Cassie is one of those special dogs.
Exuberant. Sweet. Smart. An agility champion. A devoted companion.
Put a tennis ball in your hand, and Cassie’s whole demeanor changes. She freezes. She cocks her head, fixes the ball with her eyes, lifts her foreleg in a classic German Shorthair Pointer stance, pointing with her whole body, starting with her nose. She quivers. She wants that ball. She will chase that ball. And if you don’t throw it fast enough, she starts to yip.
When I say “yip,” I don’t mean cute little puppy noises. I mean ear-splitting, brain-piercing, eye-watering, high-pitched shrieking noises that jangle just about every nerve in your body.
It’s very effective. You throw the ball, quick. Anything to stop the noise!
She’s a brown blur as you throw it, streaking across the open field, locating it unerringly. She trots back proudly and throws it triumphantly at your feet. Fixes you with her eyes. Prances a little before you. Snatches it up, throws it closer. There! Right there!
You better pay attention. You better act fast, or she’ll start yipping.
And nobody wants that.
* * * * * *
Did I mention that Cassie’s not actually my dog?
She’s technically owned, I guess, by our friends Karen and Michael. But fortunately for me, they go out of town a lot, and I made them promise to always leave Cassie with me. Cassie shows up at my house just about every month, bright-eyed, grinning, ready for fun.
She trots around the yard, inspecting each shrub, making sure everything is in order, and then demands some raucous ball-throwing. Afterwards she prances inside and makes sure I know exactly where the treat cupboard is.
Just in case I forgot.
In the evening, she can’t wait for us to settle down on the couch so she can snuggle up, splayed out and upside-down, between me and Martin, and snore softly. And occasionally pass some stupefyingly odorous gas.
Martin and I gag a little, but keep her firmly pressed against us.
I’d say that basically makes her our dog, too.
She was staying at my house when my dad died, and accompanied us on our sad and sudden journey to Half Moon Bay, where family and friends were gathering. Cassie went around to every single person in the room, gently placing her chin on each knee as if to say, “I know you’re hurting. I’m sorry.” Everyone patted her head, stroked her soft ears. Such a nice little spotted dog. Such a comfort.
She even tolerates you getting right down on the floor next to her, hugging her, sobbing if you need to. She rolls over, hooks her paw behind your head, and pulls you down to her, to gently lick away your tears.
A dog like that doesn’t happen along very often.
* * * * * *
She loves food. So do my dogs, Holly and Jasper.
I bring out sandwich fixings for lunch, I clear dinner plates from the table, and I have their complete and utterly rapt attention. Everyone sits bolt upright in the kitchen, saliva freely flowing, hoping for a taste.
Hoping? Let’s be honest, they know they’re getting some. And they accept it, all of it, whatever it is, enthusiastically.
Pesto pasta? Yep.
Scrambled eggs with salsa? Oh yeah, baby.
Cheese? You betcha!
A bite of roast beef sandwich?
* * * * * *
Karen accuses me of giving the dogs too many treats. “They just look at you, and you rush to the treat cupboard!” she declares.
I hang my head, shuffle my feet. She’s probably right. But what can I do? I love giving them treats.
It boggles the mind.
As if that’s not enough, Karen and Michael, die-hard Starbucks aficionados, bring Cassie to Starbucks with them every morning. And let Cassie rapturously lick the bottom of their cups. And occasionally even get Cassie her very own decaf Frappuccino.
Let me repeat: her very own decaf Frappuccino.
This girl is accusing me of giving too many treats to the dogs? The girl who buys her dog Starbucks drinks?
It’s dumbfounding. Truly unbelievable.
So next time she rolled her eyes at me for handing out a little piece of cheese, I brought up the mini-marshmallows and Frappuccinos.
“Oh,” she said guiltily, eyes sliding away. “That . . . ”
* * * * * *
Karen and Michael go to Disneyland a lot. That’s generally how Cassie ends up at my house. One day I got an email from Karen, saying she and Michael had been driven back to their hotel by rain, and so they’d spent a happy hour …. relaxing.
Karen chuckled, “What happens in Disneyland, stays in Disneyland!”
She had no idea I would be writing a blog. Hello, world!
Cassie replied to her parents via email: “Sheesh, Mom! I don’t know why you guys call it “relaxing.” It seems pretty exhausting, actually. All that energy you expend! Relaxing is when you stretch out in a little patch of sunshine, lie there quietly with your eyes closed, and snore a little. You guys don’t relax like that at all. It’s fascinating to watch, though! Well, enjoy Disneyland… and try to “relax” as much as possible!”
* * * * * *
I was standing on a rock partway in the river, with an easy walk to shore on one side, and a big ole drop off on the other. I’d tossed the ball to Cassie, back towards shore, but she was nudging it back out towards me with her nose, following along, and ended up on the rock next to me. The ball kept going, slowly drifting towards the deep water, and I kept urging her to grab it – quick! – before it was too late. But Cassie was creeping slowly and cautiously through the water along the rock. She got to the drop-off end and was barely sticking to the rock as she waded along its edge, almost chest high in the water, following the ball which stayed just out of reach.
I guess you can imagine.
Jasper the big galumph, lumbering along in a happy daze, oblivious to delicate situations.
He banged right into her, and bloop, off she went, into the deep water.
Cassie is an intelligent and remarkable dog. She has a long and impressive list of skills, talents and accomplishments about which she can rightfully boast.
Unfortunately, swimming is not one of them.
She thrashes around, all leg and splash, head held awkwardly out of the water, making very little progress. Karen always carefully and lovingly fits Cassie with a doggie life vest when they take her swimming in Lake Tahoe.
Me? I just make sure she stays out of the deep water.
So I went into a mild panic to get Cassie out – shouted at Martin to take my camera, take my watch, here, take ’em quick, so I could splash back and grab Cassie, diving in if need be to get her out, save her – but by the time I’d turned around to rush back into the water, Cassie was calmly reaching the shore. She wasn’t doing any of that crazy thrashing I’d always seen – just swimming serenely along with the ball, then pulling herself out of the water. She trotted confidently past me, shooting me a somewhat mystified look, like What was all that fuss about?
I just stood there, slack-jawed, feeling a little stupid. Martin said, “Why’d you panic? She’s a dog, she knows how to swim,” and I countered with, “Not very well!” but then he raised an eyebrow because… well… she did swim pretty well, just then.
I guess she learned how.
* * * * * *
Cassie embraced life to the fullest. She played boisterously, lived joyfully, and loved unconditionally, literally up to her last breath in Karen’s arms.
In our hearts, Cassie the Wonder Dog lives forever.
She’s pricking her ears up and cocking her head,
That stare of hers! Surely you know it.
She waits, scarcely breathing, leg lifted, she’s quiv’ring
Right there! There’s a ball there! Now throw it!
She’s snatching the ball up and tossing it closer –
Now earsplitting yips are ensuing;
And in places far-flung, everyone, old and young
Knows exactly what Cassie is doing.
Then she’s dashing, retrieving, she’s yipping and prancing,
She streaks after balls with elation;
And people all stare at the German Shorthair, saying
“Look at that fast Brown Dalmation!”
She’s perfectly perfect, unfailingly faithful:
Intelligent, beautiful Cassie.
We love being near her, to hug her, to kiss her –
Just pray you’re upwind when she’s gassy!
When sadness consumes us, we hold Cassie tightly
And pour out our grief and our fears;
And Cassie consoles us with patience and kindness
By tenderly licking our tears.
Now we gratefully, thankfully lift up our eyes
And we earnestly, humbly thank God
For giving us Cassie as long as He did –
Dear Cassie, our sweet Wonder Dog.