Two sisters, two coasts, one blog

Eulogy for Grover


Camping with the Dean family, 2009. Photo courtesy of Ursula Dean

In early January we noticed a small sore on our dog Grover’s tongue. It looked almost as if he had bitten it by accident, as you do. The vet said to keep an eye on it, it should heal on its own. Two weeks later it was four times as big, and looked like it was infected. Dr.Wages prescribed antibiotics and wanted to see him in a week. On our return, Grover stubbornly refused to open his mouth to be examined, and so had to be sedated so she could get a good look. The once small sore now looked a lot like cancer to her, and if it was, half of his tongue would need to be removed. A biopsy and one more visit confirmed the diagnosis.

And so, last Friday, we dropped him off for the surgery. I got a call around 10:00 a.m. They had found two more tumors in his mouth, one on his flank, and one in his lymph node. They were, it turned out, an aggressive (but fairly common) form of melanoma, and the vet guessed at about two weeks before Grover would no longer be able to swallow comfortably.

Grover (then named Totem) in 2007. Photo courtesy of Joyce Lerner-Federico.

We adopted Grover the day after Thanksgiving in 2007. The story that we heard from the rescue agency that was sponsoring him was that he had been a backyard dog in Berkeley, and when his owner had gone away for a lengthy period, the neighbors had taken him to the Berkeley Animal shelter rather than see him starve. He was, they thought, somewhere around five or six years old, and had been in the shelter for seven months before a foster home was found for him.

Though I hadn’t really noticed his picture on the rescue’s website, as soon as I saw him in person I fell in love. He was big with a dark face, but radiated a calm and gentle energy, and had an incredibly striking brindle coat. Kirk wanted to name him Ajax, but I put my foot down and we went with Grover. When we took him to our (then) vet, Dr. Lynn, she pointed out his crooked snout and missing teeth, which could have been the result of either neglect (backyard dogs left on their own often wear down their teeth chewing on fence posts or other backyard debris) or abuse. She watched him walk up and down the hall and diagnosed dysplasia in both front elbows, and then spent the rest of the visit tossing him treats and generally fussing over him. She declared him a keeper.

Later we would have a trainer tell us that Grover was, to put it delicately, mentally challenged, though again he couldn’t say whether this was because he had been abused or simply neglected. This was kind of how it went with Grover for the time he was with us; he had a ton of complicated medical problems and he would sometimes revert to his yard dog persona, but he just had this way of winning people over with his gentlemanly charm, even non-dog people, or those wary of pit-bulls.

New Year's Day hike in the Oakland hills, 2008

Our family had cats when Rucha and I were growing up, and as an adult I had two, Lulu and Ike. In my late twenties, I started getting migraines daily, and it turned out I was allergic to the kitties. I re-homed them, but I missed them and just couldn’t stand not having animals in the house. Kirk suggested a bird. Or a dog. My friends Dave and Alicia were fostering dogs for a local rescue, and they suggested we could do the same, see if we liked it. We met a dog named Trixie, fostered her for a while and then ended up adopting her (between the two events is a whole other, long story for another day).

We’ve adopted three rescue dogs over the last nine years, and fostered two more. Somewhere along the way I’ve become one of those dog people who will talk endlessly about their pets at parties if given half a chance, ooh and ah in a loud voice about a cute pup in the street, remember a dog’s name while having no idea what their owner’s is. I’m the stereotype of the kooky childless woman who dotes on their pampered pooches. At least I haven’t graduated to the dog themed tee-shirts, but you never know, I may make it there yet (lets hope not). I don’t really see myself as someone who ‘rescues’ dogs,  I just adopt dogs that need a little extra care, and I feel I’m able to give that to them.

My dad has asked ‘why pit-bulls??’ (all of the five dogs I’ve worked with are pit-bulls or pit-bull mixes of one kind or another.) I’m not that interested in joining my voice to the raging debate about these dogs, but what I do know is that they are loving, loyal, quirky, intelligent (okay, maybe not Grover so much, but he was wily if not bright), brave dogs. They are, just like any other dog, animals and not cartoons, and thus must be handled with care and respect.

I think they are gorgeous, wonderful dogs and can’t imagine choosing another breed. If you are interested in the debate, I recommend this piece about the dogs bred by NFL star Micheal Vic to kill other dogs, most of whom have been rehabilitated in one form or another:

It’s hard to believe that we only had Grover for a little over three years, and in fact, my first thought when Dr. Wages told us the news was ‘I’m not ready’. But that’s the thing about death isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if we are ready or not, and I guess whole religions have been founded on how to begin to be ready for it. We picked Grover up from the vet that Friday, and he seemed perfectly fine, chipper even. We spent the next days spoiling him rotten: a burger, pizza crust, cheese, bananas, leisurely walks, many belly rubs, bed privileges. For a few days he did great, but by Thursday evening he was having difficulty eating solid food, and trouble breathing (he kind of sounded like Darth Vader). On Friday it was obvious that he was in some pain, he had a tremor to his body and couldn’t sleep well.  So we made an appointment with our vet for Saturday morning. We gave him ice cream and beef tail puree for dinner, and slept with him between us.

