Category Archives: Pets

Tearjerker: Dying Man’s Final Wish to be Reunited With Dog

Kevin McCain with his dog, Yurtie

Kevin McCain with his dog, Yurtie. Courtesy photo KCRG

What a story. What a community and hospice house.

This is one of those stories that just “gets you” right there.

This is the story of a dying homeless man and his final wish — to be reunited with his dog Yurtie — and the people who made that wish come true.

Thanks to KCRG for such a heartwarming account of what happened and for all the terrific photos.

Readers remember stories like these.

Dying Man’s Final Wish to be Reunited With Dog



Bringing Jack Home: Day 1

One of three photos Sherry sent me

We’ve all seen the stories on TV and in our newspapers — the ones about starving or abused dogs that somehow managed to survive horrific lives until, almost miraculously, they stumbled or tumbled into some type of scenario where a perfect stranger took notice and came to the rescue.

They are the dogs every dog lover wants to adopt. By the time the stories hit the airwaves, a long line of potential new “owners” already has formed, hoping to give the neglected or abused pet his or her new “forever home.”

Since my 14-year-old Cocoa died in September 2010 (eight months ago today, in fact), I hadn’t given much thought to getting another dog. After all, we still have 12-year-old Bear, a chocolate Lab, and Hagan, our Chesapeake, who will be eight years old Sept. 1.

I hadn’t given the idea much thought until Tuesday, May 17, when I received an e-mail from Sherry Toelle, a friend from Atlantic, Iowa. She wondered if we’d ever got another dog, and whether we might be interested in one a friend of hers — Jane Loew, a social worker, like Sherry — had found on a country road between Atlantic and Exira in Cass County on Friday the 13th. Sherry had attached three photos to the e-mail, and I was struck by the dog’s similarity to my Cocoa; they shared the same colors, similar faces, and were nearly the same size.

The dog Jane found had not led a pleasant life. He walked on only three legs, was covered with wood ticks and fleas, and his ribcage  protruded from his starving body. His back right leg dangled behind him as he — in no uncertain terms — made it clear to Jane she would never get past him in the road without stopping first.

Jane did what most drivers would; she looked around for a farm or home, thinking he might be lost or someone’s family pet who’d been hit by a car. But there were no homes anywhere nearby, and the young dog clearly needed medical attention. She eventually opened her car door, and the dog jumped in using his three good legs.

Jane took the dog to the Cass County Animal Clinic in Atlantic, where Dr. L.E. Victora would attend to the injuries and keep him for the weekend. As it turned out, the dog’s right back leg was broken. He’d not only suffered a major fracture of the tibia, but four other cracks in the tibia from the top to the bottom.

Dr. Victora estimated the male dog’s age at about one year old. The dog was “such a good dog,” he said, he couldn’t bear to put it down.

On Monday, Jane placed the dog with a foster family, and Sherry e-mailed me the following day.

Dennis with Bear, Hagan and Jack at home

We met Sherry and Jane in Avoca on Wednesday, May 18, and I’ll never forget the first time I saw “Jack’s” face. He wasn’t jumping or barking or acting wild, just quietly peeking out at me — much like a small child evaluating his or her new surroundings — from the back seat. His black and brown face was all I could see between the driver’s headrest and the vehicle’s door.

I loved him instantly — even before he got out and I saw the long pink cast on his back right leg.

Dennis and I took separate turns walking him in the grass near the “Wings” truck stop, and I nonchalantly said many names aloud to see if he’d respond. “Cookie. Cocoa. Sam. Max. Buster. Buddy. Lucky. Jack. Toto. Toby. Gus.”

He kept walking, but I liked the sound of “Jack.”

Back in the parking lot, Dennis took his leash and, without a word from me, said “Jack. I think he looks like a Jack.”

Hagan shows Jack the yard

Once Jane and her son and Sherry said goodbye to the little dog, we promised them we’d keep them updated with photos and stories. We would never let them forget about the little black and brown dog.

On the way home, we talked more about names while “probably Jack” settled his back end on my lap in the passenger seat, his front legs and shoulders against Dennis and his middle resting on the console.

Just before we got home, I called my youngest sister Kysa and asked her to come over to meet our new friend. When she asked his name, we said we wanted her to help us decide; we didn’t tell her what we were thinking. She said she’d always kept a list of male dog names in the event she got another male dog, and after she’d rattled off a half dozen of them, she said, “But he looks like a Jack.”

