Many dogs are bred for a purpose, whether it’s to perform a job such as herding or guard duty or to sniff out and retrieve game. And even if dogs don’t actually perform the tasks they were originally bred to do, many have the instinct for it. Our labs, Kate and Eddie, were that way: they absolutely loved to retrieve, whether it was ducks in the marsh or sticks in the woods or tennis balls in the back yard. They were wonderful pets, but just under their surface lie the need to fetch things—to perform a specific task—and they weren’t fully content unless they had performed this job each day. Happy, wasn’t that way. She didn’t swim, fetch or do much of anything productive, really. Sure, she liked to chase squirrels and cats (though on at least one occasion the cat chased her). But she didn’t wake up each day with a job that she was bred to do.
Shortly after we adopted her (a little over 8 years ago) I wrote about her backstory HERE. At the time she was still new to us, and we to her. Given all that she had been through it took a few weeks before she truly came out of her shell, and when she did there was no looking back. She started each day with a frantic tail-wagging session, greeting us as if she hadn’t seen us in days, despite having slept in the same room with us all night long. She would race down the stairs to the laundry room where she took her meals. After breakfast she would do her business outside in the yard and after that she was content to take a morning nap until something exciting happened. Some days, depending on the weather, nothing happened. But often that excitement consisted of a walk around the neighborhood, or to accompany me out to the mountain bike trails where we hiked in and did trail work. On days that she was really living the dream she’d ride in my truck and go to the local hardware store in Duvall where, within a short time, the folks came to know Happy by name. And she knew exactly what fun awaited when I asked, “Wanna go to the Treat Store?” (where treats were always dispensed at the checkout counter). Happy also loved walking up and down the isles of the store. As I looked for things I needed, she looked for and cleaned up pieces of dropped popcorn (they used to have a popcorn machine doling out free bags of salty goodness, prior to Covid). Suffice it to say, it was her favorite place to go.
She was a Boxer-Lab mix, at least according to her adoption listing. When we picked her up from the rescue I didn’t see any Labrador Retriever. Maybe a little Boxer, at least due to general body shape and muscularity. I was pretty sure I knew what I saw, but I wanted confirmation so I submitted a DNA test early on. The Wisdom Panel results confirmed my hunch: she was a pit bull, through and through. Her genetic makeup consisted of American Staffordshire Terrier + Mixed Breed on one parent’s side, and on her other side was Staffordshire Bull Terrier + Mixed Breed. The “Mixed Breed” portions were so diluted by more than 3 generations that they could not, with any type of certainty, indicate what those breeds might be. She was officially declared to be an “American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier Mix”. We knew that the “Boxer-Lab mix” was used in her adoption listing to avoid the negative (and all-too-often incorrect) connotation associated with pit bull breeds. Mrs. UA admits that she never would have agreed to adopting a pit bull, but the little Boxer-Lab was deemed a safe chance. And so we now had ourselves a pit bull.
Having spent her first year and a half in the desert near Bakersfield, hot and dry was also in her DNA, and sunny days were her favorite. I don’t think she ever really accepted that life in the Pacific Northwest was anything but hot and dry, except for a few short weeks each summer. Her decorative fur offered zero insulating qualities and it wasn’t long before she had her own rain coat and sweater, thanks to the insistence of Mrs. UA.
She always loved the sun, the hotter the better. When it wasn’t warm enough to be outside, she sought the sun as it shone in the windows of her house. She knew exactly where the sun would be at certain times of the day, and it was only at those times that she wasn’t right by my side. We lovingly called her a “cat-dog” for her fondness of basking in the sun.
When she was outside Happy preferred to lay on the concrete or hot gravel as opposed to the cool, soft grass. She craved the heat absorbed by the hard surfaces, but I think she also just embraced discomfort as a natural part of her life since she had suffered quite a lot in her first year and a half.
But she wasn’t all about hard surface suffering, mind you. She really embraced the couch potato life and in fact had her own couch in the man cave (she wasn’t allowed on furniture elsewhere). It doesn’t take much of a stretch to realize which room was her favorite. She was a world-class cuddler. And she snored.
While she was a low energy dog, Happy also loved to go on hikes with her Mama (Mrs UA) and me, and on our monthly hikes with our gang of friends. She joined us on countless trails in all types of weather. Drenching rain wasn’t her favorite (nor mine), but as long as she was with us she was happy. Her lean, muscular body was very efficient when it came to hiking and she could, when she was in her prime, cover the miles with little effort, and little water. We always joked that she was a camel because of her ability to go without much water, despite our efforts to get her to drink. Her kidneys never failed her, however, and if she was thirsty she would take a sip. But she never hovered over her water dish until it was gone, like our previous dogs.
What Happy loved most was her people, and her bond with our family was strong. When we adopted her both of our adult children were living at home, though temporarily, and because of that Happy grew very attached to them. After her kids both moved out on their own, she greeted them with boundless love each time she saw them. She loved nothing more than when her people were all together.
