Today is the two-year anniversary of the death of my best canine buddy, Taylor.
I grew up in a household where there were always dogs, and those dogs were always part of the family. They lived primarily indoors with us. I know there are people out there who just don’t “get” the animals in the house thing for whatever reasons. That’s fine. But I’m not one of those people. Taylor was my constant companion for over 14 years, and my guru in many ways. She was a rescue dog, but not from a shelter. I found her sitting on the side of a New Mexico highway one July day after I’d been camping at Mt. Taylor (hence her name).
I pulled over because most dogs out there — Rez dogs — tend to look like they know where they’re going and what they’re doing. And they’re certainly not sitting on the side of the road. I got out of my car and she watched me, but she didn’t bolt. I got within about twenty feet of her and I crouched down and said: “C’mere. Come on.” And I beckoned at myself with my hand. She got up and very slowly came toward me, kind of slinking, ears back (she had HUGE ears — they earned her the nickname “Batdog”) and tail between her legs. I held my hand out so she could sniff my fingers and she did. She sniffed for a few seconds and then decided I must’ve been okay, because she got closer and literally climbed up into my lap and licked my face.
I took her to the vet the next day for vaccinations. She was in bad shape. Twenty pounds underweight, tapeworm, and dull, icky fur. I told the vet I was hoping to find a home for her because I didn’t have a place where I could keep her. I was living in a second-floor apartment in a historic building in Albuquerque at the time. The vet looked at me and smiled. “She already found a home.” She told me that when Taylor had put on some weight, in a few weeks, to bring her back for checking. Damn that vet. She could tell that Taylor was already settling in.
And sure enough, at the end of the summer, I’d moved to a place where I could have Taylor. She’d put on weight (she was 55-60 pounds most of her life), we’d gotten rid of the tapeworm, and she was starting to be okay around me and other people. She and I spent most of the summer at a friend’s house, where there was a fenced yard, until I found another place. And that fall, we went to doggie training school. I worked with her every day on the things we learned in class. Taylor was part shepherd, and shepherds are working dogs. So she liked having tasks and things to do. After graduation (Taylor was summa cum laude), we spent another few weeks on “distraction training,” which involved large groups of people and dogs and putting your dog through his or her paces. The object was to get the dog used to being around groups like that and focused on you and you only.
I continued distraction training for weeks afterward. I’d take her to Albuquerque’s Old Town and put her through her paces amidst tourists. She went to work with me on campus several times, and would sprawl out and snooze under my desk. She’d also go with me late nights to the public radio station where I volunteered and hang out with me while I did a world music show. She went to the airport (this was before 9/11) to get used to escalators and a whole other slew of people. I traveled with her all the time in the car, and she was very good at that, too.
And slowly, Taylor blossomed into her funny, wise, diva self. She was a joy to have around, and we got to know each other so well that all I had to do was look at her and raise an eyebrow and she knew it was time to go for a walk and she’d jump up and go to the door and wait. As she aged, she became more talkative (I think she had some husky in her) and would yowl and carry on to let me know when she was excited or pissed about something.
Other times if she was pissed at me, she’d give me doggie “stink eye” until I was appropriately contrite. Or, if she was REALLY pissed, she’d do what I call “stink back.” She would sit and make sure I was looking at her and then she would deliberately turn her back to me and ignore me for a few seconds. Then she’d look back over her shoulder to see if she had my attention. If I hadn’t asked for her forgiveness, she’d do more stink back. So I’d have to say, “Oh, T! I’m sorry!” And then she’d relent.
And she loved it when I noodled on my harmonica. When I got it out, she’d get excited and she’d sit up and stare and start “warming up.” Kind of a “rowr rowr rowr” thing. I’d play a few notes and she’d do some more “rowr rowr rowr” and then I’d start just playing whatever and she would burst into howls interspersed with “rowr rowr rowr.” It was hilarious.
She used her paws for attention, too. She’d come up and put her paw on your foot or, if you were sitting, your thigh, and she’d pull at you to pet her. She’d also put her paw right across a newspaper or magazine if you were sitting reading it. And she’d do a “Bambi eyes” expression so you couldn’t be mad at her. She was also a practical joker. Once, when we were hanging out with someone who had a shih tzu, Taylor figured out which toy was the other dog’s fave. It was this fuzzy squeaky toy that the dog carried everywhere. So Taylor waited until the dog went into the kitchen with the squeaky toy. Taylor followed. The other dog had put the toy down and was trying to convince its owner to give it a treat. The dog was not paying attention to the toy, and like a freaking fox pouncing on prey, Taylor jumped on the toy and raced out of the kitchen. The other dog just stared after her, stunned. I followed Taylor into the living room, and Taylor had hidden the toy behind a pillow on the couch. She looked at me and I kid you not, she SMILED. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. Eventually, I gave the toy back to the other dog, when Taylor wasn’t looking.
I’ve been thinking about all of those things today. I still really miss her and no, another dog has not entered my life. I did become a regular donor to another no-kill animal shelter, and at a recent event in New Mexico, I donated all proceeds from sales of my books to a local no-kill shelter. I’m a believer in rescue animals, and in rescuing animals. So yeah, I’m a softie. But Taylor changed my life for the better, and I try to help other animals when and where I can. I don’t have any interest in bringing another dog into my life at the moment, but I suspect that eventually, Taylor will send a dog because I still have things to learn.
So to all of you who knew Taylor, I’m glad you got to meet her. For those who didn’t, I hope sharing these tidbits about a remarkable dog who gave me more than I ever thought possible lets you see a bit about who she was and why I miss her so much.
Thanks for hanging out with me a bit today. Happy Saturday.