Hagan and Jack take a breather on the (dogs') living room mattress.

Jack it would be.

Bear and Hagan eagerly welcomed Jack into their yard, home and hearts. They played for hours, getting to know one another, and when we finally brought them inside, Jack lay happily on the living room mattress (a dog-friendly living room), before finally falling asleep with Bear.

At bedtime, we all went upstairs, and while Bear and Hagan settled into the two twin mattresses lying side by side on the floor next to our bed, I lifted Jack up to see if he’d like to sleep with us. He stayed there only a minute, but preferred to spend his first night with Bear and Hagan.

Bear and Jack worn out on the first day.

I helped him down, secretly wishing he would have chosen to take Cocoa’s old spot on the bed next to me.

Just before I turned off the light, I leaned across Dennis to look down at the two beds below. All three dogs lay snuggled up together on the very same mattress … Jack in the middle.

Losing Cocoa

Today was the first day in over 14 years I came home without Cocoa there to greet me. Cocoa, the eldest of our three beloved family dogs, passed away yesterday morning on Sunday, September 26, 2010.

Rhett and Cocoa

My youngest son Rhett with Cocoa

Earlier today, my mother took my son Rhett and me over to Mapleton, Iowa, to the veterinary clinic Cocoa just visited a week ago today, and where he will be cremated and then returned to us.

Losing Cocoa has stripped my emotions raw, but anyone who’s ever truly loved and lost a family dog or pet fully understands what we are going through.

Most dogs have one family member whom they own, but over the years we never were really able to determine which one of us Cocoa had chosen because he’d laid his claim of unconditional love with all of us.

He’d started out as my daughter Jenny’s dog. Back in June 1996 when my sister Kim’s dog Shelby gave birth to Cocoa, we already had two dogs — Sam, a Cocker spaniel/Golden retriever mix, and Chelsea, a Shar-pei mix — and felt they were enough to make our lives complete. But 15-year-old Jenny, who very seldom asked for anything, had fallen in love with this little brown and black bundle who’d spent part of one of his first days locked in the glovebox of my brother-in-law’s pick-up, where my two young nephews had put him “just for fun,” they said, to see if anyone missed him.

Cocoa and Jennifer, Summer 2010

Cocoa and Jennifer, Summer 2010

“I’ll even take him off to college with me when I go,” Jenny had promised, and I simply could not say no. Two and one-half years later when she left for college where she’d live in the dorm, Cocoa remained behind and alternated sleeping with my youngest son, Rhett, and then me.

On Valentine’s Day 2001, Sam died three months shy of his 13th birthday, and both Chelsea and Cocoa grieved along with us. In 2002 when Dennis and his Golden Lab/Retriever mix, Bear, joined our family, Cocoa joyously welcomed them both.

Cocoa, Chelsea and Sam

Cocoa and Chelsea (back) and Sam (front)

The year 2002 wasn’t good for our new family. Dennis lost his 24-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to cancer on June 30, and on December 12 we lost 10-year-old Chelsea, also to cancer. For a while, it was just Cocoa and Bear, and we tried to take them with us everywhere we went.

On Sept. 1, 2004, we moved into a 100-year-old home that at one time had been converted into apartments, but there was a unit on the ground floor for Bill Bowley — one of my late father’s best friends who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and for whom I cared.

Bill brought with him his Chesapeake Retriever, Hagan, and his African Gray parrot, Clyde. So in 2006 when Bill finally had to leave to go to a nursing home, we welcomed Hagan and Clyde into our family, and once again had three dogs in our household.

Hagan, Cocoa and Bear

Hagan and Cocoa (front) and Bear

They became the best of friends. We’d no longer refer to them as “the dogs,” but “the boys.”

All three had always been house dogs, and Cocoa — as the alpha male — continued to sleep on the bed with us until a few months ago when he began to fall backwards after his attempt to make the upward jump.

Some days, Cocoa would let me lift him up to the bed without a fuss, but more often than not, he’d growl under his breath — nothing threatening, but more as if to say “How dare you imply I need any help?” — and he’d quickly jump right back down and settle in between Bear and Hagan on the camping mattresses we kept beside the bed covered with sheets and comforters.



Losing Cocoa hurts. It hurts a lot.

