Casey Jones died May 14th 2001, around 4 am, from cancer, and complications resulting from treatments for epilepsy and arthritis. From the winter of 1988 until that day, he was my constant companion, a rare combination of wolf/husky/lab with gold eyes, a soft coat, keen intelligence and a very silly sense of humor. I've spent quite a bit of time since then writing, trying to put into words some of the thoughts and memories I've been having.
Early on monday, my neighbor Johnny stopped by to say goodbye to Casey. He brought a rose, a hug and some memories of when he, his dog Barley, Casey and I all shared this house maybe 10 years ago. Johnny used to throw a short piece of 2x4 wood out to the back fence from the deck, and Barley would fetch that stick with great dedication and enthusiasm, no matter how long he threw it.
Casey would sit next to Johnny and watch Barley fetch, like it was great fun to observe, but he had no intentions of participating. Then, every so often, he would suddenly run when the wood flew - race to the fence and beat Barley to the stick, but only tag it; holding it in his mouth just long enough to show Barley that he had it first, before leaving it there and racing back to the porch.
but he would never, ever fetch anything himself.
Casey's non-fetching was a source of amusement for quite a few of his friends, and at some point, became a test of sorts whenever a new person entered his environment, especially if he thought they were interested in me.
Sometimes, he would even approach with a stick, looking as if he really wanted to play.
"Want to fetch a stick, Casey?" the hapless victim might say.
"Casey doesn't fetch." I would offer.
The next sequence of events would play out as if Casey was testing his people-training skills.
"He just needs to learn how", they would assure me, "here boy, here's a stick, want the stick?".. Well, of course he wanted the stick, he was using it to have fun with the people. There would be some playing around, to encourage his interest, then the stick would be thrown. Casey would watch very carefully to see where it went, and then sit down and smile up at the thrower, his face a study in sincerity and the desire to please.... clearly enjoying himself thoroughly."Get it! get it!" they would cry, then finally realizing that he wasn't going to, they would walk to the stick and bring it back to try again, still believing that he just needed to be "shown how".
Casey caught on to the game of fetch at about 13 weeks old. He fetched a toy for me once, watched me throw it again, sat down and thought about it for awhile, then never fell for it again. He would express irritation or annoyance by making a slight cough and then clicking his enormous fangs closed with a snap, and that's the first occasion I remember him doing that.
<cough> *click*He would behave as though he was really into the idea though.. showing great enthusiasm about sticks, dancing in a circle with delight as the poor unknowing person teased him with the stick and then threw it.... While they went to get it, he would sit and watch every move, as if he wanted to fetch but just didn't understand quite yet... then they would repeat this procedure.... If they didn't catch on pretty quickly, I took it as a sign that this was not an enlightened enough biped to hang around my house.If they kept pestering him with the stick, they would eventually discover another rule to live by: never play keep-away with a wolf. He would just pick the right moment, and suddenly snatch the stick out of their hand, usually uncomfortably close enough for them to count their fingers. During parties in the backyard, inevitably someone would try to entice him to play, and often there would be a chorus from the initiated, in a resigned tone, knowing what would happen next; "Casey doesn't fetch..."The phone call that I got last night was from an old friend who's known Casey all his life. He called and said hi, then there was a long pause as we both tried to figure out what to say... but then he blurted out -
"Do you think that by now Douglas Adams has figured out that Casey doesn't fetch?"
I was trying to cheer myself up by coming up with epitaphs... things to put on a tombstone if I were writing one for Casey... they all sound silly to me, so they gave me a chuckle...
"Here lies Casey Jones..."
"...not into fetching."
"...he never dug holes"
"...yes, that was his tongue."
"...a friend to possums."
"...not the hair, please, not the hair."
"...he always licked the pot clean"
"...not one for chasing squirrels"
"...willing to bark for treats."
"...just give me bisquits and scratch my butt."
"...oh, is that MY plate?"
My friend Andy came over last night and helped me dig a hole for Casey, so he could be buried close to his favorite azaleas.. and I kind of assumed that later I'd find a matching one to plant over him, but today while sitting in the yard thinking about him, I got the giggles really badly when it occurred to me that a more appropriate thing to plant there would be a dogwood tree. :)
Casey could be described as stubborn, but I think that's not a strong enough word.The first time I saw Casey, he was under t he arm of the kid from next door, who had a similar yellow thing under his other arm, slung like two sacks of rice.
