Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I consider my extended family to be fairly small, even though my dad was one of six children. He has three brothers and two sisters, but only one sibling has children, so I have only two cousins. My mother has one sister who does not have children. So I have three aunts and three uncles, except that one of my uncles, Michael, died of AIDS in 1994, when I was ten.

Although his death had a profound and lasting effect on me, and although I still miss him deeply to this day, and although he is the reason that I began working in public health to begin with, he himself is not exactly what I want to write about today. Instead, I want to write about his dog, who temporarily became my grandmother's dog after his death, and then eventually became my family's dog. His name was Hooter.

Michael had had Hooter for as long as I could remember--in reality I think since I was maybe four years old. He got him from an animal shelter, where his name had been Skeeter. My understanding is that Michael wanted to change the dog's name drastically, but it just didn't work, so he eventually picked the name Hooter because it sounded sort of like Skeeter and because Hooter really did hoot quite often. He was half beagle, half basset, and he had that classic basset bay that he issued most often when he wanted to go for a walk.

Michael always fed Hooter leftover food from his dinners the night before. The two of them would wake up late, like around noon, and share the leftovers between them. I don't know if Hooter ever ate dog food. He was definitely spoiled and also overweight. We used to play Stock Market with Michael, and we would always rub Hooter's ears and kiss them for luck before we rolled the dice. They were incredibly soft and silky, and so long.

After Michael died, my grandmother took Hooter in, even though my parents offered. My grandmother wasn't much of a dog person but I think she wanted Hooter because he reminded her of Michael--the same reason we all wanted him, I guess. But she couldn't deal with the baying, and the constant demands for walks, and the pickiness developed through years of spoiling. Plus, Hooter was lonely. He must have wondered what had happened to Michael, where he had gone. He must have felt abandoned. And he probably missed his people-food leftovers.

So when I was twelve, my family took Hooter at my grandmother's request. Another one of my uncles drove him down from my grandmother's house in upstate New York to DC, where my dad and I had driven up from North Carolina to meet him to pick up the dog. It was right after Hurricane Fran, and our house had been without power for several days at that point, and we were out of ice and it was impossible to buy more in the area, so we used the opportunity to buy several coolers full of ice bags from DC grocery stores. Then we drove home in our minivan, me sitting in the back with Hooter on a raggedy pink blanket that my uncle had brought with him.

We already had two dogs when we got Hooter, and so we were good about feeding him a consistent diet of dog food and trying to get his weight down a little bit. The other two dogs accepted him pretty quickly, but he never really got into playing with them--he was always just a little aloof, and he much preferred to lie on an ottoman that he quickly claimed as his own than to play tug-of-war with the others. He liked my dad and would often cuddle with him.

He also tried to run away every and any chance he got, and would return hours later, stomach bulging from all the garbage he had eaten, and puking every couple hours on the carpet. We had to put a child lock on the cabinet with the kitchen trash in it, so that he wouldn't nose it open and eat the leftovers. People food made his sensitive stomach angry, but he loved it and ate it at every opportunity. Once he ran away on a snow day that I had off from school, and I spent two hours hiking through the snow in boots and pajamas, following his delicate little footprints. I didn't find him, but he came home soon after I did.

We never played Stock Market after Michael died, so there was no more kissing Hooter's ears for luck, but we would still rub them a lot, and he loved it. When it was time for a walk, he would jump up and down and howl with excitement. He had a raggedy old collar, and we tried to replace it when we got him, but the first time he threw his head back to howl, the collar came flying off, because his neck was thicker than his head. So we had to stick with the old collar, which for some reason never came off. He was smaller than our other dogs, so we could pick him up, or hold him on our laps, which he would usually tolerate with a long-suffering look before eventually scrambling down and walking over to his ottoman with extreme dignity.

Though he was older than our other dogs, he outlived them both, so he was there when my parents got their new puppy. The day they brought the puppy home, he jumped on his back paws and rested his front paws on Hooter's back--a sign of dominance in the dog world, I think. The puppy was establishing his place as the alpha dog in the household, and I always felt that Hooter just didn't care enough to resist--he was old, and all he wanted to do was lie around and sleep. He and the puppy spent most of their time ignoring each other, and that was probably for the best.

Hooter died right after my freshman year in college, before I had come home for the summer. He was probably 15 or 16 years old. He had been tired, my parents said, and not eating much recently, and then they came home one night to find him lying peacefully on his ottoman, dead. It was the first dog we've had that did not die in pain and did not have to be put to sleep. He deserved it. It truly felt like his time to go--like he was exhausted, weary of still being alive, ready to go to sleep once and for all. I don't believe in an afterlife so I can't tell myself that he's with Michael again now. But it seems peaceful for him to be gone. He needed it, I think.

He was a beautiful dog, and a sweet dog. He was the dog that kids always liked, because he was gentle and approachable. He was long-enduring. He was Michael's mostly companion. They belong together. I wish they could be. I wish I could believe they were.


  1. Aw, what a sweet post to a sweet looking dog. Sounds like Hooter was well taken care of and well loved.

  2. That's a really nice post. We've had two beagles. He sounds like he was quite a sweet dog. :)

  3. Such a sweet post, and what an ADORABLE dog.

  4. I have tears in my eyes.

    I want a Hooter.

  5. Well, All Dogs Go To Heaven, you do know that, right? Great post, as usual.

  6. You have a wonderful writing style, Jess. Hooter sounds awesome.

  7. Hooter sounds like such a treasure. He was lucky to have you guys after Michael passed away.

  8. Hi,

    Delurking to say that that was a wonderful post. My yellow lab, Lucky, passed away in June, so I guess that's why this particular post touched me so much. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Awww! I'm normally not a dog person but those pics were dern cute. Nice account of a life well spent.

  10. I'm not sure if you knew (like, hi, have you met me?) but my dogs are my ENTIRE LIFE. I always find myself thinking about how horrible it will be when they pass on, but then I hope your dog will be there to take care of them. :)

  11. aw, what a sweet post. poor guy had some hard moments in his life - it's wonderful that your family was able to take care of him.

  12. Excellent, excellent post.

    You know how to tell a story perfectly, and it reads with such ease - something lacking in most writing styles.

    We have a 14 yo beagle who has almost all of the qualities you mention...right down to taking herself for a walk and nudging the door to the trash open.

    Take care and I'm so glad that Hooter found your family to live out his years. He was one lucky, lucky dog.