Thursday, April 15, 2021

Let me tell you about my dog

Ten years ago we got a dog. Our neighbor, Julie, knew we were ready to adopt if we found the right one, and she sent us this picture of a cute little poodle-mix at the pound.

Who would not fall in love with this picture of the dog? I'm still mostly impressed that someone at the pound was able to capture such an image, since (as you will soon see) he was hard to photograph well. He mostly came out as a peculiar black blur, sometimes with demon eyes.

He was adorable, he didn't make my husband sneeze, and even though the poor thing was skittish and had fleas when we met him, we wanted to bring him home. The pound had dubbed him "Vinnie," but we decided to call him "Chipper," partially in homage to a dog my mom and uncles had growing up.

Chipper turned out to be the weirdest dog I've ever met. He remained peculiar to the end, which was on March 8th. Our household is adjusting to being a house without a dog. (Thankfully, we still have Mona's noisy bird, Keiko, to remind us loudly we still are a house with a pet.)

So, I want to take a little time to tell you about my dog. Mostly because there is much I don't want to forget, and if scrolling back through the decades of my blog has taught me anything, it's that it's easy to forget so very much. And I don't want to forget my dog.

Looking good after a grooming

Chipper was nervous. It was easy to interpret his behavior as bad much of the time, but once you realized it was all based in fear, he was easier to sympathize with. So many times I wished we could simply make him understand that no one wanted to hurt him. Everyone just wanted to love him and pet him and give him treats, but he found the world a scary place. The sound of a garbage truck would frighten him. All strangers were bad. And don't even get me started about fireworks. (One fourth of July, Chipper was in such a panic about fireworks that he somehow squeezed himself under a nightstand that I swear only had about two inches of clearance underneath.)

Chipper did not like men. Chipper did not like most people, period, but we suspect whatever his life was before he ended up at the pound, it probably involved an abusive man and the dog never got over it. Ian was the one exception. The dog always respected Ian. That was the man who rescued him from the pound. Ian was the only person in our house never to be bitten by the dog. Ian was the one who brought him home. Ian was the one Chipper was lying next to when he took his last breath, which I hope means in that last moment he felt safe.

Chipper did like Julie. Our next door neighbor Julie is hands down one of the nicest people in the world, and she was the only person we could really trust him with if we had to leave town. (Chipper did spend some time at a local kennel in their "Stay and Play" program as a "Solo Guest" since he didn't like other dogs, and the one trainer there who said she really liked our dog also happened to be named "Julie." So maybe he just liked people named "Julie.")

Chipper was always happy to run up to Julie's door, and she was the only person he didn't try to defend us from if she came to our house. Julie was his friend, always accepting him as he was and somehow he knew and appreciated that.

As it became apparent that time with Chipper was growing short in the last week of his life, I took him over to Julie's for one last visit. She told him he was a good dog. And for her he always was.

But if Chipper was anyone's dog, he was Aden's. Aden's first word was "doggie," and when we finally got a dog of our own she was nine, and definitely ready for one. (Not that the promises by children to walk the dog and do any of the work of owning a dog actually come to fruition once the novelty wears off the first week, but still. Nine is a good age to get a dog.) Aden loved the way Chipper's face fit against her own like a puzzle piece. He loved curling up with her on the couch. (Any couch. When we'd go to the cottage, Aden and Chipper would set up on the couch there as naturally as they did on the one at home.) Aden loved Chipper, and Chipper loved Aden. (But Chipper did not love whoever was looking at Aden to take a picture.)

Chipper did not like feet if they were moving. Moving feet were very concerning to the dog. No dancing. No jumping. Definitely no shuffling--that was the worst for some reason.

Chipper didn't like his food particularly, but it was high quality food that kept him very healthy. He would hold out for better things all day long, then we'd hear him eating out of his bowl late at night when he'd finish it all.

Chipper did like to play fetch with certain toys. He had a favorite bit of rope he wanted us to throw often. There was a long squeaky pig that he adored to the point of utter destruction, and we were never able to find another. He also tore all the stuffing out of a Pichu, a monkey ball, and a Chuck E Cheese doll that he also tore the head off of. (We called that one his "ugly mouse" and he was fine with chasing either the head or body alone.) Fetch was funny because he often brought the toy only about halfway back. You were expected to somehow throw the toy, but not reach the toy. Fetch usually ended when Chipper would take the toy under the couch so no one could have it. Sometimes it would end more unceremoniously, where he would simply stop chasing the toy and wait for someone to offer him water.