She knew no strangers and happily greeted everyone she met. And while she would sometimes tolerate another well-behaved dog, Happy preferred to be the only dog in the world. We would learn that the various scars she carried were also emotional; her lifelong aversion to dogs was a result of fear. While we wished that she could enjoy the company of canines, that was never really meant to be. She didn’t seek trouble with other dogs inasmuch as she just wanted to be without their presence. So we just kept her out of situations where she might fail. She could more or less peacefully share her space with certain dogs with whom she was familiar—mainly my daughter’s chocolate lab, Murphy—but she was never fully relaxed around other dogs. Poor Murphy constantly tried to gain the approval of his “Auntie Bitchface” but never fully succeeded. It wasn’t his fault.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Happy revealed itself when our grandson, Squirrelly Coop, was born in October 2021. We were told that in her previous life she had lived with small children, but during her time with us Happy was never really around kids of any age. About a week after he was born, Coop came to our house to visit for the first time. Happy was immediately queued in to him and she would position herself as near to him as she could. It was really quite something to behold. On one visit in particular, Coop went down for a nap. A short while later I noticed that Happy was nowhere to be found, which was odd because she was always wherever her people were. I went upstairs to Coop’s room and found Happy sitting next to his crib. She appeared to be on guard duty, watching over her newborn as he slept. Happy’s attachment to Coop would continue as he grew into a toddler. She wanted to be near him at all times and would slip in a kiss if she could get away with it. She also quickly learned that sitting by his high chair resulted in a smattering of food offerings from above. While we were careful with her whenever Coop was around, Happy was always very gentle. It was as if she didn’t trust her people to take proper care of the boy, so she stepped in to do so. She excelled in her new role as a “nanny dog”.
We never knew Happy as a puppy because she was almost two when she came to us. Fortunately her original rescuer sent me photos. She was as adorable as any puppy could have been, with eyes that were kind and gentle from the very beginning. Those eyes always gave off a hint of sorrow, as though she was a bit sad. She would be forever submissive, and over time she knew how to melt your heart using those eyes. It was never any fun to correct or discipline her, and frankly there was seldom any need for that. Yes, she could have a stubborn streak, but she was obedient and forever aimed to please. If she was spoken to in a stern manner Happy would just crumble apologetically. It was as though she was constantly showing us immense gratitude for giving her such a good life after such a rough start.
We didn’t know exactly how old she was but based on what we were told she was likely born in May of 2013. And so May 16 became Happy’s birthday. There was never a reason to doubt the timeline of her life before she came to us but Happy always seemed older than her years. That may haven been due to her calm, gentle nature and low energy level. I think she was simply an old soul.
Happy always had a bit of white on her muzzle, but she began adding to that in 2019. Her ever-whitening eyebrows simply gave her a regal elegance with each passing year. It’s hard to say when she began slowing down because she was never an energetic dog to begin with. However in 2021 she ruptured the ACL in her right leg, and while TPLO surgery to repair that was successful, it took some of the skip out of her step. X-rays taken at the time also revealed that Happy had badly arthritic hips and she was prescribed anti-inflammatory meds for the remainder of her life. She never complained, and though she was enthusiastic to go for walks she was no longer up for long walks. Hiking was out of the question. Her days from that point forward would mostly consist of sun-seeking, exploring the perimeters of our property in search of long, sweet grass to eat, and basically being with me at all times. She loved the life of a free-range dog and would hang out in the driveway as I worked in the yard. She never wandered, because that would mean I was out of sight. She eagerly greeted the parcel delivery drivers because they brought her treats. Her favorite time of the day was when she heard the garage door open around 5:45pm on week nights. I would announce, “Mama’s home!” and Happy would sprint down the hall and greet Mrs. UA as she returned from work. Happy was more than content with her life. She was happy.
During late Winter 2023 I took Happy to the vet to have a lump examined on her right thigh. Lab results were not good: Soft tissue sarcoma. Cancer. We wouldn’t know the severity of it until surgery could be performed to remove the tumor and have it sent to a lab to be graded. We knew that surgery would not likely be able to remove all of the tumor, and it would grow back. But we wanted to find out how much time we had with her so surgery was scheduled for April 7, Good Friday. And so we waited. A couple of weeks prior to her surgery date, Happy hopped out of the back seat of my truck—as she had done hundreds of times before—and immediately began favoring her left rear leg. This was not the leg that had suffered the previous ACL rupture, nor the one with the tumor. It was her “good” leg this time. I thought she might have sprained her ankle of perhaps bruised a nail bed, so we waited a few days, anticipating improvement. It never got better. In fact it grew worse to the point where she could bear no weight on it. At times I had to help her get up from her bed and had to carry her up stairs (we live in a house of stairs). She wasn’t excited for “chow time” as she always had been. Clearly she was in pain, so back to the vet we went. This time we learned that she had ruptured her other ACL. She was administered pain meds to help keep her comfortable. The medication made her drowsy and she spent most of her days sleeping. When the meds wore off you could see it in her eyes.
Surgery to repair her ACL was not an option this time–not after what she went through the first time. And with her inability to bear any weight on that leg, we couldn’t fathom the idea of having surgery on the other leg to remove the tumor. We decided that were no good options. On March 27, 2023, on a rare day that the sun made an appearance, we said goodbye to our sweet girl.
Looking back, I now realize that Happy did have a job: her job was to make us happy. It was a responsibility that she took very seriously, and did very well, every day of her life.
R.I.P. Happy girl.