Remembering Linus, Our Sweet, Beloved Pup
This has nothing to do with classic film, but I feel like you’re family, so I hope you’ll bear with me in remembering my sweet, beloved Linus, who we lost last week. He lived to be sixteen years and eight months old, but his life seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.
We adopted him when he was just shy of three; he had been so horribly abused that a neighbor called the woman who ran the local no-kill shelter and begged her to somehow get the people who had him—I refuse to call them his family—to surrender him. In his early days with us, his trauma surfaced in heartbreaking ways, as when my husband Tim pulled on a pair of heavy boots to go out and shovel snow—and Linus wailed and shook violently, ran to a corner, and tried to dig his way into the wall.
When we first met him at the shelter, he was clearly anxious to be let out of the kennels. Far and away the smallest dog there, he broke free of his handler, snuggled into a spot on the sofa between us, sighed, and settled in. He was home already. While we waited to sign the final adoption papers—we’d already been through an application process the FBI would gaze upon in awe—I ran through a bunch of names in my mind. “What about Linus?” I asked Tim, thinking of the Peanuts character. “He’s looks so sweet and thoughtful, like he’s got a lot on his mind.” And when we got him home, the first thing he did was burrow deep into his carrier and pull out something that had been scrunched up in the back: his blanket.
He sniffed his way around his new home, and just to make sure we knew it was his, he peed on every rug. Then he curled up on the sofa with his brand-new stuffed bear, chewed the nose off and gleefully pulled out the stuffing.
The bear would be first of a long string of victims which ran the gamut from stuffed toys to silk eye masks.
Linus 1, Mister Fluffy Bunny 0.
And oh, yes, that poor Santa hat—his revenge for the 15 seconds he had to wear this silly outfit for a Christmas card photo.
He literally loved his soccer ball to bits, and no shiny new replacement—even if it was exactly the same thing—ever made him as happy. So I’d just grab his old one, gather up the trail of stuffing strewn across the living room floor, and sew it all back together again.
Only the Grinch was spared from being torn apart, and they became such fast friends that I took to leaving him out all year.
When we first brought Linus home, we weren’t sure how long his walks should be. No one had ever bothered to take him for a real walk before—at the shelter they’d heard he’d been let out in the yard maybe once or twice a day. And being a dachshund, he took a whole bunch of steps for every one of ours. So we decided to just walk him until he got tired.
He never got tired.
After three or four miles, I’d be splayed face-down on the sofa, and he’d be like, “So, where are we goin’ now, Ma?”
Sometimes before we even got to the street, he’d meet Patty or Helen or Michelle from our apartment building, who all adored him. And oh was it mutual. He’d squeal and yip, waggle his butt, and run up and smoosh against them, just unable to contain himself. And he’d bark at their husbands.
Down the street we sometimes ran into Jeff and John, who’d swoop off their stoop the minute they saw Linus. They even bought dog biscuits to keep on hand for him. One night when we passed Jeff, we didn’t stop because he was on the phone. But he let out a whoop and waved us over. He proceeded to tell the guy on the other end Linus’s entire life story—and then ignored him completely talk to Linus, asking over and over, “Who’s a good boy?”
We’d often stop at the coffee shop on our walks, where he’d make new friends. In the summer, I’d often hear a sudden “Ooh!” only to turn and discover Linus had rubbed his cold nose against someone’s bare calf. And then there was the firefighter with arms roughly the size of Bluto’s, who cooed baby-talk to him and treated me to a cappucino because he loved him so madly.
It took my breath away how open-hearted Linus was, after all the horrors he’d been through. People hold grudges for years, sometimes forever, over the tiniest slight. But once Linus was safe and happy and loved, he was willing—happy, even—to give the whole human race a second chance. He was such an old soul, such a sweet spirit.
For all his years in our family, Linus went with us just about everywhere. He especially loved the “come-withs” at our upstate house on weekends. And because he was crazy-smart, he picked up on clues instantly. When he saw Tim make any move toward the Linus bag—the little canvas pouch with his portable water dish and snacks—he’d go crazy. He also went nuts when I took my bra out of the drawer, because it meant I was going somewhere so probably he was too. It got to the point where if we were heading out without him on the weekend, I had to sneak my bra out when he wasn’t looking.
