Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Farewell: Man's Best Friend

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This image is not a picture of Todd Haley's home. Given that the rough focus of this blog is the rivalry of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos, the words you're reading should be about one of two things: a) How Haley is a great hire and will lead the Chiefs to the promised land, or b) how he is not. The reason that is not the topic of this post is because instead of starting off the morning with some coffee and the sports page, I awoke to discover that one of my greatest friends ever had passed away.

As a boy, I'd hit my mom up every so often about getting a dog, and she would always tell me that pets are too costly and too much responsibility. By the time I was a teenager, I knew she meant business and began to tell her that I would get one as soon as I was living on my own. I gave a localish university a shot for a year out of high school and then a friend and I decided to take a summer job in Colorado. I fell in love with the mountains and that fall, moved into the above-pictured home where six roommates and their three dogs and four cats were already living. Shortly before I settled in there, I went to visit the home, and was introduced to the litter of 10 puppies that were born in the second week of October. They were in a homemade corral in one of the basement rooms, and they were the tiniest little balls of all-black fur with closed eyes, mouths open and upward, trying to suckle the chilly air. Two of them had died at birth, and once I'd moved in, four of the remaining eight were adopted in a week's time. Recognizing this as my chance, I spent a few moments one afternoon with the four that remained. They were all darling, but one of them, adorable and clumsy, seemed to speak to me. I called him McConnell.

He turned 14 this past October, and in the last few years, I've been worried about whether or not I've been the best I could be. Certainly we're not perfect as humans, but it eases my conscience a bit that as condolences come in from folks, the commonality is that they all feel he lived a great life. He spent the earliest years of his life living with his mom and those siblings of his; the other three were kept by roommates. They had the wildest time in that that home was in the middle of Roosevelt National Forest, a literal stone's throw from the Big Thompson River. Many were the days that the lot of us dogs and folks went for hikes and bike rides, and until they discovered the road, the pups were let outside of the house as a pack, free to roam the woods and bring back elk legs with which they would scatter the yard.

They loved the woods,

especially in winter when they could play in the snow.

McConnell's first summer was not a fun one. I purchased a Toyota truck with a camper shell, and though he loved that truck almost as much as I did, I don't think he particularly enjoyed living in it, which we did for several months when I got a second and a third job and moved out of the cabin to save money. Before we left, he had hit the chew phase big time, destroying many a shoe, a candle, the contents of the trash can, whatever he could get his paws on, and living in the truck most certainly didn't expedite that process along. Some of his early-in-life highlights included the butt of Balthazar from my mom's nativity scene and bulbs from her Christmas tree, whereas later in life he would devour most of one of my dress shirts and swallow one of my wife's tank tops whole. This last item he kept down for nearly two weeks before returning it.

Before long we were Durango-bound, though, and he spent the days of my first semester at my new school tied up to a tree in the front yard, which he absolutely hated. His days at that near-Lake Vallecito residence learned him the practice of picking up his food bowl and tossing it in the air while barking when he'd see my truck coming home, his way of sharing just how miserable his day had been. On occasion, I'd let him out at night, and I quickly learned my lesson there; one evening he returned home on the losing end of a tiff with a porcupine, the left side of his face covered with 40-some quills. Some of them were inside his lip, and he even had one in his tongue. We moved again, though, and our next stay was a short one at a condo, one that didn't allow dogs. From there we moved west of town and experienced the snowiest winter of our lives.

He had a ball for most of it, but not so much when it was three feet deep in parts of the neighborhood. He had to follow me in my tracks just to get around, and on occasion, he'd jump into a drift, leaving nothing visible but the tips of his ears.

Our next home was actually in town, where he met his mentor Kaya.

She was a gentle, yet stern dog that showed McConnell the ropes in his still-young life.

