January 24, 2017
You’re quite simply the sweetest, most loyal, hard-working, hairy bitch a man could love. I was 24 years old, almost two years out of college, and a lonely bachelor when Mr. Brock told me at church during a visit home to see my parents in Marietta, TX that his two border collies were about to have a litter of puppies. He said I could have one of them. My choice. I was so lonely that I couldn’t wait. Before you saw the light at the end of the tunnel I ended up adopting a black shepherd mix named Shadow, who charmed me from a cage in front of a PetSmart in Tyler. That made me think twice about taking you. I didn’t really need two dogs. But I also just bought a small house with a big yard out in the sticks of Slocum, so I had the space, and you were free, and it wasn’t like I had any high-maintenance two-leggers to care for.
You were born on Pearl Harbor Day— December 7th, 2005. I remember going to pick you out of the litter before I could even take you home. Your parents were 100% working cow dog border collie, not very socialized or keen on visitors who wanted to lay hands on their children. I hoped you wouldn’t grow up to be as grumpy as they were. You were the smallest puppy in the litter, one of only two females, and my choice. Those pretty brown oxytocin-generators that lock onto my pupils weren’t even open yet. You were the weakest, too, that day. Mr. Brock told me that he accidentally gave you a double dose when vaccinating you and your squirming bunch of siblings, but that you would probably be fine. I prayed for your recovery all the way home.
You did get strong again, and I finally brought you home with me. Those first few weeks weren’t all sunshine and roses, though. You didn’t like being stuck in that little vinyl kennel while I slept in my bed. You made high pitched sounds much bigger than you were and almost as sharp as your vampire-like puppy teeth. I would pick you up and snuggle with you for a little while, but had to put you back in your tent before sleeping for fear of awaking atop a fur and tooth enamel pancake.
On the first evening you were finally ready for solid food, I was going to do it right. Only the finest kibble would do— mixed with water to soften it up for your tiny fangs. Turns out I overdid it right, with too much kibble and too much water. That was a big meal, but you gobbled it all up in a wagging flash. Your little belly was stretched tight and pooched out like a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. You might have carried it with pride, a full and happy girl, but I had a bad feeling about what was to come.
And it came, later that night— out of your backside and into your little vinyl kennel. You woke me up with a howl, because princesses don’t like sleeping with poo. I could hear a flop . . . flop . . . whine . . . flop . . . flop. It was the sound of your little vinyl kennel in motion— it rolled across the bedroom floor like a square bicycle wheel as you tried to escape the product of your own making. The dark matter coated the walls and yourself in the process. I’m not sure if it was the sound or the scent that really woke me up.
I rolled out of bed in a daze and began the scrub-down. First you, then your little vinyl kennel. It was a nasty job, and I only had two hands. You were able to roam free about the cabin as I worked to decontaminate your chamber of horrors. I don’t know why your kind developed a natural instinct to crap on soft things. Maybe there’s some sort of symbiotic relationship between your species and hungry patches of grass that need fertilizer. Most of the floor in my little house in the sticks is hardwood, so I made soft patches for my bare feet with several strategically placed area rugs and doormats. They didn’t need or want fertilizer. I guess you didn’t know any better.
As I scrubbed your kennel in the wee hours of the morning, you waddled your only partly-deflated belly over to the doormat between the mudroom and the kitchen and proceeded to relieve some more pressure. I yelped and whined. You were too small and loved to spank, but you were being mighty inconvenient, to say the least . . . costing me a lot of carpet cleaner, sleep, and store-brand paper towels. I gave you a few ferocious but pointless NOs and then set my mind to undoing what you doo’ed.
You island-hopped over to the shaggy area rug in the living room, where I guess you thought even more evil might seep out of my sight, and nervously looked back over your shoulder at the horror written all over the face of your frantic human custodian while pretending to be a malfunctioning soft-serve machine low on Freon. It was a long, rough, stinking night. Needless to say, we cut back the portion size at dinnertime.
We didn’t live in the little house in the sticks for very long before I realized that you might be the only female within a hundred-mile radius that I’d want to live with until one of us died. I needed to find a reasonably attractive, single, bipedal female, with most of her teeth, who liked me. Very few seemed to reside in those parts who weren’t hitched, then dragged there to procreate. So I called opportunity’s bluff when I learned that my employer was looking for another draftsman in the Dallas sales office, and decided to move to the Big D. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be anywhere I could afford to live that would let you live there too.
A good friend from college agreed to adopt Shadow, so I was happy to let your brother go. A neighbor down the street had a sister in Houston who, he said, would be glad to take you in and eventually re-home you. So I gave you up, too, next time she came to see her brother. I Instantly regretted it, but didn’t want to be single forever. It wasn’t until I moved into the lonely little 400 square-foot efficiency in Dallas a week later that I realized they would actually let me have a pet, under a certain weight, if I paid a little extra rent. I figured I could bluff about your weight when you grew to over 25lbs without burning forever, thanks to Jesus. So I made the drive from Dallas all the way to Houston and home again in one day to get my Daisy back before they gave you to someone else. I’m glad I did.
It was around a year after we moved to the big city that we were out for a walk one warm December night and you couldn’t resist rubbing noses with a big brindle behemoth of a pit bull named Gonzo. He was a sweet-natured jolly chunk of muscle, bone, and destruction. The human at the other end of his leash was very outgoing. She gave you lots of bubbly attention, and asked me if I played any sports. When I told her “not really” and asked why she would wonder a thing like that, she said it was because I had “athletic calves.” Whoever said that flattery will get you nowhere must think my name is Nowhere. Flattery got this stranger a date when, after a few minutes of small-talk, she asked if I would attend a wedding rehearsal with her the following evening.
I figured she had to be relatively safe, since while I was listening for more compliments, the small-talk had revealed that we attended the same big-city church. I thought she might be lying to me at first, because I’d never seen her mingling with the “singles group.” And among humans who go to church, only another “single” would dare compliment a strange man’s calves under a buzzing security light at night in December in Dallas. It was a big-city church, though. The kind with escalators and fancy coffee. They are sort of like country clubs for humans who usually feel comfortable using the word “crap” freely, “shit” a few times a year (as long they repent,) but might have “backslidden” if they drop the F-bomb.
I’d figured she was “lost in the pews” and just wasn’t “plugged-in” yet. So I’d encouraged Gonzo’s human to join the sanctified Gen-Y free bird sinner’s collective at some upcoming evangelically sanctioned events so she could “get more involved.” I had no ambition to arrive at any of those events with her in the same vehicle, or to take a date to a singles event. But, to this day, she insists that enlightening her to church group activities was the equivalent of me asking her out first, and that’s why she allegedly countered with the wedding rehearsal invitation the following evening. Back then no one had to ask me twice if I wanted a free meal.
By the end of the following evening’s first date at a catered wedding rehearsal dinner of a couple I didn’t know from Adam and Eve, we didn’t like each other much. She had pretty hazel eyes that turned green sometimes if she wore the right clothes, and a heart-melty smile when she was happy. But she also had enough energy to power Houston in July and no filter on its primary vent, which that smile happened to be neatly wrapped around. Her soon-to-be-married friend wasn’t sure why she brought a goat roper off the street to the rehearsal dinner. Gonzo’s human didn’t even like my cowboy boots, maybe because they hid my athletic calves, which were apparently all I had going for me . . . or the fact that I was desperately promoting my blog by tacking business cards up on the bulletin board in the church hosting the wedding rehearsal. But she sure liked you, Daisy!
After we parted ways that night, I never expected to see her again. But Gonzo’s human kept calling me and suggesting we meet up with her (and him) out on the soccer field for play-dates. With nothing better to do, I obliged. We even kept meeting up with them after Gonzo and his human used the leash between them to burn a couple inches of skin off my athletic calves. Within weeks we humans were running and eating together even when you canines weren’t around. Within a month or two I even began to think I’d rather be with her than without her. Now we’ve been married for over 9 years, and it’s your fault. Thank you.
