Keesha: My Very First Dog

Cathy wrote this post right after Keesha died,  just after Halloween, 2005. When we posted this entry, she wrote, “I think about her every day. Sometimes I think she’s looking down from Dog Heaven and shaking her beautiful head when she sees how spoiled Gracie has become. Keesha never sat on furniture. She never chewed.”

Okay, Mom, let’s get on with it… Here’s what she wrote:

Keesha was my first dog ever. When I found myself alone in a house in Florida, I wanted a protector and companion. So right after Christmas, 1998, I headed for the Broward County Humane Society “just to look.” Now, bear in mind, I knew nothing about dogs. I just found myself attracted to a sad-eyed, long-nosed brown female, sharing a cage and looking absolutely miserable.

To my amazement, the folks at the shelter assumed I would be a competent owner. They brought Keesha to a glassed-in “get-acquainted” area. She put her paws up on the wall and looked out the window, eager to see everything and everybody. After passing some kind of “test” to be sure she wouldn’t eat one of my two resident cats, she joined me for a ride to our new home. I still remember her sitting on the table at the vet’s office, waiting for her first exam. “What have I done?” I thought, giving her a hug.

“She’s probably older than four,” the vet warned. “Everybody lies when they turn in their pets.”

We went to obedience class. Both of us were clueless. “Keep practicing,” the trainers said. “She’s very smart.” Sure enough, she was soon getting compliments on “such a well-behaved dog” while I happily took all the credit.

I had no idea how much fun a dog could be. We walked at least an hour a day. We discovered dog parks. When I spent time visiting Gainesville, we joined a wonderful dog park, where she went swimming for the first time. I turned down holiday invitations to spend a day there: I could read while she wandered peacefully and played with other dogs.

She loved our home in New Mexico. Every morning I’d open the gate of my little house and she’d zip across the street to Noble Park. We’d walk at least thirty or forty minutes before breakfast. She’d run around a nearby field.

We’d go downtown together. She was welcomed in the bank, the video store, the bookstore and most of the art galleries. She’d wait for me outside food stores and coffee shops, barking. The Co-op people always forgave her and sometimes they even came out to say, “It’s okay, Keesha! Mom’s coming.” And if I’d been gone too long, she had a special scolding bark, just for me.

When I went to the gym, I’d drive over and leave Keesha in the car. Fortunately, Silver City didn’t have a busy night life. And when I took ceramics, she went to the workshop and snoozed happily while I finished my crumbly, misshapen pots.

At first we’d go out to the country where I’d let her run loose off-leash. She chased deer and rabbits a few times (and thankfully never caught anything). Later I was nervous about releasing an old dog into the wild areas, so we stayed near fields where she could run as much as she liked, safely.

We had a cute ritual. Whenever I left her in the car, she’d work her way to the front. Sometimes she’d sit in the driver’s seat, prompting jokes about wanting to drive us home. She’d look at me innocently after I returned, and I would say, “Keesha, you know better! Get in back.”

With a look of “The jig is up,” she’d crawl to the back seat. Sometimes she’d sit up straight, looking out the window, but often she slept as we drove to Deming. We had rituals there too: I’d walk her around the block and then go to the library. If I was running late and the library was getting ready to close, sometimes I’d go in first. She’d tell the whole neighborhood what she thought.

In fact, that was her only fault. She loved to bark. At first she’d bark whenever the UPS truck drove by. (She could tell the difference.) Then she barked when the driver came to deliver a package. I knew the end was near when she slept while he left a package right at my front door.

She started to slow down after awhile. I didn’t recognize the first signs of arthritis, but I knew she no longer bounced into the car. She walked more and ran less.

We moved to Seattle partly because I really needed to return to the stimulation of a large city and Seattle is the most dog-friendly city in the US. I think I knew she’d be leaving me soon and I wanted lots of distractions available.

We chose this building because they welcomed her. We began new rituals: stop by the recycle bin or the garbage dumpster on our way out for her walk. Ride to the nearest dog park in Belltown. Visit nearby Kinnear Park. Once I let her play with another dog and she scared me, racing off into the bushes. We spent a day at Magnuson Park with our friends; she went wading and introduced herself to half a dozen humans and their dogs.

She wasn’t crazy about bus riding. I always followed the rules and paid her fare, but she didn’t like to curl up tight under a seat. She lounged in the aisle. People usually smiled and patted her (and if they didn’t, she walked up to them and asked.) One grouch complained and was silenced by other passengers: “She’s being so good!”

She walked more slowly. She had cataracts, kidney disease and almost total hearing loss. I got her a little stroller so we could keep going places. But soon we realized we couldn’t continue. She needed drugs for pain and they were hurting her kidneys. She caught a bladder infection. She started to get better and then she got over-enthused: she jumped down a step and fell, crying in pain. We thought she might have sprained something, but apparently she was really hurt. And she wasn’t in shape to handle an operation.

I wheeled her to Kinnear Park so she could have one last outing with the trees and smell the fall leaves she used to chase in her younger days. She made an extra effort to limp around so I know she enjoyed being outside. She sniffed the fresh air appreciatively but already her mind was elsewhere. Dr Clare Morris at Urban Vet let me stay with her to the end as she slipped away peacefully to the Great Dog Park in the sky.

“Maybe she’s letting you make room for another dog who needs you,” said Christopher Aust, a wonderful trainer and dog owner coach who gave me valuable advice throughout.

I thought I would recover quickly…two cats remain and I have so much to do here. But that evening I caught myself thinking, “I’m sleepy — got to take the dog out first,” and realized I didn’t. I started to put the cat food on a high shelf…and realized they can eat off the floor.

I am adamant that she will be my last dog, ever, but surprisingly I feel so much happier when I consider getting another dog…a different smaller breed, fully grown and female, non-yappy but intelligent…more suited to apartment living and better able to cope if I’m gone more often. Not right away, of course.

Keesha wouldn’t mind. She trained me well.

[Post Script: Gracie was adopted January 2, 2006, almost exactly 2 months after Keesha left us. She’s almost the exact opposite of Keesha in looks and temperament, except she’s also very sweet. It’s almost eerie: people always compliment us on Gracie’s good behavior and looks, just as they did for Keesha.]

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