The Dogs: a chapter in my bookby Andy Morales on Aug. 26, 2012, under Sports
NOTE: This has absolutely nothing to do with high school sports.
I found my father’s notes about the highlights of his life after he died and it started me thinking about writing my autobiography but I didn’t want it to be like all the other ones I have read.
I decided upon picking a subject and writing a chapter about it until I was done. I figure it will take about 50 chapters or so. The first idea that came to mind was about my pets – “The Dogs.”
I’m not sure what the next chapter will be about but this chapter took me several rewrites and I know I’ll have to write it again and again because each chapter will be linked in someway.
Let me know what you think.
As a young family, we really didn’t do much in the pet area. Oh, we had various gold fish, a frog and a desert tortoise when the kids were younger but nothing too serious until one of my cousins asked us to take in one of her Shelties.
I should point out before I continue that my family had quite a few pets when I was a kid. We had a pony, a horse, a rabbit and a few chickens. Well, I thought the chickens were pets until I found myself plucking one. Our pony (I believe her name was “Miss Ownie”) was gentle and would let anyone ride her but our horse was wild and would often escape.
Having pets that “escaped” would turnout to be a common theme.
“Rusty” lived a long 16 years. I’m not sure how long that is in “people” years but he enjoyed senior discounts wherever we went. With three daughters, he and I headed up the “fraternity” at our house for many, many years (sadly, without the toga parties) until we agreed to take in another boy dog – a Schitzu named “Qui Chi.”
Actually, we did have another dog for a brief period of time as a companion for Rusty in the early years. She was a coyote mix that we took a chance on but I walked into the living room one day to see her growling and top of Maggie. It probably goes without mentioning that I gave Pepper back to the pound – mainly because I’m the only one allowed to growl at Maggie.
The new dog was blonde so we let Maggie rename him “Rubio” and the name stuck. That was a little over three years ago. Our family had now grown to two dogs and another desert tortoise.
Rusty and Rubio got along pretty well (as long as we separated them at feeding time) but, while Rusty preferred not to take drives in the car or go on long walks, Rubio loved the freedom of the road and the outdoors.
He would stick his head out the window while we drove around town – usually while on the way to the River Walk on Sunday mornings. He became so active with those tiny legs that he soon got up to walking two miles a day in our neighborhood.
My wife, Jane, was his constant walking companion and I was dumb enough to only agree to walk with them on the weekends. It’s no wonder why they became so close. I should have done more but life is full of “should haves.” We need more people like Jane and fewer people like me.
Jane is a better teacher than me and a better person but that’s another chapter in this book.
Rubio started out as an outdoor dog during the day with Rusty while we were all at work or at school but we had to draw up different plans once Rubio discovered the many different ways he could escape from our backyard. It took me months to figure out how to escape and he did it in a day.
He got so good that he would go under our fence, go through a patch of desert, go down a few other streets and wait for us at our front door like nothing happened.
I’m still amazed that he was able to avoid cars, coyotes and hawks. Rusty, on the other hand, was content to just sit in the shade and catch a few doves now and then (which he never ate but left for us to find).
Rusty died of old age in November of 2010 and it had an immediate effect on Rubio and our family. Having another dog in the house probably lessened the blow of Rusty’s death but it was still hard for us to take, having known and loved him for so long.
At the end, Rusty was almost totally blind and could not see or smell his food. He would use our walls to get himself around the house – much like my teenage daughters after a party (But, again, that’s a different chapter). His scent was all over the place and Rubio would often retrace the paths his friend had left.
Rubio developed a fear of large dogs (except for Riley and Cooper – his long time neighborhood friends) after one attacked him on one of his walks with Jane. He was never the same around them after that but he loved the company of dogs his size no matter what the breed and he loved their owners and the attention they would give him.
My kids would put shirts on him and he developed a fashion sense that would include a variety of bandana style scarves – something Rusty would never wear in his stubborn old age.
As fate would have it, my middle child Brittney moved back home for a few months and brought along her dog “Layla” (A red Corgi pup she saved from the pound). Rubio was suddenly put in the leadership role that Rusty had held for so long.
