|Goodbye Happy |
1988 - September 2002
Happy Comes to Live With Us
I was on a business trip to one of our offices in the Midwest for several days in 1993. I called home to California to see how things were going. As always I asked how my dog, Buffalo, was doing.
"And how is my dog?" I asked Penny.
"dogs" was all she said, stretching out the "s" so it sounded like "ssssssssssssssss".
"No, how is the dog?" I repeated.
"dogsssssssssssss" she repeated. "How are your dogs" she corrected me.
Penny had learned from a co-worker that there was a Lhasa Apso mix that was about to be taken to the pound. Could she take it in for at least a few days until she could see if she could keep it?
Penny drove over and picked up a very shy, small Lhasa named Happy. Happy was not very happy at all. He was about 5 years old and had lived in a number of homes and had been rejected by them all for various reasons. He cowered on the floor of Penny's car all the way home, and was not at all responsive to her soft words of encouragement.
Penny decided right then that Happy was going to live with us. My acceptance never really was a factor in the decision. It was the acceptance of our other Lhasa Buffalo and our cat Dragon that determined whether Happy would stay with us or not. When Penny introduced them to each other Buffalo sniffed Happy and apparently decided that he was OK. Dragon was typically cat-aloof, but didn't object. Happy had a new, and permanent, home.
And so I had left home with one dog and returned to find two. I wasn't real keen on the idea of another dog, but agreed to give it a try for a few days. A "few days" stretched into weeks, then months. Happy was with us until he passed away on September 23, 2002. I think that he was happy with the home that we gave him. I know that he brought unqualified love and joy into our lives in the nine years that he was with us.
Learning to be a "Real Dog"
We all set out to live together, and Happy started to catch up on his dog education with his new brother and the alpha dog in the house, Buffalo. It became very clear that Happy had never learned the behavior that "real dogs" are expected to exhibit. We watched him follow Buffalo around the house and yard, and I could swear that Buffalo was showing him how to do dog things.
Buffalo would go out and sniff the bushes around the house, and Happy would be right behind him, trying his best to do everything his "bigger dog" was doing. Happy had never learned how to lift his leg to pee, like all male dogs do. But Buffalo showed him how to do it, and it was almost comical to see him trying to imitate Buffalo. Happy almost got it, but in his later years he reverted to his old "squat" method.
I don't think that Happy had ever spent much time outdoors. He didn't like the feel of grass and gravel under his feet. When Penny took the two dogs for their evening walk, Happy would try and stay on the macadam whenever he could. While Buffalo would roam all over, Happy always stayed close to Penny. Except when it came to horses. Happy was fascinated by horses, and there were several along our road that he would visit on his walks if they were out in their pastures. When we bought the Maine Farmhouse, the tenant had two horses. We were on a visit before we moved in, and I found Happy in the barn carrying on a horse-dog conversation with the horses. I don't know what they were saying, but it was a very verbal exchange that they were having.
Happy had absolutely no fear of any other dog, regardless of its size. Perhaps he didn't understand that he was a very small dog and that some of these dogs that he was confronting were four times his size and twice as mean. We were always able to intervene before anything happened, but I never ceased to wonder at the huge spirit in such a small package.
He was terrified of thunder and lightning, however. If we weren't home with him, he would fly into a blind panic and try and find us. Twice he dug out of his pen in the back yard when we lived in Clifton Park, New York. Once I found him at the County Animal Pound in Ballston Spa, many miles from our house. Another time a neighbor called and said that she had found him in her dooryard.
Buffalo was a wonderful swimmer, and loved the water. He would jump into whatever river or lake that was handy, and loved to chase sticks in the water. Happy, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the water. He would tolerate a bath, but never went swimming or even wading in the water. When I would take him into the swimming pool with me to cool him down in hot weather, his eyes would be wide with panic and nothing I said or did would calm him until he got out.
When I first took him for hikes in the mountains, he was terrified of even the smallest trickle of water across the trail. It was only with a great deal of gentle coaxing that he finally learned to cross the mountain streams and climb over the boulders on the trails. With time, Happy became a good hiking buddy for Buffalo and I.
The dog boys and I went for many backpacking trips in the Sierras when we lived in the Sacramento area of California. Happy's legs were short, and I sometimes had to help him over the rough spots in the trail, but he was a trouper and did his best. Happy liked my trail cooking, and at night he would sleep close to me in the tent. He made my trips a pleasure, and was a wonderful companion.
Happy never showed any interest in any sort of doggie toy. He ignored tennis balls and chew toys, and even spurned chew treats and flip chips. He was not a picky eater, however. He devoured nearly any kind of canned dogfood, but rarely ate dry food. Dog treats were OK if they were the soft chewy kind.
