There was pet hair on the floor. I hadn’t been able to vacuum for the past week. As I run the vacuum cleaner, I realize that some of these are Hunter’s hairs. Some of the last remains of his physical body. I didn’t request to get Hunter’s ashes. It didn’t make much sense to hold on to the physical remains. I have his memories.
Hunter was our second dog, my ex’s and mine. We had gotten Molly an year ago, and were worried that Molly might be lonely when we were at work. We wanted Molly to have a playmate. When we went to the SPCA (Baltimore), I was kinda taken in by a beagle. But the beagle didn’t gel as much with my ex. We came back another day, and got to play with Hunter. He seemed really friendly, and so decided to adopt him. Hunter had a previous owner, but we didn’t know too much about his history. (Molly and Hunter were named after the main characters of Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic.)
That first night. I knew that he is kind of stressed out — being at the shelter, and now these new surroundings and new people. He was just pacing on the floor. And refused to sleep. At one point, I lifted him onto the bed and cuddled him. And he … just fell asleep. In literal seconds. I cried that night. Such a sweet little dog, and it hurt to imagine what he might have been through.
Hunter, through his life, had a rebellious streak. He refused to obey orders. And he had the big puppy droopy eyes — reminders of the beagle and basset in him. Long floppy years that flew comically in the wind or when he would run. A white-tipped tail that he held high in the air as he ran.
I kinda thought that he was a tiny bit stupid. Until I realized it’s all a show. When I first tried to crate train them, Hunter would figure a way out of the crate in 5 minutes flat! Then came the puzzles. He was really great at solving puzzles, when a treat was involved. One day, I just happened to have a Styrofoam cup in the house, and I thought — why not try if the pups can figure out how to get a treat from inside the cup? The cup was long and narrow enough that they couldn’t just get the treat by sticking their mouth in it. Hunter kept at that puzzle for many minutes. Trying to tilt the cup. Trying to reach inside at various angles. Trying to roll the cup on the ground. Trying to turn the cup upside down (his own mouth prevented the treat from rolling out! lol). And then at one point, one of his teeth went right through the styrofoam. Hunter just stopped. Perhaps surprised? He looked at me. And then went to work tearing out a part of the styrofoam cup to get at the treat. But he refused to obey anything I asked of him, almost on principle.
He was described as an “escape artist” on the form from SPCA, Baltimore. And indeed, a few months after he had been with us, one day, we had left the front door accidentally open, and Hunter runs out. He had a good run around the neighborhood. And made us have a good run around the neighborhood before deciding to come home with us.
He loved sniffing everything. And for a decent bit of time. Savoring that blade of grass, all the passage of different creatures recorded in the odor profile of that grass. Or who knows why? Maybe he was just a junkie for grass smell. He had all his regular spots, along the 3–4 regular walking paths, where sniffing needs to be performed like a ritual. I used to be irritated at that. Until, one day, I was both amazed and curious at his curiosity. There was just something so intense about his experiencing that blade of grass with such attention and focus. I wondered if I have ever experienced a sound, a smell, a touch, a sight with that intensity. What would it be like to do so? It is hard to sustain that feeling every time he needs a good 1-min sniff, though. So, I started jogging in-spot when he stopped to sniff. That worked out excellently! He would get his sniff uninterrupted, and I could feel good about putting in a bit of exercise. Hunter was more accomplished at the practice though. I needed to remind myself every once in a while to reframe the stopping as an interesting moment to jog rather than a boring moment waiting for Hunter to move on, and that made any irritation evaporate.
Hunter loved to be comfortable. In any given place, he would seek out the softest mattress and sink in. New beds were especially dear to him. When I bought a new IKEA day bed, Hunter was the first to try it out. It met his approval. But the Purple mattress was his favorite. He would lay there with the head on the pillow. And he loved being on my side of the bed, on my pillow. That was his favorite spot during the day. At night, if I would get up to use the bathroom, I would invariably find Hunter in my spot when I returned. And it took coaxing, cuddles, scratches, and sometimes scolding and literally rolling him over, in order to reclaim my spot.
