Sharon Peters says, “Memories are tribute to my beloved, departed dog Rufus.”

In this touching article from USA Today, Pet Talk’s Sharon Peters memorializes her boy, Rufus.

Rufus, my gentle warrior, is gone.

He resolutely fought his way back from paralysis after a spinal cord stroke last year, eventually regaining the ability to walk miles every day. And just a few weeks ago, he gamely readjusted his gait to accommodate a reduced-size rear foot after a toe amputation to remove a large tumor.

He could not, however, overcome the brain tumor that filled his head with swirling, tilting images of what was up and what was down, robbing him of his ability to know how to place his feet solidly on what had always been the ground.

And so, last week I said goodbye to the sweet old guy who filled my heart and world with love. His absence is huge. And almost unbearable.

We met at an animal shelter, dog-love at first sight

Rufus and I met one Saturday 3½ years ago when I was dropping off cans for recycling at the animal shelter. A ragtag bunch of little kids exploded from the doors of a nearby minivan and swarmed around a rangy wolf-looking creature being led by a shelter employee to the exercise area. The squealing kids wrapped themselves around the dog, patting his long snout and pulling his ears, then they drifted noisily away like locusts, leaving the big dog staring wistfully after them.

I approached the dogwalker, curious about why she had seemed so unconcerned about the mob job that had just descended on a presumably stressed shelter dog. She smiled and said she had utter confidence in this stray that had arrived weeks ago and had won over the staff with his gentle demeanor. And then, voice quaking, she said that since he was so big and old (9 to 11, probably), he was nearly out of time.

I’d planned to get a playmate for Jasper, my high-energy 2-year-old mutt, probably a young-ish dog. But this old one reached me in ways I can’t explain even now, and I dashed home to collect Jasper to make sure they’d get along. All good. Big Brown got his reprieve.

I know nothing of his first decade, but many things revealed themselves over time: Rufus was unfailingly sweet-natured and mannerly, he loved deep snow and long hikes, and he was practically worshipful of children. He would spot a kid blocks away and his thick banner of a tail would sweep back and forth with joy. If he sensed a kid was frightened, he’d drop to the ground to make himself smaller and gaze up with a tenderness even scared kids recognized. Over time he developed something of a reputation, becoming the neighborhood go-to dog for parents with kids possessed of dog fear. His success rate was 100%.

Rufus was terrified of thunderstorms and squeaky toys, wouldn’t chase balls or sticks, and was only mildly interested in food. His one demonstration of stubbornness would appear intermittently when he wasn’t ready to enter the house when called to do so. He’d eye me calling from the porch, a conflicted look would cross his face, and then he’d turn his back to me — as if convinced that ignoring me while not actually making eye contact was somehow a lesser act of defiance.

3,000 miles of walks, and a nose muzzle every morning

In our years together, we walked or hiked no fewer than 3,000 miles; made regular visits to Melanie and Fred’s place in remote Montana, where he roamed the wildlands and rolled happily in elk poop; and welcomed many dog buddies into our circle. Every morning he charted a course that allowed him to give a nose nuzzle to Gracie, the golden who lives behind a fence a block away.

Early in March he suddenly didn’t know how to place his feet. He would hold his head at a cock-eyed angle close to the ground, as if to confirm where the ground was. The veterinarian and I hoped it was vestibular syndrome, an inner-ear malfunction similar to vertigo, which hits some old dogs and leaves them unable to tell where the ever-tilting ground is. It’s unnerving and anxiety-provoking. But dogs adjust to the new reality of where things are within a week or so and go on to live normal lives.

That’s what we hoped for. But although Rufus had four really good days (prompting hope) over the next four weeks, the descent was essentially unremitting. An MRI would have shown conclusively whether it was a stroke rather than a tumor, but since he was now 13 or 14 years old with smoldering liver issues, I wouldn’t subject him to yet another procedure merely to obtain an absolute diagnosis when there wasn’t an intervention that could improve his life. We tried prednisone briefly on the chance that maybe there was some brain inflammation. Nothing.

