Venus is gone, the happiest animal I’ve ever known.
Venus died yesterday after 14 years and 7 months of a full enjoyable life. I’m glad we were able to spend a few days at home with her for final memories and goodbyes after our 2 week vacation in Mexico. Mary and I were very lucky that she lived so many years. Her closest brush with death was when she was 10 years old, living in the town of Bucerias north of Puerto Vallarta. Venus loved to eat garbage and litter, a dangerous habit in a tropical climate. She contracted bronchial pneumonia and refused to eat or drink, a bad sign for a lean dog that greatly enjoyed food. Mary carried Venus three blocks to the vet when Venus refused to walk. The veterinarian warned Mary that she was in danger of dying.
Her health quickly deteriorated for a few days until she was so sick that she couldn’t walk. We lived a couple of blocks from a veterinarian who saved her life. Venus received four different antibiotics, most intravenously. Earlier, Mary saw a dog wretching in the arms of the veterianarian; the dog soon died of poisoning. Upon returning for Venus 6 hours later, the other dog has died a tough death while Venus recovered. Later, Mary saw the veterinarian administering to a dog laying in the back of an open bed truck.
I started rollerblading with Venus when she was about 12 months old. Although it was hard to teach her to do things like sit and stay, I didn’t have to train her to follow me from a distance, as she always wanted to be with me. I could skate 100 yards ahead and rely on her to follow me.
I enjoy being in water and Venus always wanted to be with me so I decided that one of her jobs was to follow me when I went swimming, belly boating, or kayaking. I often strengthened her swimming muscles for long distances across ponds, lakes, and beaches such as Watson Lake in Laporte, Colorado; Black Lake at the summit of Vail Pass; and Playas Balandra and Tesoro in La Paz, Baja California Sur. Last September, I enjoyed my dream of kayaking Lake McConaughy, Nebraska for a few days with Venus 6 months before she died. She was healthy but not as strong and enthusiastic as when she was younger.
I went kayaking with Venus during the month we lived at the Costa Baja marina in La Paz, Baja California Sur; she was the most famous dog in town because I built a custom boat for her. Mary often asked me whether Venus was following me to be dutiful or if she was enjoying it. I didn’t know but one day we were on our cruising yacht in La Paz and Venus answered the question after I left them in the boat while I paddled my kayak to the only other boat in a secluded bay; she cried and moaned inconsolably like a baseball pitcher removed from the game by the manager in the 8th inning of a no-hitter. Working was her greatest joy so after that incident I allowed her to follow me as long as it wasn’t dangerous.
Venus always wanted to be a useful animal with a job; she constantly reminded me of the inhumanity of incarcerating children in schools rather than allowing them to work and earn money. I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, delivered to the driveway 150 feet from our house, so I patiently taught Venus for several months to fetch the paper, her morning task for years. She understood the job so well that when we visited Dave Edrich in Austin, she fetched the paper of one of his neighbors and brought it to the neighbor rather than Dave or me.
Venus was never a hunting dog but she loved to chase animals when she was young. One day we skated on a trail in a field of prairie dogs. Usually, they were smart enough to run for their burrows when we approached but we surprised one as we crested over a hill, and Venus caught it in her mouth. The prairie dog fought fiercely for life, scratching Venus in the face, and Venus, not knowing what to do with her prize, dropped it after about 10 seconds. A few years later we again surprised a rabbit after cresting a hill. Venus came within 3 feet so the rabbit knew that it was in deep trouble and fled at maximum speed. Venus ran 25 mph but rabbits can run 40 mph so the rabbit ran in an evasive diagonal pattern. Venus ran straight, covering a much smaller distance, but the rabbit’s huge speed advantage still kept it ahead of Venus, the most amazing display of running I’ve ever seen.
Mary didn’t see Venus chase that rabbit but they were together without me when Venus encountered a red fox while walking in a field near our house. Venus quickly took chase as the surprised fox sprinted away. They ran atop a long, thin grassy mound, the pair equally matched in grace, beauty and speed. Slicing a path in the warm wind, their tails floated behind and parallel to the mound. In the distance, Mary saw Venus slow as the fox apparently found a hole for cover.
Venus was ferocious but not as ferocious as the Santa Monica cat, Mr. Kitty, who greeted Venus by jumping on Venus’s face, then neck, then for the back of the neck as we moved into sister Carol’s second house. The cat repelled all invaders but Carol pulled her off to prevent injury. On two later occasions, Mr. Kitty drew blood from other invading dogs.
Venus loved to goad other dogs into chasing her at dog parks. They usually gave up quickly after realizing that Venus can’t be caught. However, one day she met a greyhound in Santa Monica. Venus was about 3 feet from the greyhound when she sprinted away at top speed. As Venus hoped, this goaded the other dog into chasing her. The greyhound caught her in less than a second so Venus immediately assumed the submissive position on her back. I wish I could have communicated to her that a bigger head start is necessary to outrun a greyhound.
