It is with the heaviest of hearts that our family has had to bid farewell to our beloved dog Bridget, who was a part of our family for 15-1/2 years. Bridget passed in her sleep peacefully.
It was nothing short of a miracle that she lived that long, what with her propensity to follow her bliss and nearly daily for many, many years making a break for it through her electric fence (despite the beefed-up fortification in the collar), following her part-Australian heritage (cattle dog/Blue Heeler/dingo) to go on a walkabout.
With regularity we made calls to neighbors, hoping someone had gotten a bead on Bridget’s location as she ran with abandon through streets, yards, ponds, woods and occasionally beloved mudpits that flank our neighborhood. Once she was found miles away across a busy highway that we still can’t figure out how she got to.
Bridget went by many names: Bridget, Lulu, Loochie, Smooch, Smoochie, Bear, Poochie and Poochalina, though our parrot Graycie knew her only as Bridget, which we know because she frequently yelled at Bridget (in my voice) to stop barking (and to not eat her). We called her the Pick-Up Truck Dog Living in the Mini-Van World, and while she no doubt would have loved to roam for her whole life on a wide swath of farmland, I think she was relatively happy we rescued her from an abandoned litter left to die on the side of a road. We’re only sorry we never had the time to get her involved in agility courses, because she was a clever, intelligent girl and would have loved that. Nevertheless, she was equally happy romping in the woods and coming up with a deer leg in her mouth, or with her snout buried to her eyeballs in a mud puddle by the creek.
We joked that Bridget shed her coat for all seasons, between the Australian bit of her and the Husky part, and that Husky blood meant she loved nothing more than a good snow. Luckily she got to enjoy a few more this winter, burying her face in the snow and happily prancing down our steep hill out back, aging hips be damned.
Even yesterday she was frolicking around like a pup, enjoying a beautiful, sunny, relatively warm afternoon, rolling around on the hill out back. When she came in covered in straw, I tried coaxing her back outside to brush the grasses off, and, in keeping with her lifelong distrust of anyone who wanted to catch her, she ever so reluctantly relented (after making me work for it), just barely allowing me to dust off the collected hay on her fur (and flinching first, natch).
Last night the cat even let her give her a good sniff, so maybe Sushi knew it was Bridget’s time. Lulu got to lick the ice cream bowl at bedtime, and enjoyed a few doggy cookies just as she went to bed last night. All in all a good day for an old dog, who will be missed terribly by her human family. Today Sassy, our 12-1/2 year old labrador, is staying close by my side. I am sure she is sad to lose her ever-so-dominant sister.
Dear, sweet Bridget, we hope you are now able to roam the wilds of heaven with nary an electric fence or gun-wielding hunter or treacherous car or thoughtful neighbor to stop you. We love you, sweet Lulu. Rest in ever loving peace.
In Bridget’s honor I’m posting below a quintessential Bridget story that appeared in the humorous dog anthology I’M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP (proceeds of which benefited the Humane Society, fitting, for our pound pooch).
MY DOG THE DOMINATRIX
When I think about it, it’s a wonder our rescue dog didn’t come into our lives wielding a leather whip, sporting black patent leather thigh-high boots and a spiked collar. While the accoutrements of her temperament did not accompany her, the dominatrix collar would come, eventually. Only to her chagrin, it would be at her expense.
Bridget—our dingo–mush dog mash-up—came to us ready-made with issues. So much so that early in our relationship, a friend gave us a book on how to live with a neurotic dog: Everyone in our circle of friends knew that Bridget required coping skills far beyond what’s required for your average mutt.
An impulse acquisition just a little too soon after the loss of our first dog, Bridget made up for in cute what she lacked in social acceptability. From a litter of abandoned five-week-old pups left on the side of the road to die, Bridget’s survival skills held her in good stead long enough to be rescued; her mesmerizing gemstone blue pie eyes gave her the edge in landing a group of suckers who didn’t quite need a high-maintenance dog, but would never dream of giving her up once in their care. That would be us: the Gardiners, who never met a pet they wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth for, against all logic.
Now some of you may know about my family because of my memoir about our demanding African gray parrot, Graycie, a surprise gift nearly twenty-five years ago (the gift that keeps on giving, we like to say). Between our three small children (a fourth, if you count Graycie, with the intelligence and manipulative skills of a clever toddler), a few doddering cats with failing kidneys, and a not-even-back-from-the-crematory dead dog, by the time Bridget came along, we were up to our eyeballs in creatures that needed our undivided attention.
Despite yearning for a break from dog maintenance, lingering in the back of my mind when confronted with the immediate prospect of taking home this adorable pooch was the mantra I’d heard so often in my life about how great adopted dogs are.
“Get a pound pup!” people would advise (unsolicited, mind you). “They make the best pets. They’re so grateful for your love, and much more well behaved.”
