...no, actually it was Friday March 12th. And this was the hardest day of my life short of losing a child and it seems to go on forever. Having grown up on a hobby farm and having had numerous pets that seemed to get lost or sold and butchering livestock...cattle, chickens, pigs on a recurring basis, I was totally unprepared for this. My best friend, Ascoe, got cancer and I couldn't defeat it. This is an effort at my catharsis but more importantly, Ascoe's eulogy.
...for those haven't an idea of who I am, I grew up in north Georgia in a reasonably stable family and ended up spending 21 years in Europe after joining the USAF to avoid going to jail. While I was there, I earned my B.S. and Master's degrees and went to plenty of amazing places and experienced many amazing things and experienced life like you would never know nor expect. But, those are other stories for other times, this is about my puppy Ascoe.
I was a retired USAF MSgt living in Germany and working in Luxembourg when I had the good fortune to finally buy a property with enough space to have a dog which, with young children, I considered a priority. Animals were a big part of my life growing up and I wanted them to have the same experience. So, I set off on my quest...looking for a giant schnauser! Who cared what my wife thought. My daughter was 10 and my son was 14, way too long without a dog inmy opinion.
After weeks of scowering the local paper and the internet ('98-'99), I'd given up hope on the giant schnauser and came across an ad for a BRIARD puppy. I'd never heard of the breed but I figured to check them out. As I came to find out, they have a very impressive and distinguished history that I'll not document here, just google briard. I gave Sabina and Ulli a call.
Now Ascoe was the last of 14 puppies in the litter that their bitch Jose had. They wanted to make sure she'd had a litter before they spayed her and Ascoe had remained with her for 14 weeks. In dog terms that is very good for the long term personality of the dog. I came to the gate where they would buzz me in and as I buzzed, I heard the most ferocious bark ever in my life come over the speaker. I asked if it was ok to enter and they told me it was fine. I then met Jose at the door and Ascoe up stairs. Life would never be the same.
Sabina and Ulli INTERVIEWED me to be Ascoe's new owner. And, as an American, I had one strike against me. Ascoe was sitting in the basket in the corner taking it all in. For those that haven't seen a briard, especially a briard puppy, he was about the size of 4 yorkies and colored pretty much the same, black and tan...but gangly. I spent about 3 hours with Sabina and Ulli and was the proud new father of a shivering puppy pissing in the box in the seat next to me as I drove home. Little did I know how he was gonna change our lives.
He was a remarkable person in his own right He learned to beg from the beginning, sitting upright on his hind legs with his front paws dangling...stupid look for such an impressive dog. You tell him "gibs hier" with a toy and he'd play keep away. On the otherhand, when you played fetch with him, tell him "mine" and he'd put the toy in your hand and bark at you to throw it again. Play tug-o-war with him and he'd try to take your arm out of the socket. And with the other 3 dogs we have, when he wanted to howl, they sang! And it was easy to inspire and we're missing all that. The others are just now beginning to act normal but they don't sing just yet.
In memory of Ascoe, just want to document some of the things that made him so remarkable:
As a puppy the first morning, he was banished to the garage basement, I got a message on my cell phone 30 minutes after leaving for work that he'd already been barking ALL morning. He just wanted to be with the family and 30 minutes at 7:45 am was not ALL morning.
He was a very picky eater and I got the brainstorm to lightly dust his food with parmesan cheese...never had a problem again.
As a pup, he had a fixation on balls, of any size...the bigger the better. I'll never forget the day he finally defeated a basketball and proudly presented it to me. He had finally punctured it and it was two times bigger than his head but boy was he proud and trotting to present it! We made good use of the ball for a while. Couldn't play basketball with it anymore but he loved the damn thing. Balls were always a big part of his life, the bigger the better.
