RIP My Sweet Girl

Shadow: May 22, 2003 to April 25, 2019

Photopaint of Shadow

Shadow, my loving and faithful friend and companion.

When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.’—Rudyard Kipling

She was barely 3 months old when I got her, a bundle of furry energy. I had wanted a companion dog for some time. After settling on a breed (Australian Shepherd), it took me nearly 2 years to find the right one. I initially wanted a German Shepherd, but decided on something smaller–had I known I would get the world’s biggest Aussie…I wouldn’t change a thing.

Shadown as Puppy

At 3 Months

Like every new dog owner, I intended to be tough on her, I told myself she would develop no bad manners. All of that melted away within a day when she was mauled by a pit bull. She spent the night in the hospital and couldn’t walk by herself for nearly a week, I wasn’t tough on that dog, she was my baby girl. She recovered from the mauling remarkably well, her brown eye was weepy from a torn tear duct and she had little biting power due to a broken snout. These things never got in her way other than always losing at tug-of-war, even against puppies.

Shadow with grass

Shadow, somewhere above the Mississippi River.

Shadow was a food gulper. When I got her I thought I could teach her to not gulp by keeping her food bowl full, but that wasn’t the case. She got fat, a problem she would struggle off and on with for her entire life. But it earned her the endearing nickname, “Fatdog” which lasted her lifetime whether her weight was up or down.

Back in the oughts Google bombing was a thing. I set up a sub-domain under the term “ornerycritter” and seeded links so that if you typed “ornery critter” into Google and clicked the I’m Feeling Lucky button it would bring up a picture of Shadow. This probably spoke more to my over abundance of free time at the time than it did to Shadow.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace. ― Milan Kundera

After being mauled she became defensive around other dogs, so she and I attended Sirius Puppy School. We both learned a lot and she developed the good habits that would make her a great dog.

Shadow on the beach.

On the beach at Olympic National Park.

Shadow was a well traveled dog visiting 46 states by the time she was eight. I always promised her that we would go to Maine so she could get numbers 47 and 48, but we never made it…time ran out. We did go up to Minnesota last Summer as it was closer than Maine and we couldn’t free up the time needed for a longer expedition. Minnesota is similar to Maine; the great North woods, Moose, views of Canada, etc. She never said if she was disappointed with the switch but we did enjoy a final week long camping experience, even if she wasn’t up for hiking.

Shadow loved camping and visiting National Parks as much as I do. She did all the great parks from Olympic NP to Everglades NP and from Glacier NP to Big Bend NP, as well as most of them in between. We would take camping road trip vacations a couple of times a year, spending lots of time camping and hiking in the National Forests; no man could ask for a better travel companion.

John and Shadow

Me and Fatdog backpacking at Big Sur.

I always thought I would add a second dog when Shadow turned 6. But in 2007, with Shadow barely 4, I went through a dark time. Of course I did the worst possible thing to combat it, I got a puppy. A bouncing Blue Heeler who I named Smokey.

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.— Edward Hoagland

Shadow didn’t enjoy Smokey as much as I thought she would, but she rose to the occasion and was a stalwart alpha to Smokey’s status seeking beta. However, having a young dog around who was always seeking confrontation led Shadow to age pre-maturely, she quit playing as every romp turned into a battle of supremacy. Shadow maintained her dominance till the end, but it had its toll on her personality. Still, I think she loved Smokey as much as I do.

Shadow and Smokey

Fatdog with her sidekick DooDoo playing in the snow of the High Sierras

Shadow and I lived in Berkeley, California for most of her life. She grew up hiking and playing in Tilden Regional Park and Pt. Isabelle Dog Park; two of America’s jewels both conveniently located within 10 miles of San Francisco. All summer long we would journey across the valley to spend weekends in the Sierra mountains. In the Winter we would often day trip into the mountains to play in the snow. In her senior years we moved to Columbia, Missouri where she got to experience life with four seasons.