Your ancestors were bred on the border between Scotland and England, all starting with a fine sheepdog who was able to move livestock with a quiet intensity, rather than barking and snapping at their heels. His name was Old Hemp, born in September of 1893. His lineage is known for their speed, intelligence, work ethic, and focus. You were such a hard worker when it came to retrieving balls and Frisbees that I had to know when to quit, because you would be glad to die working.
In your mind, pain relief is never worth the presence of motion without accountability. Your weakness, in addition to the neuroticism that accompanies having more intelligence than some humans while stuck in a dog’s body, might be your heat tolerance. It’s cold and wet along the border that your ancestors came from, but not in Texas or Arkansas in the summertime. I got you to the Pacific Northwest as fast as I could.
I’ll never forget that hot day in the south when we were playing fetch and your legs said, “no mas.” You fell forward onto the ground, convulsing. I swept you up in my arms and ran back to our apartment, thinking you might be having a stroke and praying you would be okay. You ended up fine; I think it might have just been cramps resulting from overexertion, but that was almost as scary as parts of our 3-day 28-mile trek of the Eagle Rock Loop through the Ouachita National Forest.
You were in your element out there on the shady forest trails, trotting proudly ahead of your humans as a scout and squirrel-ouster and then back to us to find out why we were dragging ass. As a result, I think you hiked at least twice as far as we did. I guess that’s reasonable with twice as many legs.
Compared to the Cascades, the Rockies, or even the Adirondacks, the Ozarks aren’t that challenging. But Eagle Rock Loop is considered the toughest hike in Arkansas due to many water crossings and one 8-mile stretch that involves humping over 6 different ridgelines. A couple of dudes out for a day-hike had told us that morning that we were “hard core” when they found out that our family of three planned to complete the whole loop. I think it put a hop in my step as we left them in the trail dust. I’m such a sucker for flattery.
When we began the toughest stretch of the trek, it was during the hottest part of the day. But we could take it. We were “hard core,” after all. The rocky ridgelines rose into the air to bake in the sun, and the sun bounced off of them in all directions thanks to the pale, exposed rock that trees had given up on shading. It was toasty up there for April, especially for you, in your dark fur coat. We were probably two-thirds of our way up a ridge when it happened. Your humans were all hot and grumpy. Most of the water we drank was pushed right through our crusts within minutes. Yours had dripped off the end of your tongue.
That tongue was about 4 times longer than usual and no longer dripping, which had me very concerned, given how little water we had left. We stopped just a second to take a breather and, in a puff of dry dust, you plopped down on your belly in the middle of the baking trail. For a few seconds I thought I might have to carry you for 14 miles to get you out of the woods alive. Thankfully you struggled back to your feet and we were able to push through, over the ridge and down the other side. You waded straight into the first creek we came to at the bottom of the gulch, and splashed down on your stomach to cool off and rehydrate. I’m glad I didn’t have to carry you 14 miles. The twenty-yard stretch would turn out to be harrowing enough.
That night, with the steepest terrain behind us, we strung up a small tarp between trees to keep us all dry and went to sleep. We woke up warm and cozy on Easter morning, but it was raining thundercats and water dogs all around. All three of us struggled a bit to stand up thanks to the 25 miles covered, but loosened up a little as we got moving. The torrent refused to give us a break, so we just packed up and splashed down the ankle deep creek that had been a trail the day before to cover the last three soggy miles between us and the trailhead at Albert Pike Recreational Area. We could almost taste hot greasy restaurant food when we reached our last obstacle— the only crossing of the Little Missouri River that lay between us and where we parked the car. That dry chamber on wheels beckoned.
On the first day of our hike, the same spillway had been our first crossing of the Little Missouri, and was as simple as taking our shoes and socks off to wade across a lazy river. You didn’t even have to worry about the first part. A few inches of water were skimming peacefully over a long and wide, slightly pitched concrete plane that formed a spillway/ford of-sorts. But now, thanks to the ongoing downpour, a powerful slab of water, almost knee-deep, was flying down the same ramp. The sliding pool picked up speed where there was little friction, then shot off the cement slide to explode into roiling whitewater as it crashed into boulders and splashed over rocks as far as our eyes could see downstream. The roar from downstream was deafening.
