The best dog I ever had – Raggs – reached the end of His road August 12, while I was out on the road getting my head together. (Pssst.. don’t tell my current dogs that he was my favorite). He followed the Yellow Brick Road back to Oz from hence he came. I’ll always be grateful to my Buddhist friend Lorelei for shepherding him across the Rainbow Bridge.
Raggs was about 16 years, with me for 15 years. Sugar Magnolia, my red Basset Hound made it to 15. I’ve been wanting to do a tribute to Raggamuffin, but every time I start, I realize I’m just not ready to make it real that he is gone. I’m still in the stage of people asking, “where’s your OTHER dog?” when they see me because I walk twice a day with my remaining two. I’ve been seen with at least five. Photos will show that feat of feet later on. I’ve past the ‘first time to the park, first time to the groomers, first time to the store’ without my old grey guy. But not with out tears.
So how to you write about a life companion – a dog – without becoming sappy and maudlin. Maybe you don’t. Maybe there’s no way not to be sappy – I like just saying the words sappy and maudlin.
Raggs comes from a distinguished lineage of terriers in my life. The first was my childhood playmate, Phaedra, a Kerry Blue Terrier mix we found in Houston in the 60s when I was in middle school. She seemed old when we got her, with her twisty dark grey fur hiding a decidedly blue skin, and sporting a great black tongue. A loyal companion, she migrated with us to New Jersey, to the storied Loft Farmhouse in Somerville. Though she seemed passed the age, she restarted her adolescence and had several litters of puppies before we intervened and fixed her. Conan was one my brother kept from the late life boom. We also unfortunately found out she was a dog killer when she was allowed free range on the farm.
Next came my dear friend Carlee’s Cleo – a shaggy grey Sheep Dog mix that lived with her for years in Flagstaff where I visited frequently. Cleo was a Spirit Watcher who walked with no leash and faithfully patiently laid waiting outside whatever establishment Carlee frequented. Cleo accompanied Carlee to UNLV in Las Vegas when she was divorcing and starting grad school in playwriting. A difficult time for both, Cleo came down with cancer and stood guard for as long as she could. Cleo’s successor was Iris, a great curly grey mix of perhaps Pooli and Portugese Waterdog. I found Iris in a shelter in Chatsworth, Calif. and knew I had to foster her for Carlee. I took her in for six weeks then drove her to Las Vegas with my then 7-year-old daughter, Emily. Iris was a fantastic creature who would look up into the corners of the room getting signals from Cleo’s presence. Iris spent summers in Flagstaff when Carlee would travel between teaching gigs (elementary Spanish in South Dakota – another story.) and eventually settled there with Carlee’s friends until she passed away.
Then came my Raggs. I so loved Iris I decided I wanted a terrier of my own. I was looking for a female with the looks of the terriers I was fond of – to be a companion to my red Bassett Hound Sugar Magnolia Bracken Spafford. Maggie was missing the company of a neighbor’s standard Schnauzer who was killed by a car. I was looking one weekend at various shelters, and came across Raggs in the male dog section of Chatsworth pound. He was bedraggled and in a kennel with several small white dogs. I was immediately drawn to him as he quietly licked my hand thru the cage. When I went home that night, I dreamed of his little face with the handsome dark eyes. But the shelter was closed on Sunday, and I wasn’t convinced I should get a male dog.
However, Divine Intervention had other ideas. The next day, Monday, I happened to go by a pet adoption event 30 miles from Chatsworth, in Thousand Oaks and there he was! The Chatsworth shelter had trucked him out to the event to see if they could find him a home. “He’s such a great dog, we’ve kept him an extra six weeks! We knew someone would find him,” said one the keepers. “We call him Wolfie or Toto because of his scraggly looks. He’s great with the little dogs, likes cats and is really friendly with people.” He let me walk him around the store and greet all the other creatures we came across. I fell for him right then and there, thinking it was a sign he’d found me out in TO. But I wanted Emily to meet him. So Tuesday morning, I let her go to school late so we could go visit him.
When Emily met him, she immediately agreed to adopt him, then told me later, “he was the ugliest dog I ever saw, but I knew you wanted him.” He had to be fixed so it took a few days to retrieve him. When we did, he was pretty woozy. “When will he act like the friendly dog we met at the pound?” queried Emily. “It’ll take a few days but he’ll come back to himself.” And boy did he – he found his bark, and his place as the protector of the household.
He and Maggie were inseparable. At the park, they raced from spot to spot discovering all the smells, eating the long tender shoots of grass, and sleeping in a pile at home. There were always cats in the household, and Raggs quickly took ownership. Becca the tiny Tinkerbell voiced lavender Point Snowshoe Siamese never passed him by without a little lick. And when the kitten Willow, a Himalayan Ragdoll replaced dear Tabitha the Calico Tiger, Raggs was smitten. He jumped up on Emily’s bed where Willow was snuggled, wrapped himself around her and licked her head. Every morning, she would greet him with a touch on the nose, and wrapped her tail around his face as she wound in and out of his legs. When Willow got attacked by a coyote (again, another story) Raggs helped nurse her back to health, sitting by her side when she was recovering and couldn’t move around much.
The tribe eventually gained Chloe – a Jack Russell Doxie mix – a third wheel to Maggie and Raggs and a great rescue from Agoura. Chloewinna or Chloebelle was always the middle child, keeping the balance in the household. When Maggie took her leave at 15, Princess Narnia of the Clouds found her way in. A terrifically demanding Poodle Shiztsu Mateze mix, Raggs accepted her unconditionally. Further proof of his gentle nature came when he found a tiny little black Papillion running down the street. He ran out of the gate and chased him under my car. I came out to see what he’d found, and retrieved the little guy from under the car. Pappy become another of Ragg’s charges until we found him a home a few months later.
Towards the end, he became increasingly unable to walk comfortably, despite the herbs, acupuncture, supplements and daily massages. His joints just couldn’t carry him anymore. He’d travel from rug to rug across the wood floors that made him slip and slide through the house. I’ll miss the sound of his little nails padding through the house, looking for me, following the movements of the cats and dogs dwelling peacefully with him in my world.
Raggs is the ugliest dog I’ll ever love – scruffy inside and out, he never failed to entertain and comfort. With his Tin man heart, Lion courage, Scare crow brains, and Dorothy’s sense of home, he’ll always remind me of what is good and kind in creatures, with soft knowing eyes, softer fur and the softest heart of all.