Back in 2005 we were on the hunt for a new family member. We had moved into a house with a fenced backyard and were itching to have a canine companion to take hiking in the hills east of Santa Ana. We visited several local animal shelters and were approved for an adoption by the Southern California Lab Rescue organization.
October 16 found us down in San Diego at a regional adoption event. It was chaotic; the facility was located on a busy street and dogs and people were running everywhere. I sat down next to a young female black lab that was missing an eye; her name was Patches. She was eager for belly rubs and had a sweet disposition. I looked up to tell Chris that this might be our winner only to see him being dragged across the parking lot by a massive monster of a dog. It was easily the biggest lab I'd ever seen and he was doing his best to flee the scene with Chris as an unwilling accomplice.
After a bit of flailing, Chris and the beast came to a halt in my vicinity.
The dog, I learned, was Captain, a young male black labbie that had been found wandering the streets of Lake Elsinore, one of the small desert communities in Southern California. Evidently he hadn't done too well as a street dog as he was, at 70 pounds, an emaciated bone pile with mangy fur. Due to a shortage of adoptive parents, he'd spent the last few weeks in a cramped kennel in a vet's office. He'd also been neutered the day previously and was evidently trying to make a break for freedom when I spied him roaring across the parking lot.
I looked at him doubtfully. He drooled on my shoe. Patches licked my hand politely and requested more belly rubs.
For Chris, there was never any doubt that Captain was destined to be OUR dog. He was enthusiastic, he loved to walk (or run, as he clearly demonstrated), and he was only a year old, a puppy by most standards.
During our discussion Captain did his best to show both his enthusiasm and his running ability. It was a harried conversation.
In the end, I said a mournful goodbye to Patches and we walked over to the event coordinator to discuss finalizing Captain's adoption.
She promptly turned us down.
Captain, she explained, needed a dog parent who was home during the day as too much time alone would be detrimental to the wellbeing of this rambunctious pup. Two working parents were clearly out of the question.
So, we did what any rational person would do: we begged.
Perhaps given the chaotic atmosphere, the crazy number of adoptions she had to finalize, or because she was a kind human with a big heart, she allowed us to take Captain home for a one week trial.
Captain joyfully dragged us to the car. We could tell he'd had enough of those testicle-snipping cage-happy jailers. We'd folded the back seats down and Captain spent the drive home drooling on our shoulders and looking out the front window to the scenery unfolding ahead. His new future. He was ecstatically happy.
We stopped at the pet store where he also joyfully peed on some merchandise as I was picking out a new collar and leash. And then again in the living room when we got home.
And then...never again. Two pee accidents, one chewed shoe, and three ripped bags of packing peanuts later he got the memo about house rules and from then on was a most perfectly polite pooch. He didn't bark and he didn't complain. He also turned, almost overnight, into a calm giant that adored his people, playing at the beach, and generally being a lazy lump of a lovable dog.
He also got a new name: Bailey.
|Adapting to life in a new home.|
Did you ever read the book Marley and Me, by John Grogan? At one point the author explains how his dog Marley would follow his human from room to room, always wanting to be by his friend's side.
That was Bailey.
He loved Chris but he and I were best buddies and a dog's loyalty is unwavering. He was always underfoot in the kitchen (hoping for tidbits), a patient pup waiting outside the bathroom door, and a furry footstool while reading on the couch. It didn't matter if I was moving only temporarily into a new room, he'd heave himself up, nails clicking on the floor, and trundle after me. For ten years he was my constant shadow. My darling pup.
We learned that he was probably closer in age to two or three and that he also suffered from severe hip dysplasia, the worst case our vet had seen in a dog so young.
But lousy hips didn't slow this pup down and we soon fell into a routine. During the week Bailey would walk me to the back gate and then spend his days digging dog-sized holes in the backyard into which he could plop himself when the days got hot. He maintained his life-long disdain for cats and would furiously chase them and the opossums, squirrels, and other critters that ventured into the yard. Never caught a single one though, which made his skeletal state as a street dog so understandable. He'd spend hours playing ball in our small plastic kiddie pool and he would be very attentive when other dogs walked past his fence on the sidewalk outside.
For a while we had a procession of semi-feral chihuahuas that squeezed under our gate and would spend the day hanging out with Bailey. He tolerated their presence but made it clear that he was not interested in adding another dog to the family. He loved his position and wasn't about to give it up to some other random street dog. He'd clearly had some sort of hard beginning; he didn't like anybody to touch his ears and one time Chris rolled up a magazine to swat a fly and then turned around to find Bailey cowering in the corner. After that we doled out chin scratches and bought a fly swatter. Problem solved.