I’m an introvert… I love being by myself, love being outdoors, love taking a long walk with my dogs and looking at the trees, flowers, the sky. –Audrey Hepburn

I am going to hijack this ode to Shadow and write just a bit about me. I thought I was ready to let her go. I mourned a little the first time she couldn’t hike all day, a little more when 10 miles got to be too much for her, and again when 5 miles was too much. I mourned for her the first time it took 45 minutes to walk around the block, a little more when I had to start carrying her up and down the half flight of stairs, and again when she couldn’t even make it around the block. I mourned her pain, I mourned her physical and mental decline. I thought this pre-mourning would make it easier to let her go when the time arrived. It didn’t.

She truly was more than just a dog, she was my friend and always faithful companion. It is more than just Smokey and I who will miss her, but everyone whom she touched. With friends from coast to coast, that dog will live on in memories far and wide. Goodbye my friend, I miss you, and always will.

Shadow with flowers.

Shadow grew up in the Bay area parks.

Dogs got personality. Personality will go a long way. –Quentin Tarantino

This photo story covers the first half of Shadow’s life.

I went ahead and did a photo story for the second half of Shadow’s life.

Advertisements

Happy Solstice

IMG_1697_2_v1

The Further Adventures of Smokey

If my battery holds out, I hope to share two more camping anecdotes. Probably won’t be near civilization to post them for at least a couple of days.
I am back in the Kern River Canyon after a 10 day hiatus during which I took some friends who were visiting from Michigan to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and a short trip down the coast. But that is another story…
We got back here the other night and found a campsite to the east of our previous one and much closer to the Kern River. These two anecdotes both concern my 7 year old Blue Heeler, Smokey. I am not neglecting my senior Aussie, Shadow, but she is wise enough not to start fights with rattlesnakes or the other brash (foolhardy?) things which follow. If I were to write camping anecdotes about Shadow they would all be a variation of “we went for a hike, Shadow stayed close and didn’t cause any problems.”
Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?)  That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.
That was a frightening start to the day, but nothing compared to the fear I had for that dog late this afternoon. Like I said earlier, we are much nearer the river in our current camp. So this afternoon we bushwacked our way down to the river. It was difficult to get down to the river because much of it is cut through rock and has a 20 to 30 foot sheer rock embankment. We eventually found a spot that we could get to with about 20 feet of dirt only 2 or 3 feet above the river. Shadow generally likes the water while Smokey avoids it at all costs. I stripped and put my feet in but the river was too cold and fast to get in. Evidently too fast for Shadow too, as both dogs were hanging over the bank getting a drink. Smokey lost her footing and into the river she went. At first I laughed as that dog hates the water. But my schadenfreude was quickly replaced with fear as she was quickly carried down stream. 20 feet and there would be rock faces and she would not be able to get out. While I wasn’t afraid of her drowning, I don’t think dogs drown very easily, I was fearful that it would be difficult to find her or that she might end up on an inaccessible rock or who knows what. I was terrified for that dog. Somehow she ended up on a rock 20 feet from shore. She didn’t stay there long but made a jump for shore and swam strongly to the embankment where she couldn’t get out of the water. I scrambled over the rocks and got a hold of her collar and pulled her out of the river. She was not a happy dog and there was nothing remotely self satisfied on her face. She spent 15 minutes shaking and rolling in the sand before she wanted anything to do with me or Shadow.
I would imagine that she likes the water even less than she did before. Keep in mind that this is the same dog who canoed with me 350 miles down the Missouri River and never once got wet. Coming up from the river we had to traverse a field of poison oak, I can only hope I don’t get a full body dose of itchy rash, both dogs are covered in it and we will sleep in a pile tonight.
I both love and hate Smokey for her bravery. While I admire her heart, I fear that it will be the death of her.

I still hope to write this trip up in depth when I get access to a keyboard, tapping it out on my tablet is a serious drag.

Just to add, I was only gone from here for 10 days but during that time Spring ended and full on Summer started. The flowers are gone and the grasses are dying. It is 15 degrees warmer and we will have to move further up into the mountains soon.
I am coming up on 6 weeks of off and on camping and each day I feel less like returning to the bay area. I am so over traffic and the hectic lifestyle and the opulence and poverty that exist side by side. The chorus for a song that I recently wrote begins: “This concrete ain’t no jungle, it’s a prison don’t you see.”