Layla would “do her business” all over the house and would eat any thing that was in reach. She would figure out how to use a bar stool to get on the kitchen counter and would even get into a snack bag and empty the contents out on a bed as if she was a child separating Halloween candy.
We had a rabbit in the house at that point and we found a baby cottontail in our backyard that had its home destroyed by a worker who had mistakenly filled in her hole. We placed the baby in the hutch with the bigger rabbit and thought nothing of it until we came home one day to find that it had been left for dead on our bed, presumably by Layla.
The baby rabbit had escaped from the hutch a couple of times before but we were always home and able to catch it until it escaped while we were away. When I got home that day, I discovered a very satisfied Layla and a very shocked Rubio sitting at the edge of my bed.
Rubio must have witnessed some sort of horror with the bunny at the hands of Layla that day. He looked at me like he had failed me as he was unable to protect the bunny.
Remorse was one many human qualities Rubio possessed.
Layla had also figured out how to escape and we searched all over the neighborhood one day while Brittney was away from home, thinking we could find her before she got home. No luck. We thought she was gone.
Then, later that night, I looked out the back window and I saw Layla in our Arizona room. It was dinner time.
We took a long trip to Key West in late July and it was as if Rubio felt some sort of betrayal because we had left him without his daily walk. My daughters would call us and tell us that he was refusing to eat and that he looked down in the dumps.
Rubio would evidently rush to the front door whenever he heard a car come by the driveway only to have his hopes dashed until we finally returned. Well, the trip to Florida was followed by a weeklong trip to Alabama with only a few days rest in between.
Although Rubio appeared to have his spirits raised, he was unable to walk the full two miles and would be out of breath after a block or so. We figured he was still mad or that he had some sort of cold.
He saw us packing for our trip to Alabama that was coming up and he put his head down and walked back into the living room. He refused to eat dog food while we were gone and would only eat real meat and drink water. He lost a lot of weight.
We tried to walk him when we returned from our trip and he could only manage 50 yards at the most. He even refused to eat blueberries and frozen tater tots – that’s when we knew something more serious must be in play.
A doctor visit confirmed the worst and our vet asked us to make the difficult decision to put him at peace either that night or the next day. It was one of the worst nights of our lives.
With Rusty, we knew he was old but his death came naturally with no warning. Rubio’s end would be a different story.
I don’t know how a dog (or a person for that matter) can go from being healthy and full of life one day to knocking at death’s door the next. I guess it’s one of the many mysteries surrounding cancer.
But I do know that he must have felt so lonely and betrayed when his parents took of for a dozen days when he needed them the most. He was not the same dog when we left and we are not the same now either.
He changed us when he entered our lives and he changed us when he left.
I put out a text and a Facebook message asking all my girls to come home and say their goodbyes to Rubio and they did, including our oldest, Arianna. It was decided that I would take Rubio the next day, alone, to avoid as much pain from the girls as possible.
I put the car window down for him for old times sake but he was too weak to prop himself up to look out but he did manage a brief peek as we entered the parking lot of the hospital. We were taken to a room with access to a courtyard filled with bells if we wanted to go outside. It was a nice place.
Having witnessed a death at a car accident when I was younger and being at the side of my grandmother and father when they passed away, I knew what death looked like. I thought I knew what to expect.
Rubio turned and looked at me when the doctor gave him the first shot to put him to sleep and he fell to sleep in my arms. The other shots caused him to slowly drift away and he was gone.
I’ve seen my father cry many times. The taboo of a man crying was never an issue at our house. I’m glad because I cried in that room and I cried all the way home and I cried while walking away from his grave in our backyard next to Rusty, the bunny and my mom’s dog Chiquita. We have quite a pet cemetery.
Just to set the record straight, I haven’t cried that much for anything other than family members since the Red Sox lost in 1975 and 1986 but being a University of Arizona football fan pretty much dried me up in that area – I only have so many tears.
Anyway, it was a difficult day for me but it was worse for Jane and the girls and I screwed up again by not being there for them that night. It was not an easy day for me but it became another “should have” moment.
Even now, I see Rubio in other dogs.
Brittney moved away and took Layla with her. So, we decided to take a look at an animal shelter and we found another dog – a three-year-old German Sheppard mix that I will call “Drew.”
That story hasn’t been written yet…