When outside in open spaces, he could tilt his head far enough to eventually find his footing, and he would walk happily, if lopsidedly, his tail swinging (although turns were awkward and in his last days he often couldn’t find his way back if he veered off trail a few steps). But being inside with walls and doorways was awful for him. He couldn’t manage two steps without tipping over; he had to be carried to the door and down the porch steps. He ate and drank lying down so he wouldn’t throw up.

Last week, the vet said we had tried everything.

Rufus may have been able to live a while longer. It’s possible he could have died in his sleep, graciously eliminating the need for me to make the decision every pet owner dreads.

It’s also possible that he would begin having seizures or strokes, that his recent ravenous need for food would obliterate the pleasure he still felt when there was a stiff wind in his face or when he caught the scent of fox. It was probable there could be profound behavior changes, even aggression.

Those things I could not allow. For every day I’d had him, he had adhered to what I eventually came to regard as The Rufus Code: Walk gently and quietly through life, be polite and kind to all you meet, demand nothing, and revel in every happy moment that comes your way.

One last time together, atop a ridge with a mountain view

Last Wednesday, soon after the vet said there was no chance for improvement, the dogs and I went for a walk, Rufus with his poor head cranked off at the horrible angle that made him a little more secure about where the ground was. We sat atop a ridge with a view of the mountains — the place that, because of the sweeping vista, I think, seemed less off-kilter and soothed him. He sat quietly, sniffing the air, leaning up against me. And as we ambled home, I cried and came to terms with the fact that it was time.

Rufus ate a pork chop with relish. We lay on the rug in the front hall that had been his command post for nearly four years, the door open so he could feel the cold wind that had suddenly slammed in from the mountains.

The vet arrived at the exact moment one of those fierce, brief, Rocky Mountain spring snowstorms did. Rufus watched the snow, and he died as it drifted across the porch and onto his nose.

As he was carried for the final time from the home he infused with quiet love, the storm stopped as abruptly as it had started.

No words of comfort help very much in a time like this. But I cling to these, written by my friend Connie, who knew him well: “I know in my heart that Rufus is where there are lots of children to play with, where the ground is down and the sky is up, and thunder is just a blip in the memory.”

The day after he died, I took his collar and leash and 10 big bags of dog and cat food to the local pet food pantry that helps financially wounded owners keep their animals.

On that day, in that way, when the sky was vivid blue and the fields dusted with snow, my sweet, generous Rufus, who had spent every day I knew him paying it forward, did it one last time.

When my dog, Lucky died — I disappeared too…

By Bob Sullivan, TODAY

Among the cruelest truths of biology is this: A dog’s life is considerably shorter than a human’s life. The math is unforgiving; if you love a dog, you will lose a dog, and you will suffer the pain and biting lessons that death brings — probably several times over.

A million things are wrong when your dog dies. Here’s just one: You become invisible.

My Lucky passed away a year ago this spring and my loss was profound; those of you who’ve been through this understand; those of you who haven’t, I’m not nearly a good enough writer to describe it to you. My grief was complicated because, as my reporting sidekick for many years, Lucky was a mini-celebrity. He had completed several cross-country trips with me as we chronicled American life. We even had a theme song (“It’s Bob and Lucky’s/Hidden Fee Tour of America!”). He was a fantastic journalist. And he died suddenly, just as we were going to leave on a new trip, so I had the task of disappointing readers and sources from coast to coast, telling them that Lucky wouldn’t be sticking his head out my Jeep window this time.

But my sadness grew even deeper as I realized that my entire life, right down to how I interact with the world, had changed. Pet owners know the “You’re Fido’s owner!” phenomenon well. Plenty of neighborhood folks knew me only by my dog. They knew his name, not mine. When he passed away suddenly, I felt like I’d disappeared.

I wrote a column about turning to social media for comfort in my time of grief. It was among the most popular pieces I’d ever written, even though it had nothing to do with my day job. No question, the Internet helped.

But Facebook friends and retweets are a meager replacement for the dozens smiles and laughs from strangers that spoiled me daily, thanks to Lucky. They were gone now.