In the morning Kirk took him for a nice long, slow walk and then put him in our old Honda, in which he had spent many happy hours, tip of the nose out the window. His favorite vet tech was ready and waiting for us when we arrived, and we made him as comfortable as possible on a rug from home. Kirk and I sat with him while they gave him a sedative (which he wasn’t too pleased about) and then he put his head on my lap, looked up at me. I told him how much we loved him, told him he was a good dog, thanked him for being who he was. He died that way (I still didn’t feel ready), with his head on my knee, for which I feel deeply honored.

On the way home we told each other some of our favorite Grover stories: the time I took him to the river (I don’t think he’d ever seen sand, or a river. He spent a good hour standing in the water, biting at his reflection). The time our nephew Royal tried to pluck his eye out and he just lay there, confused about what to do. The time about six months later when Royal, now terrified of big dogs, laughed hysterically when Kirk put a tee-shirt on Grover (somehow this made him funny and not scary). The time we took him for a long hike in Brevard, and when we stopped for a while, he went to soak his paws in the river like a weary traveler. How he went from being very tense about being touched, to being a dog who relished a good cuddle. How hilarious it was the few times he played with Stella, when he totally exciting, barking like mad, would throw himself on his back with his feet in the air, growling and huffing but clearly loving every minute. And so on, and so on.

I feel a bit embarrassed to experience such grief at the loss of a pet, it seems a little obscene when compared to the losses friends of mine have faced, some of whom have lost spouses, children, homes. It’s not the same as losing my mother in 2007. Still. There it is.

I’ll leave you with the farewell song Kirk for him, which I listened to it about twenty times yesterday:


Post hike, Brevard 2010



12 Responses to “Eulogy for Grover”

  1. Jacquelyn Marie

    I’m crying with you. You and Kirk pour such wonderful love into these pets.
    Keep doing it. Think of what a special three years Grover had with you two.

  2. Gerda Dinwiddie

    Dear Oami,
    I’ sorry you lost your dog – that’s so hard.
    Do you remember that I used to walk my white dog Kugelblitz and visit you on Grant Steet in Berkeley when you were little? After you moved from there, that dog kept going up those stairs wanting to visit you!
    They are such dear creatures all!
    Love, Gerda

  3. Lorraine Abate

    I have a new puppy…first dog ever…and I am crying for you and your loss. Thank you for sharing Grover’s story.

  4. ruchapowers

    I want to say a Thank You to my friend Grover ( or “ol’ big head” as I liked to affectionately refer to him as) for being “on-duty” during both my home births with my little boys. Of course he was attending with his Mom, my sister Oami, but his presence there was always very reassuring and grounding to me…even if he was a little bored and confused by the events. I have several pictures from each birth with Grover in the background, patiently guarding the kitchen or waiting for the hub-bub to die down so he could sleep. And, as I remember he would always come in after, click-click little nails on wooden floors, just to check out the new little one whom he seemed to know was now a part of his human family. I have many good memories of Grover but for some reason these are my favorite. Love you sis! xoxoxoxo

  5. Paige Burris

    I am so sorry for your loss Oami. What a beautiful tribute for a sweet, sweet boy we will all miss. Love you!

  6. Frances Newcross

    Frank told me last night there was a eulogy for Grover on our email. He’d read it and had a small smile while he told me about it. It is a good tribute to a good guy. I am glad you included the Vick victims video. I had not ever seen that. Grover’s Eulogy is a story of love given and returned. Thanks.

  7. spongeyqueen

    I can remember, warm smelly dog breath
    cuddles on the bed
    a nosed up snout in whatever crevice was available
    slicky smooth coat & muscle,with a humming engine of heart inside………….
    dogs are the anchor in “tossed on the waves journey”of many lives
    i know they have been in mine
    LOVE………… ,
    Grover or Stella or Dutchy
    ………then it representative is gone
    that humming has stopped…………but only in the physical
    a new tune is humming along in our own being
    we have learned to love…………….. keep up the good loving and rubbing(&humming) oami& kirk
    tante steffy

  8. Emma Moncrieff

    Hey Oami, Im really sorry to hear about Grover. I had to have my little dog Scruffy put to sleep last year. Its just the worst, She had been with me for 14 years . They are family.
    love Emma xxxx

  9. Norman Ross Powers

    You wrote so simply and clearly and beautifully about good old Grover. Thank you! There was something innocent and kindly about him which contrasted with his the dark, dangerous appearence. I liked that about Grover, as well as his seeming non-concern for typical doggie behavior. He didn’t fawn on people, he didn’t put on a show. He was not over the top, he was cool. I also loved his name. It was perfect for him. Just good old Grover, groovin’ along, doin’ his thing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: