Friday, December 28, 2007

The Nine Lives of O'Malley

O'Malley, in his last summer with his summer haircut.

My sister Peggy sent me a book for Christmas called “Merle’s Door” by Ted Kerasote. I hadn’t heard of it before, but once I picked it up I couldn’t stop reading. Merle was Ted’s dog that he found as a stray here in Utah. Kerasote adopted the stray, took him back home to Jackson, Wyoming where Merle lived for thirteen years. Man, ol’ Ted really loved this dog. I would not have thought a person could write a fairly good sized book about a dog’s life, but Kerasote did and every page was interesting. In the book, Kerasote imagines what Merle might have been thinking and the result is dialogue; you get to hear what a dog thinks, or what Kerasote thinks a dog is thinking. All in all, it sounds terribly anthropomorphic and juvenile. Yet he backs up his imagination with solid science from people who have studied dogs and wolves and other animals. I was really touched by the book and most of the time I was reading it; I had thoughts of Cisco, Pancho, O’Malley and young Fergus.

I thought about Fergus, that he is almost five or six months old and what an easy-keeper he has been. He's figured out the housetraining regimen fairly quickly, in about a week, and we no longer have too many surprises on the floor. Just recently, his bladder has enlarged to the point where he can sleep though the night without waking one of us to let him out to take a leak. Perhaps we are through the worst of puppy-hood.

Which got me to thinking…..O’Malley was an absolute nightmare until he was six years old. We have recounted some of his mis-adventures elsewhere in this blog, but I thought if Ted could write a whole book about Merle, I could write a few paragraphs about O’Malley.

We got O’Malley in early 1994, from an ad in the Bozeman Chronicle that offered some puppies for free. He was a mutt. The mother was a German Shepard/Husky cross and the father was a roaming Black Lab reputed to be a rather large fellow. We often told people when they asked that O’Malley was a German Huskador. Nancy picked out the most energetic, most incorrigible of the litter, hauled him by the tail out of the den he had dug, and we took him home. He got big quick and folks thought he was five or six months old rather than five or six weeks. Some said he looked like a hyena. Pancho had him house trained in a matter of hours.

He grew to look like a black wolf. He learned at about seven months he could jump the fence. Our fence was around four feet high and he could sail over it at will. I couldn’t have him roaming around Bozeman and get hit by a car, and I couldn’t leave him in the house all day, and I couldn’t make the fence taller. We tried an electric fence, but O’Malley was unfazed by the electric shock administer by the batteries in the collar. A cattle prod might have worked, maybe. So I chained him to a tree. I felt sorry for him so I then chained him to a cinder block. He was able to drag the cinder block around without any trouble. What I didn’t anticipate was that he would drag the cinder block over to the fence, then back off and jump the fence. I came home from work to find him on one side of the fence and the cinder block on the other. Luckily he didn’t hang himself. I think though, that he used up the first of his nine lives. He spent the next few days chained to the tree. He never learned to not jump the fence, he just got too old.

We took a trip to Utah where we had rented a house near Zion National Park. I turned my back and O’Malley was three miles off chasing deer through the woods, no doubt scaring the bejesus out of them. You could hear him barking, howling in ecstasy and he eventually returned, panting and smiling. He was unsuccessful in his hunt, but proud to have chased the dangerous and threatening deer away from our rental house.

A summer or two later, Nancy and I were working at the South Entrance in Yellowstone National Park and driving each weekend to our property outside of Livingston where we were building our cabin. O’Malley rode in the back of the pickup, and stupidly, we had him chained into the bed of the pickup. As we were driving through the park that evening I happened to look in the mirror in time to see O’Malley jump up, all 125 pounds of him, to look at some elk. I don’t know whether he was jumping to go after the elk or he slipped, but out he went. I hit the brakes and fortunately, because the park speed limit was only 45 mph, came to a fairly quick stop. O’Malley was only dragged a short distance. A few square inches of skin was scraped from his paws and a claw or two were missing, and the vet said he would be all right. Luckily I saw him in time, and thankfully he didn’t get run over by his stupid owner. He was bandaged for a week or two but seemed to hold no grudge against us. Number two of his nine lives was gone.