Yes, I know he was 14 years old. I know he had a good, long life surrounded by people he loved and who loved him in return, and I also know he’s in a better place. But, just try to tell that to one’s heart. Try to explain that to Bear, whose eyes stare woefully into ours as he rests his head upon our laps. Try to explain that to Hagan, who keeps burying his face under the pillows on the edge of the sofa.

I tried to play fetch with Hagan this afternoon after returning from the vet without Cocoa. Hagan still chased after the ball, but then kept dropping down in the yard right where he’d found it. He’d rest his head atop the ball and stare off  into a yard conspicuously missing his companion and the only other competitor who always raced to get the ball first.

We all miss you Cocoa. We miss you even more than the day you disappeared and lay inside a glovebox waiting for someone to rescue you.

We will always miss you. We will always love you. You brought happiness and joy to so many lives, and you will not be forgotten in all the rest of the days of those lives.

Malice toward dog killer Bobby Loggins escalates, expands to include wrist-slapping judge

Dog Killer Bobby Loggins
Bobby Loggins of Sioux City, Iowa, fed his 5-month-old American Bulldog, “Sire,” bowl after bowl of beer, and when the puppy urinated on the carpet, beat the dog repeatedly in the head until it began coughing up blood, went into convulsions and died. District Court Judge Gary Wenell’s “…not some valuable fancy show dog” comments and slap-on-the-wrist punishment left a courtroom wailing.

In Iowa and across the nation, there’s only one thing snowballing faster than the white stuff falling from the sky, and that’s the anger and outrage — downright rancor, in fact — toward Sioux City puppy killer Bobby Loggins and District Court Judge Gary E. Wenell, who, despite calling Loggins’ actions “depraved and sadistic” sentenced Loggins to only 30 days in jail (with credit for time already served), rather than imposing the maximum sentence of two years under Iowa law.

Adding insult to injury, Judge Wenell justified his decision — witnessed by a packed courtroom of dog lovers and owners, many of whom openly wept — by stating, “We must remember the victim herein was not a person,” and “[Sire] was not some valuable fancy show dog belonging to another. It was not a neighbor boy’s dog, it was not an elderly person’s companion…We do not have a statewide problem with this kind of crime.”

Wow. Just try telling any veterinarian that one’s own Border Collie beaten 30 times in the head felt less pain than neighbor boy Johnny Smith’s Border Collie, whom he also beat. Just try telling police that just because your mixed-breed terrier is bleeding from the mouth and ears and nose after you punched and kicked him that it’s really no big deal, because, after all, “Gee, it’s not like I did this to ol’ elderly Ethel Simpson’s companion dog down the road.”

Worse, just try looking into the eyes of a 50-pound bleeding and dying American Bulldog pup who wanted nothing more than to serve and love you but really just couldn’t help himself from piddling on the floor after you fed him bowl after bowl of beer, and just try telling him how his short life and the pain you inflicted on him didn’t matter because, after all, it wasn’t like he was a fancy show dog or anything. It wasn’t like he belonged to someone else. It wasn’t like he could suffer or feel pain. It wasn’t like he wasn’t yours to use and abuse as you saw fit. And, if there were any doubts about the rights you had to inflict such heinous and hideous cruelty upon him, just remind him this is Iowa where people can get away with things like that. Tell him too, that if he doesn’t believe you, well…. he could have introduced you to a judge who’d have set you straight had you not died.

Sire, the 5-month-old American Bulldog killed by his owner, Bobby Loggins


When I wrote my original post here on the blog about Bobby Loggins pounding to death his 5-month-old American Bulldog, “Sire,” for piddling on the floor, I had no foresight of the venom about to spew forth from across the country after Loggins’ sentencing. The judge’s slap-on-the-wrist punishment sparked a chain reaction of outrage and vitriolic comments with regard to Iowa’s double-edged and reprehensible miscarriage of justice.

I also, admittedly, did not know the full extent to which poor Sire was beaten and suffered until the recent court proceedings. And though it pains me even now to include those details absent from my original post, they are precisely why our state and every other state needs to recognize that tolerating such abominable acts is precursory to eroding one’s very morals and soul. When that happens, can the breakdown of families and communities be far behind?

Show and Tell: Value’s Sliding Scale

Not until Judge Gary Wenell’s Feb. 12, 2010, decision of Bobby Loggins’ fate did I really recognize the extent to which lives are graded on a sliding scale. It’s a tough thing to swallow. Like bile. The lesson began last June.