Chipper with his first Christmas present, his favorite rope

It always made me laugh when Chipper would come bark at me if I was unlocking the front door, then he'd disappear briefly, and return with a toy to drop at my feet once I came inside. (He'd usually then take the toy when I'd reach for it to throw.)

He was odd at the front door. He once barked at my parents while they were letting themselves in our house, and once they made it inside, he fled upstairs and hid. He also had a phase where he'd bark at you while you were leaving. When I'd shut the door behind me from the outside, he'd come charge the door and bark. Then I'd come back in and he'd stop and act like things were great. Then be all tough again if I went out. I miss having him meet me at the door, though.

There were a few times we had to leave Chipper in a kennel when we traveled. The only good part about that was how happy he was when we'd eventually pick him back up.

Chipper could not abide coughing. That was the one way to get him to stop barking at you, or to make him leave the room. If you coughed, he looked appalled and was out of there. He could be all settled in happily in the dog bed in our bedroom, and if I coughed, he would sadly drag himself out of the bed and down the hall. If we were all sick and coughing, he'd change rooms frequently.

We were never sure if Chipper liked the sound of violin playing or not. Violin playing elicited lots of barking and howling, but it was hard to know if it was in protest or accompaniment. We think he was "singing," because the crazy barking at your feet if you were playing turned into wistful little baying sounds if you held him in your lap. Sometimes Chipper would bark at Quinn's keyboard playing, which could be a problem during pandemic Zoom lessons and recitals.

Chipper liked chicken. That's not unusual by any means, but if I was working with chicken in the kitchen he was impressively attentive and underfoot. During the last few weeks of his life he still wanted to be at my heels while I was cooking chicken, even though he'd stopped eating. We offered him chicken many times in an attempt to get him to eat again, but he didn't want any. He just wanted to be in the way while I prepared it.

Those last few weeks we couldn't get him to eat any of his favorite things, which included broccoli and pumpkin. He used to hang out under the kitchen table whenever we did pumpkin carving for Halloween in hopes of snagging a scrap. One year I carefully carved lots of pointy teeth Quinn had drawn onto his pumpkin, only to discover the next morning that Chipper had gotten onto the dining room table in the night and gnawed that mouth into a big, open, toothless grin.

Chipper didn't like the idea of going for walks, even though he liked walks. For the past several years we just left a leash on him at all times so he couldn't hide under the couch when we announced it was time to go out. At least with the leash on him we could drag him out and make him go. He worked really hard at avoiding walks, which was weird, since once outside, he enjoyed walks very much.

Chipper took a different route for his walk with each person in the house. He used to lead Aden down an alley that I never went down with him. With Quinn he only wanted to go around one small block. With me he liked to venture a few blocks away. The funniest route was the next block up near the community garden where there is a house with a fenced back yard containing "the monster." The monster is a 120 lb German shepherd with a deep and scary bark, and we only ever really see its nose and paws under the gap in the gate. Chipper spent weeks building up the nerve to go near the gate. At first he would skitter by the house with the monster, and then pee on something nearby when he'd reached safety. But little by little, Chipper figured out the monster couldn't get to him, and eventually he would run up to the gate and bark furiously at the giant paws poking out of that gap, before triumphantly peeing on something close to that fence. It was such a proud/cowardly thing to do that it always made us laugh.

Chipper didn't like other dogs. He had no doggie friends, and on the few occasions he was around other dogs, they tended to boss him around. The saddest instance was once when I went to pick him up at the groomer, I peered over the gate into the room he was in, and his access to me was blocked by a noisier, tinier dog. A little white fluffy thing in a bow decided it wanted my attention, and snapped at Chipper once before getting between him and me. Chipper looked so stricken! Like he was genuinely worried I was going to leave him there and take this other dog home instead.

