A few years ago, I watched a YouTube clip about a couple who had quit their jobs and left their home so that they could provide an outdoor life for their dogs on a full-time basis.
I remember looking at our rescue mastiff Hemi and laughing.
Not only because of the sheer bewilderment I felt over how people could just have the means to do that but also because how my own dog generally hated being outdoors. If I had the means, I would have invited her out to see this new wondrous outdoor world I’d created for her and she would probably have refused to leave the car.
Hater of “Outside”
It took psychological warfare to get Hemi outside for her own relief. Once a friend texted me that she hated my dog because she could not make her go outside to go to the bathroom. I sighed as I read the text because I understood though “hate” seemed too strong a word.
I feel like I could cite my work with Hemi when applying for positions like a counter-intelligence operative.
Of course, she loved the Great Outdoors. She just didn’t like “yards” and “sidewalks” and “decks.” She loved running 100 mph around at my parents’ house in the country and we could feel the earth shake beneath her pounding monster feet.
Sadly, we weren’t going to be living in the country any time soon and, for her, there was no compromise.
Wilderness or nothing.
And, in the everlasting state of “nothing,” being outdoors was terrifying.
Uncertain of Cars
Hemi thought she liked car rides.
She would enthusiastically stomp her way out to the car and try out “looking excited.” And then we’d be in the car and she’d be all “ILOVETHISICANTBELIEVETHISISHAPPENINGOMGTHISISWONDERFULGUYSLOOKATTHETREEEEEEEES!”
And then three minutes later this turned into
“GETMEOUTOFHERELETMEDRIVEOPENTHEDOORSGETMEeeeeeeeeeeeee(emitted some kind of high-pitched frequency)eeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEOUT!!”
She didn’t understand the concept of “walks” but this could be because she felt the leash was her mortal enemy.
Dog parks were okay.
For about a minute.
Because soon normal dogs of all sizes and shapes would bound over to Hemi with big dog smiles and their less friendly humans would suspiciously glower at us from a distance and Hemi simply used her height advantage to ignore/avoid all of them.
She would turn her back to them and walk away.
And then the dogs would follow.
Thus, there were multiple occasions where she led a dog train… many dogs, just following her around in single-file with her very reluctantly leading, looking mildly panicked and happy and confused like White House Republicans post-Trump and at some point she’d stop and look up at me as if to say, “Am I doing it right?”
Her dog train would then also stop and wag their tails and continue to pant behind her.
We tried taking her with us when we’d hang out with friends who had dogs but she also did this thing to other dogs if they were male and refused to get out of her face.
When I say “thing” I mean she psychologically owned the other dog. And, in response, that now-enslaved other dog would look absolutely gaga in love with her.
Once Hemi did this to a friend’s dog. He got gaga and then she ignored him and then he didn’t know what to do.
So he started to bring her his toys, one by one, and she’d sniff each toy and then sort of toss it behind her as if “this is shit” and he would be all “well, that was rude and I’ll just take it back then” but she was all “no.”
Therefore, the poor love-enslaved dog had no choice but to withdraw and try again and again.
He’d bring her another toy and she kept on accepting them and then she’d set the toy behind her and soon enough he had no toys and became frustrated with his situation and howled/freaked out
and then he got yelled at by his human.
So then he was “in trouble” while Hemi quietly chewed on one of his toys in the background.
Therefore, we decided it was healthier if Hemi just didn’t interact with others because she couldn’t do it without eroding the souls of other dogs.
Though she generally had a kind of blasé attitude regarding interaction. Like… “This soul? Meh.”
She caused a tremendous stir whenever she’d go anywhere. If there were a lot of dogs and Hemi couldn’t focus and destroy them individually, little dogs would go straight to trying to mount her but they weren’t tall enough and it was usually just upsetting for everyone.
So we just stopped having dog dates with friends.