On June 9, 2009, Bobby Loggins, then 35, spent the first part of the day drinking beer, smoking marijuana and fishing with his friend, Chad Peterson. After the two returned to Loggins’ home at 1611 23rd Street in Sioux City and were joined by other friends for a party, Loggins began feeding his 5-month-old American Bulldog, Sire, “bowl after bowl of beer,” according to Peterson.

When Sire began to urinate on the dining room floor, Loggins — who has a history of drug and alcohol abuse — straddled the pup and restrained it with one hand while using the other to repeatedly strike blows to the dog’s head. He then picked Sire up by his ears and tail and took him outside through a back door.

Witnesses said (and later testified) that when Loggins eventually brought the puppy back into the house and placed it on the kitchen floor, that the brown and white pup was bleeding from the mouth and nose, shaking and unable to move.

“To me it looked like the dog was paralyzed,” Peterson stated. “He was shaking. It looked like convulsions. He was coughing up blood.”

Peterson said he knelt down and tried to comfort the puppy while Loggins just stood there, showing no remorse for what he had done. When Peterson confronted Loggins about his [lack of] reaction, Loggins shoved him into a chair and ordered him to leave. Peterson obliged and peddled his bike to the Kum & Go station at 14th and Court streets, where he called police.

Guest Kollin Jones said he’d witnessed Loggins rubbing the dog’s nose into the carpet before pinning it down to inflict additional punches. Jones also said that he, his girlfriend, Alexandra Groves, Loggins and his wife and Peterson had engaged in a conversation about dogs drinking beer, and told police Loggins “took it way too far.”

Loggins’ wife, Rochelle Loggins, didn’t see it that way. Rochelle Loggins said her husband had only given the dog “a few taps on the head” before grabbing it by the collar and escorting it outside. She said her husband told her he had slammed the door into the dog.

Loggins was charged with animal torture, though Iowa’s current animal cruelty/torture laws allowed no more than aggravated misdemeanor charges being filed in his case, which carried a sentence of up to just two years in prison and a $6,000 fine. On June 18, 2009, Loggins pleaded not guilty to inflicting the 30 blows to Sire’s head that caused the puppy’s death.

On Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, Loggins stood trial before Sioux City District Court Judge Gary Wenell for allegedly beating Sire to death. Loggins, who waived his right to a jury trial, also was charged with making a false police report, a simple misdemeanor. Wenell dismissed that charge when Assistant Woodbury County Attorney Mark Campbell said the facts of the case did not fit the charge.

Wenell found Loggins guilty of the animal torture crime on January 25, 2010, with sentencing scheduled for Feb. 12.

As eyes across the nation focused on Iowa that day, it came as no surprise when Loggins’ attorney, John Moeller, and Loggins’ wife pleaded for a shorter sentence than the two-year maximum pushed for by the prosecutor. Rochelle Loggins argued she needed him at home to take care of the kids while she slept so she could work nights.

No one, however, ever imagined the nonsequitur the judge would deliver.

Wenell wrote that eyewitness accounts and testimony of the veterinarian clearly indicated that Loggins’ actions caused the puppy’s death. Loggins had restrained the puppy with one hand in order to inflict blows with the other, which Wenell said caused the animal severe physical pain.

Additionally, though no witnesses saw what happened outside, Wenell wrote that circumstantially, the evidence supported that additional blows took place outside, and that Loggins took the dog outside because he knew his actions would be deemed unacceptable.

“Restraint of a more or less helpless creature to administer pain to such a creature connotes depravity and sadism,” he wrote.

Yet after noting all these facts, the judge then stripped 95 percent off the maximum sentence, sentenced Loggins to only 30 days in jail and credited him for time already served.

“[Sire] was not some valuable fancy show dog belonging to another,” he said.

A fancy show dog? Belonging to another?

The sliding scale nosedived. I choked on the intimations: Show me a plumber and I’ll tell you why his life is less important than a bank’s vice president. Show me your next-door neighbor’s 5-month-old daughter and I’ll tell you why her life matters more than your own little girl’s. Show me a champion greyhound on the track and I’ll tell you why his life is valued more than that happy-go-lucky family retriever racing to fetch the frisbee your son threw in your back yard.

Wenell also stated that Iowa didn’t have a statewide problem with animal torture and that there was no evidence that Loggins — whose prior convictions include drug possession and traffic offenses — would commit similar violent acts against people. Loggins will be on probation for 18 months upon his release, and the possible $6,000 fine was shaved down to only $650.