Chipper was FAST. The fastest dog I've ever seen. He was not a trustworthy dog, so we couldn't take him off leash very often, but when we could. . .Wow. The best place was the horse trail by our cottage in Michigan. There's usually nobody else out there when we walk it, so we would let Chipper off the leash and watch him go full out along that trail. It didn't look like his feet ever touched the ground--he was like a fuzzy black bullet. But Chipper had no interest in running away from us. If he got out of sight, he'd check back to make sure we were still coming. He mostly just wanted to be home. Sometimes on that trail in Michigan he would decide to race all the way back to the cottage ahead of us.

He also ran what we called "Chipper Circles" in the house when he was excited or empty. (He always had the most energy when just coming in from a walk.) Sometimes we could "wind up the dog" by kind of pushing him back and forth between our hands quickly, and he would race around like crazy after that.

He was patient about the kids doing all manner of odd things with him, including dressing him in little sweaters, a pumpkin costume, or carrying him around in a pouch.


In his declining years it was funny because he would run around fast, and still seem like a puppy, but then suddenly turn into an old dog, where he'd just stop and make hacking sounds. Then he'd go back into puppy mode.

Chipper was the most rag-doll sort of dog I've ever seen.

He had a way of simply lying in whatever position he flopped into (legs dangling in odd directions, spine draped some funny way), and when you scooped him up he was all kind of soft and limp most of the time, more like the bendy way cats tend to be. (My kids are always shocked when they try to scoop up other dogs at how stiff legged and unyielding they often are.) But the wacky part of Chipper lying around in super relaxed positions, is that he could do it while being utterly tense and ready to spring. So he might look liked he melted onto Aden's lap, but his eyes would follow you in a way that let you know he was ready to attack.

This is why it was important to remember all the "Chipper Rules." The dog had a million strange rules that we simply took for granted in our house. We didn't realize how absurd all of it was until there were guests, and then had to articulate the rules aloud, which just made us look insane.

For instance, Chipper felt it was his job to guard Aden. From me, from anyone. So if Chipper was on the couch with Aden, you weren't supposed to look at her or talk to her. You could cross the room just fine, or come in the room, but there were certain places you couldn't pause there, because then the dog would come after you. (Or mostly just growl or bark.) If you wanted to talk to Aden, she either had to cover his eyes, or push him to the floor. You could sit next to Aden on the couch, but only if he didn't see you get there. You could tease the dog by saying forbidden things like, "I might touch Aden," and he would freak out.

He would sometimes bark at Aden if she were coming into my room, but his allegiance would shift over to her halfway down the hall toward her room.

He didn't like to be disrupted if he were in a cozy spot. So we all knew not to approach him when he was curled up in his dog bed, etc. The problem was he really liked to sleep in laundry baskets, so sometimes in the morning I would hear a commotion from the girls' room when he was sleeping on clothes they wanted to get to. 

There was a week at one point when Ian took all the kids to the cottage and I was home alone with the dog. That week the dog loved me and didn't want to leave my side and was actually very sweet company. But it was obvious he missed the kids and desperately wanted to find them. He once led me out the back door, and to the garage, and into the car, where he refused to get out. So I drove him around for a while, and then upon returning he raced into the house as if he expected everyone to be back. He was so droopy and disappointed when that didn't work. And once during that week I REALLY needed him to come out from under my bed so I could walk him, and the only trick I could think of was to pretend I was talking to Aden in her room. Chipper came rushing in, all hopeful, and I scooped him up to take outside. (That trick only worked once.) The dog also spent time that week barking downstairs at two in the morning and running away from me when I would come investigate. That was fun.

Chipper was hilarious to watch when he chased flies.

Chipper never seemed to have any reaction to when we got a bird a couple of years ago, although on a couple of occasions he sort of went after me when I approached the cage, as if he were protecting the bird, which was odd.

Chipper had this horrible habit of attacking people on the couch in the family room where we watch movies. He always wanted up on the couch with everyone during movie night. He would look up at me literally with puppy-dog eyes and wag his fluffy tail hopefully until I would scoop him up. Then at some point we'd have to shove him off for growling or trying to bite someone (usually me). The stupid part was he would sometimes do that instantly! He would appeal to me to come up, I'd scoop him, and as soon as he was on the couch he'd turn on me, then immediately beg to me all sweetly again the second I tossed him to the ground. You think we'd learn, but no. When he was good on the couch he was so sweet and warm that it often seemed worth the gamble.