Vet Visits and Hemi’s Life Modes
What’s also odd is when we would take Hemi to the vet or animal hospital for treatment the animal professionals seemed to love her gigantic, skittish, bizarre self (they’d gush and coo non-stop) but they’d also act as if she was an alien species and would often look to us for guidance.
I mean, that’s only fair. If you encounter an anomaly it is logical to look to the familiars of said anomaly for help in order to ask: “What the hell do you do with this thing?”
And it wasn’t as if our dog was wild or mean or exhibited abnormally bad behavior, she was just big and stubborn.
She didn’t bite or bark or run around. She usually just stayed in one place and kind of melted there in one big blob of dog.
She also did this whenever she didn’t want to move when we were out. It was her “Blob defense.”
But, when were at the vet’s office, she brought out the blob when the vet wanted to do the things dogs don’t generally like except she was too big to just put in a sumo hold for the amount of time necessary for the shot or the drops or whatever.
She’d just blob the vet techs and they’d suddenly find they had an armful of hair, fat, bone and skin which had very recently constituted a “dog.”
In this way, she was a bit of a shape-shifter.
And you’d think this would make administering shots or eye drops easier but she’d kind of maneuver away in a very passive-aggressive, frustrating and inhibiting way.
Sort of like how the Matrix agents etal. avoided bullets.
And, at times, her bizarre yet effective movement reminded me of that scene from The Thing.
Also, in regard to eye drops, since she was a blob, it wasn’t always easy to find her eyes.
So we’d all desperately bribe her with cheese or treats to keep her intact and since “food” was sometimes worth more to her than “immediate comfort” this usually worked and she’d drool and coat the vet tech with that drool as the vet tech maniacally tried to keep distracting her so that she’d stay solid.
We’d all later emerge from the vet’s office, sweaty, exhausted, laughing and triumphant, and the people in the reception area with their much smaller animals would clutch their smaller animals and look at us as if we were all an imminent threat.
In our time with Hemi, we came to categorize four of her primary life modes:
- Comfortably Limp
- Straight Up Dead
- Unmovable Mass
And sometimes the four modes would be seen simultaneously which was really something to witness.
For example, she demonstrated all four modes during a visit to a veterinarian school later in life.
We were at this school because we heard the veterinarian staff was great with treating glaucoma and, sadly, our dog was in need of such help. Thus, they first wanted to see if eye drops would help bring down the swelling. So they administered the eye drops but then stated that we’d all have to wait an hour to see if the drops worked.
This meant they’d have to temporarily keep Hemi in their kennel which was located in the back of the building.
However, they needed my help to get her back there because she was putting in play one of her four modes of survival. She was vehemently adverse to kennel environments and so she put all her weight and muscle into movement resistance, thereby demonstrating “Unmovable Mass mode.”
It was like trying to move a train car.
We assumed her strong resistance to leaving that room was because she was smart and had foresight and knew the next stop would be a chain-link cubicle.
In any case, the staff needed my help with bringing Hemi the Unmovable Mass back into the kennel area and so I helped, escorting the Blob back into the kennel area.
My husband David and I then went to lunch.
We felt bad as we know she hated crates/cages/metal bars/confinement-unless-it-was-the-small-bathroom-of-our-house-where-she’d-barricade-herself-often but it was only going to be an hour.
And during that hour Hemi busied herself by going into a more extreme state than “Blob mode,” and that was “Straight Up Dead mode.”
We heard all about it once we returned from lunch. Hemi, according to the vet school staff, had become alarmingly non-responsive and seemingly catatonic, barely breathing throughout the brief time we were away.
Thinking back, I question whether the vet school staff at times wondered if she was in fact dead and am certain they checked her breathing. Because, when we came back an hour later, they were freaked out.
I was escorted back to the kennel area by one of the veterinarians who had, an hour previous, refused to listen to our “tricks and suggestions” when he struggled with administering the eye drops because he was physically strong enough to man-handle her into not blobbing with the help of four other vet techs he had to call in as back-up.