We took him on our vacations…
…on camping trips…
…on family visits to the lake and cruises up the Hudson…
…on day hikes (where once he was super-excited to meet a countryman)…
…to every park we could find (whether he was allowed there or not)…
…to street fairs and festivals…
…and to restaurants, where, on the rare occasion we dined outside without him, we’d get grilled about it by the waiters. (“We were just out shopping and we didn’t know we’d be stopping to eat!” we’d plead, heads down, like guilty criminals.) At one place where we dined often, the manager would greet him with a full plate of bacon. One day, a woman at a nearby table complained, “You served that dog before you waited on me!” and he replied dryly, “He’s a regular.” To know Linus was to love him to the point of obliviousness to all else.
And, um, yes, he had a little portable bed, to protect him from the hard ground. (Though sometimes after we finished our meals, he’d venture off just far enough to sneak a peek at what the people at the next table were having.)
He also had a bed to cushion his naps in the backyard. Okay fine, two beds.
Mostly, though, he roughed it.
Oh and he had a bed in the car, though sometimes it was more of a pillow.
Though having fluffy beds pretty much everywhere, including three in the house, didn’t stop him from checking out other options.
Linus was so sweet and supremely silly…
Once, in a rare attempt at hunting, he somehow wound up in a stack of planters, while the chipmunk had long since scampered down the driveway.
When it was too chilly for the yard but just warm enough to get near it, he loved to watch the world from the screenporch.
Being so close to the ground, Linus was not a huge fan of the cold and wet. (When we got a couple of inches of snow, I’d croon, “It’s up to your knees out there…”) He’d take a few steps and then lift a chilly front paw as if to say, “Taxi!” And I’d pick him up and carry him out to the plowed road for a quick walk. Then he’d come in for a vigorous pat-down with his super-absorbent doggie towel, play-fight with it after he was dry and happy, and burrow under his blankets again.
Always a sun puppy, in bleakest February he’d follow the scant rays around the house. (I call this The Linus in Winter.)
On sleepy weekend mornings, Linus had a little ritual he loved. I’d give him breakfast and take him out for a walk—and then he’d all but march me back to bed. (Tim was usually still there.) He’d head toward the bedroom, stop and turn around to make sure I was following him, and harrumph at me if I wasn’t moving fast enough. Then he’d stand by the bed and wait to be lifted up, barking at me to follow him under the covers so the three of us could snuggle.
He also made a huge fuss whenever Tim came home. You’ve seen the heartwarming videos of dogs whooping and jumping and hurling themselves wildly at returning soldiers, who’ve been away for years? That was Linus when Tim came back from the deli.
He loved belly rubs…
…and deep, long snoozes, and honest to God you’d sell your soul to sleep like that for five minutes.
And if he snoozed on something I needed, I’d just wait until he woke up.
He was also great at self-snuggling, where one minute he was lying flat on his blanket and the next he was a dachshund burrito.
Linus never met a snack he didn’t like (that’s a telltale yogurt ring on his face)…
…and his devotion to whatever you had on your plate bordered on the monastic.
A couple of weeks after we brought him home, we went out to a family dinner and brought home a big, fat, juicy steak bone. When we gave it to Linus, he didn’t seem to know what to do with it at first—because apparently in his almost three years of doggie life, no one had ever given him a bone. But he quickly caught on, and wouldn’t let go. We somehow managed to pry it away from him for his nightly walk, but upon returning, he raced down the hall, frantic to reclaim his prize. After that, he got lots of bones.
When my Mom visited, she actually teased us about spoiling him. Imagine. And then there was this.
But how else would I treat my best editor? When I was stuck for a word, I could always turn to him for support. Or, more often, just chuck what I was working on and curl up with him.
He’d also sense our miseries and truly sympathize. Whenever I cried, whether from something real or even an old movie, I’d soon find him clinging close to me.
Every autumn, on the Feast of St. Francis, we took Linus to be blessed, which I think may have helped him through the health crises in his life.
In the summer of 2007, a few weeks after my company closed its doors, I was spending some time with Linus upstate. One day, rather than racing around the yard, he seemed sluggish, mostly sitting in one spot under a tree. I chalked it up to the weather, which had grown more sultry as the afternoon wore on, and thought it best to bring him inside. But when I picked him up, he howled in pain. Trying (and failing) not to panic, I softly cradled him into his bed and called the vet, but they’d already closed. So I called a cab to get to the emergency vet in the next town.
An hour passed. No cab. By now the sky was black, and it was pouring. I called again (I vaguely remember screaming). A half-hour later, the cabbie drove right past me as I stood on the screenporch frantically waving my arms. I ran outside, caught up with him and jumped right in front of the car.
