I can still smell his fur, musky and sweet drifting up from the side of the bed. He used to come wandering into our bedroom at night, slowly guiding his body low to the ground, so that he could sneak in under our radar and perch himself in our room. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be there, yet he never failed to try to settle in as soon as we got into bed.
I miss him tremendously. It’s been two months since our Corgi pal Miles left this world and I can’t seem to shake him from my mind. You get used to the routines. Waking up and filling his dog bowl, watching him do a cannon ball belly roll on the throw rug after every meal. Jumping up and down at the door to go out when he was in good spirits.
I had to carry him up and down our apartment stairs this last year. It was hard work. The arthritis he had in both front and rear legs made it difficult for him to walk three flights. I would stare into his coal-black eyes and laugh at him saying “I hope you are grateful for me carrying you up and down these stairs dude”. He hung his head back, bouncing in time with the sway of our rhythm and oblivious to the effort it took. Once we reached the foyer, he would scamper to the door hobbling on three feet. His right foot was in a constant state of pain from the arthritis and he would keep it elevated when he walked. This made him look a bit like a prizefighter taking jabs in the air. Which is what the lil’ scrapper really was, having survived for eighteen years…
His strength and courage in his final days was confusing to me and our dog. He could on good days run a block up our 45 degree hill to our apartment without a stop. Other days, he would stumble over his rear legs, crossing them uncontrollably and tripping on them until he fell to the ground. When he would fall, he would stare at me with weary eyes perplexed as to why his body was giving out.
I would pet him to coax him for reinforcement up the hill and gently guide him with a boost of my foot until he gathered his strength to continue. He would slowly rise and take a few steps and stop. I knew then that his health was going downhill, but I figured getting him to slug it out on the climb would somehow prolong the inevitable. Like people, dogs who live with humans for long periods of time become invisible to our death radar. They are master manipulators on hiding pain and suffering. Which leads us to go about our lives fantasizing how their health will improve with diet, drugs and love. Only to find ourselves unprepared when it comes time to deal with end of life issues for our pets.
Our routine walks began to dwindle down to a half a block after the years of arthritis had ravaged his body. We were giving him pain medication and salmon oil which helped for awhile, but we noticed a big decline in his attitude and strength the last few weeks of his life. This is when my wife decided to make an appointment at the vet for a check up and to discuss possible end of life consultation.
The day we took Miles to the vet will be etched forever. On our walk that morning, he could barely make it up the hill and when he finally reached our apartment he fell to the ground and refused to get up. I had to carry him up the street and into our apartment. The night before, he was wandering around the house in a state of confusion for hours, whimpering in pain. Earlier that same day he had soiled our dining room in front of my wife, both peeing and pooping on the floor. This was not the same stoic and proud dog we had in our home for eighteen years. We knew something was wrong and we began to brace ourselves for what the vet would say.
We packed Miles into the car and when we arrived at the SFSPCA parking lot, he looked exhausted and refused to walk. I once again had to carry him to the clinic waiting room, petting him and asking him “what’s wrong buddy?” along the way. How I wished dogs could speak. He sat by our feet in the waiting room next to another dog who wanted to visit. Normally Miles would be all over the other dog, sniffing and wanting to play. Not this time. He lay there oblivious, panting heavily. Did he know?
The floor staff at the SPCA recognized Miles and they came over to pet him. They loved him and his rock star persona, having stayed there many nights when we boarded him. He was one of the staffs favorite dogs. The vet looked him over as we discussed the health issues he was having. Miles didn’t flinch when he got the rectal thermometer which which a first. I knew that he was down and out when he didn’t even fuss, or try to get down off the examination table. When we told the vet about the issues of having to carry him every where and his incontinence, she suggested that we might consider a harness and a diaper. Even though these were grateful gestures, the thought of having to carry him everywhere we went in diapers somehow didn’t seem like a good quality of life for a dog used to running the roost.
