February 14, 2018

Hello to all the wonderful folks at ACES.

There are times in your life when you look back and reminisce or simply recall certain moments or feel a twinge of nostalgia, which so often happen when a certain sound or look or a word or a song elicits or evokes a memory of times past. And so it is that Heidi Janss sent a short email about our wonderful, furry angel, Cowboy, who came to us way back in 2011 and accepted Vicki and I, and Spencer and Kate, previously known as Willi and Wonka, as his forever family, and a flood of memories raced through my mind in a marvelous display and seemed to awaken all my senses.

As it is with most short, nostalgic excursions, other memories related to the initial inducement of our look back-in-time start to take us even further into the past, or widen the sights and sounds, and bring greater perspective and context. Heidi's email brought me even further back to that time when we decided to bring Willi and Wonka into our lives after the loss of our beloved "Sweetie;" that was in 2006. How long ago that seems; and how short in time it really is. Spencer and Kate, as they were rechristened, are now approaching eleven years of age or maybe twelve, it is hard to say since no one knows how old they really are.

They were pups when they arrived, and they filled the house with joy and their personalities were already fixed. As I wrote to Heidi way back when, "Yes, the pups have taken over my life. The two Setters, abandoned and found in the South, who are now in ourĀ  lives, have nearly overwhelmed us. They can be at once sweet, endearing and precious, as well as, flighty, silly, comical, zany and wonderfully amusing, with full blown Puppy ADD. Kate remains hyper-vigilant and challenges us on every matter, finally relenting in a sheepish, but lovable manner that melts your heart and causes one to regret the disappointment and frustration one may have felt just minutes before. She is too smart by half and knows exactly what she is doing every second of her existence. At night, when the hours in the day are dying down, she curls up like a small kitten and drifts off, but never sleeps too deeply, as she is always semi-alert, listening for the slightest sound, whereupon she will awaken in a flash and seek out the intruder, real or imagined.

Spencer is a true clown, unable to contain his enthusiasm, still puppy-like in all his actions, except when he finds himself outside staring at a squirrel or bird or leaf blowing across his path. Then his "hunter" genes take over and his focus becomes riveting and total, and he is lost to the rest of the world until the prey passes by or he is nudged out of his intense concentration. He is, however, absolutely adorable and is now seeking affection from us, whereas previously, he stayed in the background giving Kate full reign. Kate found her way onto the couch pretty early and loves to curl up, put her head in your lap and go to sleep. For a while, Spencer would simply lay on the floor next to the couch, but recently he discovered that he too could be a lap dog, although even that seems to be an activity that doesn't last very long as he almost assuredly will move onto something else without really thinking about anything in particular... They are still inseparable, and they will 'pine away' if they find themselves alone and the other one is not in the same room.

As the years passed, Spencer stayed in his own world. Kate was his "big" sister, his protector, his shield, the focus and love of his life. And we all came to realize that Spencer simply cannot live without Kate. When we first took Kate to the Vet by herself, Spencer would lay by the front door and whimper until she came home. On occasion, when Kate would actually climb the back fence and scout the neighborhood, Spencer would call out to her, and it was Spencer who would alert us that Kate decided to visit one of the neighbors.

Today, Spencer, who grew older gracefully, has taken to lounging around the house in the various beds we have on each floor. His back legs are not functioning very well, as he has developed a case of degenerative myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord. The Vet did advise us that the disease has an insidious onset typically between 8 and 14 years of age. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. It causes Spencer to wobble somewhat when walking, and he really has problems with steps and getting up from a prone position. Fortunately, he is not in pain and seems to have adjusted without complaint.

Unfortunately, Kate has not caught on that Spencer is having problems and she still tries to get him to wrestle or run with her. We must remind Kate that Spence is simply not able to play as he once did. It's sad. Spencer still loves to lie on the grass in the sun and watch Kate roam the yard looking for whatever movement may be occurring from the other critters in the area. While Kate rules the roost, her brother Spencer is her first concern in all matters. Their bond is truly remarkable; we sometimes whisper that when one of them passes the loss will simply crush the one who is left behind.

Into this harmonious world, Cowboy arrived. He came to us by plane and when we picked him up at the airport, I recall that he simply laid on my lap the entire ride home as my friend, Patrick, drove. Kate and Spence were about five or six when Cowboy breezed through the front door. When they met, Katie was fine. Spencer wanted to play and was a bit rambunctious; Cowboy was a little stressed and tired and ornery, but there were no problems. The adjustment period was short-lived, as they all implicitly accepted the new lifestyle, and the new hierarchy.

The first few days, Cowboy kept his distance, and Kate and Spence allowed him his space. No one got too familiar. As the days passed, however, they began to sniff each other and lay around together and even play a little, although Cowboy did not really know how to play.

Eventually, Kate bonded totally to him, as I suspected she would. She mothers everyone and protects everyone. So, it was no surprise that she would welcome him home. Kate and Cowboy run around together and patrol the fence line. All the while Spencer was still trying to figure out 'what's up!' The first few nights Spence was giving me the "is this guy actually staying here" look. We sensed that Spence felt left out, but he is very laid back anyway, and as time went on, he adjusted.

There was never any aggression, and I never thought there would be. Kate and Spencer are wonderful with people and other dogs, and Cowboy simply does his "thing." (Indeed, Kate and Spence run to everyone, and to other dogs, and one day, actually ran and jumped into the mailman's truck as he pulled up to deliver the mail, wagging their tails all the while.)

Cowboy has such an ebullient personality and is impossible to resist. So, even Spence began to sense that Cowboy was kind of a 'star' whose prancing and demands for attention are something we all had to accept.