Walking my old Lucky around the block was like going to a never-ending cocktail party. Everyone would stop for a pet, and a chat, and 30 minutes later I had 10 new friends. Now, I would arrive home from work, dreading the thought of walking into an empty apartment, and set out to walk around the block. I got in the habit of taking the slowest stroll I could, as if I’d become the aging geriatric dog that Lucky never got to be. It wasn’t just my heart that hurt; it felt like every muscle of my body suffered a dull ache, as if my blood didn’t really have the heart to push its way through my veins any more. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

The worst was the blank stares. If I did, occasionally, work up the strength to smile at a sidewalk passer-by, I’d get an odd look, if I got any response at all. There certainly was no stopping for idle chat. Sure, some neighbors I knew better did pause and ask me how I was doing, but it wasn’t nearly the same. The party was over.

In the 1960s, psychiatrist Eric Berne introduced a new model of psychology that he ultimately called Transactional Analysis. It has many components, but the simplest is this: Our days and nights are filled with small and large “transactions” between people. A quick hello from a friend is a small, positive transaction, while a dirty look from another driver is a negative one. A deep conversation with a lover is a large transaction — it might be positive or negative, depending on the outcome. Berne believed that people’s happiness was a function of how these transactions went, and how many positive interactions a person piled up during the day. He believed that positive transactions were as important to mental health as water and food are to physical health. Chart a few days of your interactions with people, and I think you’ll become convinced that Berne was onto something.

When Lucky died, I lost probably 100 or more happy transactions every day. The ache I felt was primal. Berne would say I was starving. OK, I’ll say that.

Enter Rusty.

As pet owners know, you can’t just replace your lost loved one. Pets aren’t like cars or refrigerators. The timing is different for everyone, but you must wait until the time is right, lest you cheat yourself out of that critical soul-searching “in-between time,” and you cheat your new dog by expecting the pup to be too much like your old dog.

So I waited a year….past the point when every day was a sad anniversary…and mentioned to a friend that after a long summer vacation, I thought I’d be ready to love again. During my trip, she found Rusty at a shelter, facing an uncertain end. When I got home, he was, essentially, waiting at my door for me.

There are a million reasons not to get a dog, and anyone who’s ever thought about it can cite them all chapter and verse. You travel too much; your apartment is too small; you don’t want your stuff destroyed, peed on, or chewed up, you don’t want to miss after-work happy hours; you don’t want to disturb the neighbors. All those can be good reasons, as taking on a pet is a serious, life-long commitment to be made with both head and heart. The problem is that while the reasons not to get a dog are specific, and easy to cite, the benefits of having a dog are far more subtle, and hard to count. Let me clumsily offer one:

You become visible. Dogs make you somebody in the eyes of the universe.

Maybe the isolation I felt after Lucky died says something about alienation in modern life, and the fact that people would rather text than smile while walking; or about the cruelness of urbanity, the heavy social armor city-dwellers must wear to protect themselves. Or maybe it just says people in some places aren’t friendly enough. Whatever — dogs are the world’s best icebreakers, and that can’t be argued.

I don’t know a lot about Rusty’s past, but I do know he hadn’t been on a leash very much before meeting me, and I’m pretty sure no one had ever told him to lie down. As a roughly 8-month-old golden retriever, Rusty is at the age that often gets dogs in trouble. Dogs’ bodies grow much faster than their brains. Rusty is almost full-grown, but he’s still very much a puppy. That means he has puppy fits, when he wants to jump on everything and everyone, he wants to steal food, socks, remote controls, and anything else that I don’t want him to steal.  If he’s not getting what he wants, he literally bats people — in the face, even! — with his paw. He can’t resist trying to wrestle with every dog we encounter. In short, he’s doing things that would be adorable if he were 15 pounds, but are dreadful now that he’s 50 pounds. This is the age at which many dogs end up in shelters.

