May 17th, 2010

Relampago ocean

Goodbye, dear friend

I really love my thirties quite a bit. I feel like I know who I am as a person, I know what I want. I don't worry so much about impressing other people as I do myself, and I am comfortable with who I am.

One aspect of my thirties sucks, though. I, a lot of my friends, and some family members got pets in our late teens / early 20s, and a dozen or so years later, the beloved pets reach the end of their natural life spans.

Today, I said goodbye to a family member who I adore.

Claudia and Holden, May 16, 2004

Holden came into my life in December 1997, when he was about 7 or 8 weeks old. He was a Christmas present to my sister Claudia from myself, Jose and Liv. Claudia knew about him, of course, and we spent a few days looking through the want ads in the Houston Chronicle for a black male Labrador retriever. After some phone calls, she and I got into the car and drove to Brenham, Texas to take a look at a litter. This cute little chocolate girl tried to insinuate herself into Claudia's heart, but she only had eyes for the big black boy. Holden had actually been picked out by another family, but they spent too much on Christmas presents and had to return him. He was sporting a bruised eye, because he'd tried to nurse on his dad. Claudia fell instantly in love, and the next thing we knew, this little guy was on his way home with us.

I remember stopping for gas, and Claudia had this look of complete panic as she nuzzled the little guy in her arms wondering what the hell she got herself into. He came home, and Relampago, who loved puppies fell in love with the little guy. Chispa wasn't as impressed.

Holden's puppyhood was spent in Burlington, VT, and by all accounts he loved every minute of college life. Claudia had a bevy of roommates who would take Holden to the skate ramps and ski lifts with them, and Holden grew to a peak 120 pounds of pure labrador muscle. Claudia took him to the dog park and to parties and he had an awesome life. Of course, this being Holden, he had his share of trouble, too. When he was about four months old, he had his first of many consultations with doctors about something he'd eaten. In that particular case, it was a random sandwich he found on the street, cellophane and all. He sent his mama to the ER a few times, once knocking her out when he pulled too hard on his leash.

When he moved back to Texas, he went to gun school, in an effort to calm him down and give him focus. The trainer prided himself on the fact that he'd never used a shock collar on a dog before. Until, of course, he met Holden. Labrador stubbornness notwithstanding, Holden proved to be an excellent hunter, and the rest of his life his greatest pleasure was sitting in a duck blind, hoping someone would shoot something to retrieve.

Claudia isn't a natural hunter, but she would go with him, describing her support akin to that of a soccer mom who watched on the sidelines rather than take part in the game. But of course she had to be there. Of course, Holden had his own way of retrieving, and on at least one occasion, he dragged his mama into the lake with him as soon as the gun was fired. My dad took to tying him to a tree, because he'd drag anything (or anyone) else into the lake with him.

Holden's growth was unwelcome by Relampago, and theirs was a complicated relationship. They would sometimes get in trouble together (like the time the dined on a dead squirrel in the back yard: Holden ended up in the ER, Relampago was just really disgustingly sick), but they'd also fight. Holden once shredded Relampago's ear, and Relampago was somewhat resentful of that afterwards. But then they'd go back to being co-conspirators. It was a strange relationship, but it worked for them. I think they sort of were shocked to find themselves the old men towards the end of Relampago’s life. Holden was five years younger than Relampago, but they sort of grew up together.

And Holden was a master at getting into trouble. Like most labs, he found joy in eating things. Claudia and Holden probably single handedly kept Victoria's Secret in business with all the underwear Holden ate over the years. In fact, just last week she found he ate a pair. He dug up and ate one of my mother's roses. He ate a set of rental car keys that Jose was using. He ate a couple of my dad's antique duck decoys (this, given Holden's training, shouldn't have been surprising). He ate an antique quilt. An ant bait trap. And so on and so forth. Claudia was very, very good at putting her shoes away. And food. Oh, god, could this dog eat food. Loaves of bread, sticks of butter, nine pounds of asparagus, a bag of shrimp heads, an entire corn on the cob. Bones of all sorts. A memorable combination of raisins, chocolate and corn meal. On several occasions, the vet had to be called about something Holden ate. The most scary was what I call his thongectomy. He ate a pair of underwear, followed by a bone, and it got lodged in his stomach. Of course, it happened on a Saturday, so the emergency vet was the only option. Ultimately, he was rushed to Texas A&M for emergency surgery.

Holden had no real sense of how big he was, or if he did, he didn't really care. He once knocked my mom out by pulling suddenly on his leash, slamming her into a wall. He also, in one of the funniest things I've ever seen in person, managed to get behind the Christmas tree, hook his leash to a bough, and drag it across the living room at full speed. I personally can vouch for his bulk after he launched himself from a dock to my person on a raft, in what Claudia calls one of the funniest things she's ever seen in person. And of course, he was a master at clearing off any coffee table in a 20 mile radius with his tail, after, of course, he'd already cleared it of food.

