Scarlet  Scarlet

I lost my companion and loyal friend yesterday.  I am deeply saddened and longing to see her face again.  Yes, I know she was old, in ill health and it was her time.  But it wasn’t my time.  I am not ready to let her go. 

Scarlet came to me in the spring of 1994.  I’m not sure I recall the exact details anymore.  I vaguely remember a young lady about 18 ish walking up the brick wall surrounding our house with a couple of young puppies in her hand.  The puppies were of course an irresistible magnet.  They were parti-colored cockers, sorta, maybe, and just a few weeks old.  (“Parti” is a curious term used to describe multi-colored cockers)  The young lady was looking for buyers.  Our Zig at that time was an 11 year old Lhasa Apso who was becoming a little disagreeable.  Zig had bitten Kathy HARD at least once.  Regardless, we were not thinking of getting another pet.  Hadn’t occurred to us, much less which breed we would like. 

The young lady lived in a house several blocks behind ours in the definite low rent area.  The house was occupied by several adults and near adults in what appeared to be some sort of group arrangement.  We walked up to the house a couple of times to visit with the entire litter of pups.  The young lady and/or another older guy would stop by our house in the afternoon regularly with a couple of pups to visit us.  Somehow, I decided that a cute cocker would be a great companion  for Zig.  And somehow I sucked Kathy in also.  I wanted one of the two red and white females.  Kathy made the choice, picking the mellower of the two.  The litter had been exposed to Parvo Virus, so we were warned to take precautions.  Pups came with no papers.  No surprise considering their roots from what one could call a poor white trash ghetto. 

I decided my red trimmed girl would be called Scarlet.  Just one “t” since spelling has never been my strong suit.  Scarlet went to see our vets, Mike and Bev Silkey the next day.  They pronounced her healthy. I remember being quite concerned about her health the first night we had her when she crashed (just a puppy) hard on my lap for an hour or so.  It had been many years since I had a puppy. 

Scarlet was a delight as a puppy.  She didn’t chew things and was quickly house trained.  She did have on quaint habit of snagging our socks from the dirty laundry basket  when we were away for long periods and dragging them downstairs.  She didn’t chew them or anything.  Apparently, she just liked to have them around.  This habit disappeared after a few years.


Our house is set up to be very dog friendly.  There is a brick wall about 5 feet high around the front and side yards.  The front door has a dog door in it so the canine marauders can come and go as they like.  The front and side gates are iron and the dogs can see out.  The dogs take sentry positions on the couch in the living room so they can see people approaching several houses away.  Since our house is on a street along the harbor, there is lots of foot traffic and BEST OF ALL the pedestrians often have dogs being walked.  Dog heaven.  Zig quickly teaches Scarlet to quietly lie in wait near the gate until and unsuspecting passerby can be startled by ferocious barking.  Great fun it seems for them.  Scarlet learned the drill in no time.

When Zig was younger, we even replaced the dining room double front window with a bay window so she could have a perch to watch the street.  She would often do her frantic barking at passersby from the comfort of the bay window.  As she got older, she was unable anymore to jump up into the window.  Our very active window sentry got replaced with a less active, light up Spuds McKenzie.  It’s still there.

Scarlet was a rooter.  

When she wanted your attention, she would bury her nose under one of your body parts and press until you responded.  It was impossible to ignore her when she came up (as urged by Kathy) to get me out of bed in the morning.  As she neared her 13 th birthday, she was still rooting.  Last couple of years, Scarlet was too infirm or unsure of her footing to come upstairs to urge me outa bed.   Kathy would occasionally carry her up (and down). 

  Scarlet was a jock

  As a young dog, Scarlet was quite athletic.  She could climb up maybe 6 or 8 feet of the mulberry tree outback chasing a squirrel.  On a couple of occasions I had to get a ladder to help her down.  She wasn’t quite as accomplished at getting down the tree.

While still a quite young puppy, Kathy took her for a ride in the Capri convertible to go to the 7-11.  I had offered my expert opinion that she would be fine and wouldn’t try to jump out.  Well, she did.  And landed on her chin.  Big scrape, but none the worse for wear. 

Scarlet was in constant training.  She would chase a ball as long as she could convince you to throw it.  If you were slow in taking the ball back after Scarlet retrieved it, she would “doggedly” push it at you until you took it.  A hundred times was no problem for her.  However, I never could get her interested in a Frisbee.  Balls were her constant companions.  She loved them all.  We would for occasions buy her new ones.  If the ball had a squeaker, Scarlet would squeak it relentlessly.  At our wits end, we would eventually take the ball away and put it up high on the mantle or such.  Scarlet would sit and stare at it for hours until it was put into play again.  We quickly learned to avoid balls that made noises. 