I mean, whatever it takes. Sure. But there was a calmer way to do it and it involved cheese which I actually had in my pocket because I had become “that kind of pet owner.”
I realize that wasn’t the best kind of obedience training but we play the cards we’re dealt in this life.
In any case, this same veterinarian who preferred to physically man-handle our dog asked for my help when we returned from lunch because our dog was apparently catatonic and, while he escorted me back to get our dog, felt compelled to mention that I wasn’t supposed to be back there (though I’m the one who took her back there before, accompanied by the much nicer vet) and I didn’t feel it necessary explain the concept of “there being inherent exceptions to any rule and also “you asked me, dude.”
I wanted to say, “I can’t apologize for the dog. I’m not God and I did not create her and she was like this when we bought/rescued her” and, also, “You break her, you buy her. She was alive when we left.”
But I said nothing to this man.
Thus, it was an awkward and silent walk back with that veterinarian to the kennels, and when we turned into the concrete-floored kennel hallway, I loudly called out Hemi’s name.
And both the vet and I could hear her come alive. I know this because I heard the veterinarian’s intake of breath. I still think he was worried she would be dead when we came to her kennel and that’s why he was all cranky with me.
He was in “defensive mode.”
In any case, when I heard her react to my voice, that was a real moral win for me. In my head I said,
“See? It’s not her or me, it’s you.”
So we walked up to her cage and Hemi shook her coat and wagged her tail and the doctor looked almost shaken as he said, “Well, I didn’t get anywhere near that kind of response.”
“Yeah. Well, she is our dog.”
Not to pull out the possessives here but… no wonder she didn’t react to you. You’re really unpleasant.
And Hemi – to her credit – behaved like a normal dog as I led her by leash, her mortal enemy, out of the kennel and she even listened to me which then allowed me to maintain my superiority as we walked out of there without issue for the first time ever, leaving Dr. Strange where he stood, marveling at what he had seen.
But where did we get such a dog? That in itself is a great story about how ridiculous our dog was and how we knew what we were getting into from the very beginning.
I first became aware of Hemi’s existence thanks to a Humane Society website where she was posted but her profile had no photo. It just said, “Hemi – Mastiff.” And I was all
“A MASTIFF IS AT THE HUMANE SOCIETY????? WE HAVE TO GO SEE HER!!!”
So we did. And then we discovered why she didn’t have a photo.
You can’t take a cute photo of a blob.
And it seemed clear she was constantly a blob while at the Humane Society because she had a somewhat terrible experience.
Specifically, she had been spayed as was shelter policy but then the stitches became infected and… she was also next door to Jasmine, who was a giant Saint Bernard who was blind and hated dogs.
So there wasn’t really probably a good time to take a photo while she was there.
In fact, when we first went to meet Hemi at the Humane Society she was performing The Blob defensive mode and refused to resume shape for the shelter worker who was relentlessly, desperately, trying to get her up and out of her kennel to meet us.
We were so naïve back then. We grimaced and made sad noises as we witnessed her apparent distress and told the shelter worker not to bother her and it was okay if we didn’t meet her but the shelter worker, enthusiastically, breathless with exertion, yelled with an optimistic/fanatical-lilt to her voice: “OH NO! WE WILL GET HER UP!!”
So we continued to watch in discomfort as the shelter worker worked herself into a frenzy, trying to make Hemi get up to meet us. We kept on being all “Don’t worry! It’s okay!”
And she kept on being all “NO! HEMI! NO!!! THIS WILL WORK. COME AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWN!!” and continued to verbally hyper-encourage the dog to animate and eventually she just dragged the dog out to meet us.
We were horrified.
But, to our shock and surprise, Hemi the Blob started to take shape in front of our eyes once she was physically placed there.
