A dog named Mouse

Stuart WhitehairAnalyst IJune 4, 2011

(Note: I normally don’t stray from CU football on this website, and I normally don’t run articles twice. But, at least on this first anniversary, I wanted to run this essay again. Don’t forget to read the touching comments which follow …!)

Friday,  June 4th, 2010

Just another day …

The Dow Jones Industrials lost over 300 points, falling below 10,000 … In Bozeman, the high was 64 degrees, with intermittent showers … Tensions ran high in the Gulf, as oil continued to flow out of a ruptured pipeline …

… and we put down our 14-year old dog, Mouse.

Puppy fever

I was never a dog person.

It’s not that I didn’t like dogs, it’s just that we never had any in our house when I was in my formative years. Cats? Yes, there were a few over the years. But dogs? None.

I don’t remember ever being afraid of dogs growing up - unless you count that one time in 6th grade when a dog, displeased with my accuracy in throwing a newspaper onto its owner’s porch, took off after me. As I recall the incident, the vicious beast chased me for two blocks. In reality, the dog probably never left his owner’s property … I just didn’t look back until I had run for two blocks. Yes, I was around dogs in my youth, but I just didn’t see the fascination and devotion people had to their pets.

Fast forward almost 25 years.

It’s now 1995, and my bride of less than a year declares that she wants a dog. She already had cats in place when I met her, and I had adjusted to having three cats (not to mention two teenagers) in my life. But a dog? I was skeptical of the idea, but one does not argue with one’s newlywed, right?

Ever the researcher, Lee went out in search of the perfect family pet. She decided that a Keeshond would be the right dog for our family.

[For those of you have never heard of the breed, below is a picture of our dog Mouse (April, 2010).

This man's best friend

This man's best friend

Lee found a breeder in nearby Livingston, and went off with our son, Adam, to pick out a puppy. They came home with a little ball of fur inappropriately named Michelangelo by the breeder. Each puppy in the litter had been named after a member of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but our puppy, a female, was no Michelangelo, and was quickly renamed Micki.

Little Micki, like all Keeshonds, loved her humans, bonding quickly with her Alpha human, Lee, but also getting along fine with me, the cats, as well as Heidi and Adam.

All was well in our little corner of the world …

… until one day, a little over a year later, when Lee received an email from a Keeshond rescue website. It seemed that there was a Keeshond at the local humane society, and the rescue website folks had asked Lee to check out the dog, who had been picked up by a local animal control officer. Lee, innocently enough, suggested we take Micki down to the shelter with us, “Just to see how well this dog gets along with other dogs”, she said.

I was being set up.

It took only a few minutes for us to be convinced that this dog was coming home with us. Yes, he had been abused, abandoned, and was, by any reasonable measure, a mess. About a year old, he was not house-trained, flinched when you tried to pet him, and he had not been socialized to properly behave around other dogs or, for that matter, with humans.

Still, he had a great smile, and he had a twinkle in his eye that told us he had a good heart. This dog had not been given a chance early in his life – he just needed a good home.

There was no need for Lee to contact the rescue network with information about this Keeshond - this little messed up dog came home with us.

Named “Bear”, this emaciated little dog was roughly half the size of Micki. The name “Bear” didn’t fit … but “Mouse” did. So, yes, our two dogs were named “Micki” and “Mouse”.

 Mouse and Me

I had never been “owned” by a pet before. Cats tolerate you, but they don’t really see humans as having much in the way of redeeming qualities other than to provide food and shelter. Dogs, on the other hand, have a singular devotion to their humans that really surprised me. Micki was Lee’s dog from day one. Micki played with me, obeyed me, and looked to me for treats, but she was always Lee’s dog.

Mouse didn’t have much in the way of choice in picking his human. Lee was taken. I was the Beta human, but Mouse didn’t mind being stuck with the second banana – he was very content to be the Beta dog. He was just glad to have a pack to belong to.

Over the years, Mouse adjusted to our family. He was quickly house-trained, was taught by Micki how to socialize with humans and dogs, and quietly became a permanent fixture in our home. Mouse would still run away if given the chance, but on those occasions when he did get off leash, we knew where to find him - at the nearby Baskin-Robbins. This was one spoiled dog, and he did love his ice cream.

Mouse showing his CU allegiance

Mouse showing his CU allegiance

What Mouse loved more than anything else, though, was going for walks. Twice a day – three times on weekends – we went for walks. The longer the better. Mouse seemed to believe he was some sort of scout, always on the lookout for any indication that there was a new dog in the neighborhood, or that some foolish human had dropped some remnant of food and deemed it unworthy of rescue.

We went on so many walks over the years that, in my head, I came up with the idea for a book: “10,000 walks:  Life lessons learned from a dog named Mouse”. A great title, but with my “other” book, CU at the Game, taking up most of my free time, it will likely remain just a title.

In 2005, we lost Micki to cancer. She was 11. The loss hit us hard, but was even worse on Mouse. We did get a new Keeshond puppy, Maggie, a few months later, but it took some time for Maggie to assume the alpha role Mouse wanted no part of. Mouse eventually got his spirit back, and made it all the way to age 14.

Last Day

Last Labor Day weekend, when Lee and I were in Boulder for the CU/CSU game, Mouse had a tough time in our absence. Losing his sight and hearing over the years, Mouse started getting confused when he was taken out of his routine. We did have a house-sitter come and stay with Maggie and Mouse, in an attempt to keep things as normal as possible. Still, for some reason, that long weekend was too hard on Mouse. The vet gave us some medicine to give him, and we were able to get Mouse back on track. But it was now clear that Mouse’s days were numbered.

So as not to have Maggie go through what Mouse had – the absence of a companion – we made arrangements to get a new puppy. The litter was due in January, meaning that we would be able to pick up our new dog in March. It didn’t seem likely last fall that Mouse would be around that long, but at least we knew that there was a day certain when Maggie would have her new beta.

But Mouse was still around when the puppy was born in January. He was still around when the new puppy – a male we named Murphy – came home with us in March.

We decided to let Mouse, in essence, tell us when it was time. He still had an appetite, was still getting along with the other dogs, and still very much enjoyed his walks. Lee and I decided that when those factors changed, we knew it would be time.

We made it to Memorial Day weekend.

It was then that it became clear to me that it was time. On Monday, Mouse didn’t want to go for his long walk. He was starting to have trouble getting up stairs. He was starting to become surly around the other dogs.

It was time.

Our vet graciously agreed to come to the house Friday afternoon in order to make it as easy on Mouse as we could. I decided to make Friday as good a day as I could for Mouse. He came with me to the office (I have a fenced in area behind the office we put in just for the dogs). We went to the bank drive thru – to get a treat – and then to, of course, Baskin Robbins. When we got home, we took as long a walk as I thought Mouse could handle. When the vet came, the process was handled quickly and quietly.

Mouse died about 4:00 p.m. on Friday, June 4, 2010. His last moments were spent in my arms. I stroked his mane, whispering in his ear a reminder that he was, in fact, a good dog.

A very good dog.

This abandoned puppy, a dog someone else didn’t believe to be worthy of their time or love, deserved nothing less.

Rest in peace, old friend.

14 yr old Mouse (front), 4 yr old Maggie, 4 month old Murphy - May 2010

14 yr old Mouse (front), 4 yr old Maggie, 4 month old Murphy - May 2010