RUPERT 7/12/91 - 2/23/07
I first met Rupert when I went to Anna’s house to pick up Katie. I was standing in the hallway chatting with the Hendersons. Katie bounded down the stairs with her buddies and they immediately started to work on me.
“Oh Dad, you want to see the puppies?”
“Sure, what puppies?”
“Simba had puppies and they're SOOOOO cute. Come see.”
Young voices called out. “Puppies…..Puppies.”
As I walked into the house, a small herd of stampeding puppies came charging out, rolling and tumbling all over each other. I was introduced to each.
“…and this one's Stripy and this one's Scratchy and this one's Rupert”
The one identified as Rupert was a ball of golden brown fluff with a pretty red collar that was just the right color for him.
“That’s the one we’re getting”.
“Oh? The one WE’RE getting?”
“Yes, I’ve already picked him out. He’s going to be ours.”
“..and just when does this happen?”
“As soon as he’s ready. He’s too little to leave his momma yet.”
“Who said we’re getting a dog?”
“I did. We have to have a dog.”
Then there followed a chorus of Henderson voices.
“Yes, you need a dog.” “You have to have one.” “Every kid should grow up with a dog.”
I know I saw Rupert in the company of his siblings several times thereafter, coming and going to do Katie pick-ups. There was no denying that he WAS cute. What puppies aren’t cute? Katie, of course, always insisted he was the cutest. We discussed the possibility of owning a dog.
“He won’t be any trouble Dad. Honest.”
“You won’t even have to take care of him. We’ll do everything he needs.”
Finally one evening I came home from work and Iris said “We’re getting a dog. Vernon came over and I had a nice talk with him and he convinced me that we need a dog.”
That was it. Next day, the little ball of fur was rolling around our kitchen floor, gnawing everyone’s knuckles (and everything else) or scampering around the back yard or collapsing, exhausted to sleep wherever he happened to land. Everybody wanted to play with him, so he had more attention than he could handle.
Then everybody went to bed and we put a gate up at the bottom of the stairs. He was too little to climb stairs and we were afraid he’d fall down them. All alone for the first time in his life, he cried pitifully. Iris couldn’t bear it. She went down to him, took him in her lap, and petted him to calm him down. He snuggled up against her warmth and fell asleep in minutes. That was the beginning of a love that lasted more than 15 years and ended only yesterday.
There’s so much more to tell. The “keep the dog downstairs” policy fell apart quickly. He hated to be alone. We hated to leave him alone, and the feared indiscretions that led us to keep him on the hard floors downstairs never materialized. He definitely knew, from his very first day that indoors was for eating and sleeping and anything else should be done outdoors.
That summer the kids built a “fort” in the back yard out of scrap lumber. It was kind of an eyesore, a big pile of 2x4s, planks and plywood that occupied the very center of the lawn. We let it stand because the kids had so much fun with it. Rupert, by then known by the pet name of “Boo”, took possession of an old soccer ball, long since deflated. He invented the game of “Boo Ball”, essentially a form of “keep away”. It involved calling sudden attention to the ball, competing to be the first to grab it, and then keeping everyone else at bay by running round and round the “fort”. It is impossible to teach the art of fetching to a dog whose favorite game is “keep away”. He got pretty good at the fetch part, but never was able to master the part about bringing it back.
We had a swing set and a sand box. The kids would run a hose into the sand box to wet down the sand for sculpting. They built whole cities for the matchbox cars and trucks that were so popular at the time. All the neighborhood kids would sit around the sandbox, noses to the ground and little butts up in the air. Rupert tried to climb in with them. They loved him, but he wasn’t sufficiently careful of their artwork and when he inadvertently destroyed some majestic mountain castle, tunnel or highway they would turn the hose on him. A wet dog can carry a lot more sand into the living room than a wet kid.
The name Rupert wasn’t so much a name as it was a process. Somehow he was quickly tagged “Doozer” after the characters in fraggle rock. That was possibly his most common name, especially when given the force and intensity of sound normally associated with the “Ah-ooooo-ga” of an old air horn. That was by no means the limit of his pet names though. Eventually, “Rupert” evolved to “Boopert” and then, because he looked so much like a bear, to “Boo Bear” or even “Booper” for short. “Booper” led logically to the biological function which was the focus of so many of our outings. Taking him out for a Booper poop, and discussing whether sufficient opportunity had been provided for such an event, led to his designation as the “Booper Pooper” or, in shortened plural form, simply “Boops”. That name, like the product itself, stuck.