Lacking a willing ball machine to launch projectiles, Scarlet could play with her balls quit nicely by herself.  She would drop it and charge it as it tried to escape.  Before we learned to build barriers, she would chase balls under furniture several times a day.  Then she would claw and whine until her ball person got it out. 

Scarlet still wanted to play ball up to the day she died.  She was 96 years old in human terms, but was good for at least 3 throw and retrievals each trip out to the front yard.  When you are good at something, I guess you never want to stop doing it.

Learning to Follow

Being retired for many of  the years of Scarlet’s life, I was around most of the time.  I was the Alpha pack dog and her companion.  She always wanted to be around me.  Kathy as the brusher, groomer, and giver of eardrops, was her second favorite.  The couch in the living room was Kathy’s private domain in the evenings, but she welcomed the furry ones to share space.  Scarlet and Kathy had lots of couch time together. Scarlet would briefly come visit me in my chair, but given my hyperactive metabolism she likely found my lap UNCOOL.

When she was less than a year old, I had a dump truck load of mulch delivered to my driveway behind the house.  Shovel and wheelbarrow full at a time I would be distributing it to the flowerbeds at the front of the house.  The back yard is not fully enclosed by a fence.  Scarlet came outside with me to begin the many hour chore of mulch relocation.  Without being confined by a fence, she would wonder off to sniff or investigate something.  I would scold her and put her inside the front yard fence.  She didn’t like being behind those bars and would whine and whimper.  After a few minutes, I would let her out again.  We would deliver some mulch, but after a while she would venture off again.  I would put her back in Jail.  After a few cycles of this, she learned she was suppose to hang around, and did.  When I went to the front yard with a wheelbarrow of mulch, she followed in my footsteps.  She waited in the yard with the gates now left open, while I spread the mulch.  That day, long day, I must have hauled 100 loads of mulch.  She followed in my footsteps each time. 

From that day forward, Scarlet always faithfully followed me and Kathy around and always came when called.  Cutting the grass, curbside to a busy street, she was always half a pace behind me, row after row.  Kathy and I would take her on walks along the busy harbor avenue.  Scarlet didn’t need a leash.  She would run ahead of us sniffing each yard ahead, occasionally chasing a squirrel up a tree or visiting with a cat.  At the end of each block she would sit and wait for us to catch up. She would only cross the street when given the OK command.  Our typical walks on the avenue were about 3 miles, but Scarlet with her running about likely covered 6 or 8 miles.  She loved the walks and the smorgasbord of scents. She even went to the races with me a few times.  Truth being told, she was not fond of the heat and noise.

When working in my shop or on my racecar trailer, Scarlet was always there; ball in mouth (BIM).  One Spring I got a new trailer and would spent several days outfitting it.  Trailer was located the back garage that fronted on Blair Avenue, the back street.  I’d be cutting wood, measuring and stuff and Scarlet would be there with BIM.  I would rare back and throw it as far as I could, across at least two neighbors yards and behind a 10 foot hedge.  Most of the time she would find it quickly, but there were a few throws it took some time.  I was able to get a little more work done then.  Scarlet a few times wandered over to the Nusbaum’s fence where their SharPei was in ill temper for being inside and being taunted in dog terms by the pretty free spirit girl cocker.  Once the Shar Pei got out and came over and attacked Scarlet.  Scarlet is a retreater, not a retriever nor a fighter (until another cocker entered her home).  She got very close to me.  I kicked the Shar Pei away.  It was Scarlet’s nature, as several occasions demonstrated, to get close behind me when threatened, real or perceived.   I had close company whenever a thunderstorm blew up.

That Dog could hunt

Scarlet had an excellent nose.  Nothing escaped her notice.  She particularly loved bread.  When she still had some vertical leaping skills, she snagged more that one bag of rolls or bread from the kitchen table.  Woof, evidence gone, of course except for a plastic bag.  In 1996 as Kathy was finishing up packing for a two week trip to Europe, Scarlet flushed out a 1.5 pound bag of M&Ms from her unclosed suitcase completed undetected.  We became suspicious when she was protecting her prey in the front yard from the old Zig dog.  She had eaten a LOT of chocolate.  We knew that chocolate is very toxic to dogs and called the vet.  We were leaving the next morning.  Vet said not to worry; the dog would only likely suffer some diarrhea. Don’t remember whom we had house and dog sitting, but I do remember leaving them a warning note.