I was prepared to go along for the ride, living in denial and offering to do the job. My wife looked at me with sadness in her eyes and I knew what she was going to say. It finally registered with me that he was not fit to carry on with such pain. I looked at my pal in a state of shock, realizing that this was going to be his last day on the planet and tears began to well up in my eyes. My wife and I both gave him treats as we spoke with the vet about the procedure to put him to sleep.
It was very difficult emotionally to end his life. He was like our child and if he were human, on his way to college. Funny how close we get to our pets. The vet hugged and petted Miles and told him that he had a good long life. She knew that it was coming to an end, which helped us with our painful decision. When the vet left the room to gather the instruments for the procedure, Miles perked up and became more cognizant of his surroundings. My wife and I both looked at each other and panicked at his surge of energy. “Did we make the right decision?” we asked ourselves. We both thought it over again and discussed that he was not capable of walking and that it was only going to get worse as time marched on. We didn’t want to see him suffer in this condition and we stood by our decision. It wasn’t until later that we learned dogs will fake their not feeling pain out of necessity to avoid being left from the pack. Which explains Miles sudden sense of awareness.
The vet returned with a catheter and began to shave Miles left leg where the injection would be administered. My wife and I began to tear up watching what would his last moments on Earth. She guided us to the SPCA’s grieving room where we could spend time with him alone and say our last words. We both agreed that this was one of the most difficult days we have had in our twenty years together, as we wished our pal a safe journey to the other side. We sat silent in our thoughts petting Miles as the vet walked in and asked if we were ready.
We went over the options for cremation and chose not to be there for the final injection. That would be too hard for us to bare. We said our final farewells and left the clinic sad and in shock. A rush of emotions ran through me on the way to the car. “Couldn’t we carry him in a sling and diaper until he died a natural death?” I kept questioning myself. I was prepared to make the sacrifice in swap of not having to face the guilt of choosing to end our dogs life. Which of course is selfish. Our dog was in pain, having no control over his legs and body functions. Who was I to let him suffer…
These feelings and emotions seem to happen to everyone I spoke with who has had to put their dog to sleep. Our conscience is fueled by the desire to survive at all costs, which is counterpart to ending an animal’s life. We ravaged through weeks of sadness and guilt whenever we thought of Miles and or, saw another dog on the street. “It wasn’t fair that he was gone” I kept saying to myself, yet we both knew that eighteen years of age for a dog is way above average. Whenever my negative emotions would well up again, I would remember what the vet said to us at the clinic, “Miles had lived a long life in a loving home we created for him”. This brought comfort to me, but it didn’t help from seeing and feeling his presence for months after he was gone.
There were many nights that I could have sworn that Miles was lying down by the side of my bed. I would awaken to a noise in our apartment that reminded me of him scurrying about at night. I would lean over to the side of the bed where he sometimes slept and reach down to pet him. Even though he was not there physically, I could swear that I felt his energy. Our bedroom door actually creaked one time when I awoke to see if he was there, as if someone had walked out of the room.
He continues to appear in my mind as I walk along the street where his ghost haunts the alley-ways and trees that he marked in and around our San Francisco neighborhood. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought about our walks we shared. These are wonderful memories that I will always cherish, along with all the smile’s he brought to everyone’s face he met.
He was truly a beautiful dog whose personality was larger than life. I honor his spirit with a song I wrote for him when he was a pup, his cute doggie strut the inspiration behind the song. The lyrics in the chorus sum up Miles and our love of dogs best, “We all know that you’re our best friend, sunshine daydreams until the end”…
Listen to the “Hey Little Doggie” song here.
Our boy is getting old. 16 and three quarters in dog years and pushing 103 in human years. Other then a few squeaks, groans and limps, he’s still running for his bowl and shooting out the door for his morning walk like a pup in the woods. I hope I can scoot around like the ol’ fella when I’m his age!