Just a yawn. He's not actually trying to bite my daughter.

Back when my dad was alive and would stay with us, the dog would get very upset about the cane or the walker. My dad moved in too shuffly a manner for the dog, so Chipper would get upset, and my poor dad only ever wanted to pet the cute dog. Then one day my dad had a bit of a fall in our downstairs bathroom. It was alarming, and we wanted Dad to just stay still until we were sure he hadn't suffered any kind of injury. While on the floor and in need, Chipper suddenly wanted to be nice to my dad. For that little bit of time where my dad was on the floor and possibly hurt, Chipper was the sweetest dog, and my dad was so delighted to finally be able to pet him. (As soon as my dad was upright, Chipper went back to growling at the cane.)

Chipper was like that in general when someone was in need. I can think of a few occasions where I fell on the ice during a walk, and Chipper would come sit with me, and look into my face with what looked like concern. He would watch over any of us if we were sick. (Unless that person coughed, then we were on our own.)

Chipper liked to lie on things we were using. If we were trying to flip a futon, he would come lie on it. He would lie on fabric we were trying to cut on the floor. When we were doing family yoga for a while, he would hang out on the mats.

Chipper attracted burs. I don't know how he did it, but he could literally take a dozen steps out of the cottage and suddenly be covered in burs. He would sometimes get them caught deep in his paws, and he'd stop and roll onto his back, paws in the air to get help.


And for as fussy and fighty as that dog could be, he was weirdly patient about letting us help him with anything painful. He'd let you do whatever was necessary to get rid of burs or ticks (he once had an engorged tick on his eyelid) and not flinch while you did it. He once got his lip caught on a fish hook and was good about sitting still while we got it out.

When it was too cold and the sidewalks were too salty, he would sometimes stop in the middle of a walk, roll over, and put his paws in the air until we picked him up to finish the walk.

Chipper was a terrible shop dog. He barked at violin playing, and he didn't like strangers, so that pretty much ruled out everything that happened in that space. He was cute there, though.

Chipper on my cello cradle

Chipper liked going after the raccoons and opossums and skunks in our back yard. Thankfully he never caught one or got sprayed. But he did sometimes run around my shop at the back of the house because animals would get under it, and he could hear them through the floorboards.

Chipper sometimes forgot how to do stairs. There would be months at a time where he would wait at the top or the bottom to be carried. The strangest, though, was when he could only do the long set of stairs, then get stuck on the landing and not do the last few. He'd bark until we'd rescue him. He was like that on the spiral staircase at the cottage, too, only there he would make it all the way to the very last step at the top, and then decide he couldn't do that one.

Chipper didn't have a lot of tricks, but he would sit before he got a treat, and sometimes he'd do "Up and dance!" There was a small stretch of time where he was afraid of treats. He never liked dog biscuits, only soft meaty treats.

Chipper had a silly under-bite, until he had to have a bunch of teeth pulled a couple of years ago, and he ended up with a funny single snaggle-tooth poking up in the front.


We only saw Chipper swim one time, and it was hilarious. (Apparently he could do it, he just didn't like it.)

Bubble bath dog
He used to do this thing we dubbed "More Paws" where he would put his two front paws together and bend them forward repeatedly like a wave. Chipper would do that when he wanted more petting. If you rubbed his belly, then stopped, he would do More Paws. Sometimes if he were tired, you might only get a little twitch of the More Paws, and that was really cute.

After a trip to the groomer, Chipper would spend a lot of time rubbing himself into the living room carpet and wiggling on his back, we assume to get the smell of vanilla off his fur.

People always tried to do that thing with Chipper where they hold out their hand to let the dog sniff it before attempting petting. We always had to warn people that was a quick way to get bitten with Chipper, but people seldom listened and did it anyway. If we had people over, we usually kept Chipper in a muzzle for everyone's safety.

Chipper begging at the table was always cute. I was the worst offender at always giving in and letting him have a bite. (But look how little and cute!)


After a bath, he used to try to run himself dry. He would take crazy laps around the house. He even tried that once after he went blind, but with unsuccessful results.