A year or so later, O’Malley had developed a mind of his own regarding getting into the pickup. Nancy and I had joked that he seemed to making his own decisions. Somehow, we were sending out signal about where we were going. If he thought we were going someplace he didn’t want to go, he wouldn’t get into the pickup, and if he decided we were going someplace fun he would kennel up whether you wanted him to or not. He preferred to run down the four wheel drive road alongside the truck, to the point where we got on the county road and we would take the truck out of 4WD and cruise on down to town.

One day as we were leaving the cabin, he would not get into the truck and would not be caught. So we drove slowly down the county road with him running alongside. We would stop occasionally to let him decide if he wanted a ride, but he refused. We had put quite a little distance between us and stopped to wait. He didn’t come around the corner. We waited and waited. Finally we turned around and went and got him. He was walking along the road in a very subdued manner. We got him in the truck and went home. He acted very strange for a couple of days, not his incorrigible self at all; very sheepish and scared. Finally we figured out he was in serious pain. We took him to the vet, and to make a long story short, found he had a .45 caliber bullet lodged in his spine. Someone had shot him along the road when he was some distance from the truck. Again, we felt incredibly stupid, but we had no clue that one of our neighbors would shoot at him. There was no livestock around, no other dogs or cats. Someone just took a shot at him, perhaps because he looked like a wolf. The vet gave him medication that caused scar tissue to form a shell around the bullet, and he was back to normal in a matter of weeks. The third of his nine lives had just expired.

A year or so later Nancy and O’Malley were walking near our cabin and they saw a black bear sow and tthee cubs cross the 4WD road. Naturally, O’Malley took off after it. He followed it off the road and down into the bushes. Nancy said he came flying out of the bushes as if propelled by something. O’Malley who had never been in a dog fight had met his match in the sow. One slash with her front paw, or one bite and O’Malley would have been dead. When they got back to the cabin, I examined him and he had some slime on his haunch. Bear slime. The sow had tried to bite him and gotten nothing but hair. The slime smelled as bad as anything I’ve ever smelled, just like the bears I’ve gotten close to. Every one who has been mauled by a bear and survived has commented on the powerful and horrible stench of the bear’s breath. By this time, you are probably thinking that we must be the worst dog owners you’ve ever known. Perhaps. Anyway, O’Malley had lost the fourth of his nine lives.

Occasionally O’Malley would catch a rabbit or a chipmunk. He was able to kill them but then he had no idea what to do next. The idea that the critters had red, bloody, juicy meat underneath that fur did not ever come to mind. Until I picked them up and disposed of them, he treated them as if they were stuffed teddy bears.

There was also the incident of the mountain lion checking out the tipi in which we slept while we were building the cabin. I was down in the Park as our days off were not the same. Nancy said O’Malley was acting agitated and left the tipi just at dawn. A little later, through the door opening, Nancy saw the mountain lion cruise by, long tail held straight out behind her, perhaps looking for O’Malley. Nancy, wisely stayed where she was and eventually O’Malley returned, missing another of his nine lives.

Did I mention O’Malley looked like a black wolf? He did, and I’m not the only one who thought so. We would take him for a walk each evening in Yellowstone, on a leash of course, throughout the developed areas where we lived. It became a very dangerous time during the month of June when the elk cows were calving. The elk had developed a habit of calving near the developed areas in what might be a safe zone for their calves. Safe from the newly re-introduced wolves that preyed on elk calves, deer fawns, and antelope fawns, and who avoided the developed areas. Among the new wolves from Canada were quite a few black ones. You can see where this is going, right? The elk thought O’Malley was a wolf. Elk cows had chased me and O’Malley, and charged us as we were out for our walk, but I didn’t put two and two together. Well, maybe I did, but I had gotten five, not four. The poor dog, however, had it figured out. He was skittish and knew that the elk had it in for him. Nancy took him for a walk one evening and got charged by a belligerent cow elk. Six or seven hundred pounds of cow elk surprised them and chased them around a stopped truck in the middle of the road. What you have to realize is that these elk saw thousands of people a day and probably a dozen dogs on a leash, and as far as we knew, paid them no mind, never charging or threatening anyone. But there were Nancy and O’Malley running around a truck with an elk behind them. In my mind I can see them; the elk cow having a rough time with her sharp hooves slipping on the asphalt, Nancy and O’Malley roped together by the leash, running around the truck, and at the same time trying to keep an eye on the cow. At some point, O’Malley took a blow on his shoulders from the elk’s hooves. The drama ended when they were able to scramble into the pickup with the startled and benevolent driver and move off. Life number six?