"you wanna puppy?"...
I had been there 3 months, and a friend of mine was sitting on the couch with me, talking about all the stuff he wanted to store in my garage "just until I find another place for it". We put the puppies in the living room and they began their sniff-tour of the place. It was pretty sparce, I had a couch and a lamp, one small table and the stereo. The stove and refrigerator were in the dining room because the kitchen had been gutted. Bob Carter had come over to bring me a house warming present a few days before - a slimjim - which he'd delivered with an Oscar Wilde impression... "just *knew* you wouldn't have one of those..."I opened the slimjim and broke off two small pieces, offering them in either hand to the two puppies. The yellow one looked like a sleek golden lab with shepherd markings in light grey, with dark brown eyes, the grey one was very fluffy, with silver boots and face. They devoured the slimjim bits and continued sniffing, and I stuck the rest of it the back pocket of my shorts. We were watching them check out the room, tails wagging, sudden little bursts of scampering, the occasional yap. I reached back to my pocket to give them the rest of the slimjim, and the grey one's head came up, he watched my hand and trotted over to me, sat down and put his head to one side. The yellow one noticed and came over to see what he was doing, but the grey never took his eyes off my hand. I decided that was the smart one, so I kept him.
The first night, I put down newspaper, and the-dog-later-called-Casey immediately dropped to the floor, in complete fear and submission, and pee'd all over himself.Later I learned that the owners had tried to housebreak the puppies by keeping them on newspapers. They'd had some idea that hitting the puppies with your hand would be a bad thing, so instead, they would hit them with rolled up newspapers whenever they missed the paper. He had made the connection between the newspaper itself, and being hit with the roll in someone's hand.
Just for the record, not only does hitting a wolf-hybrid NOT work, but it will cause them to bite you in self defense. You should never strike one of these creatures. Ever.
I led him outside and put him down in the grass, and he was very excited and scared, but reacted predictably within a few minutes, so I took him back upstairs, stopping at the back door to show that to him. He got the idea right away, and the next time I saw him sniffing, I led him to the back door and got him excited enough to bark. By the third time, he had it down, so it took probably 15 minutes total to housebreak him.
That first night, he was so sad, but I'd decided that he was going to have to get used to the idea that he was alone, so I would go down and sit with him until he was ok, then go back upstairs again. There was an electronic keyboard stored under the couch, and I left it on a slow rhythm most of the night. He always liked that keyboard, and would lie next to it while it was played. He used to howl, tentative at the start but then gaining sincerity, control and volume, a serious concentration showing in his golden eyes, lifting his chin and stretching his neck up and up.Sounded hilariously similar to a cow moaning, and invariably everyone within earshot would be howling too, but with laughter. Apparently we embarrassed him, because he stopped completely by the time he was 2, preferring a wide vocabulary of chortles, grunts, snorts, barks, and utterances eerily distinct as words.
Not really one to bark continuously, but he'd join in a chorus when motivated, Casey had a deep, stern bark. Combined with his blacktipped mane and habit of dropping his head to stare intently as if over glasses, it could be quite unnerving when his attention fell upon you. Even more so if he demonstrated annoyance, irritation, or boredom - while locking eyes with you, he would suddenly drop his lower jaw down and <cough>, *click* ...give you a flash of his fangs. As he got older, he learned to pull his punches, as it were, but when a youngster, he'd play rough with great enthusiasm, and left many scratches and nicks on my hands. The one time he bit me happened while we were playing very roughly, at about 6 months old, and it surprised us both. He put a hole completely through the nail of my thumb, realized he'd hurt me and dropped into a submissive position. I had only recently learned about how much I was going to have to do to remain in control of him, and hadn't really exercised my "Alpha Dog" skills yet.We were walking with Casey off the leash by the river a few years ago, and he'd gotten a bit ahead of me on the path, criss-crossing as he would, checking my location each time he crossed the path. He stopped suddenly, sniffing excitedly at something, so I ran to catch up, and sure enough, it was a disgustingly rotten turtle carcase, held cupped on its inverted shell like an oyster.Dragged him away before he could roll in it - he'd just had a bath and I knew he was looking for some new "fragrance" to cover his clean smell. We played and wandered, and didn't head back for over an hour, the whole time, Casey was really good.. beyond his normal courteous, obedient yet opportunistic behaviour. I should have been suspicious, but was instead lulled into self-congratulation at how well he was listening, and let him precede me back to the car, again off the leash. He started playing, dropping onto his front paws, butt wiggling in the air, he would pounce at me and then sprint away in a big arc, each time coming back onto the trail a bit farther ahead. When we got back to where the turtle was, I had by then forgotten it, but he'd carefully worked far enough ahead to just plunge into it on one of his pounces, flinging himself onto his back and wriggling quickly around before bounding away again, too fast for me to react in time, but clearly pleased with his green, slimy, pungent new scent.
