Rich and I are mourning the passage of our beloved lab, Louie, who passed away Thursday night at age 11. I wanted to share a video and story I produced as part of my grieving process. I will surely miss a dog named Louie. Read and watch below…
A Dog Named Louie
The house feels so empty.
The routine has always involved my pulling into our parking space, which sits just outside our bedroom window. I would hear Louie’s deep bark followed by the higher-pitched yelps of Sydney and Puki through the window. By the time I walk the 25 feet to the front door, I can hear dog tags clanking together and dog sniff sounds coming through the mail slot. Opening the door always involved the bigger dogs, led by Louie, pushing away the smaller ones to get that first chance to greet Dad.
Upon arriving home from the office on Tuesday night, I didn’t hear Louie’s bark. I opened the door and sure enough the little dogs greeted me. Louie was there, too, except that he lay on the bathroom floor adjacent to the front hall. He was panting heavily. We noticed a change in his behavior the day before when he had little interest in his food. With our attempts over the years to prevent full inhalation of kibble, Louie’s behavior that day indicated something was not right as he picked at, then walked away from, his food.
Wednesday morning, we noticed some vomit and dark stains on the edge of Louie’s bed. We assumed that he had gobbled some Oreo cookies we had left on the coffee table the night before. He seemed okay as I took him out for his morning walk which included the usual sniffing, pee and poop. I knew something was awry when his stool appeared almost completely black. Still, we attributed the dark stool to something he ate.
Wednesday night, I arrived home and knew his health had worsened. We decided to take Louie to the vet first thing Thursday. The next morning, when I announced the “ride in the car,” Louie stood up with his usual grunt and proceeded to the door. Because of his 11-year-old stressed bones, I carefully lifted him into the back seat of the 4Runner. That back seat was the same exact one upon which he yelped (and peed) the day I brought him home in 2001.
The vets at San Francisco ASPCA knew Louie well. Over the past two years, I had rushed him there on a number of occasions to ask the hospital staff to deflate his gas-filled stomach, while at the same time negotiating a reasonably-priced solution. Since a near-death experience with gastric torque in 2007 (and a resoundingly successful surgery that secured his stomach to his ribs to prevent a reoccurrence), Louie had battled frequent but non life-threatening bloating. While the repeated visits to the vet were expensive, our pet insurance was one of the best pet investments we had made and I advise anyone who can afford it to do so. A monetary back-up removes major stress from medical decision-making – especially when confronted with not unusual multi-thousand dollar surgeries.
When we walked out the door, I knew Louie would not return home again.
When I moved to Santa Fe in late 2001, I knew that a dog was in my future. I moved into in a friend’s guest house. With miles of trails at our disposal and my friends’ dogs leading a small pack of family canines, I couldn’t think of a better place to raise a puppy.
A week had barely passed when I drove down Old Las Vegas Highway and noticed a sign at the end of a rural driveway advertising lab puppies. I called, set up an appointment, and headed over to check out the selection.
Almost immediately, a black lab puppy named “Peanut” (Louie’s original name) hobbled over to me and pulled on my shoelace with his tiny milk teeth. I was in the market for a yellow lab, though, and took a liking to a larger puppy brother who was a yellow version of Peanut.
“I’m sorry. The yellow is not available. We plan to keep him for breeding purposes,” the couple explained.
As I contemplated my next puppy-selection steps, Peanut approached me again and looked up at me with eager puppy eyes. Who could resist?
The breeders noticed my interest (or maybe our instant bond): “He’s the runt and available since he’s the smallest and we won’t have need for him for breeding.” Sounded so clinical. I had to take the boy home.
At that moment, I decided that Peanut was the dog for me. The next day, I returned with a check in hand and drove the five-week old pup back to our new home. I had determined months before that the puppy in my future would be named Louie. And it was so.
I decided to crate train and Lou spent the first night barking non-stop while his new dad tossed and turned with makeshift ear plugs, somewhat, but not completely, deafening the high-pitched squeals of Louie’s first night away from the litter.
The next morning, the wife of the dog breeding couple called me.
“We’ve given it some thought,” she told me. “We would like to have Peanut back and you can have the yellow lab if you want.”
