Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Archive for September, 2020

Salsa’s tale

Posted by boakley59 on September 4, 2020

NOTE: It seems I never hit publish on this in 2018. Beloved Salsa, RIP, May 9, 2018. I will soon add Dear Pepper, RIP, August 29, 2020. Forever in our hearts, Spice Dogs.

The key turns in the lock and the door swings open. “Daddy’s home,” Suzy calls from her desk and soon the tapping of claws on the kitchen floor signals my joyful welcome.

“How’s my pretty girl?” I ask as Salsa’s eyes shine up into mine and her tail flaps out the message that she’s just fine now that the house is full again. “Do we need to go tell the birds and squirrels Daddy’s back?” and she runs to the deck door to do her duty. I give Suzy a kiss and lift blind little Pepper from her nesting to join Salsa as Dad and dogs make our evening yard check.

For eight years in Batesville, that has been our daily renewal of family, and now it is held forever in family memory as Salsa has gone through another door ahead of me. She had not been able to keep food down for a few weeks and we found inoperable masses blocking her system. Rather than have her suffer wasting away into dehydration, I took her for one last round of her favorite haunts and pleasures; then Suzy and I held her close and scratched her ears as she went in peace.

Those ears! So soft, so befitting her gentle nature.

Bright eyes, windows to a gentle soul

Her bright eyes! So direct and unafraid to look right through you with grace and joy and forgiveness of human frailty. And the tail, ever in motion, a marker of energy and a call to action — one more adventure, one more game, one more good deed, one more moment loving life.

I tried to give her all of her favorite moments loving life on that last day, the proverbial “best of times, worst of times” so familiar to all with broken hearts.

My “pretty girl” had come to us years before at a time of distress and destruction. Suzy had found Salsa at the North Little Rock Animal Shelter while we were still mourning Mesa, a beautiful Lab/Chow/Corgi/Husky mix. Mesa had been given to Suzy as a weeks-old puppy, and we lost her to a wasting disease in her later years. We had then tried to rescue Tux, a sick little fellow who also proved beyond medical help. And Hurricane Katrina had formed and was about to hit stateside, so it was a time when thoughts went to rescue and companionship and needs.

Love from first sight to last light

Suzy says she knew at first sight Salsa belonged with us. That was a Friday in August, but we had to wait through the weekend to adopt. And there began Salsa’s tale. From the start, she was a morale officer, a comforter to our wounded hearts, a friend in our need.

She was about 9 months old when we got her, the vet said, apparently a mostly Manchester terrier mix, black and tan with white socks and loads of energy. We had a big split-level house and a big fenced back yard with lots of room to run. And how fitting that my pretty girl loved to run!

She would sprint any fence line with neighbor dogs. Inside, she would take a running start from our den and only touch one step of the seven as she leapt up to the hallway, ran into the bedroom to bound onto the bed, twist and race back down the hall to check on me still at the den. Sometimes she challenged me to run laps with her. Then I had to chase up the stairs so she could show her moves and swerve around me on her way back down. “Ha, Dad: I’m low; you’re too slow!”

Now and then she would scoop up her rope bone or stuffed squeaker toy on the run, hoping for a tug of war in between laps.

In time, the games and duties changed. The next house had no stairs and a shorter hall, but the race still went on to the bed and back through tighter turns. Eventually, Salsa’s joints protested the leap to the bed, but we could still play “flop left, flop right, rub belly” before tucking in for the evening. Always the bright eyes and the perpetual motion tail, always the devoted heart.

“Guardian of the Realm” alert at launch post 1!

In Batesville, besides her job as official welcoming committee, she was “Guardian of the Realm.” She had a special bark when trucks, trains, or bicycles passed within hearing and she diligently patrolled against birds and squirrels out back. A squirrel on the deck railing could count on a spirited chase to the tree in the back yard, with Salsa taking a flying leap from the deck to the grass 4 feet below.

Salsa never caught the squirrels and never figured out that they went up the tree trunk, either. I guess her head wasn’t in the clouds; she was strictly down-to-earth. She did manage to earn an alternate title as “Bug Hunter,” trying to clear the house of the occasional fly, moth, or mosquito. She was entirely unforgiving of snakes.

