Category Archives: Animals

Speak: 2003-2016

Yesterday we said goodbye to our dog, Speak.

I’m not really a dog person. My wife is, which is why we had three dogs at one point. Working at home, I’m the one who usually feeds and cleans up after the dogs. Yet my wife is the one they adore. I tend to resent them.

I sat down this morning to blog my thoughts on Speak’s passing, because I’m a writer and that’s how I process. It’s what I do. I thought I’d do a quick post, maybe do some work and come back to it, but that should be good.

Then I wrote 1,500 words and realized I was just getting started. I’m still not a dog person, but that dog had a hold on this person. He was part of our life for 13 years. He was there when I came home unemployed. He welcomed our kids into the family and grudgingly approved of the other two dogs. He had his own mini-career as a Target model. He’s there in so many family pictures, he’s sitting on the laps of our parents and friends. In the beginning he was always in the center of the frame, and as life has gone on he may not have been the center of our lives, but he was always on the edge of the frame. He’d look on with disdain that his nap had been interrupted, but there he was.

Speak died in my wife’s lap last night. I spent the day with him, taking him to the vet in the morning when his labored breathing wouldn’t settle down and laying with him in the afternoon when he worked to breathe, then struggled to stand and flopped around like a rag doll.

It was hard to watch.

Congestive heart failure was the vet’s diagnosis. He had a shot if he responded to the medicine. Yet he sat there on the floor of my office, fighting to live. I couldn’t sit there at my computer doing work, seeing him struggle.

So I laid down next to him. I pulled him into my lap and sat with him. For a few moments he’d rest against me, but then he’d move his head around. He’d try to stand up again and I’d catch him when he wavered. I’d ease him back down and lay next to him, trying to keep him calm and help him breathe easy.

I remembered one of the things Speak loved was attention from any guests who came to our house. One of our friends in particular, Nicole, was the best. Speak would plant himself in her lap and she would pet him all evening. She gave him the equivalent of a doggie massage, and he leaned into it.

So as he lay struggling—dying, really—I stroked Speak like Nicole did. And he leaned into it.

When Abby came home after work, Speak’s tail wagged. He lay there on the floor, unable to get up, working for each breath, his tongue grey and lolling out of his mouth. But my wife came home and his little stubby tail moved. I don’t think I’d seen him wag his tail all day. But there it was, his brave spirit in that small, happy gesture.

I ran to get dinner and the kids started eating in the kitchen while I went upstairs to check on Speak. Abby was sitting in the chair with Speak sprawled in her lap, sitting on a heating pad and covered with a towel.

Speak’s labored breathing had stopped. He wasn’t struggling anymore. Was the medicine finally working? It looked like he had a little more color. All afternoon he refused to lie that still. We didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

We watched him for a moment, and then that was it.

“I think his heart stopped,” Abby said.

I don’t think she wanted it that way, but Speak died in Abby’s lap. He waited until I got home, the not-a-dog-person, and then he went peacefully, quietly.

We told the kids and there were tears. Milo asked if we could name our next dog Speak. This morning they asked me if we could get another dog.

“Now I just have two dogs,” Milo lamented.

“That’s two more than a lot of people,” I said, always with the consolation.

I looked at pictures of Speak last night—literally hundreds—and tried to write a few words today. I’m cutting this short at 800, but I’ve got so many more words to say about that dog. It will likely become some too-long, self-indulgent essay, but that’s the way it is. As much as I want to say it’s just a dog, he was so much more.

Our Speak-a-ma-dog had a good run. We’ll miss him.

Snapshot Serengeti

Snapshot SerengetiSnapshot Serengeti is a project started by University of Minnesota researchers to learn more about wild animals in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. They’ve set up a grid of 225 cameras that take snapshots of animals, allowing the researchers to identify, track and study the animals.

The automatic cameras capture things that few scientists or tour guides ever see. It gives them insight into the animals, helping them figure out how animals are able to coexist. Plus, they capture some amazing pictures.

The best part of the project is that they need your help. The cameras take millions of pictures and they post them online and ask for your help identifying the animals in the pictures.

It’s easy. All you have to do is look at the picture and figure out what it is. If you’re not sure, they have all kinds of classification help so you can narrow it down and take your best guess. And that’s all they need—your best guess. If you’re not sure, they’ll use your best guess, along with other guesses to narrow it down and figure it out.

You’ll spot all sorts of cool animals while you’re doing it. I came across a herd of zebra, a lounging lion, an elephant that walked right past the camera, and the above gazelle that was checking out the camera. You’ll also come across lots of empty savannah, when the camera was triggered but no animals are visible. Those shots are kind of disappointing, but you’re still helping the researchers and it’s a beautiful glimpse of the Serengeti.