We bipedal humans had a chance of making the crossing, though every step would have to be calculated and firmly planted. If the current managed to push our sore feet out from under us, we would instantly be swept downstream by the surge and become pinballs amongst the stones and foam. I felt especially at risk with such wide, “athletic calves” that might catch the water like sails in the wind. I also knew that you didn’t stand a chance of making it across on your own. The water was deeper than your undercarriage, and you would fly away if you stepped into that current. We let your auxiliary human go first, since her sexy legs were surely the most aquadynamic. If she washed away, we could call for help— or go rescue her downstream. We’d also know better than to try it ourselves. On top of all that, ladies first.
She carefully made the crossing, and it was our turn. I picked you up. Soaking wet, you were like a 60lb sponge saturated with water and anxiety. I was the same times three. I had no free hands to aid in the balancing act, so if one of us got washed away, both of us would. You were panting with your eyes open wide and looking back at me with complete trust. Thankfully, you didn’t struggle. One step at a time, soaked to the bone, we managed to cross the river without drowning or getting tenderized by dolomite and quartz.
It’s funny how anxiety and fear tend to pickle and preserve certain memories. The vexing two minutes, that were probably really just one minute, that I fought the current and prayed for footing with you in my arms that day is in a big glass jar on the top shelf of my mind, secured by a heartstring. Almost exactly one year later, in 2010, when the news broke that a flash flood had torn through the Albert Pike Recreational Area and killed 20 campers along the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers, that day was forever seared into my conscience. That could have included us. To date, camping is no longer allowed at Albert Pike.
Your 12th birthday was last month, and I can tell you’re starting to slow down. Your mind is still sharp as a thorny whistle, and you still want to take long walks and work hard for as long as I’ll throw things, but I can tell that it takes more effort for you to stand up than it used to, especially if we played fetch the day before. Your haunches have always quivered with intensity when you are focused on a ball or Frisbee that could take flight at any second, but now I think they shake a little from arthritis in your hips. When I hear you whimper at night or get up and move around the house restlessly to try and find a more comfortable place to sleep, I hurt too. That’s why I got you that giant fluff-stuffed bed from Costco. Will you please stop laying on the hardwood to spoon it, and spend more time on top of the bed? It would make me feel better, even if you don’t.
I have a lot to thank you for over the last 12 years. You held me accountable when we were both younger. If we didn’t go for a run or get outside for some work at least every other day, you would destroy something to remind me that you were still around and we needed exercise. You kept me anchored when I was single, when I might have done something stupid— like become a missionary to rodeo clowns, a calf model, or hitchhiked across the country. You were a loyal companion, who depended on me, and that responsibility made me a better human.
I remember the time that I bought a copy of the Koran at Half-Price-Books out of sheer curiosity. I wasn’t going to become a suicide bomber, I promise. Evangelically speaking, I was more of a “hard core” conservative (with athletic calves) back then, so it felt more like peeking into the devil’s war chest. That was the first and only book you ever completely destroyed, and I’m sure it wasn’t because it smelled like pork. All dogs go to heaven, so I guess I should have realized you wouldn’t tolerate any spiritual B.S.— which makes me glad I kept the New King James Version and Purpose Driven Life on a higher shelf, out of your reach.
Daisy, you are a perfect example of why dogs are considered “man’s best friend.” Your loyalty and companionship are unmatched. I’ve always been a dog-person, but you’re more than a dog. You are family. You found me a wife, and you’ve been a great example for her ever since. You quietly gaze into my eyes with that attentive look of anticipation on your face, and then happily do exactly what I ask of you. You wag your tail a lot. You are gracious, forgiving, and protective. Maybe you’ll even come to my rescue when she reads this. Please stay with me, strong and healthy, for at least 5 more years. You’re also irreplaceable.
Lots of love, snuggles, and muzzle hugs,
Eagle Rock Loop
The Albert Pike Flood
4 years later (2014)
The flood in-depth
I'll spare you the calves.