Gabriel was so special, so wonderful, so charming and so beloved that I have no words to describe how amazing he was and no words to describe my sorrow at his death. Gabriel had to be experienced. The “extraordinary” that I saw in Gabriel may be commonplace for big hounds. I don’t know where it came from or why it was there, but it was definitely there. It had to do with his understanding and interaction with humans as equals and his ability to bend us with charm to satisfy his desires. And his charisma with dogs.
All my human friends are dog-obsessed people. We meet for lunch occasionally. At the end of an hour, non-dog people in the restaurant have quietly moved their chairs and tables away from us. We are a group apart. Our phones are low on memory because we have photos and videos of our dogs — not babies, friends, or family! Our forté is dog conversation and vivid descriptions of our wonderful dogs. But even after years of discussing dogs with a dog-obsessed group, my language fails to fully capture our Gabriel’s ineffable charm.
Here’s my best try.
Background. Gabriel was a mature dog when we met. One day, in my inbox: an email from a woman in Mississippi begging for help. Someone wanted to “get rid” of their dog. I forwarded the email to other people and groups who might be able to help. I forgot about it until a month later, when I got the same email. This time in a bigger font. “This woman wants to dump this dog.” I have the utmost contempt for such people! I spend no time pondering such requests. I speedily clicked “Forward” as if the monstrous contents were infectious.
But I made a fatal error with the third plea: I looked at the pictures of the dog. Specifically, I looked into his eyes and I saw the message clearly: “Why are you waiting?”
A few weeks and a thousand miles later, one of my dog-obsessed friends pulled into my driveway and I met a brown and white dog, slender in build. Pretty, but not amazing. He walked into our home and met the 13, or 10, or 8 (I can’t remember) or so, other dogs he’d be living with.
Gabriel’s history came to me bit by bit. He was reputed to be a “Treeing Walker Coonhound,” later revised to “Probably Foxhound.” It didn’t matter to me. Breeds were beside the point. I’d never met one of his ilk and I didn’t know what the words meant, but who cares? He was a dog. Whatever his breed, it was one not often seen here Santa Fe, where we live. While on walks, people would stop their cars. inquiring about his breed.
His early history was murky. He hadn’t had an easy time of it. He’d been found by a hunter, who also happened to be veterinarian, who came across him and a second dog, thought to be a sibling, lost in the woods. Possibly, dumped in the woods, although he was wearing an expensive tracking collar. Through the information on the collar, his owner was contacted. The owner said “Just throw rocks at him if he comes around. I don’t want him. He can’t hunt.”
The veterinarian took both dogs with him. Gabriel was taken into the veterinarian’s home and the second dog was boarded in the man’s clinic. (The other dog now lives in Colorado with a loving family.)
Enter a recently widowed woman who wanted a companion. She chose Gabriel. Off he went for two or three years. The woman worked 8 to 10 hours a day, then often went straight to church. Gabriel was alone for as much as 12 hours some days. He was kenneled when home alone. Eventually he let his view of things be known. When the woman returned home in the evening, and he was released from his kennel, he would run up the stairs to her bedroom and pee on her rug. I hope he ruined it.
Once more, Gabriel was looking for a new home. And that’s when he came to us.
At home with us. At first, he took to my husband, but merely tolerated me. Unprecedented! But Gabriel was unprecedented.
In the beginning, Gabriel sat with my husband as often as possible. seemingly to avoid me. He even growled at me and bared his teeth when I removed a bit of cardboard he was pulverizing. Another unprecedented event. Women were clearly not high on his list.
He got into a battle with our irascible male who is also highly reactive. Gabriel’s foot got broken. But Gabriel wore his protective Elizabethan collar with aplomb (wearing the E collar should not be taken for granted. We have one dog who throws himself against the wall until either he breaks all his bones or the collar breaks. All kinds of collars.) Never complained about the weekly vet visits for new x-rays and bandages.
On early car rides our new hound emitted a low, fearful whining sound. He needed dental work. His teeth were chewed down and told the tragic story of a very smart, active dog, kenneled day after day and hour after hour. He had worn his teeth down chewing on the metal of his kennel. One tooth could not be saved. He had a yeast infection in his ear and blood work showed him to be low on thyroid. We had a spray to try to save his teeth, ointment for his ear, and pills for his thyroid. His age was uncertain. His advocate in Mississippi thought he might be 7 years; our vet thought he might be 10.
