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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

RIP Eileen 

Our dog Eileen died today. She'd been having nasty seizures at night, and we took her to the UW Veterinary Teaching Hospital. They kept her overnight to do some tests, and anesthetized her. There were complications, and she went into a coma. The tests showed cancer in her system, and tumors in her brain. There was nothing to be done, so we put her to sleep.

Below is a full recounting of my life with Eileen, the best dog ever in the world ever. You can also watch a slideshow of Eileen pictures. Enjoy. (Downloadable versions are here.)

When I was a student at New College in Sarasota, Florida, my friends Christie and Garrett lived upstairs in an apartment complex. Their next-door neighbors had a dog, who they let out for hours at a time. Often when we went to visit Christie and Garrett, the dog would be at the top of the stairs, barking aggressively at anyone who approached. My first interactions with Eileen were anxious, since she was clearly upset with us.

Just before I moved north to Gainesville, the neighbors came into Christie and Garrett's apartment and asked if anyone wanted to adopt their dog. (They'd just had a new baby and decided they couldn't afford both.) I said sure, and took her with me. I've always regretted not asking for more info about how she lost her back right leg, since the most I ever got was a half-baked story from one of the kids about "something with a turtle". (Not long ago a friend of ours who is a vet looked at her amputation and said it didn't look professionally-done; the UW vet agreed that it looked unusual.)

Before we left for the three-hour trip north, I bought Eileen a squeaky toy. (See left. Photo by Max Crowell.) She played with it maybe three times on the trip, and ignored it the rest of the time. For years afterward, we tried to get her excited about "Squeaky" (we spared no creative expense when trying to name it), but at most she would fetch it once every two years.

Anyway, our first bonding experience took place on that first moving trip. An hour outside of Gainesville, the moving truck caught a flat. I took her to the "Emergency Call Station" on the side of the road, which was just a button which beeped back at me after I'd called it. After waiting for 20 minutes, I decided we should walk to the next exit. So we did. This was obviously tough for her in the broiling summer Florida heat, and when we got to the Kwik-E-Mart, she attacked the bottle of water with gusto.

In Gainesville, we lived in a nice spot in an apartment complex called Southern Pines. Eileen didn't take to the idea of indoor carpeting. When I was away at grad school, she made her mark on the floor in a variety of places, so that we soon had an odorous pastiche of spots and stains. She also chewed up the big cardboard Page-A-Day Calendar display unit I had scored from my job at the bookstore, which I had been using to store CDs. She was skittish around my neighbors, too, especially a group of kids who insisted one day on coming inside to pet her. She snapped at one of them, and he was traumatized. It was the only time I ever saw her really hurt someone, but I was forever paranoid that she would do it again.

The trip to Madison in 2001 must have been smooth, because I have absolutely no memories of it, with or without Eileen. We moved into the basement of Christie and Garrett's home, and she spent two enjoyable years in our subterranean home. I've always been lazy about walking her, so I often just let her out in the backyard to do her business. One particularly bad season of this slacker-style pet care regimen resulted in the Crap Bucket, which I failed to realize was just piling up for months. It was a very disgusting thing to deal with, once I finally did.

In 2003 I moved into a new apartment, next door to an odd woman called me "Nick" and insisted that Eileen was a male. This neighbor always asked me: "What's your dog gonna do today?" I never had an answer, but whatever I said was always met with: "Oh yeah? Is that his favorite thing to do?" It was in this new place that Eileen refused to stay out of the bedroom, and sometimes made a mess of the bedclothes. (I can't remember if she ever wet them, but I guess I got sick of the dog hair everywhere.)

The latch on the door was broken, so I asked the landlord to send someone to fix it. It was repaired, and I went off to school the next day, happy in the knowledge that my bedroom would be pristine when I returned. What I found, however, was that Eileen had clawed and/or chewed her way through the door, resulting in the jagged mess you see here. I was frustrated, but I quickly came to find it amusing in the extreme that my dog had both the strength and the will to shred the bedroom door. (If you've read Stanislaw Lem's book Solaris, you'll share my amusing connection to the character Rheya.)

Around this time, Diane and I began dating in earnest. Eileen took an immediate shine to the woman who became my wife, mostly because Diane gave her more of the attention she always sought. I've always been buddies with my dogs, giving them an occasional scratch and treat. Diane took her behind-the-ears scratching duties seriously, and Eileen loved her for it. In later years, when D went away for conferences and whatnot, Eileen always got a little depressed. I was fine as a temporary stand-in, but Diane always gave her the affection and attention that she really deserved.

In 2005 we all moved into a new place near Orton Park. (Our friends helped us move, thus the pic here with Jon and Colleen's daughter Raya.) Eileen loved being so close to a park, and frolicked happily through the leaves in autumn and the snow in winter. The park rules said No Dogs, but everyone brought their dogs. I was always paranoid that I might leave behind a souvenir, and was fastidious about cleaning up after her.

I should give a special note of thanks to our friends who watched Eileen when we went away to Timor, Florida, and other places. Tom and Inga Foley were especially helpful, often caring for her for weeks at a time. She was always wildly excited when we returned home, but we know she always got lots of good care in the meantime.

Several images of Eileen stand out in my mind. When she was happy (especially at Walk Time and Meal Time and Treat Time), she would do a silly-looking prance, her front paws flailing absurdly in front as she displayed her enthusiasm for the moment. While waiting for Walk Time, she often sat on the couch with her big shnozz on the back of the sofa, gazing at the street. We would watch her for several minutes, until she looked toward us with a pleading look: "Is it time?" Sometimes when she was asleep, she would make a ridiculous bleating sound, the air escaping from her lungs in a distorted musical rhythm. Other times she would sleep with her amputated hip twitching; I always imagined she was dreaming of having all four legs, maybe running on the beach at full speed.

Diane liked to take the many tais weavings we'd bought in East Timor and wrap them around Eileen like a babushka. So don't blame me for how silly she looks.

Then again, I'm the one responsible for this pic with the glasses, so I shouldn't cast aspersions too wildly. I can't seem to find the picture of her wearing my Indiana Jones hat, which is a pity. She looks great.

We bought a house during the summer of 2007, and Eileen was instantly at home. During our first winter in the new place, she began having some trouble moving around. At one point we used a tied-up afghan to support her hind legs during walks, because she was obviously in some pain. We got her on some arthritis pills, and she improved. Of course she associated the pill with the cheese that came with it, so she was always very eager to take her medication.

One thing that Eileen has always done is shed. She radiated hair like nobody's business: on the couch, on the floor. Anyone who came within a foot of her was instantly coated in a fine blanket of her distinctive hairs. If you happened to be sitting beside her, she had a habit of flopping against you, guaranteeing that you'd be picking fur out of that garment for weeks. After sweeping and mopping the hardwood floors of our home — often minutes or seconds later — new tufts and balls of hair would drift by, mocking my efforts to keep the place clean.

Everyone always commented on how much of a sweetheart Eileen was, but they didn't know the half of it. In the quiet moments while we watched movies, or slept nearby, she was a cozy reminder of everything you wanted a dog to be: happy, affectionate, and friendly. She made us laugh by being ridiculous, and woke us up when there was something unusual outside (like a neighbor getting out of a car, or a pizza delivery man). She was silly and fun to be around, spreading oodles of love to the people she met.

The perfect dog. Goodbye, Eileen. We love you.


Eileen was the star of the first video I ever made with my digital camera, Backyard Remix.