Monday, January 22, 2018


Last week, I had to say goodbye to a dear old friend.  He was more than that, really - he was one of my children.  My dog Ringo died of renal failure at the age of fifteen.  He had a wonderful life, & was a wonderful creature, & my life is so poorer for his passing but so much richer for his presence in it for the time we had him.

He was technically the first dog I've ever owned.  My wife Magda, when she was my girlfriend, brought her dog George into our relationship.  My family had had a dog in my teen years but he wasn't really mine.  As my wife reminds me, I paid for Ringo to be ours.  The circumstances were this:

In the summer of 2004, my girlfriend Magda went to New York City to work to make money because she was a graduate student & then as now they don't make much money.  I was left alone with her dog George & my two cats, Buster & Beatrice.  While in New York, Magda browsed the web for what she called "beagle porn": adoption websites.  She found a fellow named Grady at Houston Beagle & Hound Rescue with whom she fell madly in love.  A picture & a story & Grady won her heart.

Grady had been mistreated by people who kept pit bulls they trained to fight.  Grady was apparently used as a "bait dog" for the pit bulls & in one unfortunate circumstance, Grady's left eye was ripped from its socket.  They were able to reattach it, but it probably didn't work for the rest of his life.  (Veterinarians often told us he might see "shapes" or "light.")  The eye was something of a conversation piece - we were often asked "what happened to his eye???"

You can see his eye in this picture from 2014:

When Magda returned from New York, she wanted us to adopt Grady, & so I procured him from the group & he arrived at our house in August of 2004.  We called him our "love child," since he was the expression of my love for Magda.  But I didn't like the name Grady - it reminded me too much of the gross fried southern food chain Grandy's - & since we already had a George, I figured we could use a Ringo.  I don't recall if he took to the name at first, but I do recall he appeared in the house & proceeded to run around for a full day, while George barked at him, for a full day.  Magda reminded me that he took a shit in the middle of our living room floor - the only time he ever did that until he got sick in old age - but he would make more of a mess when it came to food.

Beagles love food.  They will eat until they're delightfully morbidly obese.  We do our best to make sure our animals aren't too unhealthily fat, but they will eat anything & everything.  Ringo proved to be an expert at getting into things & eating too much.  (His brother George was, as well, but Ringo took it to a new level.)  He broke into our pantry & stole kibble, he knocked over a deep fryer & ate oil, he ate dried beans, flour, anything.  He once ate one & a half bags of Costco tortilla chips.

One time, when I was setting up to deejay at a Lion's Club that had been rented for a friend's birthday, Ringo & George spent some time licking up the animal fat that was on the concrete under a barbecue smoker.  Ringo got so sick - well, he got pancreatitis - that he was in the hospital for a couple of days, & it almost killed him.

Another time, he almost killed everyone in the house.  This was in our first year in Lexington, after Magda had gone to pick me up from a WRFL meeting.  She had made some sweet potatoes for burritos, & they were cooling, mashed, in a pot on the stove.  Ringo used the door of the stove as a kind of springboard to get on top of the stove, eat the sweet potatoes, & generally make a mess.  The trouble was, it was a gas stove, & he accidentally turned it on as he was getting up there.  Had we not returned as soon as we did, he might've gassed the entire household.

If you had met Ringo in his later years, you might scoff at such a determined & active dog - Ringo certainly knew how to conserve energy.  But Magda took him & George for long walks at the Greenbelt in Austin where she'd let them off leash & they'd go running, looking for food & fun (mainly food).  Magda tells me that late in the walk she'd often hear a plaintive bark - Ringo's - & Magda would call his name.  He would then come running.  The truth is, though I had gotten Ringo for Magda, he would turn out to be the best gift we could've gotten for George.  They became fast friends, partners in crime, & sleeping buddies.  I used to think they were closer than Magda & I were!

Ringo was just so easygoing.  Soon enough there was another cat, Bolan, who was attached to him from the get-go (in general all the cats have tried, & failed, to be Ringo's best friend).

Then there was little beagle Winston, who had many issues, & who wanted so badly to be George's number two.  (One of the saddest things about Ringo's absence is that Winston was very kind to him in his illness, & encouraged him to go outside when he did.  Winston lately looks around when I let him out as if to find Ringo to take bring him along.)

In West Virginia, we adopted Bronte.  In Lexington, it was Boone, & after George's death, Pauline, & after my sister Pat's death, Yoko.  Ringo had no complaints.  He was always a good traveler, even after surviving a car accident with his mom & brother that left the car totaled on I-10 outside Van Horn, Texas.  He was always a good eater, even though this past year he slowed down, chewing rather than inhaling his food.  & he was a good cuddler, usually at his mother's side on the sofa in the evenings, & sometimes in bed with her, always closer to her than to me.