Booper became our constant companion. He went everywhere with us. He was like one more member of the family. When we all piled into the car, he’d hop in the back, happy to come along. On long trips, he’d put up with the luggage. Sometimes it was under, over, AND all around him. He rarely complained though, unless it fell over on him. We’d periodically stop and pull him out for a piddle and a sniff. The piddle was always important, but it was the sniff that he lived for.
To Rupert, like most dogs, the world was a three dimensional tapestry of fascinating aromas. His sense of smell, typical of dogs, was incredibly acute. [I’ve read that a dog has 22 square inches of nasal receptor surface to the human’s 2 inches.] He spent most of his time outdoors with his nose pressed against the ground. Every new odor had to be thoroughly investigated. “Over here is where the squirrel sat while opening a nut. Right there the neighbor’s kitty hunted chipmunks in the wall. I think a family of rabbits passed across this trail last night and… Oh my! Here’s a fresh horse poop that needs a drop roll.”
For a creature with such a sensitive nose, he certainly could stink. It’s not that he stank himself, he never had much of a doggy odor. He just wasn’t very discriminating about materials with odors that some might consider offensive. A fresh horse poop, a dead animal or even some strange vomit from the neighbor’s dog, all were meant to be inhaled deeply and possibly rolled in for a lasting effect. He also never did learn that, while you could catch the black kitties with the white stripe along their backs, the consequences of doing so would be severe.
One night we were all sleeping in a tent at Buck Hill Family Campground where we made a weekend recreational pilgrimage every year (twice a year) with family and friends. In the middle of the night a skunk (or “skanker” in the vernacular) came to our tent to investigate Rupert’s food bowl. Rupert took issue with that. Since he was tied to my cot, the ensuing scuffle took place in my immediate vicinity. As a result, we drove home together in the morning for a joint enzyme and tomato juice bath. Both of us gasped at the windows in a desperate bid for a breath of fresh air. We returned to Buck Hill only slightly aromatic, but people walked by the campsite and wrinkled up their noses for the rest of weekend.
As the kids grew up, I learned the value of a child’s promise to “do everything he needs.” That means feeding him, playing with him, and loving him almost too much. All the rest belongs to the parents. Iris took the morning walks and I took the evening walks. During the day, he would doze in the yard, connected by a rope to a metal anchor screwed into the ground. In his youth, he was very desirous of exploration. He would occasionally bolt when the opportunity presented itself (usually just before one of us had to leave for work or a meeting). He’d bound away to sniff the neighborhood scents and maybe find a neighbor’s bitch in heat where he could sow his wild oats. Iris had his wild oats removed to reduce the temptation.
After that he calmed down somewhat, although he still sought occasional intimacy. This was usually with other dogs but also frequently with neighborhood kids. In fact, we had to keep an eye on him because he loved blonds. Some poor little blond child, male or female (it didn’t matter to Rupert), would squat down or sit on the ground and Rupert would surprise him (or her) from behind. For some reason, it was always the blond ones. We’re not sure why, but Iris theorized that it might be because his steady girl, Wicker, was a black lab and he wanted more variety in his life.
He didn’t lack for variety. Because we nearly always took him with us wherever we went he got to explore all over the northeast. He joined us in the country where he hiked in the forests and climbed the mountains we climbed. At first we’d carry him or boost him up by hand over the vertical pitches that were at too tall for his little body. Later, when he grew up, he’d run up them ahead of us. Eventually, when he got old, he needed a boost again because his hips weren’t up to the lifting.
He also spent plenty of time in the city, becoming the “Downtown Doozer” in urban settings like Providence, Boston and even New York City. With his fuzzy head and little round ears, he looked a lot like a teddy bear and this made him irresistible to dog lovers everywhere. Wherever we went people would stop to admire him and ask permission to pet him. A really cute dog is an incredible chick magnet and I have to confess to sometimes enjoying the attention as much as he did.
