This was never going to be easy. I was composing part of this to myself on Sunday on the flight down the coast from Carmel to Los Angeles. And I was crying almost the entire way.
We’ve had three family dogs over the years — there were others but they were around before I was born. Sally was the first for me and my sis, though, a part-Doberman mutt that was a fun if scaredy-cat dog — I remember after I took this photo of her when I was nine that she went and hid, because she was so easily scared by thunder and lightning:
Then there was Suzy, with us from 1984 to 1994 — I always felt a special connection with her as I had noticed her in the young litter of Labrador puppies and suggested her, and rode with her in the back of the car the first night home. No photo of her to hand, I’ll need to dig it up for scanning later.
They were travelling dogs, Sally lived in several homes from Hawaii to New York, Suzy made the trip from New York to California, and I loved ‘em both. After my folks moved to Carmel in 1994 and a little time had passed, a third dog came along — Lexie.
I never lived with Lexie, only visited — a few times a year, sometimes only twice at most in twelve months. So I never got to see the full routine with her from new puppy through to adulthood, all her adventures and scrapes, and occasional misfortunes. I remember the first time I met her on a visit home, though — no longer a tiny puppy but definitely bursting through with life, wondering who the heck I was. A destroyer of toys, an engaging bully to the other neighborhood dogs, an explosion of furry energy, a prancer, a total sap (tummy rubs turned her into a big sprawling pile of dog contentment, and for years she could easily be found under my dad’s desk, head lolling out from the recess where the chair would be as he rubbed her stomach with his foot while doing work there).
Back in 2000 my then-girlfriend Jane was visiting from the UK and met Lexie for the first time — amused by her capering antics and general excitement, she proclaimed Lexie to be ‘a mad dog’ and it’s hard to think of her any other way. She was mad, a little touched by all that energy, and I’m sure — rather, I know — she caused plenty of frustrating moments at home. Dogs perhaps always do that, but Lexie definitely did — if there’s such a thing as a perfect dog, well, she wasn’t it, though sometimes that was part of the charm. (She definitely wouldn’t've made a good watchdog — she’d've barked a bit but eventually would likely go back to sleep depending on the lateness of the hour.)
Lexie’s maddest moment that I saw directly came a few years earlier — as I’ll get into shortly, Carmel’s a perfect home for dogs, and Carmel Beach is, well, heaven for them. Dad knew that she would probably run a little wild there on first encounter and so wanted to get her used to the beach separately, so for a little while he took her to a more isolated beach in Pebble Beach itself, a public one but not one that was a regular gathering or walking spot for most. My sis and I were visiting at one point during this little training-wheel period and so we went down with Dad and Lexie to see one of these beach sessions — it was just us walking down to this spot. Just floating a few feet off the shoreline was a bunch of birds — I can’t remember what kind, seagulls or the like — and the sight of this made Lexie the happiest dog alive. Dad had already let her off the leash when she saw them, so she ran out on a little spur of rock or sand, did a massive flying leap into the water…and you’ve never seen a dog suddenly and sheepishly walk back to the shore as quickly as she did. The ocean water, after all, comes down the coast from Alaska, and it’s still pretty cold when it passed by Carmel. The birds, of course, had immediately booked it, and so all Lexie had to show for her bravura was a wet coat and the realization that maybe she wasn’t a hunter.
Which she wasn’t. But she was a gatherer, perfect for Carmel. Carmel is a perfect home for dogs because of all the clutter of nature that’s there, the trees and leaves and needles and greenery. And Carmel Beach — well, there was a book published some years back called The Gods of Frolic, a privately printed account of what author David E. Clark called “a subculture of dog walkers who love watching dogs be happy.” Dogs can be happy in many places but I can’t imagine them being happier on Carmel Beach — the surf brings up kelp to the sand, there are strange bugs and dead birds, all kinds of random flotsam, and plenty of other dogs out being walked by similarly inclined neighbors.