By the time Linus made it to the vet, his back legs were paralyzed. He had ruptured a disc and needed emergency surgery, but whether he’d ever walk again was highly uncertain. They brought him into the back, gave him steroids, pain medication and sedatives to stabilize him overnight, and told me to get him to Cornell veterinary hospital first thing in the morning. I called Tim from the front desk, sobbing so hard he could barely understand what I was saying.
As I waited for him to drive up from the city, I sat outside crying on a bench under an awning, as the rain pounded against it. A woman who’d seen me inside came out, sat beside me, and pulled my head onto her shoulder. “He’ll be alright,” she said over and over, like a lullaby, or maybe a prayer. I’ll never forget her. (And she was right.)
During the drive up to Cornell, I sat in back with Linus. Bundled in blankets, he clung to my lap, drifting in and out of a fearful, fitful sleep, trembling the whole time. When we arrived, they whisked him into surgery within an hour, removed the ruptured disc and fused the ones on either side. They were going to keep him for another three days, but he was so scared and miserable in his cage—he hadn’t spent a night without us since we first brought him home—that they let him leave a day early, giving us strict instructions on how to get him back on his feet.
Naturally, at first, he was wobbly as a newborn foal. I’d hold him as he took a few halting steps and then lose his footing and stumble to the ground. I started to look into scooters, in case he needed one. But then suddenly, less than a week after surgery, he went from staggering to running, in a single motion. So there we were in the yard, him scampering around like he’d never left, like it was just another Tuesday, and me crying my head off. I started to call Tim, but then I put the phone down. I wanted Linus to surprise
him when he came home.
The only lingering result of his trauma was that occasionally when he sat down, he would swing one leg out to the side, like Rita Hayworth in her pinup shots.
I told Tim if anything ever happened to me, he should take me to Cornell and tell them I’m a German Shepherd.
A few years later, a routine vet visit turned up some disturbing lab results. So we went back to Cornell, where a battery of tests revealed a dangerous tumor. He needed surgery right away, and the only available slot was the day before Thanksgiving. For the second time, everything went perfectly, and in their post-op report, the clearly perceptive vets actually wrote, “Linus is a very good dog.” Tim and I had our holiday dinner at the only place we could find open, a bar in downtown Ithaca. I ordered a cocktail, only to have the waiter snap, “Today we have beer and wine and that’s it.” Yipes. But since he was stuck working, I could hardly blame him for sounding like Sheldon Leonard in It’s a Wonderful Life. (“We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere!”)
And once again Linus, desperate to go home, was released early, enjoying some post-holiday deli turkey on the trip back.
But the following year, Linus was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, which is something of a plague for dachshunds. Every story I dug up was more horrible than the one before, and the typical prognosis was two years. Linus was blessed with another four, and until he was near the end, fate was somewhat benevolent to him. But in the last few months, one by one, a series of cruel symptoms came crashing down on him. Cushing’s attacked his retinas, dementia darkened his wonderful mind, and sometimes he struggled to stand. Before, the vets always had an answer. Now they had none.
Often I’d pick him up, wrap my arms close around him, and try to will time and trauma away. Do your worst to me, I’d plead, but leave his little fourteen-pound body alone.
It’s one of the cruelest twists of nature that they get so much less time on this earth than we do. I would have happily shared my years with him if I could have.
The night before Linus died, Tim and I slept on either side of him, guardians at the gate with nothing left in our desperately depleted arsenal but how much we loved him. At first, he shared my pillow, his nose pressed against my neck. But then he shifted, resting his head on my hand and curling his body into the crook of my arm. Then he sighed and settled down, just as he did those first few moments we welcomed him into our family.
Despite his age and his illness, losing Linus was an awful, sudden shock. Losing someone you love so much always is; there’s no “preparing” for it. It’s not just a turn of phrase to say I don’t know what to do without him. I really don’t. I can’t put his beds and blankets and bowls away, but I can’t bear to look at them either. I can barely breathe.
I know he lived a long, happy life, and he was loved like crazy, and we’ll always have our memories of him. But none of that helps right now. I’ve collapsed in tears in the diner, in the supermarket, on the street, everywhere. And it’s worse at home. I wake up crying and go to sleep the same way. I miss everything about him, even the smallest things, like the sound of him lapping at his water bowl and his paws click-clacking on the floor. As little as he was, he filled the house. And he filled my heart. Losing him has thrown open the gates to a very dark place I can’t find my way out of without him.
Goodnight and sleep safe, my sweet, silly, beautiful, beloved pup. You were such an indescribable blessing, beyond any words I can find. I have no idea if there’s a God, but there better be a Heaven for you. May the angels hold you as close as we did for all those wonderful years.