Tails of Seattle: A pets blog
Heart dogs: Marla Williams and Carl
Have you ever had one of those special animals in your life that you couldn't have lived without? Who taught you more about living and loving than any other worldly creature? These are heart dogs, once-in-a-lifetime treasures that nest in our hearts and stay forever. In a fitting celebration of them this Valentine's Day week, The Seattle Times pet blog asked seven local dog people to remember and honor their heart dogs in essays and photos.
Marla Williams is an independent documentary producer and former Seattle Times reporter. She and her husband, Andy Ryan, pictured above with Carl in 2000, have been fortunate to have shared their lives with four remarkable rescue dogs -- Cydney, Carl, Vinnie and Monty.
By Marla Williams
Carl loved stadium rock. Especially Queen.
He really, really loved food.
Carl's extensive lexicon reflected the passions of a street-wise gourmand; his vocabulary weighed heavy (as he sometimes did) with words such as "Dick's burger" and "pizza," "turkey" and "ham." He loved my sister Sherri's pumpkin pie (as do I). He loved strawberries and bananas and spinach and butter.
He earned the nickname "Cargo Cult" after spending countless hours lying in wait at the entrance to the kitchen, hoping, like the early indigenous people of Melanesia, for offerings to fall from the sky.
Of course we gave in. And when we didn't ... Well, Carl once ate a four-pound roasted chicken, swallowing it nearly whole like an alligator might, snatching it off the sideboard where it was cooling in much the same way he seized life.
Carl had an even greater appetite for life. Not even cancer could defeat his spirit.
When a life-threatening tumor threatened his life in late 2000, we struggled with the decision to have Carl's front left leg amputated to stop the spread of the disease. He was a big dog, pushing 100 pounds. We worried with our veterinarian that our nearly 10-year-old dog would not be able to adapt. But he did. More rapidly than anyone, even his veterinarian and canine cancer specialists, imagined possible.
Less than 24 hours after his surgery, Carl was up on his remaining three feet and insisting he be released home. Skidding, falling, scrambling back up, Carl walked out of the animal surgery and into people's hearts.
A crush of little girls came to visit Carl in the days following his surgery, lending him T-shirts to cover his stitches and keep him warm, bringing him treats, telling him stories and stroking his head until they all fell asleep on his bed.
Not only little girls, but grown women adored him. They found something strangely, embarrassingly, sexy, about him. With a shiver and a blush, women would compare him to a celebrity--George Clooney, Sean Connery, Cary Grant.
Carl Nelson Rottiefeller was certainly handsome.
One misty Sunday morning, I took Carl to the county dog park. He was still stitched up like a Christmas ham, his scar livid against pale skin, shaved clean before surgery. He was wobbly from drugs.
About a dozen middle-aged men, with cups of steaming coffee in hand, stood talking as their male dogs ran in wild circles, pursing a beautiful Samoyed in heat. She was having none of them. Then Carl picked up her scent and headed into the fray.
I don't know what he said as he ran through the crowd of frenzied males, but one by one the dogs dropped out of the chase. Their owners watched.
"How the hell old is he?" one yelled. "Ten," I answered. "And putting me to shame," the man replied, shaking his head.
The female dog spun around and ran to Carl. "Hey, isn't your dog neutered?" another of the men shouted. "Yes," I replied, "but he's not without confidence and charm."
"Look at that," another of them hollered, and a loud cheer went up from the men. "You know," one man said, laughing, "that dog just gave me hope."
Carl was not fearless -- thunderstorms and fire alarms and human arguments sent him running for cover -- but he was courageous and stoic and trusting. He never balked returning to the veterinarian or the cancer clinic or the even the critical-care center. He stood his ground, quietly but surely, in defense of us and the children he played with. He overcame pain and physical disability to walk again, run again, swim again.
Instead, he decided to go swimming. Tearing off our shoes and our coats, running for the lake, shouting at him to come back, we watched Carl capsize in deep water. Just as suddenly, Carl came back up -- spluttering. We demanded he come back to shore. He ignored us, paddling back only far enough for his feet to touch bottom.
For a time, he just stood there watching waves and the water. Then he began pacing, seemingly measuring the challenge. Finally he launched, using his big tail as a rudder, balancing and guiding his movement. He cut an elegant wake.
A beautiful swimmer, Carl swam nearly every day -- the last time on my birthday, less than three days before his death. Walking was difficult; he had arthritis in his remaining front leg and his hips, and a back leg was beginning to weaken.
But swimming, that was something else again. So, to celebrate my birthday we headed to the water. Pulling on hip boots, my husband, Andy, waded into Lake Washington so Carl could swim out and retrieve his toy but not have to touch ground for the return hand off.
I wish you could have seen them, that man and that dog.
Many called him handsome. One friend described him as "wise." My father hailed him as "Carl, The Great" and "Carl, The Magnificent." Another friend dubbed him "The Magic Hound."
Carl was all of that, and more.
He was intelligent, even thoughtful, as demonstrated by small acts of self-reliance such as opening his own doors and bringing me walking shoes when he wanted to go to the park. He was not always obedient, but he was unfailingly patient.
He was superbly tolerant, because he was extraordinarily loving: Carl suffered countless hours at the hands of little children, (once, he allowed his entire body to be slathered in hair mousse and his fur combed into spikes) because he adored and delighted in their company.
Above all he was loving. His tail beat such a steady rhythm of welcome as people came and went in his life, we called him Gene Krupa after the legendary drummer.
He set the beat and our hearts followed.
More in the series:
Coming Wednesday: Seattle trainer and author Steve Duno writes about Lou, the feral dog he rescued in California and trained to do incredible things.