He learned the pecking order under Kaya and further developed his love for the Colorado outdoors. McConnell loved the trails. Ever since he was a pup, he insisted on being at the front of the pack. He would, for the duration of any hike, sprint ahead about 50 yards, then rush back, making sure the pack was still following, a process that would thoroughly wear him out, which made him a huge fan of any breaks we took.

Like many dogs I imagine, he had an affinity for sticks. He would chase a stick any day, all day, and frequently eat them, too. He also loved to swim. Having never owned a dog before, I didn't know that a dog could be such a freak for the water. The only thing he liked more than a rushing river,

was a body of water in which I'd just launched a stick.

He was never the best at returning sticks on land,

preferring to deliver the lumber a few feet shy of anywhere I stood.

He would even try to skirt me upon reaching the shore when we'd play in the water, but his lone desire was always to have me throw it just one more time.

McConnell stayed fit and in great shape for his entire life; his love for the outdoors was always equal parts excitement and energy drain for him,

which made him a fan of any bed he could ever get on, no matter whose house.

The same went for couches, too.

Another of his greatest loves was soccer. Not so much the actual game, but just playing keep-away. He had a number of soccer balls throughout the years, each deflated just enough that he could grip them in his teeth. Whether in an open field, or a small backyard, he was a fanatic.

And he certainly had his quirks, too. For much of our time in Durango, he would try to "go on a rampage" as we used to put it. Basically, that meant letting himself out and having the run of the town, wherever he wanted, for as long as he wanted. He would always come home, but where he went in the interim was always a mystery, except on occasions that he ran to our old house, or narrowly escaped Animal Control, and every now and again,

I'd get a call from work, saying that he'd waited outside the front door until a guest was coming or going, and then he'd let himself in.

He absolutely hated storms and fireworks. When he was around people, he wanted to actually lay on top of you during a storm, and when people weren't around,

his safe haven was always the tub. He also loved females. He loved most every girl I dated, none more so than my wife, however. Actually, he loved attention in any form,

and never found any spot too small to squeeze into. He loved most everyone he met, and together, we saw a great bit of this country. From killing chickens in Portland to planting trees on Anderson Island in the Puget Sound, to concerts all around the midwest, to hitchhiking halfway across the country,

to playing on rooftops with his buddy Bogey,

to climbing peaks in the Rockies, he loved his time here on Earth. I'd certainly be amiss if I left out his accidents. There was the porcupine. There was a truck that hit him doing about 40 m.p.h. that left him with a metal plate in his leg. There were run-ins with skunks. There was the infamous carpet incident, which he ate his share of and again wound up in the emergency room. But each instance left him stronger, and he braved each of those storms,

even when we brought him home a companion.

I can't imagine how different my life would've been without him. I can only state for certain that it wouldn't have been half as awesome as it was with him in it. For 14 years, three months, three weeks, and three days, McConnell was my best pal, one that loved everyone close to me, and even some who weren't.

Though he hasn't even been gone a day, I miss him tremendously already.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful way to honor an absolutely wonderful companion and family member. I laughed at the stories I remembered you telling me about McConnell. Especially eating the rug! Love you, and am so sorry. Will send you the story of the Rainbow Bridge. I have had 5 of my beloved dogs who died and have never forgotten how uniquie each one was. Aunt Marcia

AT said...

i was so sad for you when i heard. he was a precious dog. i like these the stories... won't ever forget our walks and his love for the water. lol. i know he'll be missed.


Hot Tea said...

You've lost a true friend, and I was so sorry to hear that. What a wonderful tribute. I really enjoyed it and loved the photos.

Take care, Lisa at JL

Hercules Rockefeller said...

Tough break, man.

My condolonces.

Unknown said...

I'm thinking of you, friend. I know this is a very difficult time for you.

You two shared some real adventures. Focus on those


Anonymous said...

tough loss to take. It's always life changing to lose a loved one. Especially those who are lost that only gave unconditional and expected nothing in return. Peace.

Cecil said...

He was a good boy. And he lived a great life with people that loved him.