His recorded name is actually Quinn Fitzgerald. It has something to do with the alphabet and the number of litters that occur in a traceable line. He was born in Montvale, NJ. The breeder said he was very social. He was so very small. We brought him home to a house where he had an older brother, actually through blood lines a cousin, but always his older brother. At first Keats begged for the opportunity to kill him. We declined and eventually he accepted his sibling and taught him with a stare and if necessary a nip on the ass. Fitzgerald was totally devoted to Keats.
Time passed and their relationship grew stronger. Keats had been sick but he was the better swimmer. Fitzgerald could do just about anything that an athletic challenge placed in front of him. But he worshipped his older brother.
He bonded with Valerie. Keats was so clearly my dog and she had never experienced the true bonding of an animal. He followed her every movement. He slept curled at her feet in our bed. She pressed her feet to him and her arms to me; Keats preferred to sleep on the floor.
They were hardly prefect dogs. They marked. I had been slow to allow Keats’ castration and well….he developed the habit of marking and Fitz picked up the scent and imitated. We tried to be stern and failed and lived with the endless cleanings up and the occasional outburst of how disgusting this was.
They did not like children with one exception, our grand-daughter Hazel. Keats made an exception and she stroked him with love and abandon. Fitz was too frisky and unaware of his strength. He is and was exuberant.
Chief among his skills and lovable nature are both his ability to catch a Frisbee and his learned behavior of giving it back so that it can be thrown again. Another is his fierce loyalty and protective nature. He charges into any fray with abandon if he feels a member of his pack is threatened.
He prances with flapping ears and quickness and grace. He has a single focus. He is protecting by whatever means necessary. There was one time when a visiting dog snapped at Val. Fitzgerald literally flew down the stairs and placed himself between her and the now unwelcome intruder. He lunged and bared his teeth and snarled until his adversary cowered. He never left Val alone again when the visitor was in our home. This happened just as my awareness knew that something wasn’t right, and then it was.
He mastered the fetch instinct. Throw a stick, yeah he’ll go and get it every time and bring it, or some chewed version of it, back to be thrown again. Sometimes you have to laugh because it is a pathetically small chewed version of it and he drops it at your feet with such hope.
When I throw the Frisbee he is in total focus. When Keats was still alive I would take them down to the field next to the lake that borders our property. I would throw the Frisbee as hard as I could and as long as I was capable of throwing it and he would fly. He would leap. He was perfection. Eventually Keats would head towards the lake and he would obediently follow and wait for me to throw sticks into the water so that they could swim.
These are Irish Water Spaniels. They are both liver brown and have a coat that resembles a standard poodle. They are known as clownish, but that is a deception. These are serious dogs.
While we were away, Keats was killed. As best we can figure, on a snowy predawn morning, a truck swerved out of control, up onto our lawn and ended his life almost instantly. By the time we got home, the pet sitter service, had shut the doggie door and Fitzgerald was, for the first time in his life, alone. He could smell his brother’s blood out on the lawn. We weren’t there. Is this the fate of any unreserved submission to a family, that there will be times when no one is there?
After we got home, he howled like a wolf to the other dogs across the lake. It went on for several nights. I’m not sure if it was mourning, communication or the trumpeting announcement that he was now in charge.
The Frisbee and his absolute devotion to Valerie became the sole focus of his life until I created a vegetable garden. I instructed him how to urinate along the protective fence (do not ask how) in order to ward off gophers and other animals. He was now a dog with a job and his devotion to task was more than admirable. He patrolled the garden day and night. He set his senses to communicate any change in its environment. He lived to crawl as close as he could inside of Val’s skin.
Fitzgerald’s athleticism was and is extraordinary. Imagine a 80 pound dog prancing along the top of the back of a couch like a cat and then, on a whim, deciding the fly through the air to a vacant chair. That is Fitzgerald. More than one startled visitor has been frozen by the sight of his airborn form and its unpredictable nature.
I’m told that the strength in the fetch instinct is one of the criteria that is used for the initial selection of police dogs or those that are used in rescue operations. It is not what his breed is noted for, but he sure does exhibit those traits.
Why did we name him Fitzgerald? He had grace and a nature that enjoying showing off and he was always so pretty. Keats and Fitzgerald in canine reincarnation, how crazy is that? Their spirit and poetry of motion…
I never really wanted to read stories about people and their dogs, but suppose the way that they perceived their animals was a reflection of something else? And what might that something else create in the spirit of those creatures? Do you believe that the way that we communicate with others changes who they are? Not just, abject response…but the nuances of it. Do they matter? Do they seep into genetics? Is this what I really mean by old friends and family?
About the female dogs in Fitzgerald’s life; there were two. Madison was nicknamed “good sex.” She would romp and then happily allow him to endlessly hump her. They danced the stimulated eroticism of their youth and did it playfully.
Stella was “rough sex.” She was my daughter’s pit bull beagle rescue dog mix. She and Fitz played hard. Afterwards his neck was scratched and he was exhausted. Stella was happy.
I threw the Frisbee every day for 10 months of the year. The bond was solid. He wanted it, he expected it, he caught it, and he brought it back with grace and fluidity. He needed it. He quivered in anticipation of it.
