Sunday, January 4, 2015

our becky

We usually try to keep things on a positive note here at We Went West, but on December 29, 2014, we lost our crazy dog, Becky, to the decline of old age.  She had been a part of our lives for more than eleven years and I'd like to tell you a little about her.

Her shelter portrait (2003)

When we adopted Becky from the animal refuge league in October 2003, we had been without a dog for just three months, since H's dog, Yukon, had died that summer.  H couldn't stand being dog-less any longer so he and our friend Cindy found Becky.  He and I went to see her the next day and that afternoon I brought her home.  She had been picked up in West Virginia as a stray and had languished in a pound down there all summer before being driven to Maine by a rescue group; we took her home after only three days in the Maine shelter.  At first she was timid, very quiet and meek, and afraid to walk through doorways.

Fishing on Twitchell Pond, Maine (2007)

But she was immediately comfortable in jumping up on the couches and beds (which we did not discourage, big softies that we are) and soon came out of her shell, racing up and down the upstairs hallway and both singing and dancing for her food.  When we took her to the vet's for the first time, she was calm and quiet, lying down when not being examined and unflinching when she got shots.  We asked the vet what breed(s) she might be and he replied that she was a true Heinz 57 mutt - any and all breeds.  I always described her as looking like a big, fat fox with pretty eyeliner eyes.

Driving out to Utah (2009)

Food was a huge part of Becky's life, we assumed because she'd been scrounging on her own for however long as a stray.  She was never fussy about her dry dog food and hoovered it up quickly.  She was a shameless beggar for people food too and would eat just about anything: cheese, bananas, apples, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, green beans.  She would eat blueberries and blackberries right off the bushes, delicately wrinkling her lips back to pluck each individual berry off with her front teeth.  I once left her in the car while unloading groceries and came back out to find that she'd eaten half a cantaloupe - gnawed right through the rind and ate it.  (I didn't leave her alone in the car with groceries again after that.)

Keeping track of all the toys (2009)

Because she was so motivated by food, I thought she would be a good candidate for obedience classes; she learned quickly - cheese! - but since I didn't keep up with the practicing, she only retained "sit" and "shake."  Oh, she knew her name all right - she just didn't like to answer to it.  She was smart enough to pick up on commonly-used phrases too, like "Do you want to go outside?", "Do you want to go for a car ride?", "Who's that?" (to get her to run to the window and bark at dogs walking by) and "You're staying."

Of course our dog likes beer (2009)

By and large car rides were Becky's very favorite thing.  She didn't much like being left at home alone, although she never chewed anything, preferring to pout on the bed instead, but being left in the car for hours on end was never an issue.  In the winter she would go to work with H, curling up on the front seat of his truck for the workday: he would let her out and give her water at lunchtime and then she would curl right back up for the afternoon.  One Easter in Maine we drove up to go skiing (and she slept in the truck); then we stopped in at the brewpub for a beer (and she slept in the truck); then we drove to my uncle's house for dinner (and she slept in the truck); and then we drove home - nearly fourteen hours in the truck, punctuated by breaks.  We always figured that she thought we might not come back if we left her at the house but for some reason was confident of our return if she was in a vehicle.  When we drove out to Utah in 2009, she couldn't have been happier: three long days in the truck with both of us with her.

Golden Spike National Historic Site (2010)

Becky did have her issues, most of them stemming from her early West Virginia days, about which we had no information.  She did not like other dogs and would try to fight with them, with the lone exception of my parents' big Italian spinone, Ernie, who was a big galoot, happy to let her be in charge.  Strangers made her nervous, as did children, and she was completely terrified of thunder, gunshots and fireworks.  We think she might have been shot at one time: there was a hard, BB-sized lump in one of her back legs - that would make anyone scared of loud, sharp noises.  Becky was quirky too.  She didn't like having her picture taken at all.  She didn't like to snuggle but always wanted everyone to be in the same room.  She hated it if we were outdoors without her, but was a drama queen if it was too hot outside.  She didn't like the rain, didn't like getting her feet wet and hated swimming, but she loved fishing with H and would jump into the water to try to grab any fish that he reeled in.  The fishing thing was hilarious: she would sit on the dock for hours with H, attentively watching every cast, beside herself with excitement when there was a fish on the line.

Food! (2011)

About a year ago, Becky started to decline, many of her usual behaviors changing.  She went deaf (which was great with respect to Utah's predilection for thunderstorms and fireworks).  Starting in March, she stopped begging for people food and started getting picky.  We worked our way through numerous brands of dry and wet dog food as she first accepted and then refused each one; by this fall she was only picking at grilled chicken and canned tuna fish and she lost a lot of weight.  She had to have a couple of teeth pulled in August and never really bounced back that.  Her fur didn't grow in as thickly after her summer haircut and she actively sought out warmth: we would tie her out in the yard and she would bake herself in the hot Utah sun.  She walked more and more slowly and stiffly, staggering a little.  She could still manage to jump up on the couches and beds - and now would cuddle up with us, under the blankets if at all possible - but she teetered when she stood still, sometimes tipping over.  She would stop sometimes and just stare at the wall for a minute or so, blanking out in the middle of whatever it was she had started to do.  She would try to make a nest out of blankets and pillows and get so frustrated that she'd cry piteously until one of us went and got her.  She slept nearly all the time and took a long time waking up if she didn't do it herself. 

Uintas camping (2012)

In December, we had to talk about what we were going to do and when we were going to do it.  Becky wasn't herself and she was only continuing to deteriorate.  We didn't want to let her go but didn't want her to ever be in pain.  We made the appointment for the Monday after Christmas.  That weekend we spent entirely with her, despite the snow nuking down in the Wasatch mountains, because we didn't want her to be alone, not for a minute.  She was restless, only settling when she was right next to one of us.  I spent hours with her pulled on my lap - our old dog, who never before liked to snuggle - sleeping with her head on my chest and my arms locked around her.

Walking in Millcreek Canyon (2012)

So on that Monday we took her back to the kind vet who had helped with her dental surgery this past August.  We held her and patted her and touched her fur, and told her what a good dog she was.  And then she was gone.

Walking in City Creek Canyon (2013)

It isn't fair that doing the right thing hurts so much.  It isn't fair that dogs live such short lives.  But those of us who love dogs, and who have dogs who love us, will always take the heartbreak that comes with the joy.  When we rescued Becky, we promised to love her, to feed her, to keep her warm and safe, and to give her as many walks and car rides as we could.  We did all that.  We just couldn't keep her from getting old.  She was a good girl, a funny dog, and we miss her terribly.

In the car (2014)


  1. This is such a beautiful remembrance of your Becky. I'm so sorry for your and H's loss. *hugs* from a former SLC-er now in Hannaford country.

  2. Thanks so much, Catherine. We really miss her.