I first met Casey right about his 12th week, when most of his 8 brothers and sisters had been adopted already, but nobody wanted the runt of the litter.
He showed quite a bit of the submissive behaviour one would expect of the smallest of the lot, at least at first. When Casey was about 15 weeks old, and a bit more confident in his new surroundings, I started to teach him about walking on a leash. We'd gotten through a week of wearing a collar, and he had been playing with the leash to get used to it, tugging on it and jumping around in my lap. I put him on the leash and started down the steps, then down the sidewalk to the street, thinking we'd just go to the alley and back. Taking it slowly so he had time for all the smells, he was pretty perky, marching with his tail straight up like a little flag.
About halfway down the block, there came a moment when his direction varied from mine slightly, and I gently tugged on the leash to encourage him to come towards me. He stopped cold, slowly looking up along the leash from my hand back to his neck, looked right at me, and then sat down in a little triangle, his head tilted down, stubbornly stiff in his forelegs, a rigid little 5lb fixture absolutely refusing to budge. No amount of coercion would move him - he resisted so hard that tugging on the leash would move his whole body, still a frozen pyramid. In the end, I had to pick him up when a car came, so he won that round, and it was several more weeks before he would do anything but immediately sit down if I hooked his leash to his collar.Later on, as an adult, Casey at various carefully timed moments used these methods to choose his own path:At a certain angle, he could suddenly leap straight up into the air, twisting his shoulders precisely, and land with his collar off of him. He could only do this under very specific circumstances - his coat needed to be about an inch long, with his mane trimmed fairly high, so it was usually in early september, when he was growing back in. Right at the end of the leash with slight tension, but my attention had to be completely distracted, so that I didn't resist.
It took 3 different occasions for me to catch on completely, he waited two years before trying it again.He also succeeded in slicing two leashes completely through with a snap of his teeth and a short jerk. When I switched to a 2" leather lead, he broke the snap off the first one, wrapped it around a tree and yanked.Of course, when he was younger, he would just jump over the 4 foot chain link fence and hang around the neighborhood all day, coming back into the yard just before I got home. I learned this from neighbor Miz Lowery, one afternoon when he jumped the fence in front of me, and she pointed out that he'd been doing that for 6 months.Back then, he had quite an expressive flag of a tail... a big fluffy arc ending in a very flexible question mark... constantly in motion.Before the car hit him, and I put up the 6ft wooden fence.As he got older and understood more, he gained more freedom, and would often lie on the front porch while I read the paper, watered plants, talked to friends or worked around the front yard. There were a few years he lost that privilege, because I couldn't trust him not to slip off, but early on, and then for the rest of his life, he loved to lounge on the edge of the front porch. Paws hanging over the top step, tongue hanging down to the deck, eyes half lidded, deceptively relaxed. He could vanish like a puff of silvery grey smoke, utterly silent, lightning swift.Many of my neighbors have made my acquaintance while I was walking the streets looking for Casey.."have you seen a big grey fluffy dog?"
"oh him!, yeah, he's been by, real sweetie, but moving pretty fast, he went that way"..."hey, are you looking for this? found him on the back porch, stretched out like he owned the place."... or I'd get a phone call from Mike over at UrbanGeek Records... "hey Mugsy, Casey's over here, the band wants to use him on their cd cover..."If I didn't notice fast enough, or couldn't find him in that time, he would show up about a half hour later, panting, quite pleased, not concerned at all that I was upset with him. Over the years, I tried many variations of reactions to convince him that he shouldn't go running off, but the look in his eyes never varied: no remorse at all, regardless of how upset I was or what the penalty might be.
One winter I got snowed in and spent a large part of the day puttering inside. As I chanced to pass a window on the northeast corner, I noticed a person petting Casey through the fence. The side yard was just a steep slope of weeds at that point, and as I watched the person trudging away through the snow, I realized that there were tracks all over it. There was a steady stream of footprints going up to the gate and back down to the street. Already, he'd had over 30 visits and it was just afternoon. After I put a tag with his name on his collar, he was often greeted by name when we walked down the street, by people that I didn't know.The last day of his life, Casey was really wanting to go for a walk, even though he was only really good for about 15 feet before he needed to sit for a bit.
