwww.. That's a touching post and a fine dedication to a deserving dog. I love seeing the pictures of her in her younger days!