Pumpkin Passage

My first dog was purchased when I was 10 years old, and we only had her briefly. Her name was Genie and she was a mixed breed. Although I know I loved her very much, all I can remember is her death, and the horror I witnessed. She ventured into the yard of the people who lived behind us, and their monster dog bit Genie so hard on her muzzle that her face was cracked. I remember her screams of pain, I remember the blood, and I vividly recall watching her some time later after she developed distemper and was isolated in our garage, foaming at the mouth and turning in mad circles. I peeked at her through a window. That is all I remember, but I know she was gone probably that day. The terrible bite she suffered left her with a large hole in her palette, and she could not fight off infection. I cried terribly and part of me was broken.

It is 28 years later, and my wife and I let our 8 year old son continue to sleep in our small motorhome as we make our way out to a bluff overlooking the city of El Paso. It is Christmas 1987 and the next day we would be in Tucson to visit a college friend. The trip was long planned, but we were grieving in a deep and awful way. We held onto each other and just starting sobbing. Racked with guilt and horror, my tears flowed freely and I cried like that broken child.  In fact, it was just the day before that our dog Sprocket, not even a year old, had been rushed to the vet’s office and was dead 2 hours later.

Sprocket was a tan colored Lhasa Apso, and was purchased quite suddenly by my wife who saw him in a pet store and fell in love at first sight. He was a good puppy, and Matt (our only child) loved him right away. Sprocket was tiny, even for a Lhasa, he was smaller than most. That summer we would take him everywhere, and the motorhome, which Matt named Freckles, was a happy vehicle as we camped all over our home state of Colorado. Sprocket was good on a leash and liked to explore. I am guessing that on one of these trips, he probably swallowed something like a fish hook, although there were no symptoms and he continued to grow and was adored by the three of us. He would jump into bed with us and liked to give me one single goodnight kiss on my nose, and then he would curl up into a small fluffy sweet love ball.

Three days before our trip Sprocket started to vomit, and had stopped eating. While he seemed tired, he was still playful and we figured he had a touch of something. The next day he was still sick so we took him to our vet who examined him and told us he had a touch of something and gave us an anti-biotic and some medication that was intended to soothe his stomach and cure whatever infection he might have had. I remember that the vet checked him carefully to see if he was dehydrated, and since he was not, we came home with our medication believing that our Sprocket would now get well. He did not get well, and that night started to howl in pain. It was every now and again he yelped, and instead of getting up and taking him to an emergency clinic, we slept as best we could and figured that we could deal with it the next day.

When we took Sprocket that morning to the vet, he was very lethargic, and was no longer screaming in pain. We left him there to be monitored and have some tests done. Two hours later the vet called to tell us that our beloved Sprocket was dead. His stomach had burst, and there was nothing they could do to save him. They offered to perform an autopsy to determine why he died, but already owing several hundred dollars, and now with a dead dog and a hole in our hearts, we declined. What would we have gained by knowing? Already racked with guilt, and being very angry with that vet, we didn’t want to have any more interaction with him. We decided that we should go on our trip, as it was something we were looking forward to, and perhaps it would be easier to be away from our home for a week.

When Judy and I had finished our hard cry we returned to the RV and our sleeping son. The next day we were in Tucson and went through the motions of having a good time while we silently bled. We surprised ourselves a few days later when we went to a breeder and looked at the Lhasa Apso puppies she had left. While many would consider it a rash act to find another dog so quickly, for us it was about loss and pain, and trying to bring that light back into our life. Matt was also hurting and so it was we picked out the cutest dog in a litter of pups. The breeder tried to warn us. She said this small black and white puppy was “different”. Boy was she right.

We named her Minkey, because she had a monkey nose. She actually looked a bit like a gorilla, and was mostly black with a white muzzle and a white chest. She was gorgeous and hopped all over us in the motorhome. Matt was thrilled and we made our way back to Colorado, still mourning, but with a new fluffy love to cry on. For a while Minkey appeared to be a normal dog, and she was playful and seemingly ok. However, after a brief period of time we began to notice how Minkey was different from Sprocket. For one thing her affect was weirdly hot and cold. Some days when you approached her, she would curl up her lip and growl at you, but would be giving you kisses 10 minutes later. When one of us was holding her, she would often growl when another family member would approach. If we took her camping and put her outside on a long leash, she would just kind of tremble in place, not really able to relax and explore. She also did not really like to travel and was nervous and apt to get car sick. Still, she was loved very much and accepted for the nut case she was. Like all Lhasa Apsos, she would woof and bark if she sensed anyone approaching. Bred to be little palace guard dogs in Tibet, their job has always been to warn the larger dogs and guards of approaching enemies. In our home, any stranger (and often family) was considered an approaching enemy, and it took some urging to get Minkey to shut up. She was 15 lbs fully grown and we enjoyed and tolerated her for 15 years. When she was about 10 she started to have seizures and was put on a few different medications to manage those seizures and the water that was around her heart. She surprised us by living for another 5 years and on her 15th birthday, now weighing only 10 lbs, we had her put down when she was nearly blind and very ill. As crazy as she was, we loved her deeply and it was agony when Judy and I made that difficult decision with the help of her veterinarian. As he injected her with a needle of liquid death, I held onto her as she took her last breath. I told her I loved her. I said goodbye. Again I cried like a ten year old child, and felt the loss that every pet owner feels when you lose that part of your life. This time I was not angry at the vet, and was very appreciative that when I asked him what he would do if it was his dog, he gave me a truthful answer. It would have been a hard call to make on my own. The 15 Minkey years were significant. During this time my son grew up, and graduated from college. I owned, and closed, a successful small business and we sold the home we lived in for 20 years.  Without really knowing it, we moved into a passage that took us into a world where we would have less energy, and the desire for peace and quiet.