But Rusty is also a beautiful, auburn-red golden retriever who melts hearts as easy as he chases tennis balls. Passers-by can’t resist patting the fur on his soft, soft head. The second someone shows the slightest bit of interest (“What a cute dog! He’s so red! What is he?), he hurls himself onto his back, on his “victim’s” shoes, and demands a belly rub. One block=30 minutes. At least. And at least 100 or more smiles, hellos, handshakes, how-do-you-dos, etc.  An NBC colleague often reminds me that golden retrievers are the bartenders of the dog world. True, but I know Rusty isn’t just being friendly for the tips.Transactional therapy has few real advocates now. It’s viewed as old-fashioned and incomplete. But you’ll find fewer more thought-provoking books than Berne’s “Games People Play,” which describes the stunts people pull (rackets, Berne calls them) to fill their emotional needs when they aren’t being filled through normal daily life. Since learning about it years ago, I’ve often thought about the troubles of suburban life in America. It’s possible to walk from your house into your garage, drive to work, pull into the office garage, and take the elevator to the cubicle without ever interacting with another human being. That life might not be sad, but it’s certainly not happy. Berne would say it’s like trying to get through the day without eating.

I’ll just say that, according to the American Humane Society, 61 percent of U.S. Households are dogless, and that number is creeping up slightly because of the recession, as some people give up their pets for financial reasons. Those folks might not know what they’re missing.

It’s been about a month now, and Rusty has changed everything. I’m unmistakably visible —particularly to friendly folks my dog pees on when he gets so excited as they are petting him that he literally can’t contain himself. Last Sunday, walking down the block, a small puppy and his companion walked towards Rusty and me. Our dogs played, while we chatted. Then, a man walking two other dogs arrived. More playing, more talking. A petless woman we’d met the day before, who missed her childhood dog, strolled up and joined the fun. Then, an older woman and a pug nicknamed “Piggy” snorted their way towards our dogpile. I mean, our spontaneous cocktail party. I loved every minute of it; my heart was filling up.

I’m sure Lucky paused from chasing a tennis ball in heaven to smile down at the scene.

To those who walked this walk with me, who contributed to my So Lucky dog memorial page, thank you. To anyone who feels invisible, or even sad — the ASPCA estimates that 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year in the United States. The life you save may be your own.

Memorial for Annie the Dog

From the LA Times:  Memorial Rises for “Guardian of LA Neighborhood”

Annie the dog

Candles, flowers and sympathy cards adorn a corner of 4th Street and Cochran Avenue for a dog who spent each day lying beneath a tree as a passing parade of Mid-Wilshire residents and workers went by.

For four years the husky mix spent time under the tree in front of an apartment house, greeting the dog-walkers, errand-runners and those simply out for an evening stroll. But Annie the dog died Saturday night when she was stung by a bee and went into anaphylactic shock.

“She just enjoyed watching the world go by,” said Brian Savage, an actor who lives nearby. “She never ran off, never barked at anyone. She was just a pillar of the neighborhood.”

She was more than that, said Michael Moravek, also an actor.

“Annie was really a touchstone for all of us,” Moravek said. “It was nice to have her here. We might not know each other but we all knew Annie.”

On Tuesday, Moravek placed a snapshot he had taken of her on the shrine.

“She was our neighborhood guardian. Even now, Annie is bringing us together.”

Six-year-old Roman DiGiulio walked to the shrine with his mother and placed a hand-printed note and a large red heart on the tree.  “Have a good life in heaven, sweet doggie,” the note read.

“I’ve known Annie for years,” Caroline DiGiulio said. “She was considered the neighborhood dog. She loved being outside and people loved seeing her.”

City Department of Water and Power worker Jon Fernandez, who regularly makes service calls in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood, remembered being apprehensive when he first walked past the unchained husky three years ago.

“I was a little nervous. Dogs sometimes come after us. But she was very docile,” Fernandez said. “I saw her out here just last Saturday.”

Casting director Michael McCaskey also remembered seeing Annie in her usual spot on Saturday.

“She was such a friendly dog. Everybody loved her,” he said.

Annie’s owner, Jack Zurla, said he was moved by those who have contributed to the impromptu memorial. He said he rescued Annie 12 years ago when he found the abandoned puppy foraging for food near the corner of Washington Boulevard and La Brea Avenue.

“I’ll remember Annie as a dog that was more human than dog. She had the capacity to understand people. She was a dog of compassion for everybody. She gave people comfort,” said Zurla, a representative for a designer glass and wrought iron company.

Zurla said people have stood crying in front of Annie’s shrine.

“Annie was a staple in a lot of lives around here,” he said. “Annie was always ready to give someone some love.”