I’m fairly sure these are the same people who’d assured me that my oversized nine-plus-pound newborn would sleep through the night in a matter of days (versus the nine months it took). In any event, Bridget must not have gotten that memo.
Bridget is sharp, both in intellect and appearance. There are no soft, smooth, family-dog curves to her. She’s seemingly made up purely of geometric angles, from her long narrow snout and her pointy ears—prone to shift position like satellite antennae when discerning noises—to her angular haunches, which jut up like shark fins when she’s poised in permanent ready-to-pounce mode. The only curve to her is her bushy tail, which arches in a regal semicircle, the tip of which sometimes dusts the food on our dinner plates when she walks beneath the table at mealtime.
I’ve always thought Bridget had the intellect and guile to work in counterintelligence were she human; she’s savvy, intuitive, sometimes too smart for her own good. Even at the ripe age of eleven, our girl is perpetually at the ready, void of the capacity to rest at will. Too much to do, too much to be wary of. Rarely does she sleep lying on her side; relaxation does not come easily to her.
Bridget came with three pronounced problems that needed correction: dominant aggression (who knew that snippy pups became bitey dogs? Labradors never do!); severe wanderlust (which meant containing a creature with the single-minded determination to escape theretofore only seen in Allied POWs); and incessant barking (the latter two no doubt being mere subsets of her dominatrix spirit).
The aggression surprised us—we’d brought home an extremely docile puppy. Hell, those first few days, we could’ve bitten her and she wouldn’t have complained, sleeping peacefully in our laps as she did. But once we de-wormed her and got rid of a bad case of temperament-suppressing parasites, Bridget morphed from mild-mannered to wild-mannered, so dominant she even lifted her leg to pee. So dingo-dominant we took to regularly saying with a pronounced put-another-shrimp-on-the-barbie accent, “Dingo ayte mah baybay” when in her presence. She’d put any male dog to bitter shame, hands down. Our first task was to dominate the hell out of the dog by poking, prodding, picking, pulling, and otherwise letting her know we were her bosses. This worked, to the surprise of the vet who’d warned us to give her away because her aggression could be dangerous. But we could never have cast aside a pup our family had fallen in love with, and so we worked within her constraints. Sure, maybe she transferred her dominance of people to dogs, but that we could live with.
By then the kids had taken to calling her Lulu, a highly extrapolated bastardization of some Portuguese term of endearment our Brazilian neighbor used with her daughters. It sounded something like pichulinha, which the kids changed to Poochaleenia, which then became Smoochie Pooch, which then became Looch, which then became Loochie, which then became Lulu. For good measure we threw in the middle name of Louise, so that when it came time to chastise her for bad behavior (a frequent happening), we had just the right cadence: a commanding “Bridget Louise Gardiner” in a stern voice that seemed to elicit far more respect than merely hollering “Lulu!”
With the dominance at least in check, we had to address her unrequited wanderlust, so that Bridget didn’t end up on the wrong end of a hunter’s rifle in the plentiful woods surrounding our home (even I have mistaken her tan, rust, and black camouflage coat for a fleeing deer amid the autumn woods), or meet a premature end courtesy of a passing car. Used to her freedom since infancy, being contained in an acre-sized yard was practically solitary confinement for Bridget, whom we’d learned was part Blue Heeler, an Australian dingo-canine marriage bred to nip at the heels of wayward cattle to keep them in line. Whenever we take Bridget hiking, she runs loops around us, as if to herd us along according to some mysterious genetic dogma. The irony did not escape us that a dog tasked with corralling other creatures defied corralling herself. She has the speed of a cheetah and can accelerate from zero to sixty faster than a Mustang convertible. So being limited to the confines of a quasi-rural suburbia wasn’t exactly to her liking.
We took to calling Bridget the Pickup Truck Dog Living in the Minivan World. Poor thing was ill suited to a universe not completely of her own free will. When the standard electric fence failed to restrain her escapist tendencies (I swear she sat there smugly buffing her nails, puffing her breath to polish them up just as she steeled herself for the breakout each time), we knew we had to graduate up to the “stubborn dog collar.”
Powered by a nine-volt battery in a fist-sized pack, the collar issues a jolt to any border-crossing violator who dares compromise its perimeter. Finally we were able to somewhat confine Lulu to prevent her from being hit by a car (or terrifying elderly passersby and impressionable children with what ultimately became a rather menacing ice blue glare she’d mastered). We still recall the guilt-inducing moment at which Bridget first tried to breach her mother-of-all-dog-fences: She let out a yelp so long and loud that our parrot immediately picked it up and began repeating it, just to make us feel worse (even if it was for her own safety). This fence didn’t always keep Lulu in; rather, it gave her pause to consider long and hard whether it was worth the zap. So at least her meanderings dropped from daily to quarterly. Progress, in our estimation.