Loggins was to report to the Woodbury County Jail by 6 p.m. on February 17th.

“We have to start as a community to change this, and today we didn’t do very good,” said animal rescuer Terry Mann, who added she was more motivated than ever to continue her fight against abuse. “We’ll be watching,” she said, “we’ll be watching, and you’ll be seeing us.”

In a landslide of raging injustice across Iowa and beyond, one question remained consistent: How could something like this have happened in our justice system?

For the answer, my friends, look no further than the voter registration card in your wallet or desk drawer, and if you hold it just right, you’ll see the state legislature in its reflection.

Making the Grade

Remember your school report cards? Yeah, me too. We may not always have liked all those grades, but how else were we to know if our efforts added up to usual, customary and reasonable standards? Report cards measure progress. They highlight our strengths, punctuate our weaknesses and enable us to work toward realizing our own individual capabilities.

Report cards don’t end after high school or college. The follow us throughout our lifetimes: in our jobs, in our families and communities, and even all the way to the legislature and beyond. We’re constantly being summed up, evaluated, measured and compared, and assigned a grade. Terry Mann knows this well; people are watching.

Rep. Steve King

Iowa Congressman Steve King

When it comes to Sioux City, Iowa, it’s really no exception to other states and cities. One thing Sioux City has that other cities don’t, however, is Iowa Congressman Steve King.

According to tabs kept on Rep. King by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), one might even say he’s a good friend to the likes of Bobby Loggins, who, fortunately for Loggins, just happens to reside in Steve King’s district. The HSUS, you see, also does report cards. Legislators nationwide are scored according to his or her vote on specific pro- or anti-animal related issues — everything from puppy mills and horse slaughtering to pet abuse and grinding chicks alive and using electrified prods to bring “downer cows” to their feet.

The Humane Society’s Legislative Fund just recently released their Mid-Term Humane Scorecard reporting on legislators either leading the way or blocking pro-animal legislation, and anyone living in western Iowa’s 5th Congressional District won’t even bother to ask how King fared. Of 100 possible points (equivalent to an A), King, not surprisingly, scored not only an “F” (Zero percentage points) but was singled out by a long row of bright red Xs used to denote those who specifically took an “anti-animal” issue with one’s vote.

Don’t for a minute think this “F” will cause King to lose a minute’s sleep; he’s repeatedly stated in the past he won’t support bills aimed to prevent animal torture and abuse until Roe v. Wade is overturned. (No, I am not making this up.) And while I truly understand and respect opinions on both sides of the abortion debate, I also recognize that it doesn’t preclude the crime behind beating to death either a 5-month-old puppy or 50-year-old woman and that each issue should be addressed on its own merit.

One might think a legislator would take into consideration the values and opinions in his or her legislative district, yet King places no more value on the HSUS report card than he did with the one at Northwest Missouri State University, where he dabbled in a few courses before becoming a college drop-out. His opinions regarding whether legislators should be educated mirror those pertaining to animal abuse and even human torture; he simply does not care what other people think. As has been noted repeatedly by the press, he actually brags about having said or done something that would render a decent human being embarrassed and ashamed.

To wit, King’s intense hatred and/or disregard for any animal’s welfare made headlines yet again as recently as yesterday. In Iowa’s bitterly cold temperatures, a raccoon seeking refuge from our latest blizzard had begun scratching at King’s rural home in search of shelter. King grabbed “Desert Eagle” (his gun) and went after the raccoon, who fled. King then chased down the cold but trusting animal and shot and killed it. And, once again, instead of feeling remorseful for his actions, King used the opportunity to brag about his “kill” on his Twitter page, going so far as to use the juvenile phrase “Desert Eagle 1, Crazy Raccoon zero.”

Bret Hayworth

Bret Hayworth

Sioux City Journal political reporter Bret Hayworth — one of the most unbiased political journalists I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and calling a friend — wrote yesterday about the King/raccoon incident on his Politically Speaking blog. I’ve known Bret for a number of years and have long admired his ability to remain impartial while still drawing in readers with his engaging writing style and commitment to certitude vs. slant. But in between the paragraphs of his King’s raccoon conquest post, I saw lurking between the lines a human being troubled by the story about which he wrote.

It’s that kind of character that earlier this month earned Bret the Best Blog by a Newspaper award by the Iowa Newspaper Association annual convention. The blog contest wasn’t simply for political blogs, but for blogs of any subject matter for Iowa newspapers. And, at the risk of offending other newspaper bloggers whom I regularly follow, nobody deserved that award more than Bret.