“No way! I just spent a night with Louie and I want to keep him.” At the time, I believed that my response came from the obvious bond stemming from our one-night stand but also that I had no desire not to spend another first night with a new puppy.
They pushed and offered to return my $350 if I decided to switch puppies.
“No thanks” I confirmed as our bromance had begun. After all, I would begin crate training the next day.
A few hours later, I rolled on my side and was met by a knobby little lab head with brown eyes peering at me. Louie wanted the comfort of a down comforter but was too small to jump upwards. Yet, he was tall enough to stand upright against the box spring and look me in the eyes to work his inevitable seduction. He had a way of putting on his cute face when he wanted something, and I usually succumbed to his sparkle.
“Yes, Louie, you can sleep with me.”
As this begging continued, you can guess who always won that battle. I had already broken the first rule of puppy-rearing. The looks he gave me after that morning and the subsequent nightly climbs onto the soft and comfy bed continued until the day he died. We scrapped his dog cage which still ended up rusting in the infrequent rain of New Mexico.
I learned to become the best dog parent. I read “Dogs for Dummies” and enrolled Louie into puppy training. He passed kindergarten and first grade with flying colors. Our home in the high-desert provided excessive open space and great weather with just enough snow in the winter to excite a puppy who liked nothing more than a romp in the fluffy white stuff. With Louie’s black coat making him resemble a large piece of coal against the winter white, I would never lose track of him and his exploits in the dog park.
My friends own a cabin in a national forest north of Santa Fe and we spent many a weekend with our dogs running in the large meadow, swimming and playing non-stop fetch in the river that flowed nearby, and sleeping soundly by a warm fire at night. Before sunrise, Louie awakened with the older dogs and would join the pack for an early morning sniffing and confirmation of their territory and, of course, a morning swim.
Louie was in heaven near water and over the years could hardly contain himself when he sat in the back seat of the car and observed any body of water out the right-side passenger window. Louie loved car rides more than anything (except dinner, that is). He always knew something great awaited him at the end of the ride.
When Louie was six months old, I decided to take a road trip back to San Francisco. It was as if I had a child with whom I wanted to share where I came from – and especially wanted to introduce him to the ocean.
After an awful incident where Louie took a shit in the guest bed of our hosts, and an expensive cleaning bill that I covered with huge apologies, Louie and I packed ourselves into the 4Runner for an afternoon drive down Route 1 towards Santa Cruz. It was a rare Northern California June day where fog had not overtaken the coast and the weather was as warm at the beach as it was inland. The drive along Devil’s Slide is some of the most majestic beauty of the California coast and Louie insanely barked when he saw the vast ocean to our right.
Maybe it was the cute shirtless boy selling strawberries that led me to pull over just north of Half Moon Bay. At any rate, the parking lot was adjacent to the beach. Louie could hardly contain himself as he tugged at his leash with a tennis ball in his mouth. He pulled me to expedite the boring walk from the car to the water.
Louie almost always carried a ball or stick when we were at the beach or park; he was a retriever after all. I don’t think he knew what to make of the “big” river that lay in front of him but took no time acclimating to the frigid waters and aced body surfing almost immediately. He was braver than I was as he entered and exited the frigid ocean repeatedly and continued barking at me to throw his ball, running into the waves to fetch it, and returning it to me by dropping it on my feet. He followed with a reminder if I didn’t respond quickly enough.
In 2006, I felt small-town living had run its course and I decided to return to San Francisco. My employer relocated Louie and me to a one-bedroom corporate apartment on Nob Hill. After several months, we moved into our new loft in SOMA. Louie was overjoyed the day all of our furniture arrived and familiar smells surrounded him once again. I had frankly worried about removing Louie from his New Mexico lifestyle, but could not imagine life without him. He had become my bestie and I knew we’d be together forever. We’d make San Francisco work.
As I didn’t want to spare Louie any luxury in our new city, I hired a daily dog walker who brought Louie to various San Francisco dog parks. Of course, Louie didn’t take time, nor care, about the magnificent views some of these parks offered. He never had a huge interest in other dogs that much other than sniffing butts of potential playmates upon his dramatic arrivals. When finally unleashed, he wasted no time finding a stick he could chew to bits and would bark profusely until I agreed to throw it. One of his favorite activities was securing a large stick in his mouth and strongly snapping his head to pummel the stick into the ground, usually resulting in a successful separation. Goal accomplished.
