Fare Thee Well

Mood: Waking up
Drinking: Toothpaste aftertaste

Yesterday my friend S and I took our dogs for a walk at Fort Funston. The Fort is not really a fort, not anymore. It may have been all soldiery and official at some point during World War I, but now it is just rolling dunes with rubbery ice plants, lots of twisted cypress and secret, sandy trails, and cliffs that fall off a hundred feet down to the beach below.

It’s the best place in the city to go dog-walking, because you can let your little pooch run free and wild with hundreds of other dogs. There are crows to chase and lots of butts to sniff and a watering hole with three or four perpetually filled bowls of water. There are caves and buttresses and a long run down a huge dune that leads to “Dog Beach” below. At dog beach you can cavort in the waves and fetch sticks and pee on driftwood–if you are a canine and you’re into that sort of thing.

LeeLoo loves it, and so does her boyfriend Nelson (S’s dog), and we were all having a grand old time–the dogs chasing each other in maniacal circles and S and I laughing at them until our stomachs hurt. I was especially looking forward to the highlight of every trip to Ft. Fun–stopping by the twin benches on the cliff path to see Dennis and his dogs Nika and Rocky.

Dennis is a dog trainer, and he worked miracles with us and LeeLoo when we first adopted her nearly 2 years ago. She was scared and aggressive toward other dogs and was known to try to rip balls off random men for no apparent reason other than that she didn’t like the shoes they were wearing. Dennis helped us turn LeeLoo into the lovable, happy, carefree little lump of a Boxer she is today.

He’s a grizzly looking guy–tall with a beer gut, a windswept white pony tail and a way of yelling that makes you toe the line like you’re in boot camp. He served in Vietnam with the K-9 troops and then ran a school of dog training in New York City for years. He also has a shady story about being on the lam and changing his name for awhile, but when we met him he had been living and training dogs in San Francisco for 20 years or more.

Dennis quickly became more to Bruce and I than just a dog trainer. He was like the gruff and burly uncle you hope comes to family functions. We invited him to dinner at our house so he could meet my mom and dad when they came to visit. He took us to his favorite taco place in the Mission. We’d talk about motorcycles (he used to ride) and sometimes we stopped by his house just to say hi. Despite how tough and hard he seemed on the outside, he was a big old marshmallow underneath. LeeLoo was his favorite pupil, and he’d would cry out in delight whenever we’d stop by the bench after a long walk at Ft. Fun.

“LeeLoo, baby!” he’d yell “Come over here and give me a kiss.” And she would, butt wiggling in glee, and he’d kiss her back. “Look at this face,” he’d tell friends, new students, random passersby. “Now that’s a face only a mother or a dog trainer could love!”

About a year ago, Dennis asked Bruce and I to help him write a dog training manual. He had all the information from years of experience, so he’d get it on paper and I’d pretty it up and Bruce would lay it out and the book was almost finished and ready to go. We saw Dennis last week and he was all excited about it. We made plans to get together for dinner and finish it up.

But when S and I stopped by the bench yesterday, Dennis wasn’t there. Instead, there was a huge pile of flowers and candles and some posters with pictures of dogs. I thought it was weird that somebody left a bunch of crap on a bench, and I kept walking. But S stopped and said “Oh, these memorials always make me so sad. I wonder who’s dog died?” So I turned around to look, too. But then I saw that the pictures stapled to the bench were not just pictures of dogs. They were pictures of Dennis. My Dennis. And they said he was dead.

I’ve seen people cause scenes in public before, shaking and wailing. And I’ve always walked by them thinking, “Calm down, freak!” But suddenly, I knew why they didn’t calm down. They couldn’t. Because I was shaking and wailing. “Dennis! Not Dennis!”

Our friend, our grizzly uncle, died of diabetes complications on Thursday. He was just here, and now he’ll never be here again. He was just here and he was fine. He gave me the customary hug and scratchy kiss on the cheek, “Hi, sweetheart. So good to see you.”

Dennis, wherever you are, we miss you. We mourn for you. And we desperately hope that you have some dogs to keep you company until we see you again.

-Lo, who doesn’t care how maudlin this entry is. It’s something she needed to do.

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