When I lived in Austin, I was quite busy, work in the day, a KOOP meeting at night or on weekends, & so I didn't really get to know Ringo too well until we moved away.  Pretty much every day since the summer of 2009 I have spent with him, & I'd like to think he came to like me, if not love me.  Certainly I walked him, although if Magda were around, he'd walk with her, & certainly I fed him (& the others).  Plus I give way more treats to the animals than she does.  Here's another thing: if I were back in my room or somewhere else in the house, & he needed to go out, he would bypass Magda (even if she were right there) to come find me.  He knew she was less likely to get up off the couch than I was to walk the length of the house to let him out.  He had me pretty well trained.

Ringo was a stingy kisser.  I think the last time he kissed me he did so by accident.  He wasn't a howler like some beagles are but he did have quite the voice.  He wasn't aggressive, & had very little interest in other dogs, & didn't care in general about issues of dominance, although occasionally the odd dog would push his buttons.  He didn't mind being George's second-in-command, & after George was gone, he didn't mind letting Winston pretend he was the most important.

He got less spazzy as he aged, like we all do.  He used to have a very distinctive walk, which we called, "slow-slow-slow-quick-quick-slow": he'd amble a bit, then speed up slightly, then return to the amble.  Like I said, always conserving energy.

Ringo traveled with us to California & back, he moved from Austin to Huntington to Lexington to Fort Worth.  He visited Georgia & North Carolina & Ohio & Tennessee, among other places.  He loved Texas, though.  On our first return to the state after leaving, at a stop in Texarkana, he got out & just rolled on the Texas grass.  He was doing that outside our house days before he died.

& yeah, death.  At some point last year, on a vet visit, we discovered he was in renal failure.  We adjusted his diet & watched him, but of course there's no cure.  Although we did toy with the ideas of an organ transplant (though Ringo may have been too old to survive such an operation, which has about a 40% acceptance rate) & even dialysis, we didn't want to complicate things for a creature of about fifteen years of age.  He seemed to hold steady for a while, but the end came quickly.  He traveled with us to Austin at the end of last year, & two days after that stopped eating his regular food.  The next fortnight we tried so many foods to get him to eat, but more & more his condition made it hard for him to find anything acceptable to eat.  & how tragic an end for a beagle who loved food more than anything.

Here's one of the last pictures I took of him:

In his old age, he had lost most of his hearing, but he could see all right.  He had suffered a bout of Old Dog Vestibular Disease last February or March & remained a bit wobbly, but he was walking with us up until two weeks before he died (though he walked a shorter route than the others for the last few months).  He loved his routine, he woke around 9am, went outside, took his place on the big circular pillow he loved to sleep on (or on the sofa), but when he went for a treat, he didn't want them, & his breakfast & dinner went uneaten.

Was he in pain?  Our vet says no, but Magda talked to people who had helped humans who went through renal failure & they do report pain.  Ringo didn't complain at all, he remained soft - he was quite frankly the softest-furred dog in the world - & endured my embraces & kisses to the end.  We just kept hearing people say things about his "quality of life," & we knew a beagle that is not eating has no quality of life to speak of.

Ringo Starr Muchlinski - often fondly called "Ringo Pants" - died in the early afternoon on January 14, 2018.  He hasn't really gone, of course.  I've dreamt about him almost every night in the past week, & I look for him, like Winston does, when I wander around this colder & emptier house.  I hope we were able to give him a good life, I hope he knew how much we loved him & how much we gave him beyond meals & treats.  & I am going to celebrate him with a radio show this week.

People who've never had the love of a dog - people who imagine they're just animals & treat them somewhat different or even meaner than their fellow humans - they won't understand what a loss this is.  Ringo was sweet, sometimes kind, often ridiculous, always adorable, always hungry, always sleepy, always ready to go for a walk, to go to bed, to wake up, to bark happily when you got home & to bark grumpily when you wouldn't let him back in.  He endured walks in rain, on ice, in snow.  He got to run free from time-to-time, where he'd roll in dead things & feces & return happily smelling like all manner of filth.  He got into trouble but I don't remember him being as guilty as the others.  He had a beautiful face - his eyes looked like they were lined with mascara, so we joked he was a goth who wrote sad poetry - & bunny-soft fur & an expressive tail that often betrayed his neutral beagle demeanor.

It's quite cruel that these animals who can mean so much more to us than humans have such short lifespans compared to ours.  I would've gladly traded places with him so he could be on earth much longer.  As it is, he lives in my heart, the ridiculous Ringo Pants, our love child, the beagliest beagle we have known.  I of course don't believe in anything supernatural but right now I think I believe there's a place where dogs go after they die & Ringo is there with George & the two of them are running around, fucking shit up, & having the best time.

I miss you, my sweet child, my sweet friend.  Thank you for sharing so much of your precious life with me.


Steve said...

A lovely tribute, Gary.
The loss of a special friend is always difficult. May the many memories he leaves behind be a comfort to you and Magda. You are in our thoughts.

Russell C said...

I can only second what Steve said here, this is a lovely tribute indeed. What a tough and courageous little fellow, no wonder his loss is so devastating. I am so glad I got to meet him, if only briefly.