For weeks, months, years, the routine would be pretty constant — every couple of days dad would take Lexie down to the beach, usually in the early morning and always in the old car — nicknamed the ‘dogmobile’ after not too long a time — to watch her be happy. He got to know the many dogwalkers down there at those times as Lexie got to know all the dogs, much as she got to know her local Carmel neighborhood and all the furry folks there too. Definitely no respecter of age or pack protocol, she operated on the general assumption that she was in charge and presumed all other dogs agreed with her, perhaps not always a justifiable conclusion. She wasn’t an angry or a mean dog, of course, she was too much of a gentle goof — though it did take some years for her to learn at home that picking up spare socks or anything similar lying around on the floor was not approved of.
On visits home I would go on many of these walks, enjoying the peace of the beach and the hilarity of Lexie on it, dashing around and having a blast — usually with something she found on the beach of particular interest, often something dead and not too pleasant smelling. This sequence of photos shows her having discovered a baseball glove and proceeding to, of course, run off with it:
Of course all this would tire her out and so it was just as common to see her all curled up in one or another of her doggie beds over the years, as content as could be:
For many Christmases she would be over there on that bed, carefully fenced away so she didn’t make a ruckus with all the giftwrap and boxes, given a new toy or two to play with that she would usually completely shred within minutes:
And now this Christmas will be the first without her in a long time.
She was getting old — when I took that photo of her in her bed four years back she was already getting creaky with arthritis, and I speculated that maybe after three or four years she would be gone, and such as proved to be the case. In the past two weeks she started to fail, so perhaps it was an unexpected blessing that all of us, including my sis, had a chance to see her. She was in a pet hospital when I flew up last Wednesday and even though she was in bright enough spirits the following day, seeing her in that hospital nook, though she was very well pampered and cared for, nearly broke me a bit. I could barely get a word out, petting her gently as the rest of the family talked with each other and the doctor. I just didn’t want to see her there.
We were able to bring her home, though, and during the whole of my trip we kept a close eye on her, especially my dad. During one stretch I house-sat while everyone did other things or ran errands, and I did my best to check in on her jury-rigged bed in the kitchen, where she would sit or sleep, not wanting to move much.
On Sunday I finished packing to head back south and walked out to the back patio, where just beyond the back door she lay before the steps, which she could have charged in a sec in her youth. She wasn’t wanting to get up right then, so I petted her a few last times and wished her well, and took a last look at her. Or so I thought, because after one last check around to make sure I had everything, I knew I had to go out there and give her a quick hug. When I left her and gave her a last look, she was looking off to the side, perhaps a bit confused as to what it all meant, or simply just not quite there anymore. Who can say. But I left before I started to choke up. Somehow I knew that would be the last time I saw her.
Earlier tonight dad let me know that she passed on earlier today, put to a gentle rest after consultation with her vet. I’ve seen dogs others have owned who have been kept alive too long, when you know that they’re miserable and trapped in a body that no longer works for them. We in our family are no less sentimental about our dogs over the years but we also know that much as there is no right time to lose a dog, there is also no reason to keep them alive only to see them suffer. Knowing that that crazy, ridiculous dog could barely move anymore, couldn’t eat…no, not a pleasant thing to contemplate. Not a state to let her keep living through.
Death breaks the heart, of course, smashes it and leaves it in pieces, no matter how expected the end may be. No less so with Lexie. The amounts of literature and memories humans have for their pets is endless, and whatever words I have simply add to them. A while back I offered up a brief digression on dogs, and in it I quoted from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Power of the Dog,” and I do so again here:
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ‘em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
And of course he knew why.
I could have taken last photos of Lexie, or even a video, when I was home, but no. I didn’t want those to be her final fixed images to look back on, and any video of her would only show her still, or barely moving, or in obvious pain. But a couple of days beforehand, as I noted in the very post before this one, I went down to that beach she couldn’t truly enjoy any more, and I sat there for a while, and thought of her and all the wonderful times she had there. I walked closer to the shore, and took some photos and thought, and after a time another dog and its owner came along. The dog was lively and happy, and its owner kept pitching a ball down the beach to chase at and bring back, as the waves crashed in endlessly. Doggie heaven, right there.
What prompted me to take the bit of video I did then I don’t know, but I’m glad I did. I understand that Lexie’s ashes will be scattered on that beach that she loved, and so long as there’s a dog like this one out there each day doing something like this one did, then all is well:
RIP, Lexie, you ridiculous and ridiculously great beast. Dad said you were ‘a wonderful dog; the best we ever had.’ That you were.