When we had our sweet Sprocket so briefly in 1987, I was 38, and Judy was 36. When Minkey left us in 2002, I was 53 and Judy was 51, so we decided not to rush out and get another dog. Matt was grown up and living on his own and Judy and I lived in a large and quiet home. Many years past young, we needed the time to ourselves, and we also felt some degree of freedom not being tied to an ailing pet, or having to train a new one. This lasted for 2 years until Judy announced she would like another dog and began doing some extensive research into different breeds. When she decided on a Golden Retriever, I was excited about the possibility of a new friend and we found a very reputable breeder who lived in Nebraska and would have a litter ready around Christmas.

On December 21, 2004, we met our new dog in Northern Colorado where the breeder agreed to show us the 8 females she had for us to choose from. It was a sunny and warm afternoon when she brought out two laundry baskets with 4 pups in each one. They were all beautiful chubby balls of furry activity. They climbed all over us, and were a lighter breed of Golden, with some white in their coats. We finally choose one sweet puppy that was maybe a bit lighter than the others, but was also especially affectionate. As we were preparing to leave, Judy asked what day our puppy had been born. “Oh, she was born on Halloween, she is a Pumpkin”, was the reply and so it was that our new puppy was to be called Pumpkin.

Funny thing about getting older. One by one you discover that all the things you used to be able to do with ease, are now more difficult as you have less energy. This certainly included managing a puppy and while we adored Pumpkin, we also were easily done in by all she demanded. There were days when we were close to deciding we couldn’t do it, and thought we had made a mistake. We were both working full time jobs and while Pumpkin had her own comfortable space, we felt miserable about leaving her alone all day, and having less to give her when we came home, already tired. This would have made many dogs neurotic and needy but Pumpkin was managing, even if we were struggling. We enrolled her in puppy kindergarten and that turned out to be a great idea, as it gave us the confidence to continue with her training and now we had a clue as to how to do it. At a certain point we knew we were over the hump and although Pumpkin still demanded a lot, it was a pleasure to give it. She was responsive, adorable, loving, and wanting at every moment to play and please. That is her one greatest quality, wanting to please. And she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. When she eats I put my face on the floor by her bowl, just to confirm what I already know. She stops eating and starts licking me. When I walk by her and she is asleep, she will still muster enough will to flop her tail, just to let me know she is glad I am there.

When we first brought Pumpkin home she weighed 9 Lbs and fit warmly in both hands. We decided to give her the sun room and initially we kept her in a large kennel at night. As she grew a bit larger we opened up the entire room for her and she would use the newspaper placed on the floor to take care of her business. I constructed a gate made out of some metal fencing and at night we could keep her in that room without fear of accidents elsewhere in our home. That lasted just a few weeks as Pumpkin learned quickly how to climb that metal fence by using a strong will and her athleticism. One night she just appeared in another room and at first I couldn’t imagine how she did that. Then I hid and watched as she pulled herself up the fence as one might climb a rope, one arm at a time. I was blown away that she could be that strong and shortly thereafter installed a doggy door which allowed her to venture into our large and secure backyard, at will. This turned out to be a great move and our Pumpkin never used the newspaper again and never has damaged anything in our home. She rules that backyard and if anyone walks by, she barks like she is a big bad dog. Well, she is big, but wouldn’t know how to harm anyone.

Now 7 years old and weighing 85 lbs, Pumpkin is like no dog we could ever imagine. Fearless, strong, athletic, and healthy, she greets us with love when we awaken, and comes to our side when we are asleep. Judy has taken to sitting with her, in the dark, for long periods of time and they will just hold each other, affirming, and loving. She gives her massages, which Pumpkin absorbs, moaning softly. We know that Pumpkin will grow old all too soon, so we grab the moment, trying to stretch time, and freeze each day. Occasionally I allow myself to imagine losing her, and I am overcome with grief.  We still have an old motorhome and now it’s the three of us who travel together, Pumpkin sitting up front between Judy and me, alternating between us, as she rests her huge and beautiful head on our laps. I never imagined that we could have an animal like this, and certainly never expected it.

With good luck, I will be closing in on 70 when Pumpkin has left. In some ways, my life has been measured in dog years. My heartbreak at 10 watching my sweet Genie suffer horribly, and now 52 years later I am still that 10 year old, except my dog is alive and feeds my soul. In return I give her patience and my time. And I love her as hard as I can, knowing I have less time than I used to, and how much quicker it is evaporating. What a joy to have my Pumpkin, and a wife like Judy to share her with.

Judy and Pumpkin