I opened up the side gate and just let him go wherever he wanted. He made a beeline across the street, head down, tongue way out, a slow and steady pace. I kept up with him easily, but didn't want to hinder him, so I stayed close, in case he needed a boost back up when he went down. Through my neighbors gate, across the back of his house, squeezed through the narrow gap in the fence, onward past the front of the next house, close to the steps without stopping. He didn't hesitate at all, but went straight to the next house, where in the back yard, behind a chain link fence, was a very outraged Chow. This dog had just moved in a few months before, and had been barking ever since. They had never met, to my knowledge, but Casey didn't stop to sniff noses or even acknowledge the dog. He carefully stretched out and pissed on the corner of the fence, and then calmly walked along the fence, nose to the ground, never even making eye contact with the Chow, who was in a hysterical frenzy.
I have never seen a more eloquent 'fuck you'.During Casey's 4th and 5th years, I had a back injury that left me unable to walk very well for several months, followed by years of a slow recovery that required me to walk for a few hours a day. He was always ready to go, even if we couldn't move very fast... his path would be many times as long as mine, since he would essentially circle me, running ahead and then looping around behind, only to come flying past me again. On a few occasions, Robbie went with us down to the river and I would watch from the shoreline as they raced off, leaping as fast as they could, each one attempting to land on every rock before the other. There would be one point at which Robbie would hesitate, not wanting to get his feet wet, and Casey would charge to the front, undaunted by water or weeds, and spin around on the next rock ahead, tongue hanging, daring Robbie to make the leap.wait, I wasn't ready... please don't go yet!
Casey?you can lick my face any time.. even when your breath is really awful... please? I take back all the times I made you get up and move.. every single time I said "git!".. you can sleep on the bed, have as many treats as you want...
I'm sorry for yelling at you, and that time you ran in front of the car when you were a puppy and I smacked you.. I know you didn't trust me for a long time after that and I regretted it so much... I was so scared you'd get killed and wanted you to never, ever get hurt.... please don't go.. please...
I want to bury my face in your mane and smell that dogness just one more time....can I hear you bark? I know you hurt so bad and I couldn't make it stop.. and everything looks like the terrible disease on you.. wasting you.. taking you away from me and giving you so much pain... I'm so sorry Casey, I'm so sorry... I didn't want it to hurt for you and I didn't know how much it already did...will you just do that little grunt thing that means you're happy? Casey? please? all the pills I had to give you, every time I trimmed your nails or made you take a bath... god.. I'm so sorry about working on the computer when you wanted to go for a walk... if I could take back one day, we would spend the whole time at the river and you could get as muddy as you like.... and that horrible dog that shared your backyard for awhile... I'm so so sorry......put your chin on my knee again... stand in front of the tv.. come and lay on the flowers... get in my way when I'm working... fill up the whole kitchen floor so I can't walk... dance for me... I didn't mean for you to leave so soon........just..... lock eyes with me..
...one more time....we've been a dysfunctional duo for so long, I don't know how to stop.He had his first serious illness at about 5 months, car accident at a year and a half, had epilepsy that changed in severity most of his life, there was the incident with the beaver that left him half dead...........all attention revolved around Casey.I resent him for that.
I regret resenting him.
I resist regret
I resent having to resist.
I seek him out.
I need reassurance.
My old roomie, Dr. Mary Winnett sent me a paragraph she wrote, when emailing with a fellow she met at Car Talk, who was speaking to her through his dog....> Eddie returns the greetings and wonders about Casey's scent.
"Casey is delighted to have an e-mail buddy and apologizes for the lack of scents-itivity on the part of his humans, who can say only that he smells very much like a dog. He frequently goes on walks (accompanied by a human) to exchange scent codes with other canines in the neighborhood who, had they been consulted, could confirm Casey's special bouquet. He sometimes sports Eau de Reedy Creek after going on a swim. Occasionally, the aroma of one of the following can be found on his breath: 1) bone 2) catfood 3) bread (also evidenced by an empty plastic bag with teeth holes, which pops up in an unusual location) 4) something chocolate, like brownies (evidenced by a previously full and then empty plate which mysteriously finds its way to the floor) Fortunately the last aroma is rare, as the humans discourage eating of chocolate, saying it can potentially make him very ill. But he (and the humans) have been known to slip up, so far without undesirable consequences."