There are parallels here, you see, between the work Bret does and the work our congressman is supposed to be doing and the death of a 5-month-old American Bulldog named Sire. Perhaps if Rep. King led by Bret Hayworth’s example — that being the providing of fair and equal representation to both sides of those whom one is hired or elected to represent — it’s possible Sire might still be alive today and joyously chasing after a frisbee thrown in the back yard by one of Bobby Loggins’ own children.

Watching Dogs Grow Old



It’s hard watching dogs grow old. Watching as their eyesight slowly starts to fade. Knowing their hearing isn’t quite so sharp. Seeing them struggle a little more than usual as they strain to get up after a long, peaceful nap.

It’s really hard. Especially when you can’t ever remember when they weren’t around.

My dog Cocoa — the oldest of our three — will be 14 years old in June. Monday I took him to the vet for a medical procedure on his “back end,” and it wasn’t a pleasant experience for either of us — least of all him.

I discovered Cocoa’s “problem” in the hours before the sun came up Saturday. Housebroken almost from the day he was born, he was crossing through the front foyer on his way into my office when suddenly he froze midway and began urinating on the hardwood floor. I’d just sat down at my desk and quickly went back to him, but he only stared up at me with eyes that said he didn’t quite understand what was happening.

“Come on, boy. It’s okay. Let’s go outside,” I said, but his eyes never left mine and deep inside I knew everything was not okay; in less than two weeks, it wasn’t the first — nor the second — time he’d had an indoor accident after 13 and one-half years of never having gone inside the house before. And even on recent days when I’d sat in the kitchen sipping coffee, he’d lain on the floor three feet away but hadn’t rested his muzzle between his paws like he normally did. Instead, he lay there with his head up and alert, not moving a muscle as he fixed his eyes directly on my face and stared minute after motionless minute.

So just after 2 a.m. on Saturday, once I’d wiped up his latest accident and let him out and then back in, we went back to my office and I sat down beside him on the big folded comforter I keep beside my desk for the dogs when I’m working. He put his head in my lap as I stroked his back, and I unfastened his blue collar to better scratch his neck.

“You going to be okay today, Cocoa Bug?” I asked. “Rhett’s going to stay with you while we’re gone.”

Rhett and Cocoa

My youngest son Rhett with Cocoa

Dennis and I were scheduled to leave at 5:30 a.m. for Des Moines, where I’d attend a Democratic State Central Committee meeting before we headed over to Governor Culver’s home for his annual holiday party. My son Rhett — who’d planned to leave Friday to spend the week with his father — had stayed over for the weekend so he’d be there to care for Cocoa and the other two, Bear and Hagan, while we were gone.

I looked down at the moose and trees and leaves populating the fall-colored comforter and wished for warmer days with no ice and snow where we could take the dogs out to play and for long walks in sunshine.

At 3 a.m., Cocoa and I stood up and parts of his still shedding winter coat floated off my pajamas as we made our way to the kitchen for a snack. Once he’d finished his Milk Bone and waited while I puttered around tidying up the kitchen, I put my hands on either side of him and moved them back and downward towards his tail, feeling for anything unusual like I often saw the vet do during the dogs’ check-ups.

That’s when I felt it. Something hard and dry. On both sides of his backside just below his tail. How had I missed it earlier while on the floor petting him?

“Cocoa Bug, what do you have there? Some dried poopie on your butt?” I asked, and then, turning him around so his tail faced toward the light, I bent down and tried to lift his tail to have a look. He slipped from my hands and ran into the living room, and I coaxed him back only after bribing with another treat. This time I’d be ready. He tried to get away again but I held his chest with my left arm and carefully lifted his tail with my right as I bent around for a quick peek. The instant I gasped he bolted.

I stood in the middle of the kitchen, dazed, still bent over, wondering what on earth I’d just seen and asking myself what possibly could have happened. Had he been attacked? No. He couldn’t have been. With the freezing temperatures, he’d seldom been outside except to relieve himself. And it had been months since anyone left a gate open and they’d gotten out.

The dogs didn’t fight, and hadn’t since years before when Hagan first came to live with us in ’06 and Cocoa showed him, in short order, that there simply wasn’t room in this big house for two alpha males. And deep down inside, I think I already knew the dried and fresh blood I’d just seen — along with something else I knew didn’t belong on the outside — had not been caused by another dog nor anyone else.