Happy's life revolved around food, and you could set your watch by his meal times. At exactly 06:30 a.m. and 06:30 p.m. he was at his food dish and expected to be fed! In his later years, after Buffalo had passed on and Happy was the only dog in the house, he would start "getting ready" for dinner about 4:00 p.m. and was almost frantic by the time 6:30 p.m. rolled around.
Over time Happy developed his own personality and his own way of doing things. In many ways he was an independent dog, but he was always a little insecure. He was forever in need of our love and confirmation that he wasn't going to be given away to a new home somewhere.
A Loving Companion
Lhasas are a gentle and loyal breed of dog, and you can see their love and devotion in their eyes. I thought that no dog could be more loving than my dog Buffalo, but that was before Happy joined our family. Happy was always Penny's dog. Perhaps he knew that she had "saved" him from the pound, or perhaps he felt the love that she gave to him and returned it ten-fold. Oh, he was responsive to me all right, but he was completely devoted to Penny.
When she came home, he would run in little circles of joy to see her. He did the same when she asked him "would you like some breakfast now?" or "would you like to go for a ride?" He followed her around the house and wouldn't let her out of his sight. She could go into another room and he would push the door open to be with her. Later in his life, he would wait by the kitchen door in the farmhouse in Maine until I would let him down to the office where she was working. There he would settle in to the soft blanket she had on the floor under her desk and go happily to sleep.
Buffalo was not a real "snugger" dog, but Happy couldn't get enough of it. He would happily go to sleep on the bed between Penny and I. When it was cold at night in our bedroom he would announce that he wanted to come to bed with us with a shake of his head and a "fuff" sound. Once settled in with a coverlet over him he would go right off to sleep, snores and all. When Penny and I would turn off the light at night it was his sign that his people were not going to leave him, and he would drift off into a deep sleep. His little dog snores where the most comforting sound we'd ever heard and were wonderfully relaxing to us.
Happy liked nothing better than to just be "with". We would take his collar off at night because his jingling of his dog tags would wake us up. When we put his collar back on, it was a joyous experience for him. We used to say that he was becoming a "real dog" again. The collaring usually meant a ride in the car, and he loved to go for a ride. Happy was not a dog to stick his head out the side window to catch the smells on the wind, nor to look out the windows for other dogs and animals. He would usually settle right down and go to sleep. As soon as we would stop, however, he was all alert. When someone left the car and then returned, he was always right there looking for a hamburger or other treat. Whenever we stopped at a burger restaurant we always had to get a plain one for Happy - it was all part of the ritual.
He developed attachments to other folks beside Penny and I. Paul, our Farmhouse contractor, spent a lot of time with Happy when he was here. He "dog-sat" Happy when we were away, and Happy looked at Paul as a regular part of our household. Paul always sat at the end of the table, and Happy always visited there first on his rounds for table scraps. Sometimes he would just stand and stare at Paul until he got something. If Paul didn't happen to be there, then whoever was in the "Paul chair" got the same intense treatment.
Paul used to call Happy "Mr. Tude" because of the attitude that Happy developed as he got older. Happy was still the loving companion, but asserted his independence more. We noticed this especially after Buffalo had died and Happy became the "alpha dog" by default.
Sometimes Happy would head off across the yard on his own, intent on something that only he could hear or see.
Happy liked cat food, and no matter how many times it was explained to him that he was to leave the cat's dish alone he couldn't stay out of it.
He also had selective hearing, and would walk straight away from you when you were calling him to "Come!". Then, when you went and retrieved him from wherever he was (usually his bed in our bedroom) he would be indignant about it.
If his dinner was late, he would let out a loud "Yip!" to announce his displeasure to the world. If he was out and wanted to be in, you could hear his "Yip!" all over the house. If we didn't respond fast enough to suit him, the "Yips!" became louder and more frequent. When you did let him in, he walked right past you and ignored you. We rarely put him in a kennel, perhaps only two or three times in his life. When we pulled into the kennel parking lot to retrieve him on his first visit we could hear his "Yip!" above all the other dog barks. In this case, they were not feeding him at his accustomed time and he was indignant.
Happy Grows Old
We were not sure when Happy was born, but the veterinarian thought that he was older than our estimate. Happy was probably about five years old when he came to live with us in 1993. About a year ago, when Happy was approaching fourteen years of age he started to show the first signs of old age coming on.
The vets discovered cataracts beginning in both eyes. Happy's cataracts grew more troublesome as he got older. In the last few months he could still sense light and shadows but his vision was clearly impaired. He would bump into things and would shy from things that passed by his eyes. He never developed his sense of smell to compensate for his loss of vision, as Buffalo had when he went blind, and it pained us to see him stumble about.
Happy developed a limp in his back leg. We started giving him a baby aspirin with his breakfast to help the stiffness. His trips up and down stairs became increasingly difficult, and we had to give him a hand. He was often stiff and sore, and grumbled when he fussed with his bed to get it just right.