Gabriel was highly civilized. Always a polite, gentlemanly dog, he believed the better path to his goals was a clear request. If my husband gave him a treat once, he’d ask for another at that exact time the next day. He learned from the first experience--it didn’t even take twice. He was mannerly about it, but he never accepted defeat — we would continue to provide chew things at the immutably appointed hour. Extras outside the normal schedule were fine too. He loved to chew.
We never trained Gabriel in any way. He came housebroken and always came instantly when called. But he persistently wanted what he wanted and never gave up. My husband, only peripherally aware of the rest of the pack, would exclaim, “He is one stubborn dog!”.
Gabriel was a very self-assured and confident canine. I think the self-assurance and confidence translated as stubbornness. He learned all the schedules and that was all he needed to know to train us to fulfill his wishes. He could also move the other dogs to his will. When the Kuranda bed (a raised pet bed, sort of like a non-bouncy trampoline, see pic below) was crowded with bodies, he would stand in the front and use his Jedi mind powers to tell the interlopers that their time was up. It worked.
Thankfully, a stranger stopped and opened her car door, and Mr. Sociability hopped in. She drove him back to the vet’s front door. There had been no warning. It never happened again, but we also took extra precautions to keep him in hand. Collar, harness, a firm hand and hyper-awareness.
Gabriel made a wonderful but subtle transition. He worked out whatever kinks he had on his own.
All our dogs have learned our feeding routine immediately and he was no exception, although for the first two weeks or so he only picked at his food. Our pack eats in their individual kennels (inside — all our dogs live in the house). He knew his feeding kennel. He’d go to his kennel immediately and sit and wait for his food.
Because of the incident early on, which broke his foot, we decided to keep Gabriel and the other male apart. The dogs always sleep inside and no one stays out for more than 2 hours at a time. Those two dogs were never out simultaneously. He learned that timetable by himself. Down to the minute. At the end of his “out” time, he’d walk to his kennel and get comfy with his blankets, all without any reminder or argument. When it’s snowing, no one goes out to play; when it stops no one goes out for more than 20 minutes unless they are wearing booties. He figured it out.
Gabriel seemed to have a strong desire to earn our trust. Once he was living with us, his life was under his control. Within the the larger schedule of the pack and within the larger protocols of our daily lives, he was the captain of his ship. He did not counter surf (some of our others still do); he did not steal food from my hands (some do). Our dogs aren’t allowed to eat the pillows or the tin foil. They don’t eat my shoes or the elastic laces. They don’t always get to go in the car. We never leave the dogs alone. Never. One of us is always here. My husband missed our son’s wedding on that account. I believe this policy probably aided Gabriel’s adjustment. It was a policy we had adopted a few years before, but it works well for all the dogs.
Fears and phobias. Gabriel did come with some baggage. He was terrified of thunderstorms and other loud noises. While sitting in the waiting room at the vet’s, we heard a terrific crash. Sounded like someone had dropped a pallet loaded with 20 big bags of dog food. It scared me, but it terrified Gabriel. I had him on a lead. When he jerked in shock and surprise, he nearly pulled me off the chair.
We have magnificent summer storms here, with sheet lightning and booming that rattles the dishes on the shelves. We live within hearing distance of a national cemetery. A gun salute sent him running to his kennel.
Those fears taught me to understand “gun shy” in very physical way, transmitted through the lead. At home, as long as he could get into his kennel, he felt safe. Sometimes, if I had enough warning, I’d give him Zylkene, a milk peptide that is naturally produced by the brain to effect tranquility. The French put it into a pill and it’s effective but I don’t always have it around.
Gabriel seemed afraid of the dark, so we left hall and bathroom lights on for him at night. I learned not to pick up a broom, shovel or rake in front of him but silently wept inside that this wonderful dog had learned to be afraid of these simple things. I learned to announce my intention to turn on the water hose, giving him time to get to higher ground.
He charmed my vet. “Look at him,” she would say. “He understands everything we are saying”. Eventually, he came to me with the same faith he had exhibited in my husband. He came to me of his own volition. He would stand up, placing his front paws on a chair, mattress, low table, and I was to rub his chest and kiss him on the top of his head. Car rides were now fun. No more whining. He lacked only a full time playmate.