Bear smiling and sunning himself


By the time I got upstairs to awaken Dennis and tell him what I’d discovered, Cocoa was already in the bedroom, hunkered down safely between Bear and Hagan and glaring at me as if I’d somehow betrayed him. It was just before 4 a.m. — the time I’d originally planned to get up and shower. I’d never even gone to bed.

We did not go to Des Moines, and Dr. Sulsberger answered the veterinary clinic’s phone later when I called. He said from what I described, it sounded like an abscessed anal gland.

His assessment was correct — despite my insistence that Cocoa hadn’t shown any symptoms and hadn’t even been “scooting” across the floor (“Aren’t they supposed to scoot if there’s a problem with their anal glands? Now Bear, he’s a scooter!” I’d told him) — and he scheduled Cocoa’s “procedure” for Monday morning.

Hagan smiling


Sunday night when Cocoa started up the steps for bed and turned around to wait for me, I stood at the bottom and told him I’d be up soon and it was okay to go ahead without me. Still, he waited. “Go ahead, boy,” I said. “It’s all right. You can keep Dad and Bear and Hagan company.” His tail swished back and forth just a little, and then he turned and started upward, his back legs stretching out stiff  and his body moving awkwardly like a toddler with a soiled diaper as he climbed the stairs one by one.

Not so very long ago, he’d scaled the staircase quickly and silently — graceful like a gazelle — leaping upward two and three steps at a time. And he’d never had trouble jumping to the bed where he slept most nights. In one seamless movement, he’d go from floor to bed and then drop to his stomach before slinking his way up the bedspread until his head fit comfortably on my shoulder or was nestled in the crook of my arm. Lately, though, he’d begun to fall. He’d make the jump but not quite make it all the way, and he’d cling to the bed with his front paws for a brief moment before toppling over backwards.

I’d get out of bed and wrap my arms around his front and back side to lift him to the bed, and though he’d assert an objectionable low growl — after all, who was I to imply he might need any help? — once I set him on the bed he’d sigh with content as he plopped down in that very spot. Later in the night, I’d feel him jump from the bed and hear him drinking from the water bowl before settling in on one of the two large foam-filled camping mattresses covered in quilts that easily accommodated the three of them.

Bear, fast approaching his 11th birthday in April, had given up on our bed two years earlier. He used to sleep next to Dennis with his head on my pillow until I came to bed, and on occasion, if there was room and I found him sleeping soundly, I’d inch into bed and sleep along the very edge until Bear woke up some time later and decided he’d join Hagan. The queen-size bed wasn’t big enough for two adults and Cocoa and a Chocolate Labrador and Chesapeake Retriever.

Hagan and Bear make a heart between them

As Hagan and Bear napped together one day, I couldn't help but note the "heart" between their bodies.

The sound of Bear’s feet on the steps changed within those two years, too. It’s now a clumpity clump, clumpity clump, clumpity clump, all the way up. His hearing is all but gone but he still has a keen sense of time and knows exactly when the neighborhood kids will be walking home from school so he can go out to greet them or watch as they pass by and he’s already waiting expectantly when Dennis pulls into the driveway after work.

Bear is also the healer of the three and the first to alert me if Hagan’s ears are acting up again. Had I paid better attention I would have known a few days earlier that his nose butting up next to Cocoa’s tail in the morning as we headed from the bedroom to go downstairs was something more than him trying to hurry Cocoa along.

And so it was that on Monday morning when I reached for Cocoa’s leash, none of them reacted. On any other given day they’d be dancing in circles knowing they were going on a fun walk or ride. But they all knew. There was no running around the coffee table knocking off books and papers. No crashing and bouncing into one another in anticipation. No charging toward the leash in my hands with a Me First! attitude. Only blank stares.

They’d seen me fasten Cocoa’s collar but not so much as reach for theirs. They knew Cocoa hadn’t been himself; early Saturday morning Hagan had sniffed at the spot in the front entry and flashed his eyes up at me as if to say “Did you know about this!?” And, how could we be going anywhere when I hadn’t yet fed them? I’d told Rhett to wait to feed the others until after Cocoa and I were gone; I wasn’t sure if general anesthesia would be used and didn’t want to take any chances.

