Friday, February 27, 2004

In Memory of Aspen--The Jazz Dog

Miles Davis with Aspen, the Jazz Dog Posted by Hello

Today's the one year anniversary of Aspen's death. I'm sad of course--but I look back at the 14 wonderful years I had with that dog and I can think of nothing but great memories.

I found Aspen when I was 20--youthful and stupid. My boyfriend of five years (five off and on years) and I moved in together in June of that year to a one bedroom duplex in Glendale. We went Christmas shopping that December at the all-new Century City Shopping Center and found ourselves at the pet store "Chien et Chat"--not looking for anything at all, really. Just browsing.

Aspen was out of his kennel, hobbling around the floor like a little toddler. He was only two months old. I had never seen such a beautiful little dog: all white with pink, perky ears, big brown eyes and a black nose. Another woman was fawning over him and I immediately chimed in with the "awwwww"'s.

My boyfriend and I looked at eachother and instantly honed in on what the other was thinking. We wanted to take him home...but the price tag on his kennel read "$325.00" and we were living in an apartment that didn't allow pets. We hung our heads and left the store.

"You know, it would be nice to get a dog," I said. "And he's so adorable! Let's do it. Let's get him for Christmas!"

He steered me to the nearest bench, outside of Crate and Barrel.

"What about the apartment?"

"Screw it. We can hide him. No one needs to know."

Moments later, we found ourselves walking back in, going up to the register, pointing to the American Eskimo, and each plunking down a credit card. Despite our unity, we were still fiercely independent of one another--a surefire sign our future marriage, four years later, would self-destruct.

I wanted to name him "Aspen" for his snow-white, downy-soft fur but my boyfriend had other ideas. Given that he was into goth, looked like Robert Smith and enjoyed listening to Skinny Puppy, we agreed on naming him "Lord Aspen Henry." But it was only a matter of days before "Aspen" became simply "Aspen".

Of course we were kicked out of that apartment four months later. Aspen found his bark and never stopped after that. But the move was good for us and we went to Brentwood where we would stay for four years.

Aspen was the center of our universe. Our "son". Sure he'd shred everything in sight, including toilet paper, snotty tissues and my panties, but we blamed ourselves. We never really trained him.

We knew it was love when he jumped on our butcher block kitchen table and scratched the shit out of it because we had left the house. I still have the table and today, those marks mean even more to me than the table itself.

We knew it was hatred when he took the Soft Cell "Singles" CD off the bookshelf and proceeded to "sled" with it on the hardwood floor. He always had a knack for telling us what he liked and disliked. Soft Cell was a definite dislike.

But despite how much stuff Aspen destroyed, he was fiercely loyal. I loved his personality, even though he often enjoyed humping my friends' legs and would stand up on his hind paws to do "the wave" for a cookie constantly. Regardless of how untrained he was, he was still my "puppy dog." He loved me...even if it was because he liked to lick the scented lotion off my legs.

One college graduation, one wedding, two moves and six years later, we found ourselves on Route 40 heading east, and moving to Washington DC where husband would finish his graduate program in Public Administration. Aspen took well to the long drive and I always bragged about how this little doggie whizzed in a total of 21 states in his lifetime.

We loved Aspen equally and when I lowered the boom in June of 1995 and called it quits, after two and a half years of marriage, 12 years together as a couple and seven years of sharing our dog, my husband gave me the greatest gift of all: permission to have Aspen all to myself. I know it hurt him very much to let him go (in hindsight I know it hurt him to give Aspen up more than me). And Aspen and I became a duo--where we remained in DC until December 1996 when we found ourselves once again on the road--this time heading west on Interstate 90.

I think Aspen enjoyed living in Seattle and loved my exclusive attention; and when he first met his future "Dad" it seemed like an ABC Afterschool Special (you're not my dad!) at first. But the new dad set him straight, and even though Aspen was already 9 when we met, he was learning new things thanks to the new dad's patience and understanding.

It was tough, at first, moving into a house with a new puppy. But Oatmeal had nothing but love to give. The only time they got into a huge fight was when Oatie took Aspen's beloved bone away. Dad intervened. Fur flew. Aspen lost the battle. I would say that was the day Aspen realized he wasn't the Alpha any longer.

He took his retirement well and grew to respect his dad and the pack order in the house. And Aspen lived out his years happily--with a little sister to keep him company, and the opportunity to go to the Cannon Beach once a year where he could fight the waves of the Pacific Ocean. He loved when dad played Miles Davis on the stereo and that was one thing they both had in common: love for jazz. In fact, Aspen became inspiration for the "Jazz Dog" -- a website for jazz enthusiasts. We swore that Aspen licked his paws to the spang-a-lang beats until he became deaf in 2002. Then, we had hoped he heard nothing but jazz in his head.

