I met Yuba when he was four. I had began dating Andy while on motorcycles, so it was two weeks or so before I met Yuba. We all went on a walk together, to get to know each other. It was the first of multitudes.
Walks with Yuba meant at least one hour, preferably two, off leash at Conner’s Bog.
Andy would ask Yuba if he wanted to go to the Bog. Yuba would become very still, cock his head, and lift one ear. Andy would whisper, “Do you want to go to the Bog?” Yuba would then go crazy, jumping around in the backseat, looking out the windows to see if we were close to the Bog.
We would park and Yuba would launch out of the backseat of the extended cab Ford F-150 that Andy bought specifically so that Yuba would have a place all his own.
The Bog was special because it had so many areas: a heavily forested area where the tree roots were covered in lichen. Andy called it The Enchanted Forest. We always started there, then crossed over the Main Road, a straight half mile flat walk from the parking lot,
to the Back Forty, a not-well traversed area filled with spruce trees and hard-packed dirt. We would get to the south end of the Lake, Yuba running full speed into the water. He was a Labrador mix, so he had webbed feet and loved to be in the water. He wasn’t a particularly good swimmer, but he loved the Splash Water in my Face game. He would swim after sticks, and then leave them to float in the shallows, waiting for us to throw another one. It was often too cold to wade in after them ourselves. We would throw them until our stick pile was depleted, and then the Lake portion of the walk was over.
Sometimes, we would head back over to the Enchanted Forest before getting back into the car. We would play Crazy Ivan, which is where both me and Andy would hide if Yuba got too far ahead. We would hide in different spots, and when Yuba would locate one of us, the other would hide anew. Yuba loved it.
In the first few months of dating, there were times Yuba would spend time with me while Andy was away at work. Yuba was defiant, pulling a surprisingly readable “You’re Not My Mom, You Can’t Tell Me What To Do” expression. I would take him out, off leash, because Yuba was never good on leash. He couldn’t keep even a short leash from getting tangled between his legs. He would purposefully linger when he knew I wanted to go. He wouldn’t heel up to me, and he wouldn’t sit to let me leash him or untangle when I finally leashed him because we were near a busy street.
Finally, a spring thaw came, and I went out to run again. I had always envied other runners with dogs to run with, and I thought it might be fun to bring Yuba along, thinking he might follow commands if we were at full speed. I knew the moment it happened. We were running across the pedestrian bridge over Muldoon, on our way to a trail behind the housing development, and he realized we were a pack. That I could run with him, the only person that ever did. When we returned from a little over four miles of our trail run, some of it off leash for him, he accepted me. I already loved him. We were a team. A pack. We were together.
Time marched on, and we drove across North America a few times. I married Andy, and we had hoped Yuba would be with us, as he was recovering from surgeries on his back
legs, the equivalent of ACL repairs. He wasn’t able to come to our wedding, but we kept him in our hearts as best we could.
After the surgeries, Yuba couldn’t go running with me anymore. He was nine years old, and could walk and eat, his two favorite activities. He was showing signs of gray: a gray beard, gray on his belly, and on his paws. When I laced up my running shoes, he would still circle me, licking my hands and wagging his tail. It broke my heart to leave him behind, but I did. He was happy to lick the salty sweat from my leg when I returned.
We returned to Anchorage for a brief time, and I loved taking Yuba back to the Bog. With his new legs, he was uncertain about the Bog and the crowd of dogs, as he was weaker than before. Instead, we frequented Kincaid Park, which was closer to the condo we rented.
We poked around in fresh snow, powder being another one of his favorite things. Once, I dropped my keys in my deep, fresh tracks. Yuba helped me look. It didn’t take that long to find them.
Andy left Anchorage to go to school in Savannah. We were alone up North. Yuba acted out by eating something bad at the park. It obstructed his stomach for days, and he kept eating grass, trying to throw up. It got so bad one night that I took him to the vet, not having slept, and having to dress in scrubs so I could go to work in just a few hours. Because of the time difference, I was already on the phone to Andy, who was up having his morning cereal before class. We talked on the phone, despite the “No Cell Phones” sign posted in the exam room. Yuba paced. We hung up the phone, and the vet walked in. Yuba looked at her and immediately vomited up the toy that was causing the obstruction. They charged us $150 for the pleasure of cleaning up the acidic bile, plastic, and fake fur. Even after that, I was worried about him. He had trouble eating, so I made boiled chicken and rice, though he turned his nose up at that after two days. Andy told me to call him on it, and true enough, he was fine to eat the kibble. He was attempting to bargain up from boiled chicken.
Months went by, and being apart from Andy became too difficult for all of us, so I quit my job in Anchorage and loaded up the pets in my Honda Accord. I put most of our belongings in a storage facility, and loaded Yuba and our cat, Carl, into the backseat. They had an uneasy detente, as Carl had adopted us just a little over a year before.