He was usually well behaved when on the leash although it took him awhile to get the hang of leash walking. He was so strong that he could pull an adult physically, especially Iris. She bought a choke chain but, when he was eager to reach a particularly perfect sniff, he’d pull so hard on it that it would choke him. Then he’d drag her along anyway. He’d end up reaching the goal, but usually was coughing and gasping for air so that he was unable to properly savor whatever scent he was pursuing.. Iris finally bought a collar with long spikes that faced inward. They were long enough to penetrate the shaggy fur around his neck when under tension. That collar looked like a torture tool but it did teach him not to pull against the leash
The shaggy fur (his “Chow mane”) was what made him sometimes look more like a lion or a bear than a chow/husky mix. That’s what we believe he was. The Henderson’s took his mom Simba, a purebred chow, to a kennel for breeding. She would have none of the many purebred studs offered to her and spurned them all. When the Hendersons brought her home, dismayed, they put her in the back yard inside the fence. A half-wild stray that looked sort of like a Husky smelled her heat in the back yard, jumped the fence and did the deed. He had a pink tongue. Simba had a purple tongue. Rupert’s ended up plaid!
A dog raised in the lap of love gives love back unconditionally and that’s what Rupert did. He was never angry or bitter or mean and he never snarled or snapped at anyone except in distress. Once while Iris was teaching a piano lesson the young sibling of a student pulled his hair a little too hard. He lost his temper and snapped at her, scaring her terribly and getting himself banned from the teaching room as a “baby biter”. Nobody witnessed the incident enough to say what happened, but to this day I suspect the wrong party was banished. Actually, the piano room was the one room he was not normally allowed in because so many students have allergies to dogs and because he could be such a distraction during lessons. Somehow he managed to sneak in there during the day when nobody was home and sleep on the couch anyway.
Because he couldn’t catch on to the basic idea of “fetch”, I used to imply that he was a little slow. “Dumb dog” being so conveniently alliterative. But, if I confess it myself, he was smarter than we ever let on. It wasn’t that he couldn’t play fetch, it was just lack of interest. Once while Iris was walking him in the woods he stopped and frantically began to tear apart the base of a tree. After he ripped it open, she could see there was a termite nest inside and he was feasting on the fat termite larvae. How did he know?
One day Katie was petting Rupert and commenting on how soft he was. He had been swimming or out in the rain his coat was fuzzed up “rainwater soft” and “rainwater fresh”. She said, “You know, he’s softest between the ears.” How could I argue with that logic? That heavy coat of long fuzzy fur. We combed it out of him by the grocery bag full. It fell out all over the house. We took it all over the country with us on every garment in our wardrobe. Wherever we went, one of us would pick a “doozer fuzzy” off and “leave it for the birdies to build a nest with.”. In my minds eye, birds all over two continents have nests lined with the softest fuzz you ever felt.
I think he liked the piano and the guitar. He actually seemed to enjoy having music in his life. Once after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (a “sports injury incurred playing “Boo-Ball”) he came home in considerable discomfort. He lay on the floor moaning and crying until Iris came in and played soft piano music for him. Then he quieted down so that he could listen. He quickly fell asleep soothed and calmed by the music. When she stopped playing, he woke up and cried again. She stayed up half the night playing for him to give him comfort.
In the end, when the kids moved away it was Iris who did most of the caring for Rupert. She fed him and walked him and cleaned up after him. She walked him in the morning and, coming home from her morning job would walk him again at noon. They often walked around the pond at Lincoln Woods State Park just for the exercise. They became a familiar sight in the neighborhood walking in all kinds of weather. She bought him a raincoat that covered his ears and made him even cuter. They looked so cute together in raincoats (her with a sou’wester rain cap on) that people would stop their cars and roll down their windows to tell them how adorable they were.
It was Iris who would bathe him (though I did my share of that) and Iris who took him down to the lake for a dip on a hot day. He loved the water, but didn’t like to go in too deep. He preferred to walk than to swim. He’d trot right in until the water reached his chin, then he’d stop and huff and puff as if doing breathing exercises. Finally he’d lap up a drink and then come bounding out of the water. He never would shake himself dry until he was standing among people who could receive all the water he shook off.
Once we were camping in Vermont at a State Park by a large lake. Everyone was sitting around the table and Rupert was sleeping under it in the shade. Suddenly he stood up, stretched, and moseyed down to the waterfront for a dip, all on his own. He went in, cooled off, came back out, climbed the hill to the campsite. There, he drenched everyone at the table with a vigorous shake, plopped back down in the shade and went to sleep again.