I think it’s his ornery stubborn self that keeps him scampering along, barking at scooters, sniffing fire hydrants and tugging his chain, while I try to keep him focused at a well healed pace. Corgis are a bright breed and like most herders, they think they are in charge. It’s a constant battle on our walks, I want to grab a coffee to start my day and he wants to go sniff dogs and walls marked with gra”pee”ti.
If I didn’t give him a nudge on the chain, we would spend countless hours in one spot, lost in the memories of the past. I guess it’s because there’s a little, “dogzheimers” rollin’ in, along with his need to let the other dogs know that he is still the king on the block. And the king he is. I can’t remember a day that he isn’t stopped, admired and petted on our daily walks. You would think he was George Clooney strutting along Polk Street!
He is a regular on the block, where he is known and adored by all the locals. He even gets away with marking the tree in front of the upscale french restaurant, “La Folie”. Ah, the power of the Corgi mind. The master of the universe, the one and only who can hustle you out of your last meal and still make you feel good about it.
These little creatures who resemble little bears, with a wolves cunning appetite are fit to take over the world. Maybe that is why he has defied dog nature and is still going strong after 16 years. Or, maybe that is just my projecting on to him the wishes of a long life, knowing the inevitable is around the corner. He curls at our feet and feels the need to be close all the time lately. Very unlike him, for most of the time he would ignore us, unless there was a treat, food or walk involved. I guess that is his way of saying thanks for all the good years we’ve shared with him. That’s what I like to think, as he eyes the hamburger I am eating as I write this.
Good old Miles, forever the opportunist. And like raising a child, some days are good and others not so good. But, I know one thing for sure, in all his rascally fur-ball self, I’ll miss the lil’ dude when there is no one there to wrestle with me on the other end of the chain.
Here’s to another 103 Miles!
I stare into the eyes of my trusty dog pal, Miles. He is rolling on the floor, his tongue darting in and out of his mouth, panting after our early morning walk. He is forever the charming and debonair fellow, vying for the attention of the tourists visiting Fisherman’s Wharf and Aquatic Park in San Francisco on our morning strolls to the bay. He treats everyone as if he has known them forever, jumping up on them and licking them when they acknowledge his presence.
The amazing thing about Miles is that he is one hundred and five years old in human years, (fifteen in dog years) and is still in great spirits and in good health for a dog his age. He can scamper up and down the hills of SF with the best of them, including dogs half his age! I still can’t believe that he was able to out climb me to the top of the Larkin Street stairs this morning! If you know the hills of San Francisco, you know this is no small feat for a wee dog like Miles. I know that this youthful activity won’t last forever and that he is getting up there in age, so I wrote a dog song that I want to honor his life with.
I want to share with you the story of Miles, so that you can get a better understand of how the, “Hey Little Doggie” song came about. You see, Miles has been an inspiration to me since he was born. He came home in a little cardboard box, my wife and daughter checking in on his breathing while we were driving from his birthplace in Vallejo, California to our condo in Sausalito. He was so quiet and still, we weren’t sure if he was breathing! Little did we know that this quiet little zen like creature would soon take on the nickname, “Devil Dog”.
He spent his youthful days doing “Flying Yoshis” off the steps of our living room floor, full speed ahead, all legs splayed with his tongue hanging out of his mouth and a grin on his face. He would run back and forth, jumping to fetch whatever we tossed his way. He would tire himself out with this routine after a half hour or so, which of course led to his dropping down in the middle of the sidewalk on our evening walks and refusing to move. And, because he was a pup and I didn’t fully understand the intelligence of the Corgi breed, I was a suckered in with my soft heart and found myself having to carry him home on many of those stubborn occasions. As we walked home, his tongue hung out of the corner of his mouth and his head would curl over my arm, staring at the world upside down. With those corgi puppy eyes, small furry body and elf like demeanor, he sure knew how to work us! Or, as I like to say it, he had me wrapped around his Corgi kilt.