Just a few years ago, she flushed a family of wild rabbits out from under the air conditioning unit in the side yard.  Scarlet had caught and killed two and had one semi alive one in her muzzle before I shut the activity down.  Emma (who I will introduce a bit later) was running around wanting desperately to catch something, but not able. What was left of the rabbits moved to the back yard where the vegetable garden was anyway.

As Scarlet got older, and her arthritis limited her mobility and she lost her hearing and some of her eyesight, she still had an excellent nose.  Leave anything “interesting” in the trashcan; Scarlet would bag it as soon as the humans were outa sight. Hell, Kathy bought a better DOG Proof trashcan just a couple of weeks before Scarlet's exit.

A Vegetarian

Scarlet was a vegetarian.  Well, there was nothing she wouldn’t eat.  But, besides bread, she really loved tomatoes.  And what luck for her, I grew hundreds of them every season.  If I let her out to the back yard where the garden was, she headed for the tomato patch.  She would eat as long as I left her stay there.  She didn’t care if they had turned red yet.  As she got older, her appetite and girth increased significantly. 

  Scarlet like to roll about in the grass, especially to mark her toys if anyone had touched them.  With all this rolling about, she got a sizeable piece of an evergreen clipping stuck in her ear canal.  It would take minor surgery to get it out.  I still have that evergreen piece in a plastic bag.

  A big Sister?

By the time Scarlet was about 5 (people years), Zig had passed on and we thought Scarlet would like a running mate.  We brought home Emma, a very pretty little blond girl cocker.  Emma was from show dog stock and was quite a bit more shy and demur than our trailer trash girl.  Scarlet tolerated Emma, but I am sure if she had had a vote she would have been sole princess.  Scarlet did teach Emma how to lurk behind the brick wall to startle passersby. 


  The Enforcer

We were amazed.  If we dared to speak in a harsh tone to Emma for any reason, Scarlet would immediate jump in a pounce on her pinning her down with Scarlet on top with jaws around Emma’s ear.  Emma was never injured, but she sure was abused and frightened many times.  Scarlet obviously thought it was her job to keep Emma in line.  As Scarlet got older and more infirm, the skirmishes got less competitive and violent, but Emma never won one. 

  Scarlet was Cool

Scarlet did not like to suffer from the heat.  Here is Virginia, there is plenty of heat to try and avoid.  Scarlet had a plan.  First line of defense was the air conditioning ducts in the floor.  On a hot day, you could find her camped out on the one in the kitchen.  (Her favorite, near food).  If the heat was merely annoying, you could find her lying on the floor in the downstairs bathroom behind the old claw-footed tub.  It was her place.  Her sanctionary.  I’ve never taken any temperature reading, but I am willing to bet it is the coolest spot in the house.  Some nights we had difficulty luring her out to put her in her crate for the night.  She could do dead weight very well. 


  Bad Genes?

The year was 2000, I think.  I had just gotten back from a racing trip to Savannah over the 4th of July weekend.  I was home a day earlier than planned likely due to racecar problems.  Scarlet was of course happy to see me (BIM) and we went outside immediately to play some ball.  She got her validation that way.  It was hot, and Kathy was down the block a few houses visiting with a neighbor.  I was surprised when Scarlet abandoned the ball game before I had cried uncle.  She was sick.  Very sick.  She had an immune deficiency.  She spent days with vets Bev and Mike before transfusions allowed her to begin recovery.  Kathy and I visited her several times at the vet.  I took her favorite ball and bread.  She wasn’t too interested.  Slowly, she recovered.  Thereafter the vets were extremely reluctant to give her any medications.

  Goodbye Sweetheart.

She was a sweetheart, and my sweetheart to the very end.  Over the years Scarlet had visited Bev and Mike’s Vet place often.  She didn’t hate it, but she really didn’t want to be there either.  She had grown another grapefruit sized tumor in one of her mammary glands.  It was making it difficult for her to walk.  Mike had advised against any more surgeries given her age (96 ish in people years) and medical history.  But we all agreed that something needed to be done to make her more comfortable and mobile. 

We took her in early Tuesday morning.  We waited to see Mike in one of the examining rooms.  Scarlet was pacing about ready to go home.  I sat down on the linoleum floor and she came over.  I lifted her on my lap.  Scarlet has never been a lap dog.  Her stays have always been very brief. Today she stayed happily looking up to Kathy and to me for a pet or reassurance.  I shall remember that look of longing in her eyes forever.  After some time Mike came in and took her away for surgery.  He said to call after noonish to check on her status.  I called several times, but they said no word yet.  Mike called at 4 PM and said her heart had failed during surgery.  There is an incredible hole in my heart. 

April 17, 2007