Wet pup in the kitchen sink.
Chipper used to allow me a morning snuggle. He would come over to my side of the bed and beg to be let up. (It had to be my side, because Ian would never let him up.) Once I scooped the dog next to me, I'd get about two minutes of snuggle time where the dog would be adorable and cuddly. Then he would walk over me to curl up at Ian's feet where he really wanted to be, and at that point the dog's focus switched to protecting Ian, so I had to be careful. (No goodbye kisses for Ian if I needed to leave and the dog was on the bed.)

Chipper loved the idea of getting in the car, but hated car rides. I think he mostly didn't want us to leave without him anywhere. If we were packing the car for a trip, he would often slip out the door, jump in the car, and hunker down where we couldn't reach him so we would have to bring him along. He had a crate to do long drives in, and he spent most of the time drooling. He was not into sticking his head out the window. He was more about skulking around along the floor, and trying to get in the way of the driver's feet.

Chipper didn't like people on bicycles.

Chipper was oblivious to any games we were trying to play on the floor. He would happily walk all over a Settlers of Catan board to get to someone who might pet him. (Safer to play on a table.) And many times while were gathered in the living room to play cards or a board game, Chipper would take the opportunity to bring someone a toy, and then we'd have to strategically throw the rope in directions that wouldn't cause him to run straight through whatever we were doing.

Toward the end, the dog went blind. He would still follow whatever his code was for defending whoever, but he'd often be facing the wrong way while barking. It was sad watching Chipper bumble about the house, trying to do his normal rounds the way he used to, but he didn't seem fazed. He just knew in the middle of the night he still wanted to switch from sleeping in the dog bed in our room, to sleeping next to Aden's bed.

As he got weaker and sicker, he took to sleeping on Aden's bed. He wanted to be glued to Aden at all times, which made certain activities like drawing and using the computer harder.

Aden trying to use the computer with all the pets.

Chipper never liked me working in my shop at home. He used to come in and try to lure me away from whatever violin I was making. He did that pretty much up to the end, with his little legs (that the vet had shaved for his IV and looked like a bad and incomplete poodle cut) up on my knees, trying to get me to come to upstairs for the night.

I loved our dog's one white toe.

The last few weeks of Chipper's life were so hard. He'd gone blind a couple of months before, but we simply tried to roll with it since he otherwise seemed fine. Then came the difficult visit to the emergency vet around Valentine's Day where he spent two nights. Lots of organs seemed to be failing. There was not much they said could be done. Aden became the dog's nurse, more so than before when she primarily kept him from falling down the stairs.

Aden did everything for Chipper, her little blind dog who wanted to lie on her all the time.

Aden tried to get him to eat, and in the final week gave up. She made sure he got all his pills. His breath smelled like epoxy. He had seizures that were scary. His breathing became labored, and there were small yips of pain now and then, along with shaking. We held onto the idea that he would pass away at home. I worried taking him to the vet one last time would be a stressful way to go. As long as he wasn't suffering, we figured keeping him at home was best. But every day for weeks I was shocked in the morning that he was still alive. I don't think we should have let him linger as long as we did, but it was such a hard call.

In the last hours we were counting the minutes until the vet opened so we could put him to sleep and stop his suffering. In the end, he did become peaceful and still and took his last breath in the music room, stretched out on the rollout bed where Aden had stayed all night with him. Chipper died lying against Ian, at home, I hope knowing all of us were around. (And he was on a towel. Chipper loved a good towel.)

Ian's story of waiting for the Humane Society to open in order to have our dog cremated was heartbreaking. Everyone else in line was there to have their pet euthanized. (In the case of one woman with a cat, she couldn't afford the vet bill that would have made her cat well, so she wound up surrendering the animal for adoption so they would foot the bill.) Ian said he'd never stood in a line of sadder people, and how odd to be standing in it with a dead dog knowing in his case the worst was over.

Now Chipper's ashes sit in a pretty little box in the dining room. We plan to spread them on the horse trail he loved sometime this summer. 

I honestly don't think he would have had the chance at such a nice life if we hadn't brought him home. I don't think many people would have put up with him. We often said that we were the right family for Chipper, even if Chipper wasn't the right dog for our family. But maybe not.

We loved our weird little dog. He wasn't an easy dog. But he was our dog. And we miss him.

 Goodbye Chipper. Thanks for being our dog.