She slowly rose and, hesitantly, tail wagging, stood and worked her way over to us shyly. Until Jasmine the blind Saint Bernard detected a dog was in front of her kennel and consequently went crazy. She stood on her back legs, casting a shadow over all the earth, towering over us, growling and snarling, her enormous body pressed against her cage wall.
Hemi fell to the ground.
She was again a blob and then she was a blob that died.
As we would later learn, playing dead turned out to be an alternative way of living for her and one of her favorite modes of survival.
So the shelter staff tried to calm giant Jasmine who resembled an outraged bear and they had to step over Hemi to do so, as Hemi continued to lay limp and shapeless, underfoot.
We just tried to stay out of the way and had no idea how we could help the somewhat surreal and stressful situation.
Hemi eventually realized she couldn’t continue to lay on the floor in front of Jasmine’s cage so eventually she slowly… somehow… moved herself across the floor while still presenting as a shapeless form.
Therefore, we all managed to get outside which, in turn, calmed Jasmine who remained inside.
And Hemi again became an animated solid substance which rose to its feet.
She shook her coat and again looked up at us with her tongue hanging out, grinning.
And then she pranced off to find a toy which she brought back and laid at our feet.
This was the moment she apparently played for the first time since she had arrived at the shelter.
By this point, the shelter staff had joined us outside, and witnessed this act of “play” and, as a result, were absolutely beside themselves. In fact, one of the staff appeared to have tears running down her cheeks (though it was unclear if the tears were from the pain of battling the bear inside or over seeing this ridiculous blob dog playing) and then she emphatically, emotionally, gushed: “She has never asked to play with anyone before.”
We were so in.
Yet, we felt a bit traumatized by all we had witnessed because we had led a quiet, calm life before meeting Hemi and her various modes of being.
Thus, we left the shelter in a state of cognitive disarray but it was clear that the dog had chosen us and so we were fated to have her. The Humane Society staff told us they had not allowed other people to adopt her because these people saw the word “mastiff” and only wanted to adopt her to be a guard dog for their property.
And she was not a guard dog.
Rather, she was something else entirely.
We returned to claim and write the check for our ridiculous two-year-old rescue and she seemed super happy and we were super happy and the Humane Society staff members were super happy and then, on our way out, Hemi just laid down on the rug in the front entrance of the shelter and refused to move in a very complacent way.
She had been miserable in her short time at the Humane Society. The staff said so.
But then she refused to leave the Humane Society.
She was like a Lifetime movie.
Thus, I felt we were out of our depth from the very start and frantically tried to appear casual as we desperately tried to get her to move without dragging her because I was also all “Oh there HAS to be a way to get this dog to move without dragging her because that just seems barbaric.”
I would later record the quiet looks of shock on the faces of house guests as I’d casually drag my dog outside so she could use the bathroom.
“Drag” is a violent word. So when I say “drag” I mean “to pull gently and firmly using her front legs or back legs or whichever set of legs were closer to the door.” And she’d just remain limp while she was being dragged and almost seemed to enjoy the ride as she wasn’t required to exert any energy whatsoever.
But, before I realized I would be dragging this dog years from then, we somehow managed to get her out of the Humane Society and into the car and back to our apartment where we then learned she had apparently never dealt with stairs before.
And we lived on the third floor.
Consequently, on our first night of Hemi-ownership I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering if we had made a huge mistake as I could hear her pacing around in the living room in awe of perhaps “carpet” or “tile” or “walls and doorways” or who knows.
Yet, eventually we all adjusted.
Bathrooms Are the Best Room
It was at the same apartment where we also first learned of Hemi’s love of occupying bathrooms.
If there was a bathroom in a house, Hemi would find it and occupy it.
Once, our close friends graciously agreed to care for Hemi while we went on vacation.
Yet, when we returned to retrieve our dog, my friend directed me to their bathroom because their bathroom is where Hemi had apparently stayed the entire time we were gone. Having a mastiff reside in your bathroom can create a strong deviation from the household norm. In fact, since their small, big-headed pit bull Alice apparently never left the side of our dog the whole time the both of them were in their bathroom for an entire week.