The researchers are also running out of funding and need your help. You can contribute to their Indiegogo project and keep the science going.

Mazie Ate a Pound of Chocolate

So I caught our dog Mazie cleaning out a bag of Hershey Kissables (basically candy-coated chocolate). I came down stairs to find her licking out the inside of the bag. There was nothing left. Apparently the bag had been full.

So Mazie ate about a pound of chocolate.

And proceeded to throw up. Twenty-two times.

I think she’s finally better now. I’m not sure if I am.

Weird Dog

So I went to put the dogs in their kennels and Mazie didn’t come when I called. Strange. But Speak was there, so I figured I’d put him in his kennel and then go track down Mazie.

When we got downstairs Speak wouldn’t go in his kennel. He trotted towards it like he usually does but then came up short at the door and wouldn’t go in. I was about to force him in when I realized there was something in the kennel he didn’t like: Mazie.

There was Mazie, sitting in Speak’s kennel, which is about two-thirds the size of her own kennel. Weird little dog.

Today I Saw My Dog in Target

Close-Up of SpeakSo I was pushing my cart through Target today when I rounded the corner and there was my dog, Speak. He’s featured in an end cap poster displaying some “tough” dog outfits. Funny that the one manly photoshoot Speak does he’s still wearing a dress (look closely, it’s a ‘camo dress’).

So check out your local Target and see if you can find Speak. I’d love to see some pictures of Speak from across the country. Speak’s actually pretty famous. I took him in for another photoshoot with Target on Thursday and the art director told me they ask for Speak by name and when he shows up in the Sunday flyers Target gets more calls asking about the dog in the picture than the clothes he’s modeling. Go Speak.

What’s especially funny is that he has a completely different personality on photoshoots. He’s all happy and cute and totally hamming it up, which is half the reason they ask for him by name. Then when we get home he’s all sulky and sleepy and too cool for us. I think the fame is going to his head.

Sponsor my Dogs for Bark in the Park

Speak welcomes the neglecterino Mazie home for the first time.My wife is a dog freak. I knew she liked dogs when I married her, but I think I underestimated the dog person quotient. I’m the person whose number one rule when looking for a dog was that it can’t eat me, which is a sliding scale. I don’t think Speak could ever eat me, but given the right chance I bet Mazie could polish me off. Trust me, I’ve seen her eat.

So my wife likes dogs. She trains dogs part time and after much cajoling and convincing of this former cat person, we now own two dogs. One of which was an unwanted rescue, dropped off at the doorstep of a shelter in a rubbermaid container with her mom and four siblings. Mazie is our little neglecterino and we took her in and gave her a good home.

I tell you all this because Abby is taking Speak and Mazie on the 2006 Bark in the Park dog walk to raise money for the Humane Society. She did it last year when Mazie was just a puppy and she’s doing it again this year. The money goes to help care for abandonded animals like Mazie, to clean them up and find them a good home.

I know they’re just animals, and in light of great human catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami this seems like a minor cause, but I think it’s still important. How we care for animals says something about our character.

So if you have a few extra bucks I hope you’ll consider supporting Speak, Mazie and my wife Abby in the 2006 Bark in the Park.

Runaway Dog

Today when the Simon Delivers man came with our groceries both dogs bounded out the door. Speak actually stopped to jump all over the Simon man, but Mazie noticed the gate was open and bound down the driveway towards the street and freedom.

When my calls didn’t even phase her I rushed back into the house, leaving the Simon man holding Speak, grabbed the entire treat jar in the kitchen and booked out the front door to cut Mazie off.

I came out the door to see her chasing some poor girl on rollerblades and my sharp cry of “Mazie!” actually made her turn around, though I imagine it was the sound of the treat jar I was shaking that made her come back.

I scooped her up in my arms and rushed her back inside, amazed that she didn’t wriggle free, all while the rollerblade girl laughed. I set Mazie and the treat jar down, not together, noticed that Speak was already calmly back in the kitchen despite the fact that the back door was still wide open, and went outside to get my groceries, firmly shutting both dogs inside.

The Simon man didn’t even register the high drama that just took place. I hate to imagine what could have happened. Is this what being a parent is going to be like, only ten times worse?

The really funny thing is that whenever Mazie escapes the confines of the backyard unleashed (it’s happened once before) she makes a mad dash for anything and everything. She’s like a rocket missing a fin, whizzing about in every direction. The few times I remember Speak escaping he just strolled along the driveway in no hurry to get nowhere in particular.