Saved That Dog’s Life

Generally I don’t swear when writing, but here I’m attempting to capture the moment.  If you have sensitive ears you may want to read elsewhere. You’ve been warned.

Background: I am currently camping down in the Mojave Nature Preserve,  tapping this post on my tablet. I won’t have Internet to post this for a few days.

I was hiking a wash at the edge of the Cinder Cone Lava Bed. I was hiking the wash because the lava bed is hard on the dog’s feet. Shadow (my senior Aussie) was earning her name faithfully at my heels. Smokey (my feisty Blue Heeler) , as is her wont, was 30 feet out on my flank looking for jack rabbits.
Most of my hiking is early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat. But today was different as we had been to town for supplies and Internet. So it was a hot sunny hike. I had just found a desert tortoise shell and stopped to photograph it, wishing I was on BLM land so that I could take it with me. Shortly after resuming our hike, Smokey started barking. I called for her to come, but her bark became more shrill, more insistent, more a yip then a bark. I scrambled up the wash’s bank to see what her problem was,  I could partially see her behind some scrub creosote. As I rounded the bush I saw that she had something cornered at the base of a mesquite tree. Just as it registered that it was a coiled snake, the snake struck. Smokey pulled back and still yipping went back after it.
“Holey Shit!  Did that snake just bite her? ”  Running now, I close the last few feet and grab her by the back haunches and jerk her away. My mind was racing, ” fuck, how long do I have?” 2 miles back to the car and a solid 80 miles to the nearest vet in Barstow. The snake is coiled and rattling as I back away with Smokey in my arms. The snake was green!  Who ever heard of a green rattlesnake?
As I ran from the snake with Smokey in my arms, Shadow noticed the snake and went to investigate. I frantically call her away and thankfully she listens. I run maybe 50 yards down the wash, somehow sure the snake was chasing me. Once safely away, I knelt and searched Smokey for signs of a bite. She has a double layer coat and even though I could find no sign of a bite, I couldn’t be sure. I decided to carry her back to camp, keep her heart rate low and watch for symptoms once back at the car. I used to carry a snake bite kit in my back pack but it had long since dry rotted and been discarded. Not that the suction cup would work on a hairy beast. I think cutting the bite to suck out the venom only works in the movies.
I set out jogging… and remembering. Before I had left on this trip I had mentioned to a friend that I have seen a bunch of rattlesnakes in my life, but had never run into one when the dogs were with me. Did I jinx myself? I don’t believe in magic, only coincidence. And what is up with a green rattlesnake? I’ve seen Western Diamondbacks in the Western deserts and Timber Rattlers in Appalachia, but never heard of a green rattlesnake.
My luck changed as I neared camp. I ran into a naturalist studying the desert flowers. She asked what was wrong with the dog, and I explained between huffs as I fought to get air into my lungs. She advised that it was a Mojave Rattlesnake and that they are indeed green. She had me put Smokey down and asked how long it had been. I told her 20 minutes or half an hour. She laughed and told me to quit worrying, had Smokey been bit she would be showing signs by now. She went on to explain that the Mojave Rattler is the most aggressive and deadly of the rattlesnakes (it wasn’t clear if she meant all rattlesnakes or just the three species that reside in the Mojave desert.)
I gave that dog a hug and she growled at me and I knew all was right. Freaked out by the experience, I was seeing snakes in every shadow. We packed up and moved camp 5 miles north.
Moral of the story is to keep a better eye on that dog.

RIP Turtle Dog (2007-2010)

From Drop Box

Turtle Dog’s real name was Myrtle…she was a great little dog. My dad got her as a puppy and her and Smokey grew up together. We haven’t seen as much of her since she moved to Missouri (the above picture was taken in Death Valley, Xmas 2007.) Turtle was born with a bad heart and she was never what one would call healthy, but she had a good life despite her health. She never let her bad heart prevent her from throwing down with Smokey, she was always ready to defend her toys or her favorite spot… She will be missed.

Mike writes up a better eulogy for the Turtle Dog.