And stay off! Stupid squirrels.

She must have had riverside heritage in her blood, because she loved rainy days and splashing about in soggy grass. She rumbled her own challenge to the thunder, but fidgeted to be let out in a drizzle.

I say she had a special bark and I did learn to translate “Bark” for Suzy (in two dialects with Pepper’s idiosyncrasies). Salsa learned many of our words, too, and particularly enjoyed howling “Out! Out! Out!” when she needed a potty break or exercise — or a dance in the rain.

“Want to go for a walk?”

“Out! Out! Out!” The tail whipped impatiently as she headed for the bin where leash and harness are kept.


“Out! Out! Out!”

She knew “outside, walk, out, eat, snack, potty, couch, bed, Mama, Daddy.” “Ride, Nanny, birds and squirrels, train” were familiar too. And Suzy did her part spoiling our princess, teasing that “I did not say I was going to give you a belly rub.” Salsa would immediately flop on her side and raise her front paws to make way for gentle handling.

She heard us; she knew what we meant; she tried to do what we needed. That included trying to help with Pepper’s potty training by growling when Pepper squatted inside or alerting us when it was their time to go outside.

And Salsa could get an idea across with a look and a leap, too. We took our girls to the Chase Race and Paws in Conway when I got back into road racing. We two-legged folk run a two-mile race, then can pair up with our leashed friends for a mile.

They let us run, AND they give us trophies!

Salsa and I finished top 10 three years running. We didn’t know how she would handle it the first time because we didn’t run with her much on the leash at all. I had a long leash so she could run mostly free but I worried about fire hydrants and rival dogs leading to abrupt stops along the way. Suzy had Pepper on a short leash, waiting beside a large German shepherd for “Go!”

Salsa and I took off and she proved a good navigator, weaving through the leashes and around the other pairs. I have an image of her looking back and bounding off as if to say, “C’mon Dad!” and I’m pretty sure she gave the other dogs a look as we moved to the front that meant “Hah! My two-leg is faster than yours!” Meanwhile Pepper took about three steps and planted her feet worried about being trampled in the crowd of bigger critters. Suzy had arm cramps from carrying her most of the way and that was the end of Pepper’s racing. Salsa got a top 10 trophy: I was happy that in our house, the dog can run a 7-minute mile too.

Does this thing go any faster?

The next year, Salsa was ready to go and Dad had gotten with the program. We got closer to a 6-minute mile with two-leg in better shape, but we had a challenge as a younger fellow and his dog came alongside us near the finish. Salsa worked pretty hard sprinting with me and we went neck-and-neck until the other dog had an “Oh, look, bubbles!” moment and came to a dead stop yards before the line! Trophy number two.

We raced one more year but age was starting to gain on us. Our walks at home were not enough to keep Salsa in shape for that kind of run. This time she stopped at three-quarters and looked at me: “This is the water station, right?” (It was; I brought water.) Then on we went and the last hundred yards we again had competition. Salsa looked, listened and lit out: “OK, Dad, I’ll do this for you.” One last trophy.

She was my buddy, running in races or rumbling at thunder, waiting for a walk or warning away a squirrel.

Peace and love. RIP, Salsa 5/9/2018

Salsa saved me from depression and fear of uselessness when I was couch-bound with my last Crohn’s disease flareup when she was new to us. Suzy was off to work; I was feeble with no duties that I could manage or interests that I could indulge. I was a shell, doing nothing but rebuilding myself — except I also had Salsa, who gave me both friendship and responsibility. Small as the job was, tending her gave me “other-focus,” preventing the collapse of the shell.

Now, years later, I am rebuilt but there is a new hollow spot. The house is a little too quiet as I step through the door at night. There should be claws tapping.

The Landers is a little lonelier when I clean there. Isn’t that strange? I never had Salsa with me working, but I feel an absence.

We feed Pepper but there’s a bowl missing in their corner.I became well tending to Salsa; it is well with me still as I tend her memory.

Rest well, my friend. That was a glorious run!

Posted in Health, Personal, Philosophy/Life Lessons, Running | 1 Comment »