Never Forgetting A Dog’s Birthday

Yeager during his last year.

Yeager during his last year.

Has anyone truly met a Dog unworthy of serious consideration for sainthood?

The Whippet of 'Friso, Whitmore.

The Whippet of ‘Friso, Whitmore.

Buck in spring.

Buck in spring.

When you recognize how we all shape the way Dogs develop, who really can blame a Dog for just doing what they’ve learned to believe is natural? Growling, jumping, cowering, staying.

Or eating their annual birthday “cake.”

Adopting, fostering, dog-sitting, visiting, rescuing. Weimaraner. Whippet. Malamute. Bulldog. Shepherd. Mutt. Poodle. Beagle. Labrador. Retriever. Four-legged or three. Puppy or senior. Blind or deaf. Hudson, Paddy and Hooch, Whitmore, Buckster, Lulu, Rufus, Kissy, Barker, Spotty. Que.

Hoochie McCouchie.

Hoochie McCouchie.

Sure, some are more amenable to companionship, others wary and skittish.

Still, to look long and patiently in the eyes of just about every Dog one encounters is to gradually recognize something familiarly primal, yet ultimately ineffable.

Yeager paused, mid-hike at Runyon Canyon.

Yeager paused, mid-hike at Runyon Canyon.

Their subtle methods of communication, if acutely observed, can often refresh our chaotic, quixotic Human mind, with all its justifications, fears, presumptions, and skillful distractions, returning us to the practical principals and majestic mysteries of Nature.

Every single Dog is a Buddha, if one allows them to prove it. To me, at least.

Among them all, of course, the memory of one’s first Dog can’t help but linger a bit longer and deeper.

For me, as some readers might recall, that was Yeager the Weimaraner. Adopted at six, he lived into his sixteenth year, a remarkable feat defying all canine statistics given his unusually large stature  and weight of one hundred pounds.

The spread at one year's Yeagerfest.

Human spread at one year’s Yeagerfest.

For a decade, from 2001 to 2o11, the Fourth of July weekend always had an extra zest. It wasn’t merely the birthday of our nation but of Yeager.

Yeager, done up in tricolors, ready for his dog cake.

Yeager, done up in tricolors, ready for his dog cake.

It was always a milestone for his human companion, complete with a “cake” of canned food and small biscuit-shaped bones he got to ravage in about a minute and a half, with hot dogs and burgers for human guests.

Sometimes the old boy endured having some sort of red-white-and-blue hat steadied on his head long enough for a snap to be taken.

The association became rather permanent: fireworks and dog birthday hat, grilling and dog birthday cake, the legacy of Jefferson and the lessons of Yeager.

The birthday year he broke his foot.

The birthday year he broke his foot.

As each of the last four Independence Day weekends have come and gone, that profound sense of loss that is so acute in the first months after one loses a beloved Dog companion has dulled.

Fourth of July at the beach.

Fourth of July at the beach.

Still, those association between the national holiday and the Dog’s birthday remains strong.

Even this year, enjoying the salt and sun of the sea, every other wave or two seemed to awash me with some poignancy.

Not grief, not sadness, not longing, just that recognition of time passing and with it the absence of those loved and long present.

Then another wave would roll, and the chatter of beach crowds and the glare of California sunshine would warm me all over.

Hudson contemplates the year ahead before eating is birthday cake? No, he awaits the signal to dive in..

Hudson contemplates the year ahead before eating is birthday cake? No, he awaits the signal to dive in..

Certainly, Hudson the Weimaraner, adopted in early 2014, has more than compensated as the worthy patron of affectionate attention.

Now, nearly every free moment is directed towards his well-being and that sense of satisfaction derived from mutual devotion. He is patient, gentle, friendly, trusting and zestful to the point where one can never linger beneath any shadow for any reason longer than a minute.

He is the now, the very essence of “presence.”

Yeager waiting for his 14th birthday cake.

Yeager waiting for his 14th birthday cake.

And, yes, now Hudson gets the annual doggie birthday surprise, cake, on his January 29th, preferring a kibble cake, trimmed in yoghurt.

Not that he’d turn down one made of salmon, beef, pork, chicken, vegetable or any other combination that didn’t include bitter apple essence.

But if one can still think along two concurrent lines, present and past, one may parallel the feelings associated with those thoughts, blending memory with the moment.

Yeager got his "cake" and ate it too, everyday.

Yeager got his “cake” and ate it too, everyday.

Devotion to those Dogs among us at the moment need not preclude a memory of how much learning and love one experienced by sharing life with a Dog for the very first time.

And perhaps the one regular event it is easiest to recall is the annual marking of the day they were born, just like our own. Dogs have no notion of a passing year, let alone anticipate their annual birthday (“whelpday,” to them).

Yeager holds a noble pose on his 15th.

Yeager holds a noble pose on his 15th.

An entire industry has been built on Dogs “celebrating” Halloween, or Easter or Birthdays.