After a few weeks, Cowboy became a full-fledged member of the family. He romped, ate and slept with his new brother and sister, as if they were all from the same litter. Of course, he never stops wanting to go out and run, flush the birds, explore every inch of the yard, and then take his long walk to the park.

Cowboy is a true Setter. As I wrote to Lisa and Heidi years ago, his head is always up, and he doesn't really "run" so much as he "cantors," but at full speed. His legs fly up and out, and his hind legs seem to flare up in a ballerina-like movement. He is beautiful to watch, much like a Lipizzaner stallion in full flight.

It took him several weeks to actually sleep through the night. He always, to this day, gets up in the middle of the night and goes into the hall or my home office to sleep where he has a bed. At daybreak, he comes to my side of the bed, and pokes me to get up and let him out into the yard for his morning toilet duties.

After doing his little piddle, he runs back into the house with a flourish and waits for a small treat, which requires me to give one to Kate and Spence, who have not moved from their place on our bed; then Cowboy jumps back into bed, curls up, and goes to sleep immediately, as if he had narcolepsy.

At first, Kate and Spence, would get up and sleep-walk their way outside with him. As the nights, and years, wore on, however, they decided, it wasn't worth it, especially if it was raining; so now they just open one eye and watch Cowboy race down the steps followed by me, with or without my glasses depending on how awake I am, trying to get my slippers on so I don't fall down the stairs after him.

Of course, Kate and Spence will never be as close to Cowboy as they are to each other. He is, and always will be, the little puppy who came into their lives without warning, and though they eat, sleep, walk, and live in harmony, Cowboy has had to accept his place in that hierarchy. And so, as time went on, Cowboy became the "baby" that we doted on; and he loves the attention.

You may be wondering at this point how we all sleep together. Short answer: you have to get used to it. We bought a California King bed so there would be more room for all of us. Well, the pups decided the bed just gave them more room to stretch out. Oddly enough, it is comforting to have them with us. It is the personification of a three-dog night.

Cowboy was and is a love bug, who is never out of sight and always in need of kisses, petting, and a warm lap, despite his 70 plus pounds. Indeed, the couch in the Den used to be reserved for Kate on one side and Spence on the other with me in the middle. As Cowboy grew more comfortable, Kate and Spence were still on either side, but Cowboy insisted that he be in the middle, which meant on my lap.

Recently, however, Spence has decided that he needs his own couch, and now he flops onto the two-seated couch in the den, while Kate and Cowboy occupy the three-seater. Spence has found that curling up with Vicki on the other couch in the Den is almost as good. Incidentally, they all love it when the fireplace is lit, and the room becomes toasty. Is there anything better than a fireplace on a Winter's night?

When he was a pup, Cowboy would come into my office when I was in front of the computer trying to type and plop himself across my legs, butting my hands with his snout so I would pet him. He came to realize that he had a bed near my desk, and he learned, to a degree, that when 'Dad' is working, he needs to "rest."

As for the name, Cowboy, we decided to keep calling him that, as calling him something "new" would only confuse him even more. After all, the poor guy had much adjusting to do, and giving him a new name was something I didn't think he needed. So, we call him "Cowboy," but Vicki calls him "Cowboy Dylan" every so often, since she wanted to name him "Dylan."

All our dogs have several nicknames, most of which are made up words that fit their personality. It all goes back to when the boys were small, and they would give the dogs "funny" names or names that were a play on words of their real names. And so, just like children, the dogs get called any number of things and after a while, they get it, which is kind of funny.

Spencer has been called "Spence," "Bemper," "Bemp," "Ba" or "The Ba" (for 'The Baby'), and "O'Doodle," because his full name became "Spencer O'Doodle from O'Doodleville," as a result of his antics. (Don't ask how that happened; it just did.) So, I could call him by saying, "Bemper come;" or call out, "Ba," and he will come; he also comes to "O'Doodle," but that is kept for formal occasions.

Kate has been called, "Katie," "Kay-Kay,"' "Katrina,"' "Katerina," "Kate Moss"' (because she was a bit incorrigible in the beginning), "Missy," "Missy-Miss," and "Katie M'Lady." Kate's full name became "Katie Scarlett La Rue," partly due to Katie Scarlett O'Hara from "Gone With The Wind." I don't know how "La Rue" became part of her name; it just fit.

Of course,Willi and Wonka were named after Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

Cowboy is also known as "The Baby," and he knows it. Vicki somehow began to call him "Lellie," which make no sense, but there it is. And he is also known as "Caramel Cream."

These three angels sent from heaven, who know and express only unconditional love, are part of our family, part of our lives, our daily routine, our weekends, our holidays, and we worry about them as one would worry about any member of one's family.

I believe that one of the greatest gifts we gave to our children was their imbued sense of love and respect for animals. We always had dogs when the boys were young, and the boys loved each and every furry member of the family, and as they grew into adulthood, both of them have rescued dogs.

It is a strange and wonderful fate that brought these three furry angels into our lives, and we perish the thought that we will lose them one day. When that happens, as it has five times before, I will swear never to rescue or save another dog because the loss has broken my heart. But as time passes, and I am able to recover slightly from the loss, but never truly accepting of it, I will look to save another dog, and he or she will become part of my life and help to keep me whole.

Now they are all asleep in their individual beds as I type this in my office. The sound of their breathing on this cloudy and chilly Winter morning is as sweet a sound as ever conceived in heaven.

Please excuse the length of this missive to love, but I am a lawyer and we get paid by the word. And to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, or Blaise Pascal, or Mark Twain, "The Reader may pardon this long discourse, because the subject so well deserved it, and if in this I have been tedious, it may be some excuse, since I had not the time to make it shorter."

Blessings and thanks to all.

With Warm Regards,