What a smile…”Uhh, what?”
We’ll never see him rolling around making snow angels ever again…
We’ll never come home and be greeted with that ridiculously happy hoodle (or see the absolutely hilarious face he would make to hoodle at us)…
We’ll never get any more of his careful little kisses…
We’ll never get any more Gonzo hugs…
We’ll never hear his oh-so polite chuffs when he needed to wake us so he could go pee…
We’ll never watch his spastic wiggling tail literally knock him over, AGAIN…
We’ll never have another dog like you, my polite, loyal, rule-following sweet little boy.
Sunshine found him first, in the Mission Valley Animal Shelter. “I think I found the right one. You HAVE to come meet him.”
When I got to the shelter, Jenn introduced me to the smallest 4-month old “Shepherd mix” I’d ever seen. I sat cross legged on the floor, and he immediately stood on my legs, put his font paws on my chest, and smothered me with a whole series of the carefullest little kisses, sticking his tongue out barely half an inch and peppering me. He was dubious with the eye contact, but when we brought Annabelle in to meet him, he took right to her–she, on the other hand, put him on his back three times in a row and then wandered off disinterestedly. He didn’t care, and followed her joyously around everywhere.
He was a rule follower to a T, he only wanted to please and to do his job. He trained effortlessly (or not at all) and fit right into our pack.
He doubled his weight the first week we had him home. Through a chance meeting at OB Dog Beach, we discovered that he was a Beauceron–an EKC breed from France, their lineage can be traced back 1800 years. Beauceron is the parent breed to both Dobermans and Rottweilers, but with absolutely none of the aggressiveness and no fight in him at all. We always said that was very French.
As it went, I ran into his breeder at the beach: I was walking both puppies and was on my way back home, when some guy comes running up to me. He dropped to his knees next to Gonzo, and seeing the small imperfection in his left eye, demanded “Where did you get this dog? I bred this dog!” I explained that we picked him up from the pound.
In the next 15 minutes, he talked about Gonzo’s breed, and why his tail wasn’t docked and he still had his dewclaws (his eye flaw meant that he wasn’t as valuable as purebred puppies with perfect eyes). We speculated about how he’d ended up in our family. It remains a true mystery, but because of other issues, I think we were able piece together some of the important things about those first few weeks before he joined our family.
He was a digger, and he showed us that from the very first day. The above shot is from the day we brought him home. At first, we thought his lack of coordination was just puppy-ness that he’d outgrown. His typical gait could best be described as “Scooby-Doo-esque”–he had a prancing lope that brought a smile to everyone’s face, and it earned him the nickname Prancibald Fancypants.
It wasn’t until a few years later that we learned he had a neurological condition called cerebral hypoplasia, a result of extreme malnutrition in the early years. (In the above shot, he was just 14 pounds at 4 months old. He doubled his weight in the first week we had him.) His adorable loping gait was actually a result of mild brain damage, something that had been done to him as he was just a puppy. We were assured by the vets that the condition caused him no pain, and that whatever walking capacity he had, he would keep as the condition was not degenerative.
He was always happy with us, and loved being part of our pack, so we just accepted him as he was and went on with the wonderful life with him. But it still makes me seethe with anger to know how he was treated in the early days of his life, and over the years we were able to get glimpses of some of that experience: he’d scream with terror at any accidental harsh contact and then devolve into a whimpering fit–clearly, he’d taken some abuses in those early weeks, and whenever we’d see it come to the surface it just broke our hearts. He was such a sweet little boy, it’s so hard to imagine anyone even ignoring him…
There was the hoodle: this odd, ululating “roooroooROOO!” I swear, I’d never heard another dog ever make any sound like it, and it was HILARIOUS. I wish I had a recording of it–not for not trying. He always seemed to suss when I was recording and just give me dubious looks.
He potty trained almost immediately. Later, he developed the habit of barking lightly–really, more of a chuff–in the night to wake us if he had to go out. It was as if he was saying “Excuse me, I’m sorry, I know you’re sleeping, but I really gotta pee…”
He never barked very much, he wasn’t really very good at it. His timing was horrible. But he did terrify the sushi delivery guy–man, I’d never seen someone that old run that fast.
Let me be clear: I know big dogs scare some people, especially when they bark (even as half-assedly as Gonzo did), but knowing Gonzo and his complete lack of fight, it always cracked me up to see him inspire a little inadvertent terror.
And he could be zoomy, but that would fade over the years.
