Warning: Non-political content.
A long expected and dreaded day came to our household today with the loss of our oldest dog, Mr. Basset. He was approximately nineteen years old. His proper name on his papers was Rascal, and we still called him that from time to time, but mostly he answered to and was known to the world as just Mr. Basset. I would also frequently just refer to him as “Sir” when speaking to him, as he was quite the gentleman. As I’ve done at similar times in the past, I find it somewhat cathartic to share his life story and some pictures with the rest of the world so that, in some small way, he lives on in the memory of others and out on the web. Thanks to his background and records we know a lot more about his entire story than some other shelter rescues we have welcomed into our family.
The following picture is one of my all time favorites of Mr. Basset, taken up at the family camp in the mountains by the lake. He really loved it there, and the profile makes him look, I think, extremely noble. And that he was.
Mr. Basset wasn’t with us as long as some of our other furry friends, coming to us from a breed rescue service when he was already past ten years old. An A.K.C. registered Basset Hound, he was a show dog in his youth, but like so many in that “industry” he lost his place around the age of seven when he was considered “too old” to compete any more and was rather unceremoniously dumped. He was more fortunate than some, in that he quickly found a new home with an elderly, retired gentleman who also had a miniature dachshund. The two dogs quickly became inseparable friends and, by all accounts, had a great time together, traveling around and sleeping with their new owner. It was during that time that Mr. Basset was first diagnosed with cancer, had to have an operation and some follow-up treatment, but was showing tremendous signs of recovery.
Unfortunately, that wonderful owner, who saved many pictures of the pair and got rave reviews from the rescue groups, passed away less than three years later, leaving both dogs in search of yet another home. Sadly, they couldn’t be placed together, as a younger and healthier “wiener dog” was much more adoptable, and the dachshund was off to a new family, leaving Mr. Basset in the care of the Basset rescue group. That’s when he crossed paths with us and came to his permanent home.
Mr. Basset’s medical records were something of a mess and our doctor was afraid that the cancer had returned in his face and behind his eye. Surgery was under consideration, but thought to be risky as the dog was already ten years old. It was decided that we would “monitor the situation” to see what developed. Amazingly, in the first six months, all symptoms effectively disappeared as he settled into his new domain. The vet was rather amazed, though saying that it did *sometimes* just happen. I found it miraculous.
When we once again became a single dog household upon the passing of our last dog, Kenya, the basset was very distraught, which led us to acquire Max, our miniature Schnauzer. (Also an abuse rescue case.) The two bonded immediately and became the best of friends. (A photo of Rascal and Max together up at our camp on the lake.)
The dogs went for a walk each and every morning that the weather would allow with my wife and I, and I think that the one sentence I said to her more often than any other was, “Everyone loves the basset.” And they did. It seemed to be almost impossible for anyone, male or female, old or young, to not immediately be drawn to Mr. Basset. I still remember one walk just recently when we were out strolling with them and two cars pulled up at the corner and stopped, with each driver pausing to stare and to smile. That’s probably what I will remember most about Mr. Basset. He brought a smile to the face of everyone he met. He was a fat old hound dog, so the guys always seemed to like him. And while he weighed nearly 80 pounds, he was low to the ground with those big floppy ears, watery eyes and short legs, so ladies and children did not find him threatening.
(A picture of the basset with some of my nieces and nephews up at camp. )
One elderly grandmother up the street from us did not even own a dog, but took to buying boxes of dog biscuits and knew when we went for walks, and would hurry out to give him a treat and pet him. I’ve long since lost count of how many people I’ve met in this town simply because they would approach to ask questions about Mr. Basset and pet him.
We’ve had some other dogs who came from abusive backgrounds and tended to be a bit overprotective and snappish. Some could not be trusted around children. Not the basset, though. He simply didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Kids could run up and hug him, stroke his ears, and the smallest could even try to ride him, and he bore it all with dignity and without complaint. I can say without reservation that Mr. Basset was the most gentle animal it has ever been my pleasure to know. And, as I said, everyone who saw him smiled. He brightened the days of many people who never came into his life again.
Perhaps more than any of our other pets, Mr. Basset really loved going up to the mountains to the family camp on the lake. He didn’t care all that much for the car ride, but once there, he loved riding in the boat with his long ears flapping in the breeze and wandering around by the lake, napping on the rocks in the summer sun. He actually got to go twice last year, and I’m now very, very happy that we made the extra trip with him. A rare photo of the basset and I lounging around.
After coming to live with us, Mr. Basset’s fortunes changed for the better and his fame grew far beyond the neighborhood. We were worried that he had “gone Hollywood” on us when he landed a starring role in a short horror film as a police dog who helped officers hunt zombies. Sadly, that career was cut short when he turned up passed out drunk at the cast Christmas party.
Later, Mr. Basset briefly flirted with a career in politics when Liz Mair and I pushed a short lived, but very popular Twitter campaign to get him elected as the next Chairman of the RNC. Unfortunately, we came up a few votes short in the third round and Mr. Basset had to withdraw.
Rascal had a long road and, I think, a very full life. Upon arriving here my wife sewed and crafted two large dog beds for him with thick cushions and a pillow – one in the living room and one in our bedroom where he slept each night. He always ate well… sometimes too well, living up to his original name of “Rascal” by stealing snacks or even slices of pizza if they were left unattended.