Venus was curious when she was young and took advantage of every opportunity to escape her leash and explore the town, costing us $75 for the dog catcher bill several times in Fort Collins, while passing motorists caught her several other times. One day when we lived in La Paz, Mary and I were inattentive so Venus escaped to explore the town. Mary was terribly worried but I assured her that we had done well as parents and that if Venus wanted to be free, we should be happy with her decision. Venus returned about 5 hours later to Mary’s great relief. We are fairly confident that she wandered into the open unlocked houses of our neighbors; Mexico suffers a reputation for high crime but it wasn’t a concern for people in downtown La Paz. Venus never disappeared again for an extended time; during her last few years as an old dog, we even let her outside to pee without a leash knowing that she wouldn’t leave home.
Every day was joyful for Venus as long as she met somebody new. She stood outside stores and restaurants staring at people until they noticed her, and she’d respond by wagging her tail, and when someone approached her she would shake hands like a human. On hot summer days when she found a puddle in a grass field, she’d make a running start and dive into it head first like Pete Rose stealing second base.
Venus was resilient, allowing her to overcome many challenges. Fireworks in downtown La Paz, Baja California Sur frightened her most. Moving whitewater river rapids and windy weather in our yard with branches falling from cottonwoods and elms was scary, too. One day Venus and I were in a canoe that capsized and she clung to my neck as if I were the safest man in the world. Thunder also frightened Venus so she always came to me because I was her hero.
Other than her brush with death in Bucerias, the most frightening time for her may have been the 5 days she spent in Mazatlan while Mary and I were in San Diego attending the wedding of Dave and Gina Edrich. A torrent of rain and hail fell within 3 feet of Venus for several days while she was alone and leashed under a plastic dining table under a covered outdoor deck. Even though the rain and hail didn’t pelt her directly, she was still soaked.
The stupidest thing I ever did to Venus was bring her in the special dog boat that I made for her to upper Glenwood Canyon while I floated in my belly boat. I mostly kept us afloat but we went over a huge rapid, fell over, and righted ourselves after a complete soaking.
Venus and I enjoyed our greatest adventure in a river a few miles from Walden, Colorado on the Fourth of July when she was young. I was wearing a wetsuit and navigating my belly boat while she swam and wore her wetsuit. I told Mary to meet us 10 miles down the river and we floated for a long time through many whitewater rapids, including a very fast one called The Narrows. The weather grew colder until it snowed, surprising me because I didn’t know snow fell in Colorado in July. It seemed like we were floating forever and we were very cold and tired so we stopped at the shoreline to rest and shiver for a few minutes. We were only one mile from Mary waiting at the end but I didn’t know that so when a woman and her daughter offered to warm us at their campsite, I gratefully accepted and enjoyed her fire and ramen noodles, and she drove us back to town. Meanwhile, Mary called the police because she had assumed that we might have been injured or drowned. There is only one street in Walden and a man in a wetsuit carrying a belly boat and walking a dog stands out so the police saw us immediately and informed Mary that we’d made it back to town.
The happiest time for Venus was the day we rode dune buggies on the beach of the small surfing town of Todos Santos, a few miles north of Cabo San Lucas. She wore the wetsuit I built for her and I strapped her to the buggy using the D-rings on her suit. We started by riding a dirt path and I left her off when we reached the beach. When I reached the maximum buggy speed of 25 mph, she was running alongside at her fastest, too. We enjoyed watching the huge waves crash into the rocks. Venus alternated between soaking in the ocean and running on the beach without a leash.
Venus and I loved Mexico because it is such a free country. Not only did a Mexican allow Venus to ride on a dune buggy at Todos Santos but another allowed her to ride in the panga with us in Magdalena Bay with Mary, Carol, and I when we visited the whales. I think Venus understood that we were there for the rare chance to see one of the most magnificent creatures in the sea.
We drove the Baja California peninsula many times with Venus and one of my favorite places was a big windy steep deserted sand dune outside the farming town of San Quintin. Mary stood at the top and I was at the bottom, repeatedly asking Venus to ascend and descend until she was exhausted. She slept soundly in our van for a few hours after those runs.
Venus was also overjoyed several times to visit Fiesta Island in San Diego during the month we lived in our travel trailer at Campland By the Bay. The island is large and sparsely used on weekdays, allowing her to run free and chew on charcoal that people left behind after weekend barbecues.
If you are one of the thousands of people whose day Venus brightened, please share your memories in the comments.
I close with Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues:
I cried when I wrote this song, sue me if I play too long.
This brother is free, I’ll be what I want to be.