Oh, those big, soft, brown eyes, so clear at first and so cloudy near the end. So acute of vision that anything that moved quickly could be a chase-down target. Those powerful legs could push his body streaking along the ground at unbelievable speed, fast enough to chase down a woodchuck or if he was lucky, maybe a rabbit. He even caught a squirrel once, though it hardly counts because the squirrel was half frozen and torpid. Whatever he caught he ate, much to the horror of onlookers. His lack of discrimination in the source of his meat (from “bush meat” to garbage) and his general indifference to it’s condition of freshness got him tagged as a “Slime Dog” more than once.
He also had a habit of punishing us for leaving him home alone by getting into the garbage, or eating the butter off the counter top. The more he felt he should have been taken instead of left behind, the nastier the garbage mess would be. When he was young, we threw a handful of pennies into a soda can and kept it on the garbage can lid. When he got near the garbage can we would shake it. It made a horrible noise that scared him. When we were away, he couldn’t knock over the garbage without rattling the pennies. That slowed him down, but never stopped him. To his last day he lifted the edge of the lid with the tip of his nose and took a quick whiff every time he walked by. If he never learned not to ravage the garbage, we also learned to close the bathroom doors when leaving the house.
That big black nose with what, at certain angles, looked a little French moustache at the upper lip. The powerful jaws that would crush bone easily. Somehow I coined them “the mandibles of death”. I have a variety of small scars and marks left by those teeth, though I was never bitten without provoking it. When he started shedding (which was pretty much all the time) I would pull the loose fuzz out of his fur. He hated that. At first, he would tolerate it. Then it would begin to annoy him and he would growl softly. If I kept plucking him, he would growl more loudly. Then I’d show him a big handful of fuzz and let him sniff it. He usually did, but almost always found it uninteresting since he could feel me plucking more from him somewhere. He would growl loudly, giving me one more warning. Finally, if I persisted, he would bark and nip at my hand. Sometimes I just couldn’t pull the fuzzy out fast enough to avoid getting bitten.
As he grew old, he required considerably more care and it was mostly Iris who provided it. She got him special food, made all his veterinary appointments, and fed him vitamins and supplements every day. (She does that for me too, except the veterinarian part.). When he got too lame to climb the stairs, she moved downstairs, sleeping on the couch so she could let him in and out more easily. I eventually joined her and we lived out his autumnal years on the first floor. He began to whither away as he grew old, shrinking in the hips from atrophy and arthritis. The vet said, based on his loss of muscle mass, she didn’t know how he could stand, let alone walk. Most of our friends figured he was literally “on his last legs”.
He defied them all though, not only living on, but walking on, keeping up our daily routine of walks in the woods. To be sure he moved more slowly, and more carefully, but he still took great delight in getting out where the good “sniffies” were. He had quite a bit of pain, but Iris bumped up his meds to keep him from being too uncomfortable. He slept most of the time, lying by the dog gate outside the piano room where he could still feel, if no longer hear, the piano. Iris’ favorite piano teaching methods includes a song called “sneaking past the sleeping dog” which is used to teach chromatics. It, and the illustration on the page of sheet music, also provided a more literal lesson for any student who had to step over the dog to use the bathroom.
He grew increasingly deaf, and his eyes got foggy with cataracts. He couldn’t hear his name called, but he could hear a cheese wrapper at the refrigerator door from two rooms away. Perhaps it was more smell than hearing since his nose still seemed to work perfectly. The last time Ian came home, Rupert stood at the door begging to come in, unaware that we had arrived in the driveway. Ian walked up behind him and had to actually touch him before he realized anyone was there. When he saw that it was Ian, he put his ears back, whimpered, and greeted his ol’ buddy like a long lost best friend. He always greeted everyone that way, as if they’d been gone for weeks and were finally returning home.
Yesterday, when Iris came home he wasn’t waiting at the door. She heard him crying out and went inside to find that he had fallen and couldn't get up. He’d poked into a narrow space where he couldn’t turn around and fell trying to back out. His back legs had collapsed and he was old and weak to get up. In his struggles he apparently had dislocated his front shoulder. He was in pain and in shock so we took him to the vet where Katie joined us. After some deliberation we all decided that what he needed most from us was for us to be strong enough to let him go. We all stood around and petted him and told him what a wonderful dog he was. He pulled himself up through the discomfort to give us little doggie kisses on the hand as if to say goodbye. It hurt like hell letting go. I took a picture, but haven’t kept it. That's not how I want to remember Rupert. I want to remember him in the woods, nose to the ground. That was his great joy in life and that’s the way I’ll always remember him.