Cocoa didn’t protest my hooking his leash to his collar, but he looked back forlornly at Bear and Hagan, who’d quietly stepped a few paces backward. I fully understood their silent language. Sorry, Cocoa, we’re not coming with you. You’re on your own, old boy.

Dogs, I am certain, know more than how to say hello. They know how to say goodbye.

On the 18-mile ride over to Mapleton, Cocoa would not sit down in the passenger seat. He looked from the outside snow-covered fields back to me, uncertain and disheartened, and every two or three minutes approached the driver’s seat to lick my cheek. But as much as I tried to soothe him and cheerfully reassure him everything was going to be okay, he knew things were never okay any time Dennis or I left the house with only one of them. And without breakfast.

Misfortune had fallen. And in a stroke of purely bad luck, he knew it had befallen him.

General anesthesia wasn’t used, and with his head planted firmly on my shoulder and my arms snugly wrapped around his neck and shoulders, Cocoa grudgingly endured what Dr. Sulsberger and his technician were doing behind him. When they’d finished, Dr. Sulsberger turned Cocoa’s back side around until it was between us and then opened a tube of ointment capped with an elongated, slender tip.

“Now watch what I’m doing here,” he said. “You’ll have to do this twice a day for the next two weeks. You see that little hole ….”

Me? Did he say me? And twice a day for two weeks?

But as he further explained how it needed done just right and I indeed paid meticulous attention, I didn’t let on I already knew Cocoa would never let me get anywhere close to his behind once he made it off that stainless steel table and got back home on his own turf, let alone get close while armed with intent.

When it was time to leave, Cocoa jumped up straight into the truck’s passenger seat without any help and sat there grinning like a cheshire cat. All the way through the hills and down the winding road, he never stopping grinning. I’d never seen so many of his teeth all at once. He knew he was going home.

Bear and Hagan greeted us as if we’d been gone a week, and the three of them ran around the table to celebrate Cocoa’s homecoming. By the time I went up to bed that night, he was already there sleeping soundly on the bed.

Tuesday was the day; the dastardly deed needed done. Dennis closed the door between the kitchen and living room so Cocoa couldn’t escape while I warmed a washcloth. “You’ll have to hold his head, and don’t let him see what I’m doing,” I said. When I put the washcloth against his bottom, Cocoa promptly sat down on both the washcloth and my hand but it didn’t affect my ability to get at least that job done. Then, the pivotal moment arrived.

“You better do it fast and get it right the first time because you probably won’t get a second chance,” Dennis said as I uncapped the ointment and he called for Cocoa to come back to him. He took Cocoa’s head and held tight while I straddled Cocoa’s back and lifted his tail.

I couldn’t find the little hole. Cocoa began to thrash about and wrested his way out from between both of us. We tried a second time. “I see it!” I said, but the instant my arm brushed against Cocoa’s left back leg he launched into another struggle and wrenched his way out from between us again. Dennis sighed loudly while Cocoa stood across the room, his tail swishing back and forth again the dishwasher’s door as he grinned.

Finally, I approached him on my own. After all, how fair could it be — two against one. “It’s okay,” I said, and I kept repeating the words as he came to me and I tucked his head loosely between my legs. I don’t know if he remembered how many times I’d spoken those words while sitting that night on the moose comforter or during the ride over to Mapleton, but suddenly he stopped trying to run.

I lifted his tail. He stood perfectly still. I crouched over and got down to business. He didn’t even flinch.

Only when I rose and announced “All done! Good boy!” did he finally move. His entire body wagged as he pranced around the room in delight. And that grin and those teeth! One would have thought I held in my hands not a tube of ointment but three collars and three long leashes.

Dennis opened the kitchen door and Bear and Hagan rushed in to see what all the excitement was about and find out what they’d missed. Cocoa sprang forward to greet them and then with great joy darted over to stand directly beneath the counter where we kept the dog treats. The others quickly joined him and once I’d washed and dried my hands I forged through three swinging tails to deliver a well deserved reward.

Hagan, Cocoa and Bear

Hagan and Cocoa (front) and Bear

On any other given day they’d have sat before I said sit or offered up a paw before I could say shake, but today they somehow knew and I asked them to do neither.

“I think I’ll do just fine on my own next time,” I told Dennis as I put the tube of ointment back into its box. Yes. I was confident. I — like these aging but happy three brown dogs — hadn’t been too old to learn a new trick.

We headed from the kitchen to the living room as a chorus of lively feet pattered close behind. They knew, indeed; everything was going to be okay.