The neighborhood I live in was featured in a book by Patricia Cornwall, because it was the stalking ground of a serial killer - the Southside Strangler, Timothy Spencer. He was the first person convicted with DNA evidence, a wiley, twisted sadistic man who attempted to frame his own brother for his crimes.
When I bought this house he was already in jail, but the whole area was still a bit jumpy in his aftermath.I think it was the winter of 1990, after Casey's car accident, when I was tired of struggling to keep him in the yard, and decided to replace the 4 foot fence with a 6 foot one. Casey was big by then, 75lbs and resembled a wolf a great deal, but was so friendly, gentle and easy going that I was always a bit unsure if he would be any good as a watchdog. I'd even trained him to "act up" when I said "easy", just to give him the appearance of being dangerous while we were out walking.He spent about a month tied on a lead after I pulled the fence down while waiting for the new one to be built, and he hated every second of it. The lead was first hooked to a pivoting eye on a spike that I would drive into the ground - then after he broke that, looped around a tree. He was spending every moment I was home inside or with me, but those hours tied up were sheer hell for him.
When I got home one night, he was barking frantically, and had pulled the lead under the porch so that he was as far towards the southern corner of the house as he could get. I let him off and he tried to bolt around the side yard, but I brought him inside. He spent the evening pacing and acting strangely, running to the front and then the back door repeatedly. By the time I went to bed, I was exhausted and irritable from trying to calm him down, and I made him sleep in the hallway instead of next to my bed.About 12:30, I woke with a start, thinking I'd heard the bells hanging on the front door ring. The door is heavy, and fits tightly when locked, so the bells wouldn't ring unless someone opened it, or hit it very hard. I rolled over and looked out into the hall, but Casey was downstairs near the front door, and I heard him growl really low, slowly, a long and deadly exhale. He drew in his breath over his teeth in a bloodcurdling hiss and then ran upstairs and spun around as if someone was behind him. I took one look at him, grabbed the phone and dialed 911.Casey was standing at the top of the stairs, looking down, and his fur was huge. It was like he'd expanded in all directions, with his head lowered, his mane wide as a lion's and a ridge up along his back. Some wild animal had taken his place. He was staring down the stairs growling, lip rippling, his fangs bared. I'd never heard him growl before, except in play - this was something else entirely. The operator answered and I said "I have no idea what just happened, but I think someone tried to get in and my dog is going nuts." She said "what do you mean?" and I held the phone out for her to hear him.She said "oh my god!" ...got my address and told me to hold on, then came right back and said "are you dressed? They're on the way, but you need to get out of there."I put the phone down and threw on jeans and a Tshirt, then explained that I was on the second floor. She wanted me to go open the window to the porch roof, and be ready to step out the window if anything changed in the house, but to stay on the phone with her until the cops came. I was watching the clock, and it was 4 minutes from when I called until she said "They're on your front porch, run downstairs and open the door." Casey never stopped growling the whole time, constantly, breath going over his teeth like some hellhound and it made my skin crawl.Flying would better describe how we both went down the stairs, and I threw the door open as fast as I could. Casey hit the first cop in the chest and knocked him down before I could even react, but as the others pulled their guns, we all realized he was frantic with joy, and was licking the poor man's startled face.
There were 5 cars - they had surrounded the house, and they searched the inside, basement and checked all the windows. While they were looking around, Casey was excited like it was a party, and I had to put a leash on him. The officer that stayed inside with me during all this said the 911 operator had played the recording of my panicked voice and Casey's terrifying growl for them, and that they were all positive someone was in the house. He kept shaking his head and looking at Casey prancing around in front of me. "Right now he sure doesn't look like he sounded before". He also said that if the prowler had heard Casey, that must have scared him off. "Gave ME the chills, and I just heard a recording!"I told him about Casey's odd behaviour earlier and he said they'd had other calls about a prowler, and that Casey had probably caught wind of him. He added they'd be cruising the area for awhile, probably the next 24 hours at least, and to flag down a cruiser or call if I saw or heard anything unusual. I asked what I should do next, and he started laughing.. "First thing in the morning, go out and get that dog the biggest bone you can find!"
There's more, one of these days...