We eventually stopped letting both of our 90-pound fully grown dogs sleep in the bed with us, but in his early years he loved to be up on the bed with us–for about fifteen minutes. Then his skittishness would set in and he’d need some alone time.
But if you curled on your side and kind of extended your ear up so it opened up your neck, he would come up and put his paws on one side of your neck, and slide his chin down the other side, and then lean in for a long, luxurious Gonzo Hug.
I’m never gonna get another Gonzo Hug, and for that, I am much the poorer. But I am rich beyond belief for even having gotten one.
(OK, so grief and rawness has made my prose a little purple. I’ll settle down.)
He and Belly loved hiking. Belly’s inner mountain goat would come out and she’d tear off down the trail, but Gonzo was content to just hang with us and splash in the occasional water. It was obvious when he would become daunted and tentative, but he was always down for a scramble as long as we were there to help him up the high steps. His legs and age would eventually take that away from him, too, but there’s tons of great memories of long hikes, snow angels and mud holes.
He was a chewer–he was the Mike Tyson of toy destruction. It didn’t matter how tough the manufacturers claimed their toys to be, they all fell to his mighty jaw, most wouldn’t last even the first bite–even the toughest rated stuff he’d demolish in seconds. But only toys. And one couch. And a loveseat. But that was it. He never got into the garbage, he never took anything that wasn’t clearly his. We never had issues with mischief with him–he was a rule-follower to the end, once he knew the rules.
He wasn’t sly, he had no Elvis in him at all. He didn’t quite see up over the table, so he’d crane his neck and peer sideways at the table as if to say “What do you have up there, chicken? I like chicken.”
He was the Champeen Snugglah. Really, I’ve never had a dog cuddle like Gonzo. Although he was prone to throwing punches (again, that bad limb control was partially to blame), he still was always down for a snuggle and a scratch.
He was Gonzo. The shelter had named him Guapo, and while he was very handsome, Guapo didn’t fit. But Gonzo most certainly did.
He was Gonzo Hatori! (“OOOOO! Your accent is verrry goooood!”)
He was a happy dog in a happy pack.
He fantasized about going to Canada: he stood like this, looking longingly to the north every time we came to this part of the beach, without fail. He’d often wade out, but once it got deep enough, he’d get skittish and wander back.
He was a great dog. There is a Gonzo-shaped hole in my heart. He was a good, good boy.
= = = = =
Sunshine texted me in a panic, begging me to call. I was six hours away in Moab, UT, just coming off a day of hiking in Arches National Park (more on that later). When I got her on the line, she was close to hysterical, talking about Gonzo being in bad shape and needing to head to the vet.
The plan was to camp out in Slickrock and watch the Milky Way, work on some long exposure photography, but the news coming in from Colorado put a bad spin on the evening.
An hour later, everything came crashing down: multiple tumors, internal bleeding, prognosis critical and extremely expensive intervention probably only buying weeks. Given his age, the CH and the extent of the tumors really closed down the decision to a single point. I needed to get home.
Thankfully, the clouds had blown in over the Moab Valley, and the night-sky seeing was going to shit. Given that I wasn’t really mentally there anyway, we just packed up the campsite and beat it back to Denver.
(Side shout out to my buddy Stacey Shepard, who busted his ass to make sure I got back to Denver. Stacey pushed his truck, pulling a heavy load, hard over the mountains and never once made me feel bad for having to cut our vacation short. More importantly, Stacey made sure that I could get back to Gonzo and put my hands on my dog and look him in the eyes and tell him I love him one more time. I can never repay the kindness you have done me, sir.)
We pulled into Denver around midnight, and Stacey dropped me straight off at the vet’s office. Jenn had gone home for a bit, but got word from the vet that Gonzo was alert and eating some chicken, so she went in with some steak for him. I got into the room and found Jenn laid out on the floor alongside Gonzo.
He lifted his head as I came in, and I got a little tail wag, but he didn’t look good–lots of fur loss and he was very listless. I got down with him and immediately started crying. I got plenty of scratches in, and tons of careful little kisses. We fed him bits of steak, and tried to soothe him. Went through the situation with the vet, talked through the options–as always, I am adamantly against putting Gonzo through tons of pain and suffering that he doesn’t understand, just to selfishly keep him around for my own ego. The important and responsible thing to do was to make him comfortable, make sure he knows he is loved, and help him not be in pain anymore.
The worst moment is the banality of afterwards: dealing with payment, making arrangements, the drive home, the look from Annabelle when we showed up without Gonzo.
It took me years to get perspective on Hobbes’ passing. I can tell, this one’s going to take a long time, too…