I won’t recount his surgeries and medical adventures. But we must have financed about half a Hummer or a year of house payments for our Veterinarian. O’Malley ran into a few more mountain lions in his life and was smart enough to keep his distance. He never chased another bear and he stopped jumping fences. He would ride in the back of the pickup and never put his front paws on the side of the bed of the pickup. He eventually needed a ramp to get into the bed of the pickup, or at least a helping hand. In short, he became the perfect dog as he approached ten years old. He must have lost a few of his nine lives that we were not aware of, or he didn’t have nine lives to begin with. In the summer of 2006, Nancy and I knew the time was coming when we would have to put him down. He was losing control of his hind end and couldn’t go up stairs and often would collapse while just standing there. His quality of life was at the tipping point.

If you’ve had to put a dog down, you know there is a fine line between too soon and too late. In June we decided it was time to put him down but we lost our resolve at the vet’s office while trying to make the dreaded final appointment. We just couldn’t do it then and O’Malley hobbled around for another month. When July came, he was struggling with the heat, his bowels and bladder and his hind end had pretty much stopped working. He was still happy but we couldn’t bear it any longer and so we phoned the vet and made the awful, horrifying, dreaded appointment. Of all the cruelties, the appointment was scheduled for three days in the future and we spent those days trying to be the best parents we possibly could.

On the fateful day he rode down the road, happily sitting between us in the front seat of the pickup. I felt guilty, like a murderer. When we got to the highway, I almost turned towards Bozeman rather than towards Livingston and the vet. He’d had a delicious final meal the night before. As I remember, it was a T-bone steak with the bone. The old guy’s mind was sharp, but the body had given up. He was very interested in the technician shaving his foreleg for the IV, licked her face and inspected the shaver. Nancy and I were bawling and sniffling while lying there on the floor with him. Incorrigible to the end, he growled at the technician when she stuck the needle in his foreleg, and we laughed through our tears. And then it was over. O’Malley was gone.

If you’ve ever put a dog down, you know they are some of the most emotional and painful moments you will ever experience. Thankfully, the pain passes quickly. I think each time I’ve been through this, I swear I’ll never get another dog. But we always do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I haven't visited the blog in a while, so I only just read this story. I can only say to anyone who never had the chance to meet O'Malley that he was a dog like no other! He did have a streak of wild in him but that was why it was so special to sit and pet him and have him nuzzle my leg. It felt like I had momentarily tamed a wild bear. I will never forget when we went to that house in the Paradise Valley area in the summer one year, I had flown up from Texas and was sort of feeling a bit sad and lonely in my struggling relationship with John. O'Malley was a young boy then, I think, but I slept in my sleeping bag on the floor in the living room and he laid right by my side every night. I think somewhere deep down he knew I needed somebody to hang with. I can always see O'Malley's tail in my mind's eye sticking up in the air as he walked or ran up ahead of us on many a hike or ski. He was as much a part of our family as any human.
I always remember the words you said to me Doug when I had to put Huey to sleep, you said that is part of the deal we make when we agree to become a pet owner, that we have to make the decision sometimes when it is more humane to end their life then it is to let them suffer. That isn't one of the things you usually think of when you are looking at the fluffy little critter you are about to adopt. But, as you go through life with a dog you do come to realize that is as much a part of ownership as all the rest.
Cheers to O'Malley- he was one of the finest!