But perhaps the most unexpected and humorous reminder I will have of him comes in the form of our little schnauzer, Max. He came from a badly abused background, seized by the police from a puppy mill. Apparently the abusive operator would punish the animals for making noise and they had virtually no human contact. As a result, when he came to live with us, he never barked at all. I didn’t even know if he had vocal chords. It’s as if he was afraid to raise his voice. But the basset had no such restrictions. When it was time for his daily walk, both before and after, he was very excited and would let out that stereotypical and somewhat unique basset bay. BAAROOOOOOOO! And then one day, when we returned home from the walk, he broke into that same song and suddenly little Max rose up on his back legs and bayed in a thin, high pitched sound! (baaroooooooooo!) We’ve dealt with many dogs over the years and I’ve never heard such a sound from one of these little ones who typically yip and yap. Since then he’s had a lot more practice, doing it every day at walk time. And in the future, whenever I hear Max rise up and bay, I will think of Mr. Basset, who taught the little dog how to sing.
We had our first serious health scare with Mr. Basset in 2009. While out for his morning walk, he suddenly began coughing, wheezing, hacking and then collapsed on the sidewalk with foam coming out of his mouth. It was a major seizure. It was also a Sunday and we had to load his mostly inert frame into the truck and rush him to a veterinary emergency clinic, as our doctor’s office was close. He looked like a goner, but by the time we got there and the vet finished an initial exam, Mr. Basset suddenly woke up, got up, and began sniffing around the office. It was as if nothing had happened. The vet scheduled a follow-up with our normal office and said to keep an eye on him.
Later that same year, another seizure came, but this one was even worse. By the time Mr. Basset awoke, he could not get up on his own, walk or even stand for more than a minute or so. He was effectively paralyzed. Being already nearly 17 years old and far beyond the point where any further surgery could be risked, the doctors were suggesting that he had lived a long, full life, and it might be time to let go. My wife and I discussed it not only with each other, but with Mr. Basset as well. Yes, at this point, I will confess in public that I always talk to the dogs in an audible voice. I think they understand most of what I say and I’m frequently home alone, so they are great conversational companions.
In as close as it could possibly come to being in an audible voice, as God is my witness, I swear the basset gave me a clear message. “Not yet,” he said. “I’m not done.”
My wife and I agreed that Mr. Basset would indeed let us know when he was done and we took him home. For a couple of days I had to carry Mr. Basset everywhere… up the stairs to the bedroom at night, down the stairs in the morning, outside and down the steps to the lawn for his bathroom time. Weighing in at over 70 pounds at the time this was no mean feat, but he always remained a gentleman and waited until I took him outside to tend to “his business.” He never made a mess inside. We had to move his food and water dishes next to his bed. By the time the second night rolled around and I had lugged Mr. Basset’s fat frame up to bed, my wife and I began discussing the possibility that perhaps we had overestimated the heroic hound’s amazing powers of recovery and, just perhaps, the doctors had been right about throwing in the towel.
On the morning of the third day, Mr. Basset stood up.
Within hours he was walking, albeit with a bizarre, ungainly, rolling shuffle which I don’t think any basset had ever used before. He was learning to walk all over again, all by himself, and teaching himself to use his remaining functional muscles in new ways. He fell down a lot (and continued to do so occasionally to the end of his days) but, damn it, HE WAS WALKING. He returned to his normal routine within a week.
Over the last two years, Mr. Basset had several more seizures, though none as bad as the one that paralyzed him. Each time he was up and around again within the day, back to his usual rounds, patrolling the neighborhood and keeping it safe, inspecting every phone pole, fire hydrant and street sign for scents of intruding canines.
Which brings us to today.
Mr. Basset got up as usual, but around 7 o’clock I found him standing in the kitchen, his head hanging down with his nose touching the floor, eyes close and breathing erratically. He could only walk slowly, with difficulty, and could not manage the steps going outside. He would slowly make his way back and forth between water dishes, lapping up a small amount of liquid and would not eat anything. I even made his favorite breakfast food, eggs over easy in butter, and he wouldn’t touch it. We had to consult with the Vet and the news was not good.
My wife and I had a tearful discussion and it became clear that, at long last, after roughly 19 years, Mr. Basset was letting us know that he was, indeed, done.
We took him back over to the office. Our Vet is a remarkable woman, a consummate professional, but also a very caring human being. As they did with our last dog, Kenya, it was agreed that they would take Mr. Basset inside for prep work and getting an IV put in his arm, but then, given the excellent weather, they would bring Mr. Basset back outside on to the small hill by their office. He would end his days on his favorite blanket, laid out on the grass in the warm sunshine, and not on some cold metal table in an office he did not recognize as home. She first gave him a general anesthetic and medicine to have him fall asleep on his blanket. Then in the second stage of the procedure, just as with Kenya before him, he was sent on his way to whatever eternal reward good dogs have waiting for them. And he was a very, very, very good dog.
So there you have it… the story of Rascal, a.k.a. Mr. Basset. He was a gentle soul in a world too often cruel to his kind. He will be missed, but also always remembered with love. And by launching this story out into the web, perhaps it will live on far beyond both me and the hound in question, and people will know of his goodness and the amazing life he lived. And just maybe that bastard, the original breeder, who dumped him at the age of seven for being “too old” will one day become curious as to what happened to his charge and, searching, stumble upon this story. And he’ll find that he abandoned that magnificent creature when he wasn’t even half way through his life, and how much joy and wonder he brought to so many people in the many years to come.
And that’s the story of Mr. Basset. A couple more photos follow for you to enjoy as I say goodbye to my very good friend.
Mr. Basset as Judge Dread
Mr. Basset with a heating pad and a squishy pillow in his final days.