This has been a strange Christmas in the Stout household for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that our little dog Butch died last night on Christmas after a long struggle with Cushing’s disease. He was about 12 or 13 years old.
We rescued Butch from the pound. Actually, I should say that Butch was rescued by my wife and sons from the pound.
At the pound he was all charm and cuteness and licking. He was half American Eskimo, half Cocker spaniel. Early in his life he looked all American Eskimo; later on the Cocker in him began to surface and his coat turned from its initial soft, fluffy snow white to more of a caramel/butterscotch color. When we first got him, he looked a lot like a fox with his pointy nose and erect fox-like ears. As he got older his nose rounded and his ears got more prone to floppiness.
They brought him home and presented him to me. My wife was a little embarrassed to have brought home what she called a “little froo-froo dog.”
I took a look at this diminutive devil and said, “No. This guy’s not a froo-froo dog. Look at him. His name should be ‘Butch’.”
I was right. Butch was a tough little street dog. He had obviously had a difficult first few months. Despite his friendliness at the pound (a clever ploy on his part to bust out of there), at home he was reserved and distrustful.
If Leave it to Beaver‘s Eddie Haskell had died and been reincarnated as a dog, he would have come back as Butch. In his youth Butch seemed to have a perpetual wise-ass grin on his face. He always seemed to be laughing at us and our innocence, snickering at our rarely successful attempts to control his behavior. I think he truly enjoyed outwitting us (especially me) and found it absolutely hilarious when he did. He followed such behavior with a sort of “Take that, schmuck!” look on his puss. The expression on his aged mug for the past year, however, was more like “What the hell do you want?”
Butch approached the world on his own terms. He was extremely smart but never so smart that he took the easy path. He was the most difficult dog I’ve ever owned. He rarely hesitated to bite people if he thought it was appropriate or if he found you annoying. He HATED shoes for some reason and often viciously attacked them — even if they were still on someone’s feet.
Butch was more like a cat than a dog. Sure, he liked being petted. But he didn’t NEED affection. Like a cat, he would accept affection and then depart after he had been satisfied with the amount he had received. Unlike most dogs, he wasn’t eager to please anyone except himself. To contradict and badly paraphrase Ray Bradbury, for this dog, at least, everyday was NOT Christmas.
Woe to anyone who tried to come between Butch and his food (this must have been because of his hard life on the streets). Any tampering with his access to food was met with sheer rage.
He never knew he was a little dog. He would take on all comers, no matter what their size, dog or human.
For some strange reason, though, he ignored the squirrels in our yard.
Butch was an escape artist par excellence. He loved to escape and then relish my total exasperation in attempting to recapture him. He’d pause until I was almost in reach and then bolt out of range once again. He often evoked murder in my heart.
We tried many (often expensive ) systems to keep Butch from escaping our yard. The one that finally worked was a cable system. We suspended a cable the length of our yard from our roof to the top of our old swing set. A line with a roller on one end attached to the cable came down and attached to his little harness. That allowed him freedom of movement around our backyard; the line connected to him kept Butch from getting close enough to our fence to leap over it.
His high pitched yapping could peel the paint off a wall. One neighbor finally threatened to sue us and take our house if we didn’t do something about our dog’s incessant barking. Frankly, I was on their side and contemplated suing myself. I was having trouble getting any work done because of his constantly irritating barking.
Reluctantly, my wife took him to the vet to have his vocal chords clipped. He healed quickly, his voluminous bark now a soft rasp.
It didn’t slow him down for a second. At the sight or sound of anyone approaching Butch would launch himself toward our fence with an energy so powerful that he would career several feet into the air, his flight (and rage-filled attack) ultimately restrained by the tether that was shaking our entire heavily anchored swing set.
In his youth Butch sported the perky flag-like tail of an Eskimo. As he got older his tail was held aloft less and less.
As I said, except when it would benefit him most, Butch was extremely smart. He easily learned tricks. His strangest one was his response to the command, “Walk like a seal!”
He would flatten himself to the floor and extend his hind legs straight backwards, like the tail of a seal. Then he would crawl forward on his elbows, simulating the fore-flipper walk of a harbor seal.
Cushing’s Disease changed him from a taut, buff little fellow into a slightly larger dog with a tiny head and a huge round belly. He could no longer jump fences with that belly, so we untethered him and gave him the run of the yard. He began to get slower and mopier.
When his companion Katy died, he was inconsolable. Katy was our Bassett/Doberman pound dog. She looked like a Bassett that was colored like a Dobie. Katy was dumb as a rock but with a heart as big as any I’ve ever seen in a dog, a real sweetheart who lived solely for food, sleep, attentive scratching and the occasional walk.
Butch loved to tease and torment her, stealing her favorite toy and then playing with it right in front of her. If Katy made any attempt to repossess her toy, Butch would grab it and dash out of range.
As soon as Katy died Butch sank into a deep depression. He expressed this first by searching everywhere for her, and then by peeing a huge puddle of strange urine (strange because it was voluminous and didn’t smell) on the kitchen floor every night. As soon as we got our little long-haired Dachshund (Spunky), Butch stopped his nocturnal floor peeing.
In his later years Butch became a crusty old curmudgeon. He put up with Spunky’s youthful playfulness — but just barely.
My wife investigated Cushing’s disease (which humans also get, too, although it’s not contagious) and found that there was medicine for it in the UK. She bought these expensive pills and they began to work almost immediately.
Unfortunately, they also increased Butch’s aggressiveness and he began to become dangerous to be around. He bit me on a number of occasions.
We stopped his meds and then would occasionally add them when we thought he needed them, trying to strike a kind of balance between health and aggressiveness.
We knew something was seriously wrong with Butch yesterday when he threw up his breakfast. We offered him food throughout the day but he refused it — a first in the entire time we’ve known him. He moped around like Katy did before she died. He was oblivious to us and our attentions. He seemed to be pondering another world, one that none of us could see. He’d take a few steps and then stare off into infinity.
Typically, my family and I don’t spend Christmas day at home. We spend Christmas Eve at my brother’s house, then go to my mom’s house to spend the night. We have an early Christmas dinner there, watch a movie and then head home. This year, though, my mom visited my brother Dave up near Stockton, CA this Christmas.
It was extremely lucky for both us and Butch that we spent Christmas day here at home, having both of my sons at home and all of us lavishing Butch with attention on what would become his last day on earth.
We had just watched the emotionally powerful (both my wife and I were crying) “Ode to Joy” sequence in The Immortal Beloved. I put on an episode of the old Boris Karloff-hosted show Thriller. We were five minutes into it when my wife entered the room.
“I have an announcement to make,” she said. “Butch has just died.”
He was lying down in our service porch, in between our house and the backyard. His little body was still warm. My wife had placed his head on a pillow. My wife, sons and I took turns stroking and petting him, saying our goodbyes.
She called the Humane Society (from whom we got Butch) and they sent over an extremely kind, gentle and thoughtful Animal Control officer who retrieved his body.
As I said, this was a different kind of Christmas for us.