Our years continued in San Francisco. As a relationship ended with my boyfriend in 2008 and I returned to the single world, I felt guilty that I was out of the house more often and spending less time with my best friend. A new job in a start-up devoured the rest of my hours but we adapted.
In 2008, I met the love of my life, Rich. Rich came into our lives with two “kids” of his own: a shih tzu named Sydney and a lovable mixed furry mess named Puki. We came together in our own house and Louie lived for the first time in a pack where the humans believed we ran the show. The dogs knew otherwise. Over time, the three dogs adapted to each other quite well and took their own places in the pack. Because of Louie’s larger size, he often took advantage of our little ones by pushing them aside with his snout to eat a crumb that inadvertently fell to the floor or to catch a piece of pepperoni mid-air. Who would want to miss such a treat?
The five of us have spent the past 4 years as a family – a typical San Francisco one at that. Our city has more dogs than children so its dog-friendliness means that Louie, Sydney and Puki would spend many a walk overwhelmed with smelling trees, other dogs’ butts and marking their own territory.
So today our family, our pack, is missing a key member. On Thursday afternoon, Rich and I drove to the veterinarian to euthanize Louie. We knew the day was coming but still were in denial that it would actually happen. The vet had checked out Louie’s vitals. While there were no tumors or signs of cancer, Louie was experiencing massive internal bleeding.
The years of bloating issues and his age had taken their toll on his internal organs. We were told that surgery wouldn’t fix the hemorrhaging nor would meds alleviate his pain. So, we made the decision let Louie go. Between back issues, arthritis, stomach and gas issues (which led to the bloating), we knew it was time.
When they brought Louie into the room in those last few minutes so that we could say our goodbyes, the sparkle in his eyes had been replaced with a dazed and unfocused stare. He was panting heavily and was not responsive to our affection. As Rich and I cried, Louie walked over to the one dog bed in the room in lay on it in his characteristic resting position – on his stomach with his long body in a slight curve, both front legs were crossed with his right paw over the left. With the final resting of his chin on his right leg, he let out a sigh.
Dr. West entered and asked if we were ready. I asked for a few more minutes.
Rich and I sat down next to our friend and Louie lifted his large head and rested it in my lap. He had done this on the first night we ever spent together, adding to the sadness of one of the worst moments of my life.
I said my good bye: “Louie – you are my best friend and I love you so very much. Thanks for everything, buddy.” Rich placed his hands on Louie and me as the doctor returned. It was time.
“Louie will receive and anesthetic then an overdose of the euthanasia drug. His passing will be quick but be prepared for a sigh or gasp as he passes. His eyes will likely remain open.” The doctor had clearly given this talk before.
The vet drained the syringes into Louie. After a short breath, Louie went limp. The vet pronounced him dead at around 5:09 pm. I held onto him for a few moments. He was still warm and because I didn’t want to feel the last of his life leave him as his body turned cold, I let go. He was in the position in which I had seen him so many times. His coat was still shiny and he could have been resting in his after-dinner nap in our living room. But this time, his soul was gone. I unfastened his collar and picked up the leash I had used to bring him to the hospital 8 hours earlier. Rich and I left sobbing in each other’s arms and drove home. Sydney and Puki were at the door to greet us but we could tell they sensed something was wrong. Puki ran to the door and looked past us, hoping Louie was coming. With no Louie in sight, Puki returned to greeting us as if we’d been gone for months.
Our closest friends came by almost immediately to help alleviate the pain – at least for the evening. Later when I couldn’t sleep, I got up at some point and went for a walk. SOMA was cold and misty and I passed all the trees, flower boxes, fire hydrants and garbage cans that Louie would regularly sniff and mark on our nightly pre-bed walks. In fact, this was about the same time we would have embarked on our nightly ritual.
Except Louie was dead. A lump came to my throat at that moment. My stomach was full of pain. I sat on the end of our car in front of our house and looked up at the almost-full moon. And then I cried. And cried some more.
I cry as I write this and will probably cry several times more today.
Oh how I miss a dog named Louie…