The barking, however, seemed to defy any and all of our attempts to subdue it. We’ve been told it’s the husky in her, but whatever it is, her barking is the hallmark and bane of our lives. Bridget barks to get in, she barks to go out, she barks to go up, she barks to come down. She barks to get fed, she barks because she doesn’t want food. She barks at houseguests, our neighbors’ houseguests, probably at houseguests in the neighborhood adjacent to ours. She barks at the mailman, the UPS man, the FedEx man. If we had a gardener, she’d bark at him (or her). She barks at people walking by, dogs walking by, cars driving by, birds flying by, bunnies hopping by, deer gamboling by, squirrels, mice, cats, tumbling leaves, mist, enveloping fog, fear-instilling thunder, jangling telephones, and our wing-flapping parrot. You name it, she barks at it.
Yes, attempts were made to curb the behavior. Clicker training—known to work even on feral cats!—meant to whip Bridget into obedience shape worked basically only when Bridget wanted it to. That would be when she was in the mood for the malodorous liver treats that worked best. Unfortunately, Bridget has always been an eat-to-live dog (unlike our live-to-eat Labrador, who would probably tap dance while whistling “Dixie” if it meant getting more food), and more often than not couldn’t care less about a freebie Scooby Snack. Fact is, the only thing we had that she really wanted was her freedom.
And so one night when my husband was away and I was hosting a large gathering of women from the neighborhood for a ladies night out party, Bridget’s barking became too much. Despite the deafening din of the chatter of nearly a hundred women, Bridget’s shrill, ear-piercing bark each time the doorbell rang was threatening to ruin the party. Now, I know that everyone “in the know” in the dog world sees nothing wrong with crating a dog. Sure, crating has its purposes. But crating Bridget in particular always gave me pause, because despite her love of a good cave to protect her from an abiding fear of impending storms (trust me, she’s crashed her way out of all containment vessels, scratched her way out of drywall and even wall-to-wall carpeting when the crack of thunder or fireworks is upon us), she loathed being stuffed in a dog crate. But I knew it might be my only chance at silencing the thing. I tried to placate her with a large beef bone. Bridget had what’s called a hard mouth and could chew her way through stainless steel if given enough time, so we’d abandoned cute little puppy toys—which ended in shreds and shards—in favor of the more durable beef shank bones, which I’d boil and stuff with cheese or peanut butter. I’m fairly certain hundreds of years hence, archeologists will encounter countless cow femurs buried in the myriad holes that Bridget has dug in our once pristine yard and will wonder what kind of legs-only creature once must have roamed this land.
Sure enough, for the duration of the party, Bridget remained quiet in her spacious cage in the darkened mudroom. Somewhere in that reptilian area of my brain that senses impending disaster, I knew that she was stewing. Stewing and scheming. I just felt it in my bones. But a few glasses of wine later, I was sufficiently lubricated into a false level of trust in our little beastie girl.
A few weeks earlier I’d overheard a neighbor at a Christmas party lamenting, “And she just barks and barks and barks.”
Still fairly new to our town, I was especially sensitive to our dog’s intrusive ways.
“I hope you’re not talking about Bridget,” I said with more than a bit of trepidation.
“As a matter of fact, I am,” she replied, minus any warm smile that would have assured me it was fine.
So when another invited neighbor couldn’t attend my party because she had to awaken at four in the morning to catch a flight, I knew I didn’t want Bridget to pull her usual shenanigans post-party and sneak out to bark at the moon and various nocturnal creatures when I wasn’t looking.
Nearing midnight, as I focused my attention on hauling several leaking and bottle-laden garbage bags out the back door, that opportunistic canine, obscured from my view by the bags, thrust her way past my legs and took off into the night.
Dismayed, I at first stood on our back deck and naively tried kindness to coax Bridget into coming back into the house. Bridget, by then at the bottom of a steep seventy-degree hill that leads to our soccer-field-length backyard, was well beyond reach, and barking nonstop. Chasing the thing through landmines of dog poop and dug holes (her specialty) was not going to yield my prize. So I spoke with the mellifluous voice of a parent to a newborn, hoping cooler heads would prevail.
“Come on, sweetie,” I cajoled.
“I’ll give you a tre-at!” I promised, extending the word into two syllables.
If Bridget could have stuck up one paw and extended that middle digit my way, she would have. Instead she resumed her bark-a-thon.
After a good half hour of failed kindness, I tried wile. Maybe not SPCA-endorsed wile, but wile nonetheless. I went inside and picked up our aging, user-friendly calico cat, Hobbes, till then soundly sleeping on the sofa, and carried her out to the deck.