He didn’t follow me around the house. But somehow he always knew where I was. Like, if I step out to get the mail, he knows: I would find him at the door when I enter. If I changed rooms — especially to one where there was access to a couch or mattress, he would leave the Purple mattress and come sleep on the couch/mattress. And if he heard me open a can or perhaps smelled it, he would come running to the kitchen, ‘cuz it’s dinner time. He loved dinner time. When I first got him, I was worried that he scarfs his food down too fast, and I need to make him eat more slowly.
He hated eating medicines. First I tricked him using peanut butter, then he grew out of it and started hating PB. Then he grew out of cheese that had a pill in it (he could tell if the cheese is hiding a pill or not). At the end, he was mostly ok if the pill was embedded in a chunk of wet food. Though sometimes, he figured out a way to eat everything and spit out the pill. Always keeping me at my wits’ end!
He had separation anxiety. He hated being left alone. He gradually learnt how to not be too anxious when I would go to work, as long as Molly was with him. Once I left him alone for an hour to take molly to the vet. He had turned that room upside down by the time I was back. I never left him alone after that.
This also meant he barked at other dogs. A lot. Walking him was challenging for me, and I had to improvise walks based on whether I see another dog walking ahead or a clear road. He loved playing with doggies off the least, but when on the leash, he would bark.
Hunter was a medium sized dog. But I think he had, in his mind, size-altering ability. As soon as I would come back from work, and if I were to sit on a futon-couch or the bed, he would jump into the lap and become a tiny lapdog. But if he saw a dump truck, the large one with scary noise, he would try to attack it and bark at it, as if he was some giant monster dog who would take on this dump truck opponent. Dump trucks were evil and meant to be vanquished. School buses were suspicious, to be monitored until they were far enough away that they couldn’t cause damage. Cars were boring and to be ignored. And bicycles were pests, to be run after and eradicated. And kitty cats fit into that hierarchy somewhere, on some days. If it was an interesting enough kitty.
Hunter was the naughty one. I make them spit out any “food” they might pick up off the road during walks. Once he tried to hide a piece of chicken wing under his tongue after picking it up on his walk. I only noticed when he acted like he didn’t pick up anything, but was later chewing when I stopped looking at him. Once he ate a whole 8oz bar of cheese (or maybe shared it with Molly). He loved eating tissue paper.
And he was my companion through so much in my life. breakup, heartbreak, depression. Once when I was going through a strong depressive episode, I lay on the day bed, unable to really get up and do things, and Hunter and Molly came up on the bed and snuggled one on each side, demanding scratches. They made me smile, reminding me of how simple love could be if I let myself experience it.
Hunter is no more. In a way. I won’t cuddle him again, or try to rush him on a walk, or jog while watching him sniff a blade of grass. I won’t try to ask him to drink water slowly. Worry about him eating something off the road on his walk and getting a stomach upset.
As I sit on the porch, watching the fall unfolding in front of my eyes, I see life and death in everything. The leaves dying, falling gracefully. The squirrels busily scurrying around. Birds flying around, chirping, hopping, picking out worms and crickets from the ground. The worms die as a bird eats them. There are some trees with brilliant colors, before they drop the leaves. So much beauty all around, it’s almost overwhelming to the senses. And I am reminded, it’s all temporary. I can feel in my very core how everything I experience is temporary, almost momentary like the splash of a raindrop in a puddle. And so is all emotion that’s associated with it. So much beauty. in life. in death. in pain. And knowing it’s all temporary just makes it so much more intense.
The memories will fade in time. But right now, I want to experience them all.
PS: My journey with Hunter was made much easier because of the help and support of Mark and Millie (who used to walk them, board them when I was on travel, and basically, be second parents to Hunter and Molly), and the doctors and staff at Light Street Animal Hospital (in Baltimore) and Lynn Animal Hospital (in Riverdale), and Beth Roberts who groomed them.