On our first wedding anniversary, September 11, 2000, we learned that Aspen had kidney failure. I remember spending almost the entire car ride down to Cannon Beach--all five hours--bawling. I knew the end was near.

The end, however, wasn't as close as we feared. With the help of a competent, loving veterinarian, Aspen stuck around for two and a half more years with a comfortable, happy quality of life.

February 27. I began to loathe that date after my first husband and I broke up. It was our wedding anniversary. And February 27, 2003 would have been our tenth.

I came back from my workout at the gym when I saw my husband standing in the kitchen, very pale and sad.

"What is it?" I asked, frightened.

"It's Aspen. He's not moving off of his bed."

We had seen this coming. Over the last few days, Aspen refused to eat. I literally tried spoon feeding him, but to no avail. He stopped drinking water, too...and as I walked over to his bed in the hallway, I could see that his soul was already leaving him.

Kidney failure is an ugly disease. When the kidneys stop functioning properly, the waste produced in the body remains in the blood stream. Aspen's body was poisoned. His brain was fried. I could see it in his eyes. He lost the will to live.

I sat on the floor and began to cry, rocking him in my lap. My husband and I had been trying to have a baby together for the last three years and now I was losing mine.

The vet told us we could do a doggie dialysis; but chances were, it wouldn't work. If anything, it would only slow down the inevitable. I hugged Aspen with all my might, not wanting to let go, but realizing it was the decent thing to do. I buried my face in his fur for as long as I could. I kept thinking about how I needed to remember that feeling--his softness--and how comforted I was by it.

I carried him to the Durango and held him. We stopped at the little park a block away from the house...taking him out of the car for one last "hurrah". But all he did was stare off into the grass.

Tears spilled from my eyes as we checked in with the receptionist at the vet. She led us to a room with a pillow on the floor, wrapped in a towel. I laid him down and couldn't stop crying.

"Do you want to stay with him after Dr. Spencer gives him the shot?"

"No," I said. "I can't."

"Would you like his body or would you like him cremated."

"Cremated," I said, wishing this woman would go away.

"Would you like his ashes?" she asked.

I looked up at her an instantly shook my head. As she left, I continued to rock on the floor, holding Aspen and bargaining with God. If he could let Aspen live forever, I'd never ask again for a child.

I got up and left Aspen on the floor, who rose to his paws and walked around dazed. I knew it was time to leave.

Aspen sensed it, too. He looked up at me with those beautiful brown eyes and said "goodbye" to me in his own quiet way. It was so hard to leave and for a moment, he almost looked like he was better. Like he was going to do "the wave" for a cookie.

I closed the door and ran out of the Vet's office. This was the first death I had experienced of someone close to me since I was 18. Then, it was my Grandmother. Now, it was my best friend.

At that moment I believed I would never get over losing Aspen. But it's a year now and so much has changed. Sure, I have moments of tears and I so often wish I could just bury my face in his fur; but I have a son now--a real son--and my life continues. I firmly believe, too, that if I didn't have Oatie in my life, my grieving would have been a lot harder. They say dogs are wonderful stress reducers. It's true.

Prior to our meeting, Aspen's name was "Winston." In his honor, that's what we'll name the next dog.

Back in November, Aspen "sent" me an e-mail from "heaven." This is what the jazz dog wrote:

Dear Mom,

Sorry it took me so long to write you. I was on tour
with Miles Davis and Milt Jackson (see attached photo)
and neither of those guys have an internet connection,
so I'm behind on my mail. (Miles says "Peopoh wanna
mail me they can licka goddamn stamp!") Plus I type
slow. (While my breath and kidneys are much better
now, I still don't have thumbs.) I am able to purse
my lips now though, so sometimes when Art Farmer
passes out, I play his flugelhorn.

How are you? How is your book coming? I miss you. I
tried to find your lotion at the store but they only
carry this crap called "Heaven Scent" which smells
like marshmallows and tastes like paint...

How is everyone else? Did Oatmeal ever get to be on a
game show? I know that was her big dream.

Is that annoying squirrel-friend of Oatie's still
crashing on the couch? (that reminds me, Please tell
Baby, sorry about the ear...)

So I was shredding God's trash the other day, and came
across a build slot requisition for a "Putinov".
Would you know anything about that?

BTW: Tell Dad Hi, I miss him too. Oh and that it turns
out that Chet Baker isn't misunderstood, he's just an

Bye for now, Take care Mom. Everything will be just

I love you,