Our social butterfly. He blossomed into wonderfully sociable dog. After he got over his fear of women and began to actually hang around with me, he was great with everyone. He loved it when one of the dog-people came to visit. (Non-dog people do not visit.)
My vague and totally unaware husband became a huge fan. “Hi Gabriel” oozed out of him like honey on a spoon.
Gabriel was great with other dogs, too. At first, our menagerie lacked a good playmate for him, but that soon chang. We got yet another dog (even though we are no longer taking dogs in … ) who became the perfect and steadfast playmate for Gabriel. On a few mornings, we’d find both of them sleeping in Gabriel’s kennel. That never happened with any of our other dogs. This newcomer was young and as a bonus, hyperactive, and now Gabriel was in hog heaven. He held his head high as he jogged, danced, pirouetted and waltzed through the backyard. He smiled. He was grace personified. He had élan and a good buddy besides! His mission was found: play and more play.
My husband, always a good sport about the dogs and the innumeracy that overtakes my brain when it comes to dogs, makes the occasional sarcastic crack. It was true: we had more dogs at any given time than most people would have in their entire lifetimes. No one ever left. “Until death do us part” is definitely my motto.
So one day, when my husband tracked me down in the house to say to me, “Have we gotten another dog?” I thought he was being a smart aleck and I snapped back, “Look, just go get Gabriel and Flynn in the backyard. It’s time for them to come in.”
He said, “I’m not kidding. There is another dog out there. Go look.”
I did. There was another dog out there. one I had never seen before. He was quite friendly, did not object when I held his collar up to the light to read his ID, but clearly intended to follow Gabriel and Flynn into the house. My other dogs were more territorial and would not tolerate a strange dog walking into the house without lengthy and time-consuming introductions. As far as that goes, none of them would have accepted a strange dog hopping the fence. But Gabriel enjoyed it.
It turned out that this stranger dog’s owner had left his pet with his parents down the street while on a trip. The owner had just returned to Albuquerque from wherever he’d been and was, at that very moment, on his way to his parents’ house in Santa Fe to retrieve his buddy. In anticipation of their son’s arrival and the dog’s departure, the pet sitting grandparents had removed a taller safety fence from their yard that they’d put up for the duration of the dog’s stay.
But “stay” he did not. Unbeknownst to us, Grandpa had been regularly walking our visitor in the arroyo behind our house. He caught a whiff of Gabriel and our other dogs through the fence, and that’s where he apparently wanted to be. Gabriel was the bee's’ knees!
We figured out later that this was not the first time this visitor had hopped our 6’ fence. It explained certain late night knockings on our front gate. People were coming around looking for their “missing” dogs!
I called Grandpa and explained that we had his charge in our yard. He immediately set out to collect him. My husband put a lead on our now-recalcitrant guest who clearly had no intention of leaving the party. He had found the greatest fun on the block and he wasn’t about to give it up. My husband alternately pulled and coaxed and eventually the visitor was back in the hands of his babysitter.
But not for long.
A half hour later, I heard a dog barking. I don’t know how it happens but we’ve learn to identify our dogs’ barks. Not only which dog it’s coming from, but whether it’s distress or joy, let-me-in or something else. This was an unknown something else and it wasn’t coming from any of my dogs, all of whom were in the house.
It was October and it was getting dark early and had begun snowing. I went outside. The barking was insistent. I found our former guest on the north side of the house, barking to beat the band, at an empty yard. Gabriel was now inside. I called Grandpa again and once again a broken hearted dog was led away.
In retrospect, we realized we must have had several interlopers stopping by to play with Gabriel. Gabriel never hopped the fence, although he could have done so easily. Why bother? Everyone was coming to him. The True Story of Gabriel is the story of dogs coming from blocks away (our neighborhood has few dogs) to hop the fence and play with him.
Those party dogs knew what I can’t express. Gabriel was the essence of joy, joy in its most undiluted and perfect form! Gabriel was everything life should be. He was fulfilled, confident and happy. He was pure bliss. He knew his mission in life: to have fun. That was his path. He went to bed every night with a smile on his sweet face, secure in himself and in the knowledge that we loved him immensely.
The opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Coonhound and Foxhound Companions.