Of course, as always, it is created by Humans for the enjoyment of Humans. The fact that a Dog gets a “cake” once a year is simply a suggestion to them that the Human has gone momentarily mad and put out a ton of food.

They’re not celebrating their birthday, but acting fast to gobble every morsel before the Human might come to their senses and realize they’re giving them more food than usual.

Hudson joyous on his way to his birthday run and hike. Like any other day.

Hudson joyous on his way to his birthday run and hike. Like any other day.

But then again, Humans domesticated Dogs into companions. And we do all we can to ensure their mental and physical health. We save the lives of Dogs every moment of every day.

Besides a meal and a walk to poop, they prize our company more than anything.

They save the lives of Humans every moment of every day, we often turning to them for solace and laughter and kindness and frequently finding it, utterly wordless, with more sincerity and commitment than from most of our fellow Humans.

So, once a year, the Dog can endure ten seconds of wearing an annoying hat for a picture. I did it for Yeager, I do it now for Hudson. I’m guessing I’m hardly the only one.

Hudson shares his birthday, dubiously, with an unexpected housemate Paddy the Puppy.

Hudson shares his birthday, dubiously, with an unexpected housemate Paddy the Puppy.

Those photographs become important to us, because even the briefest glimpse will bring back so much to recall of that lost day, refreshing our sensory memories. It may all seem a bit de trop, considering how unlikely it is we could ever really forget anything about them.

Weeks after his death, I made the video tribute to Yeager, posted below.

While reluctant to excessively indulge the personal, I feature it again as perhaps a more universal reminder to all of those who, despite wisely using their lives today to provide attentive focus on their current canine companions, can’t help but pause, more than occasionally, to remember how they loved and what they learned from their very first Dog or the most recent of a series they’ve known.

No matter how short their lives or how long ago they may have left us.


Categories: Dog Birthday, Dogs, Remembering a Dog, Yeager the Weimaraner

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10 replies »

  1. Every single dog is a Buddha…so very true. Happy Birthday to dear Yeager….and all those others we will love and learn from….

    • I know Beth that you have seen this unfold in your own life with Smokey but also with all the Dogs you encounter. Your limitless care and attentiveness, your respect for all living beings ends up encouraging others, so it is always a matter of mutuality as we reach into their world.

  2. Beautifully expressed about one of life’s most beautiful relationships

    • Thank you Sally. And it’s always, always encouraging to recognize how many people share the sense that these Human-Dog relationships are among the most intense, reverend and rewarding, such a gift – people like yourself, and perhaps there are more of us than there are those who do not appreciate the fullest extent of these relationships.

  3. The connection between Dog and spirit certainly weaves strongly throughout this article. I know it touched my soul and sparked some memories for me. The depth of the relationship between human and dog constantly amazes me – I’m glad it does.

  4. I have been rescuing Dachshunds (and occasionally other breeds) for fifty years and have built a park for them to play in while they are with me. It is always hard to let them go, but that is, of course, the point of rescue. As an only child, I know what he companionship of a dog can be. As an old man now, again they do more for me than I do for them. Thanks for your article and for speaking out in behalf of our best friends.

    • Dear Joe – That is nothing short of extraordinary grace on your part. You are among the genuine heroes in the unfortunately necessary struggle to give to Dogs the simple dignity all living beings deserve. You remind me of Diane, founder of Friends for Pets, a person of great modesty who has sacrificed some thirty years in her efforts. And while there are thousands like you and her, there are tens of thousands of others who desire to do their part – and even I had not realized until writing the first of the two-part articles on Fostercaring, just how vital a role fostering is to adoption. But among these there are surely not more than a handful of people who have given such a degree of dedication as you have. I’d say that once a person recognizes the inherent reverence these little Buddhas deserve, there is no going back ever. And learned as a child, that grasp of how magnificent the open-eyed happiness of just one little Dog truly is will be elemental to that person at any age. Thank you very much for making the effort to write.

  5. Carl, your devotion to Yeager, your faithful canine companion of many years is touching indeed. I am grateful that I had occasion to meet Yeager on two occasions. This past June, while spending a week in Toronto, I had occasion to accompany a dog walker friend on several of his outings. It would not be unusual to encounter up to thirty dogs of all different breeds during these walks in a wooded area. Amazingly these dogs seemed to enjoy each other’s company, dare I say, more than the same number of humans confined to a similar space. Dogs seem to be so much into the moment. Humans have SO much to learn from our canine friends. Thank you for sharing your memories with Yeager. We are all the richer for it!

    • Mark – How fantastic to receive such a great message from you about Dogs. It’s pretty fascinating the story of encountering such a large number and diverse amount of breeds in the woods – almost primal, as you vividly capture it. And yes, how interesting that they get on so much better than do humans in general. I remember reading somewhere that no Dog was known to have ever attacked or killed another simply because they were of a different breed (as long as there was no previous trauma they experienced associated with that breed). One might say they are “breed blind.” Thank you for taking the effort to write my friend.

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