On the weekends he hiked in the hills, chased the waves at the dog beach near Huntington, and accompanied us on every car trip and errand around town. He truly loved California.
|Mojave National Preserve|
|Angeles National Forest (wearing the vest because of hunting season)|
|Sierra National Forest|
|Sharing a stick with his best buddy|
|As an active member of the Waterstone Hiking Club|
|Urban hiking in Los Angeles|
|His most favorite place on earth: The dog park near Huntington Beach.|
He flew up to Alaska with us for Christmas one year and to Seattle a few times, not particularly thrilled with the airplane rides but happy that he got to join us. He put on 40 pounds and his coat turned a glossy black. He was a handsome beast.
|Nancy Lake, Alaska|
|Hiking in the Cascades|
|Hiking near Fish Lake|
When we moved from Southern California to Seattle in December 2008 we arrived in the midst of a wild snow storm. We careened down the hill, past my parents house, the brakes on the car being completely useless, arriving in a snowbank at the bottom. He jumped out of the car, ready for a new chapter. It helped that he adored snow, despite his beginnings as a desert dog.
|The Beast is NOT amused by these shenanigans|
|Moments earlier Bailey had come face-to-face with a massive black bear that had swiftly climbed that tree. Everybody was happy when it climbed back down and disappeared into the woods.|
|Forever a duck dog|
Bailey was a dog that went through life joyfully and without hesitation. He enjoyed lazing by the fire, visiting the vet's office, and watching fireworks. Weird? Totally. He spent the majority of his time flopped at my feet, interrupted by moments of wild activity. He was Eeyeore meets Tigger, all rolled into one giant lovable dog.
|Backpacking in Eastern Washington|
|Even happy during bath time|
And then we moved into our current house in Seattle and he was with us through every home renovation project, the chicken adventures, and lastly, the arrival of two little human babies.
|The chickens are taking over MY porch. DO SOMETHING.|
The babies were hard on Bailey. By the time Ben came around in 2011 Bailey's hips had deteriorated and he was settling gracefully into retirement. He spent hours by my side as I nursed Ben and made it through the first difficult months of parenthood. But children, especially mobile ones, have a way of turning an old dog's world upside down. There were many good moments, but also painful times with kids that weren't gentle on his hips or pulled his ears. Through it all, he never uttered a single complaint or growl. Bailey was a gentle soul and the kids loved him immensely. But life was also probably less enjoyable for him.
|Watching over his newest charge|
|The boys doing some flashcards|
Bailey doll with santa hat, made by our friend Colleen
|This dog ain't no dummy; he knows where the food is at.|
|Emma especially loved Bailey.|
|"Bailey" was one of her first words|
As Bailey got older and the kids got a bit more rambunctious, we started sending our pup off to my parent's house, a mile away. We dubbed it Summer Camp, as he was able to keep my mom company while she worked from home, lazed around the garden, drank from the pond, and accompanied my dad on his nightly strolls around the yard. The pace was relaxed and there were no kids that tried to ride him like a horse. He loved it. Over time, we simply called it his retirement home.
In truth, it was a great gift that my parents gave to both us and him. For Bailey it was because he was in a wonderful, restful home; for me it was knowing that Bailey was happy. Also, on his occasional jaunts to our house, it became clear that his hips could no longer tolerate our stairs and we were reduced to lifting him down the steps so he could venture outside.
The problem with hip dysplasia is that arthritis gets into the joints and is especially painful during the cold, wet months. We knew that this was probably his last summer and that it wouldn't be fair to ask him to continue on through a harsh winter. My mom started feeding him tasty pieces of hamburger and we gave him extra love on our weekly visits. A month ago he set up shop on the front porch and would wag his tail at our arrival but wouldn't get up for a greeting. His time was growing near.
A few weeks ago we all went camping at Salt Creek Campground on the Olympic Peninsula. It was one last great adventure for our sweet pup. He lay next to the campfire, growled at the marauding raccoons, and spent the morning frolicking in the ocean, reminiscent of his time so many years ago at the Huntington Dog Beach. He loved it.
This week we told him that he was loved and he went quickly and peacefully. We miss you, Bubba. We were so lucky to have you in our lives and I'll always be grateful for the time we had together.