Yuba didn’t like sharing our affections, but Carl had no problem with being allowed on the furniture. Sharing the backseat of a four-door sedan for 30 days was a challenge, but they found a way.
The car didn’t have great AC, even though I’d had it tuned up in Anchorage, so when we took Interstate 20 across the US,
I had to put a pillowcase in the window to keep the sun off of Yuba. He had a folding step stool that I kept in the backseat to help him get up and down out of the car. He made friends every where we went. It seemed impossible to dislike him.
He had more than his fair share of practice at making friends. He’d had a lot of years on the workforce. His first job was at a horse barn, an easy job for a puppy, to help take care of trail maintenance. After that, he was on the ski slopes at Hilltop ski area in Anchorage. After that, he worked a few summers in construction. He next took up at a motorcycle rental shop, MotoQuest, and then when we moved to Atlanta, he worked at Eagle Eye Books, where he did manage to scare the postal worker, just by his very existence. Still, he could sit, he could stay, and most of all, he could play Crazy Ivan in a used bookstore.
We arrived in Savannah at the end of a very hot summer. Yuba had a hard time with the heat, so sometimes we shaved him.
He always enjoyed being groomed, whether it was a nail clipping or a fur shaving. But the heat wore on him, and as he aged, he had a harder time walking. We found ways around it, and Andy even built a sidecar so that Yuba could get to Forsyth Park a little easier.
Everyone loved his company, so we threw him a lucky 13th birthday party.
We took him all the places he could go, but that number reduced greatly, just given the heat.
But he loved it, because he loved everything. He was always ready with a tail wag and a “how-do-you-do” sniff. Sometimes, a small, unencroaching lick of the hand.
Last Monday, he had his first seizure. It was terrifying.
He recovered slowly, and I made us a little bed on the floor. I gave him a pain pill and some treats, all of which he happily took, and napped, his head on my leg. But I could tell he was worried. He hurt more.
I left for Seattle, a trip long planned and a kickstart to my new writing life. A friend and I were going to have a writing retreat, and I was able to be with another good friend on her birthday. I was to be gone 16 days.
On the evening of the fifth day, Andy texted and said Yuba had another seizure. He slept downstairs, on the floor, with Yuba. See, Andy was Yuba’s person. They are two halves of the same soul. When Andy had a skateboarding accident a few weeks ago, Yuba insisted on licking his scraped up Palm. Yuba protected and cared for Andy. Yuba would lay perfectly still when Andy was upset, absorbing all of his conflicts and pain. He was glad to do it. It was his job.
I cried on the phone, in the middle of the night, in a tiny bathroom of my friend’s tiny apartment in Seattle. She heard me, of course, and when I came out, she turned on the lights and we figured out the best flight plan. I bought a ticket at 3 am, and I was on the 6:20 am flight. I was home at 4 pm, where Andy picked me up and we drove straight to the vet.
Yuba had been seizing all morning, so the vet kept him heavily sedated. But in that tiny room, we watched his nose twitch ever so slightly. I like to think he knew we were both there. I spooned up behind him, and since he was deaf, told him how good he was, how much I loved him. He could have felt the vibrations of my voice from my body into his. I’d like to think he did. Andy kept his hands on him, always at least one, petting him. Andy asked Dr. Iyer, the veterinarian, if he could push the meds himself. We stayed in the room for a long time, Yuba on a blanket, us on the floor next to him. We cried, we petted, I kept telling him how much I loved him. How could that be a bad way to go? Surrounded by those that loved you best, and you loved best. He was a dog well loved, and he loved well.
Dr. Iyer, the veterinarian, assured us that we were doing the right thing. The seizures would continue, they were almost constant when Yuba was not sedated. He would have been 16 years old at the end of February. We were looking forward to that birthday. We were going to take him up to Tallulah Falls, in North Georgia.
We were going to have him sit on the porch, and smell all the smells. We already had cans of wet food, and a sauce-slathered bone wrapped in plastic waiting for him. We wanted to recreate the barf-days of old: walk and then a meal, walk and then a meal; all day long, until he barfed. He never really did, but we fed him enough to expect it.
In February, we will still go up to Tallulah Falls. We will bring his ashes. He will go with.
It has only been a day, as I write this. I still think he is in the other room. I still went to feed him and check his water bowl this morning. I thought I heard his nails clicking, but it was just a bit of rain.
Andy found this website, a place to mourn your four-legged best friend: http://mydogjustdied.org/. It helps to see other people who loved theirs as fiercely as we loved ours.
Yuba was pure id, Andy used to say. Lucky for us, Yuba’s id wanted nothing more than love.