And when I saw my big, melodramatic, stubborn dog wrapped around the toilet with sweet Alice who was proudly sitting as tall as she could right next to her as if to guard her from invisible forces… well, it warmed my heart.
Hemi had one friend and her name was Alice.
In any case, Hemi loved bathrooms and I’d like to think she loved Alice if she was capable of love.
Hemi Started to Lose Her Senses
Hemi sadly eventually lost her sight due to glaucoma but she found her water bowl right away and we felt relieved as we had been told that was a great sign.
But then she stopped trying and realized she could milk this blindness thing.
For example, before she was blind she never allowed me to be on the floor without her becoming involved with it.
I think she felt that, if she couldn’t be on the furniture, she exclusively owned rights to the floor. We didn’t allow Hemi on our couch because we had already given up on ever owning or maintaining “nice things” because Hemi would soon coat all surfaces in slime and hair.
Therefore, if I was trying to do sit-ups, Hemi would soon be sitting on me. And, once she became blind, she went out of her way to maintain what she seemed to feel was her obligation to prevent me from accomplishing whatever task I was trying to achieve while being on the floor. Yet, since she couldn’t see, she must have just sensed my being on the floor because suddenly she would jump up, run to where I was and just fall on me.
And then she’d stay there.
Months later she technically made progress with the stairs. And by this I mean she would stand at the top of the stairs, and go through a super enthusiastic “pump-it-up” routine, stomping her feet, pawing them on the floor, snorting… she reminded me of a baby horse (“colt”), all skittish and headstrong and awkward.
And then she would put a paw down onto the first step and confidently begin her descent.
And then she would PULLITBACKOHNOOHSHIT and then she would again do her pump-it-up routine and again put a paw down and immediately recoil and repeat that process two or three times and eventually she would make it down the stairs.
And then she would be so proud of herself.
What a cat-snake-colt we had.
She never got any faster at going up and down the stairs. Eventually, we just blocked off the stairs as she didn’t need to go up them as her bed, water and food were on the first floor. And, by this point, we had put in a second bathroom on the first floor which she could barricade herself in.
It wasn’t worth the risk of her getting stuck or falling down the stairs. She only seemed able to descend the stairs successfully if she had very supportive audience participation.
Yet, sometimes we’d forget to block the stairs, and we’d come home to find her standing up there, staring down the stairs, wagging her tail, desperately wanting us to exhaust ourselves with encouragement so she could start going through her descending-the-stairs-while-blind routine.
And we would.
Once she stood at the top of the stairs for hours until we came back home.
And then we got better at always blocking off the stairs.
It’s not as if she had been receiving any less attention since she was blind. Rather, she had received, and I didn’t think it possible, but even more attention so her ridiculous attempts to get us all to stand on the stairs together was somewhat frustrating.
Otherwise, after she went blind, she honestly seemed happier. She was more relaxed and seemed more at ease.
I theorized that if she had also gone deaf, and I mean truly deaf and not just her regular way of “not hearing/ignoring,” she may have been the most laid-back dog on the planet.
See no evil, hear no evil.
She never mastered how to put herself in a “cognitive bubble” so she could not simply be unaware and immune to all things going on outside of her immediate reality as large sects of society do on a daily basis.
What national homelessness problem?
This should lead me to say that Hemi was better than people as most dogs are.
But she was also fantastic at completely dismissing others’ pain or distress in favor of her own comfort. So she was, in this way and many other ways, like a human being.
For example, I’d sometimes curl up on the floor and cry after my parents had died when I was alone.
That is, alone except for Hemi who was accidentally, erroneously, there for it.
And she would then loudly groan and turn her back to me with emphatic effort or simply get up and leave the room.
And I was all “If I wanted to be with people, I would be with people, Hemi you asshole.”
She wasn’t really a dog.
She was a cat-snake-colt hybrid and we loved her.