Corgis are herders and are used to keeping sheep in line all day. Which explains why he used to nip at our ankles when we would wrestle with him as a pup. But, on top of his need to herd us to establish his territory, I believe Miles and most Corgis secretly live the life of dancers ! When I watch him walk down the road he has a sway that is the full downtown Sweet Georgia Brown! With his smooth and cocky demeanor, he earned the name, Miles. He has an internal rhythm that is funky and I couldn’t help but grab my guitar and start playing along to cop the swagger of his smooth moves. The rhythm of the “Hey Little Doggie” song was effortless, all I had to do was watch his rear end bounce back and forth like the cats on the old chow-chow commercials and it came to me. Da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da-da-dadada-da, is what it looks like on paper, here is what it looks like on video:
As I watch him prance down the street on his walks about town, bouncing along, smiling at the world with his head held up high in the sky, he is connected to the earth, which makes us love them even more. As the rhythm poured out of me , the lyrics came along, inspired by the Miles shuffle and his carefree and confident personality.
Like most dogs, he’s happy to be outdoors, sniffing the wind, the bushes, trees, sidewalk, other dogs! They have this child like nature, that is innocent and playful and I think that this song captures that essence. To share this experience and to celebrate my love of our pet, I decided to record it professionally with the help of some very talented people.
My friend, Boston guitar player, Mike Woods, was playing in a band with the fantastic guitar player and rock singer, Noelle Leblanc. When I heard her voice on the radio here in San Francisco, I was blown away. I knew that she would be perfect for this song.
I sent Mike the song and he played it for Noelle who fell in love with it and was excited to sing the lead. With her commitment, all I needed now was to find some talented kids to sing on the song.
I turned to my wife, Anne O’Brien and our friend, Lori Christensen to help me put together a childrens chorus for this project. Lori’s son, Jean Christophe was attending the French academy in San Francisco and was also singing in the San Francisco Boys Chorus. With their help, we recruited three boys and two girls from the prestigious San Francisco Girls and Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys to sing the back up parts.
With the vocalists in place, I hired engineer, Gabriel Shepard to record the session at Hyde Street Recorders in San Francisco. This is one of my favorite studios in the city. Grammy awards line the walls and are a testimonial to the many great artists who have recorded there. The day of the session, the kids and their parents piled in and Anne and I taught them the song and their parts on the spot. Anne is an old school jazz vocalist in San Francisco and has a background in chorus, so she was great at helping create the harmony parts for the song. I strummed the guitar parts, teaching them the swinging rhythm and we nailed it in a couple of takes. I was quite surprised by their performance, for even though the song sounds simple, it has a very intricate guitar part and melody to interpret. The session was a blast! The musicians in the other studios in the building all commented on how great the song sounded when we finished up. I think they were eavesdropping on our session. It’s not everyday that you get a chance to hear a real live kids chorus recorded in the studio!
The boys reminded me a lot of Miles. They had the same type of adolescent mischievous personality and nervous energy that I was lucky to capture on video camera at the session. And of course, the girls were a piece of cake. Why is that always the case?!:
We wrapped up the recording with pizza and cokes with the promise that if the song was a major hit, there would be residuals that would go towards helping with their college educations. With the basic tracks done, it was now time to have it mixed with the beautiful vocal tracks Noelle sent us from her studio in Boston. To complete the project, I brought in my friend, Jimi Fisher who is a great musician, producer and engineer to do the mix. Jimi is a great at interpreting the vocals in a song, having worked with and produced some very gifted singers, including Curtis Mayfield and Mariah Cary. He captured the live performance feel of the song perfectly. The track swings like you are sitting there live in the studio with the musicians and his mix brought out the innocent nursery rhyme quality of the song. It turned out so well, we were all humming it all night and knew we had a hit on our hands.
When they say that dogs are our best friends, I think of my dog Miles as one of my most trusted companions and I honor his strong will, dedication and love with this tune. Thanks for listening and sharing with your friends and family.
On behalf of Miles, Scot, and the “Hey Little Doggie” team, click the following link to listen to the song! Hey Little Doggie
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San Francisco, CA 94105