About six months ago we noticed that Happy was sometimes confused. We would put him out on the back walkway to do his business and he would wander around aimlessly. He didn't seem to recognize our voices when we tried to help him come back in. The vet said that he was suffering from dog alzheimers that would get worse with time.
Happy had never been the most perfect dog in his personal habits. He would sometimes wet in the house, or worse. As he got older, he got worse. We adapted to his bodily needs and set up a routine to take him outside after eating and at frequent intervals. This worked fairly well for the last several months of his life. It did break our life into small pieces, however, and I can't remember when we slept through the night without getting woken up by Happy several times. Sometimes he would be so restless that I had to put him and his favorite blue blanket comforter outside the bedroom. Then in the morning we would find him resting peacefully on his bed and would feel guilty for ejecting him.
Although he was clearly developing health problems, he was still responsive and gave us even more love than we thought possible. He loved snugging with one or both of us for a nap, or just sitting with us on the couch covered with a blanket to ward off the "shivvers". We wanted Happy to grow old with us, and were sure that with liberal doses of love and help from the vet we could make it so. I worried that he might not make it through the winter, but winter was still months away. We knew that the end would come eventually, but weren't ready for it quite yet. We settled in for a long haul with our old dog, to love him and care for him as best we could. That was not to be, however.
Our Last Goodbye to Happy
Last Sunday Penny and I took Happy with us while we were visiting a friend at his place on Sebago Lake. Happy was restless, pacing around the lawn while we sat and looked at the lake. We were a little concerned because he had started to be picky with his food. Happy has always eaten anything set in front of him, but now he started to turn up his nose up at his food. We tried different brands of dog food, assuming that he was just tired of one brand and wanted a change.
As the week went on, however, we noticed that he was having increasing difficulty in using his back legs. Climbing up and down stairs was very hard for him. He had trouble getting settled into his bed and whimpered. He was spending most of his time sleeping. He stopped peeing.
I took him to the vet in Naples on Thursday. The vet said that both his back legs were stiff with arthritis, and gave us a different medicine to help his arthritis pain, and another for his alzheimers. He said that we should start seeing a change for the better in a couple of days with the pain medication, although the alzheimers medication might take a month before we saw any difference.
Over the weekend Happy's health declined rapidly. I was away until Sunday afternoon while Penny stayed home with her Happy. Happy spent a comfortable day Friday, sleeping most of the day. But on Saturday morning he stopped taking any food, even hand-fed special treats that Penny made for him. He stopped drinking water, and she was forced to give him water with a turkey baster.
"How is my dog?" I asked when I called home on Saturday.
"Not good" Penny said, and told me about him. "He is sleeping now, and I am hopeful that the pain medicine will start to work tomorrow."
When I got home on Sunday afternoon, Happy had declined further. He couldn't walk at all. He could raise his head and wag his tail, but that was it. He wouldn't eat nor drink, and started vomiting. In only a few days he had gone from old dog to very sick dog. We felt so helpless. It was if everything had all started to come apart for him at the same time, like the one-horse shay.
Sunday night was one of the longest nights I have ever spent. I lay with him on the couch most of the night, holding him in my arms and talking to him. He would doze for a while, then awake moaning or yelping in pain. In desperation I ground up his pain pills and made a paste with water, and then rubbed the paste on his gums. That seemed to help, and Penny relieved me on the couch about 2:00 a.m. while I took an hour nap in bed. Then, as the sun was coming up, it got worse for him. I gave him some more pain medication and lay down with him, holding him and talking to him all the time. I kept telling him to let it go, and that his big dog Buffalo was waiting for him. He was a fighter to the last, but finally drifted off to a fitful sleep under the medication.
Penny and I both knew what had to be done. His pitiful little yelps were cries for help. It wasn't fair to Happy to make him endure any more days in pain. I called the vet when they opened up Monday morning. Penny and I drove him to the clinic in Norway.
A little after 9:30 a.m. on September 23, 2002 Happy went to sleep for the last time while I held him in my arms and Penny stood with me.
We brought the little guy home, wrapped in his favorite blue blanket. We laid him to rest next to his big dog Buffalo, in the back yard under the red oak next to the stone wall. I found a headstone for his grave that is just a little smaller than Buffalo's. The two of them are now together, and every time we look over at their graves we can think of the two most loving and wonderful dogs in the world we have ever known.
It is so hard to admit that he is gone, and I keep expecting him at the foot of the bed when I go into the bedroom, or in the back seat of the car. The house seems suddenly very big and very empty without Happy's presence to fill it. There is no little guy to disturb our slumber at night, and I still wake up on Happy's morning schedule.
We have had two wonderful dogs that gave us love and companionship, and miss them both very much.
A good friend sent me this poem when Buffalo died. I sobbed with grief when I read it then, and still do now that Happy has gone from our lives. I'd like to think that we will see them again some time, that there is a "Rainbow Bridge" where they wait for us, just outside of Heaven.
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Last updated September 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2002, Allen Crabtree