But then Hemi started to get all kinds of abscesses which meant she got to see different veterinarians which also gave her the chance to show off how quickly she remembered she hated to be either:
- in a car
- not driving the car
Hospice Hemi and Comfort Care
However, last year Hemi’s quality of life diminished due to health problems. So I decided to place her on hospice which meant Hemi got anything she ever wanted and more. Including pizza.
Yet, she was in pain which we could not prevent, and so we decided to put her down though it broke our hearts.
We couldn’t ignore the fact that she was in pain.
As she did so well when the positions were reversed.
Yet, we couldn’t imagine having the last place she’d walk into be a veterinarian’s office due to her dramatic encounters in past vet offices. If a vet tech looked up at me for help in putting my dog to sleep I would have completely fallen apart.
Luckily, Pittsburgh had the best veterinarian we’d ever met and she worked for a service called Lap of Love. And she came to our home where the plan was for Hemi to be put to sleep on her own bed.
However, while this vet could not have been more empathetic, professional and kind, Hemi performed one last act before she left this world.
Hemi was to be given two shots: the first was to eliminate the pain and the second was a sedative which would end her life.
When the best vet we’ve ever encountered administered the first shot, Hemi erupted.
She lunged forward, teeth bared, snarling, growling, roaring and she was truly terrifying.
But she had packed all this in a single second and, after that second passed, she immediately withdrew, sat back and grinned from ear to ear with self-satisfaction.
Like “I am sooooooooooooooo fierce.”
She had never done anything like that to any vet before, no matter what was happening. I can only assume she knew that this was her time to go and she wasn’t going to go out without making a roar and shaking the earth a little first.
Because she could.
The vet was shaken but she was not hurt and seemed very understanding and had seen dogs do this before and etc. etc. etc. but, once I knew she was okay and Hemi hadn’t made any contact and was all front, I just marveled at my jerk grinning dog.
She was sort of sporting her “I hate sports” look:
But her grin was way wider than that presented in the photo above; it was more like that of a cartoon crocodile.
She then laid down and stayed that way for the second shot and then she was gone.
Hemingway Monster Mueller Higgins was simply irreplaceable and there will never be another like her.
And, if there is, we will not be adopting her.
Because one cat-snake-colt/life is enough.
9 thoughts on “Homage to Our Dead Dog, Hemi”
Loved this episode probably the very most,, your love for Hemi gave her a wonderful life. I will always see her, protecting Bevie…..never minding that Bev was trying to kick her:)) beautiful story Hilly..
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Oh my beloved aunt. I love you so much. Thank you. 🙏 And hahahaha I didn’t include that as I’m all “I’m always talking about my dead parents it’s time I talk about my dead DOG” and… oh that was funny. Hemi finally found purpose and it was protecting my mom who was finally in the most safe and secure context she had been in years and… Mom constantly batting at her and… she would refuse to budge and completely disregard the hospice patient’s wishes. She’d just sit there and take it. That was our Hemi. 😂😘
Thank you so much for this piercing and very moving tribute. What a fortunate dog, to be loved for and in spite of exactly who he was. How fortunate you have been, and know that you were, to love so well.
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Thank you for your kind words, Mary. And, indeed, we treasured our stressful time with our our beloved Hemi. It was odd to feel that we had to protect the 140 pound mastiff but she was a gentle soul who needed particular, individualized support and I imagine that’s what the Humane Society felt we could deliver. And we certainly did (I can’t help my eyes from rolling because, oh, she was just so ridiculous and how we loved her).
This episode took me a while to start reading as I knew how it would end. But it was filled with so much love and understanding of a dog’s need! And acceptance of a very big personality no matter how inconvenient to her humans. How nice that my granddog Alice loved Hemi too! Someday another dog will find you at the right time!❤
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Oh Peggy. Thank you so much for reading it! Oh dear Alice was her noble best friend. Love to you… so much!!!