With the exception of when Hazel was here every day, Fitz was always the baby. It was his nickname. He cries when he does not have access to the open window of a car. He excitedly snatches at food that is offered on the tips of fingers, but he is decidedly gentle in licking from the open palm. His level of interest in permanently high and his attention span decidedly low, unless you are throwing a Frisbee.
When Stella came to live with us, Keats looked at me with a “you’ve got to be kidding” expression. I’m not sure he felt or thought anything like that, but sometimes we interpret the actions of all creatures with whom we live. And his actions did seem to take that approach. His pack had grown again and there were other issues. We couldn’t fit all three of them into the back seat of the car. Someone was going to be left home. It surely was not going to be Quinn Fitzgerald, if he had anything to say about it.
Whenever either of us gave the slightest indication that we were going out, and this could be anything from the putting on of shoes to me collecting my wallet or even the mention between us of a place that we needed or wanted to go, Fitz was right there, wanting to be first in line. He still is. If for some reason he is left behind, he communicates his disappointment by doing something that he knows he isn’t supposed to do.
Tired of collecting my garbage from the front lawn, or picking up a shredded box of tissues from the bedroom floor, we put up a series of gates. Childproof gates are not meant to withstand the efforts of a large and determined Fitzgerald. If one area of mischief is closed off, he finds another. If he is unsuccessful, he eventually knocks down the gate. When you come up the stairs, he greets you happily and then runs outside to wait, and you know that you must search to find whatever little message that he has left this time.
As I have said, Fitz is a marker. This is not an attractive aspect of his personality and one that makes life with him, at times, difficult. There was the time when Val came to me and asked, in a way that let me know that she had been holding back from asking for some time, if I could please be more careful in the bathroom. I was at first horrified to be told that my bathrooms had a distinct odor that was being caused by my carelessness. What made it worse is that I could not recall the careless behavior. I am there and awake for the event and I could not for the life of me figure out how I could be “missing” with such frequency. It took me about two months of Val shaking her head and cleaning the bathrooms with a disturbing frequency for me to realize that it wasn’t me at all. Fitz had been sneaking into the bathrooms and imitating me, except that when he lifted his leg well, he isn’t quite that high. When we started closing the bathroom doors all the time, the problem disappeared. I was relieved and annoyed at the same time but there was a part of me that just had to laugh. I should have seen it earlier. I had watched him cover Keats urine with his own countless number of times but it just never occurred to me that he was doing the same thing with me.
Watching Fitz tire is like waiting for something that you are not sure will ever come. To this day, he goes full speed and then suddenly he just flops down and sleeps.
I know that some people feel that having an emotional attachment to an animal is decadent nonsense. The reasoning is that with all the people suffering in the world, how could such care and emotion be poured into an animal? The diet that he eats would be a nutritional upgrade for many human beings. How can one participate or even condone such behaviors? Wouldn’t that money and care be better off donated to the starving children of the world? I’m not unsympathetic to this logic but I don’t accept it. I do believe that wherever and whenever you can exchange loving interactions with the creatures that inhabit this world that world is a better place for it.
On Friday, May 17, Fitz went to the groomer for his spring cut. He grows out over the winter and because of the tight curly nature of his coat, our practice was always to let him grow out over the winter months and then get him cut short late in the spring. It is always a delight to see his lithe and well-toned body and how the cut even increases the amount of energy that he has. He becomes a puppy again, although he never strays far from that state of being. The groomer found two lumps on the side of his neck and she did not like their location or their feel. That afternoon, we took him to the vet.
Her initial diagnosis was not positive. She told us that she believed that he had a condition called lymphoma. Basically cancer of the lymph nodes and that not only the 2 nodes on his neck were swollen but that all of the external lymph nodes on his body were swollen.
How could this be in an animal so healthy and filled with life? Why wasn’t he acting sick? There must be some mistake. She performed a needle aspiration biopsy. The results were inconclusive. This particular form of cancer does not leave its victims a lot of time, perhaps a few weeks, perhaps two months. She wanted to perform a surgical biopsy but that would leave him in a coned collar for two weeks. He would not have the freedom of his beloved doggie door. The spring garden was it. It was Frisbee season. There were so many things for him to do. So many new things to investigate… I asked that she repeat the needle biopsy and she did. The results came back positive for lymphoma.
I am still in a state of disbelief. I watch him all the time looking for signs that his energy level is slowing down. It is not. He is eating like a horse. There has been no treatment yet and there will not be any except to ease the impending discomfort. The vet tells me that animals with this condition just lose interest and wither, or that the lumps become large enough to be obstructive and prevent swallowing.
In the meantime, Fitzgerald is romping, hoping for butterflies to chase, patrolling the garden, and of course, catching the Frisbee. But this is not a piece about his death. It is a story about his life.
I wish to capture those moments of carefree agility before they aren’t there any longer. I want to pay homage to his inquisitive nature. All animals have unique gestures that endear them to us. Fitz lies on his side and rubs his forepaws up over his floppy ears. He is not annoyed when he does this. He is totally in that second of feeling.
Perhaps if each instant of reality is everlasting, he has realities enough to sustain him forever.