Holden's favorite place in the world was the ranch. He loved, loved, loved being able to go to the lake and swim. And, he'd be unable to sleep when he was there, because he was so excited about the outside. The ranch was where one went hunting, where one got people to throw sticks in the lake, where one ate cowshit. Memorably, one morning Holden woke the entire household, causing my father to mutter "I'm going to tie his penis in a knot”. Holden just wanted to go out and be a dog on a ranch. He was constantly wet, from trips to the lake. He was constantly running off to investigate the things outside. He was constantly whining if people didn't let him out or didn't give him free reign. It has been mentioned several times today that everyone is glad that Holden got to go to the ranch ten days ago.

He was a funny dog, too. He helped me through one of the worst days of my life, by just being himself. He kept me and his mama in stitches the time he got stuck in my sleep sofa and was too embarrassed to say anything about it. He refused to get in Claudia's car for weeks after he got doused with freezing keg water when she braked too hard. He had this weird, unbreakable habit for about a year of peeing on my couch and my mom's couch. I think he did it because his mama thought it was funny.

Claudia and Holden were a pair. They loved each other and would bicker like an old married couple. Holden would test her boundaries, they'd fight, make up and end the night in each other's arms. He slept in her bed, under the covers. He'd talk to her through a whine/bark combo, and she'd give him her mom voice. And she'd hug him like there was no tomorrow. And he'd forgive her anything. When her schedule was hugely full, he'd let her know that he understood, so long as she ended up in his bed at the end of the night. She included him in everything she could, and he was awesome for it.

Holden was Claudia's dog, but he was in a way Jose's too. He and Claudia moved into Jose's apartment six years ago, and the relationship with Jose was that of a beloved uncle. Jose would make sure Holden was walked and fed if Claudia wasn't around. Jose would play Holden, talk to him, make him feel like a part of the family. Holden loved to test Jose, too, and Jose was perfectly OK letting Holden know where the boundaries were. Holden probably didn't enjoy living on a 23rd floor apartment as much as some of the other places he's lived over the years, but he made due. He learned to pee in the shower when Claudia and Jose weren't fast enough to get him downstairs and outside.

Holden was a beautiful lab. Anyone who ever met him would comment on his appearance. He had big brown eyes that would swallow your soul. He was also BIG. At his greatest, he was 120 pounds, but rounded out at around 95 for most of his life. His black fur was velvety soft, and he was substantial. He was ridiculously friendly to people, not overly aggressive or jumpy, but genuinely glad to make your acquaintance if he met you. In his early years, he got along great with other dogs, but as he got older, his patience sort of ran thin. He scared the hell out of all of my dogs on various occasions, and I think that he didn’t really have a sense of how intimidating he was, though he was food aggressive.

Around the Thanksgiving holiday last year, Holden went to the vet. He'd been walking kind of funny, and everyone thought he had arthritis, which is fairly common in elderly labs. He'd just celebrated his 12th birthday. The vet didn't actually care much about his hips (it actually turned out that his walking weird was due to some fused vertibrae), but a lump on his side. Holden had mast cell tumors. He underwent an operation to remove the tumors that very day. They reappeared a month later, and were removed a month later. Then again in January. At some point in the spring, he was put on prednizone, and he started feeling much, much better. Claudia said "he was being bad again." But the cell masts returned. The last week of April, Holden was rushed to the vet because one of his tumors ruptured. The vet, who'd been taking care of Holden since puppyhood and had seen Holden through countless food related and other medical problems, had spent some time studying up on mast cells, and though this last surgery was to be quite huge, he thought they'd get everything. Holden came out of surgery with flying colors. He literally dragged the vet tech out of the clinic, and everyone agreed that it looked like the Old Holden was back on his feet.

On mother's day weekend, Holden got to go to the ranch with Jose. He was irritated that he didn't get to go into the lake; he still had staples. But he got to go to run around and have a good time. Jose said he was awsome. On Sunday, they came back to Houston, and all of us were happy to see him. He looked fairly good for a dog that had a good hunk of his insides carved out a week and a bit ago. He got scraps from various people's plates, and he whined when people didn't pay particular attention to him.

This morning, Holden couldn't breathe. My superhuman sister got him to the elevator and then carried him down three flights of stairs to her car and rushed him to the vet. My mom, my brother and I met her there, while they tried to get him on meds and oxygen. For awhile, it looked like the meds were working, but he crashed again. He died in Claudia's arms.

I'll miss you Holden. You were an amazing companion to my amazing sister. You put her through so much, and she was a better person for it. I know that you're waiting for her, next to Relampago and Chispa who are waiting for the rest of us. I wish we could hold on to you all forever, and we will always have your memories. You were never a good dog, but you were a great dog. I will miss you, and I will miss all that you did for my sister.