And then I did something I’m particularly not proud of: I held Hobbes aloft in a precursor to Michael Jackson on the balcony in Germany with his baby boy Blanket before his throng of adoring fans, and suspended the cat to tempt Bridget to come in. Okay, so I was tired. And I figured Bridget always loved a good cat bark session, so surely she’d fall for the old kitty-dangling maneuver, right?
But matching my exhausted-mom-of-three-and-four-glasses-of-wine-induced stupor to her perpetually alert wits was useless. Again came the one-finger salute. Figuratively, of course.
I then took to stewing in my own juices. By then a good hour had passed. It was after one in the morning; I was exhausted. My bark-averse neighbor was no doubt dialing the police to lodge a complaint. The other one was going to start her vacation exhausted and pissed at me. Since Bridget was nearly as fast as a gazelle, a chase would never land in the win column for me. What I needed, I knew, was a lasso. But I didn’t have anything resembling that (nor the skills to use it).
Now understand, my brain was fogged. Logic was not at the forefront. But I remembered from obedience classes that a spray bottle of vinegar water works to stop bad behavior in dogs. Only she was far out of reach of my little spray bottle. But I remembered using a can of wasp spray one time and damn, that stuff shot far. I picked up the phone, dialing the emergency vet.
“Hi,” I said, warming up for the stupid question. “I was wondering, if I sprayed wasp spray at a dog just to temporarily disable her, would that endanger her?”
“Um, can I please have your name and address?” the vet tech asked.
Realizing that animal services would soon be two steps behind the police who were no doubt heading my way, I hung up. Okay, clearly wasp spray was toxic and a bad idea. But what? What could lure an intractable and deliberately defiant canine at what was then two in the morning? And then it came to me. In the dead of winter, on a frigid January night, while Bridget continued to bark undeterred, I fired up the gas grill and went inside to unearth a package of desiccated hot dogs buried in the bowels of my freezer. With a sharp knife and mallet, I hammered at the slab of rock-hard meat until two hot dogs gave way. And then I slapped those puppies on the grill.
I wondered if any neighbors noticed in their sleep the acute aroma of roasting hot dogs floating across the cold night air (and wonder who the insane person was barbecuing at that hour). But I had my plan. And when the smell seemed to overtake even the hint of skunk that often lingers late at night, I knew it was time. I grabbed my frankfurters and proceeded down the steep hill to the flat yard.
“Hey, Bridge,” I cooed.
“Look what I’ve got for yo-u!” I singsonged, knowing she was bullshit-proof but feeling desperate enough to give it a go anyway.
First she stopped barking for a minute. Then she brazenly made eye contact with me. I tried the “I’m the boss” stare, fixing my gaze upon hers with riveting intensity. Ever so slowly I inched forward, like a cop trying to persuade the bad guy to drop the gun. And I dangled those weenies, closer and closer. Promise, I’ll get the judge to reduce your sentence if you just come willingly.
And finally, whomp! Straight out of the fairy tale in which the fox chomps down on the Gingerbread Man, Bridget made her move, snatching at one of the hot dogs in a front-back pivot attempt to grab and go. But I was pissed, and a defiant dog is no match for an angry, exhausted me in the middle of the night. I reached down, grabbed her collar, and marched her up the hill without benefit of a hot dog reward, which I flung in the woods for some other wild creature to enjoy, while strains from the ebullient victory march in Peter and the Wolf played in my mind.
Over the years, Bridget has mellowed. And despite the frustrations with her defiance, we love our girl and appreciate that much of her dominance, at least in her mind, is for our own good: She’s got our backs, even if it means she’s not exactly in close proximity while she has them.
I’ve always felt bad that we didn’t have the time to channel Bridget’s energies by training her with canine agility classes, or even dog Frisbee. She was ready-made for such fun. But the other side of that is she’s had a long, happy, and somewhat independent life with us. Had we not rescued her, or had she been adopted by someone who then listened to the advice and got rid of her, Bridget would never have lived to see a decade of life, because she would have been put down.
As she climbs into her twilight years, she can’t always run like she used to. Two torn ACLs keep her down occasionally, rendering her a bit like a thoroughbred left to pasture. But sometimes she’ll muster up the same eff-you attitude she used to use with the stubborn dog fence and will spring into action to chase some deer or a rabbit. Her hard mouth has become softer; bad dental genes have left her in a tooth deficit. And the older she gets, the more she is hamstrung by impending storms (some internal barometer of hers has always warned her hours beforehand). But Bridget has remained loyal and loving and every day we are so grateful we didn’t listen to that well-intended advice to get rid of our adorable little pooch. She’s enriched our lives probably more than we hers, and even when she is gone she will be immortalized for the rest of Graycie’s life each time the parrot warns our Smoochie girl not to eat her by saying, “Bridget, no! You’re a bad, bad girl!”