If he was a picky eater he was even pickier where he went potty. We'd take him for long, long walks before he'd finally take a dump. We praised the hell out of him when he did and gave him treats. One rememberable morning, it had snowed and he went up the hill behind the house in the pasture...almost out of sight to do his job. He fininshed and with our praise and encouragement from the house door stoop, he came bounding down the hill through the snow. Too bad that he forgot there was a terace underneath the snow and he tumbled head over heals. Good thing he was made of rubber cause that would've hurt me. To the day he passed, I've never seen a dog so proud to take a shit!
Then there's the day that the farmer led his cattle by the house and Ascoe saw them. I've never seen a dog so excited in my life. It was like he'd seen his life purpose walk by. He went from one window on one side of the house to another on the other side just shivering up a storm in excitement. He knew he was supposed to be herding something! One day he got out while the cattle were in the field next to the house and he had em bottled up in a corner. One finally went over the fence and we had to promise our neighbor that it would never happen again. Ascoe herded us, the family but I failed him by not giving him the opportunity/pleasure of herding again.
Over the years, he barked at strange bushes, got attacked by crows and generally surprised us at every turn. Ascoe never dissappointed. After I brought him to Florida from Germany with me, we took him to the beach for the first time. Having never been confronted by water, much less waves lapping at his feet, he was Not going into the water. So Nikki and I went out into the water to play a bit. Ever vigilant, Ascoe stood at the edge of the water watching us. I was a few yards from Nicole when I went underwater to go after her legs. A pretty good swimmer, I was under water for a good while. When I surfaced, there was Ascoe already about halfway to where he saw me last. He'd never swam a stroke in his life before that. If you want to understand unconditional love, that's what it looks like.
One of the most memorable moment of which there are many, we had taught him the command "such" which in German means search. We would hide his toys and make him look for them. I was great sport for all of us and he enjoyed it everytime. On another occasion tho, Nicole had our Senegal parrot outside next to the pool when she was startled by a screeching hawk overhead and flew into the woods. It was our fault because we hadn't clipped her flight feathers but she was gone and she was small and green and somewhere in the forest. Nicole went and got Ascoe from the house and said "Such Chloe" without much hope anything would happen. Ascoe started ranging and sniffing and found the damn bird on the fence at the very back of our property. Who woulda known????
After Ascoe uderstood what voluntary swimming felt like, he often cooled himself in the pool in the summer...sitting on the second step. He would actually go to about the 3 ft depth and stand on his hind feet while he watched all that was going on, with his tongue hanging out and looking like a dufuss.
For all his courage though, Ascoe learned a bad habit from his mom during those 14 weeks with her. And I never could figure out how a herding dog could be scared of thunder but Ascoe was gun shy. How gun shy was he?? He thought the safest place was in the bathtub, any bathtub after I clawed him out of the top bunk of my stepsons' bunkbed. New Years n 4th of July were terrors for him.
Then last November, we took him to the vet for a growth on his gum. they took it out, cauterized it and sent it off for evaluation. It came back positive for cancer, a very aggressive cancer that had already invaded his nasal passages. He was 11.5 yrs old. With an awful prognosis and the only chemo availble two hours away and too expensive for us, we looked for alternatives. We came across raw diet strategies and supplements. Despite having been fed premium food all his life, he loved his chicken, beef and brown rice...along with a little pumpkin puree to keep him regular. You see, what I learned from my way too late research was that even the best dog foods on the market compromise our dogs' immune systems. Too much info way too late for Ascoe.
So in the last few months of his life, while we were dealing with digestive tract failures and his deforming snout, Ascoes biggest moments were his meal time and visits from my daughter Megan. They were like litter mates. Megan insisted that we ask the vet to make a house call for his last moments because the anxiety of the vet's office was too much for us to withstand, much less subject Ascoe to. Watching Megan cuddle him in his last moments was heartbreaking, it still is.
I failed my big guy in two ways, I never let him herd and I never got him laid. Ascoe was the only dog in my life that would actually talk to me...not just bark but a version of a long low growl as he stretched on his side that warmed your heart, he did speak to us. We miss him.
Thanks for reading.