September 4, 2009 to July 8, 2015
By Katharine Blossom Lowrie
Valedictorian of her class
Fergie, a pure-bred English Labrador Retriever with big, brown, sad eyes and the temperament of your friendly neighborhood Walmart greeter, succumbed to a degenerative condition, probable lumbosacral disease, on Wednesday, July 8th—her best buddy Jake at her side. She was just 5 years old.
The color of golden wheat, whip-smart, the Valedictorian of her class at Petco, Fergie never met anyone she didn’t like. Her whole family was there at the end, Jordan, Jennifer and G.B., the ones who—along with her beloved Jake—helped her endure three trips in three days to the emergency hospital, all praying that her unendurable pain would cease, that her back legs would spring back to life, allow her to jump up, run out and play ball.
Not even morphine would do it. It was only at the very end, soothed in her last hours by Jake, that she finally closed her eyes and rested in peace.
No ordinary dog
Where do you start with a member of the family like Fergie? A dream from the moment she waddled in the door at six weeks, she never chewed up shoes, destroyed furniture or snapped at people. The main time she barked was when someone knocked at the front door. She became a very loud, very menacing (if you were outside) watchdog on those occasions. While annoying at times, especially when we were expecting guests, we much preferred her to bark and warn away burglars and such.
The cats, Sox and Callie, took notice whenever she did bark, especially if Fergie was chasing an evil possum walking on the back fence. The cats knew she was their protector.
Oh, yes. As a youngster, she did go ballistic when G.B. brought a bouquet of helium balloons into the house for Jordan’s birthday. Fergie stood quaking in the entry, barking for hours at the balloons revolving on ribbons near the fireplace.
She went equally berserk when one of our young neighbors, dressed as an alien for Halloween, burst out his front door. Even when the little alien removed his mask, Fergie played the part of our protector, barking away at the kid he knew so well—but only when dressed as a human child.
Fergie had an inner time clock. At precisely 4 in the afternoon, she would sit atop the stairs, in the entry way, and wait patiently for someone take her outside to play ball. Looking back, it may have been a mistake to let her run back and forth on the cement driveway, but she adored retrieving balls and would have chased them all day, if anyone would let her.
Playing ball with Fergie, or taking her for a walk, was an assigned chore for the kids, as was picking up the poop. Sometimes they pled “homework” or “football practice.” Other times they did it for each other. Mostly they were happy to spend time with the happiest dog on the planet.
We all took our turns playing with Fergie, Jennifer often after sundown when the kids were away; GB did it when everyone was gone. Sometimes we took her to the dog park or beach, where she had plenty of room to fetch and play with her canine companions.
Once, when Jen and G.B. were walking Fergie down the long, steep path to the dog beach, three nuns, in full habit, were walking up. Fergie, alarmed by the habits, started barking.
As we passed by, G.B. said to the nuns, “So sorry, she isn’t a Catholic.”
Our neighbor’s boys, Calder and Sawyer Osborne, also played ball with Fergie. They even allowed her to sit and watch while they skateboarded in the driveway.
A special language
Jake and Fergie enjoyed a special language. Jake could command her with a hand signal or a soft word, and she would obey at once. He never, not ever, used a harsh tone of voice or word with her—unlike some of us.
But he loved to torture her by making her sit and wait to run after the ball until he gave the order, “GO!” Sometimes, while Fergie was racing to fetch, Jake would hide in the garage, waiting for her to find him. When she did, she would stand stock still, tail wagging furiously, eyes bright with triumph, the ball clamped firmly in her mouth.
Jordan often played the same hide-and-seek game. If only we’d had the time, we could have trained Fergie to do anything. Maybe not go in the sprinklers. “She would jump in the river at Mike’s (Jen’s boyfriend’s vacation house) or in a swimming pool,” Jordan said. “But you couldn’t get her to go in the sprinklers. She was too scared.”
Fergie did have a cowardly streak. Especially when it came to Sox, the black-and-white, male, Costa Rican cat that rules the roost in Redondo Beach. Although Fergie, Sox and Callie all used to sleep together on the pillow when the cats were young, if Sox wanted Fergie’s pillow these days, Sox got Fergie’s pillow. No contest. Fergie would either relinquish it when Sox wanted to lie down, or rest elsewhere if it was otherwise occupied.
A favorite game of Jordan’s was to orchestrate a chase between Fergie and Jake that had them running around the huge sectional in the living room. Jordan would sit atop the corner of the couch and order Jake to run one way. When Fergie was about to catch up, she’d say: “GO THE OTHER WAY!” Jake and Fergie would continue at top speed and in endless revolutions around the sectional.
At night, Fergie liked to snuggle up to whoever was sitting on the couch. She would lay her head on Jake’s lap, or trade back and forth between Jen on one end and G.B. on the other. The dog often stood watch over Jordan as she studied upstairs in her bedroom or watched endless Netflix reruns of Grey’s Anatomy on her laptop.
The weekend of July 11th, during a trip Jake, Jennifer and GB made to attend a Cal Poly orientation in San Luis Obispo (SLO), the place where Jake will attend college in the fall, Jake talked about what he will miss most about Fergie.
Jake would tell his troubles to Fergie
“At night, I used to take her up in my room to sleep on her pillow,” Jake said as he sat at dinner at the Creekside Brewery in downtown SLO. (We were all pretty teary at this point.) “If I had a problem, maybe some argument with Haley (his girlfriend), I would tell Fergie about it.” Voicing his troubles to Fergie helped Jake figure things out, he said.
Consequently, he plans to take some of her ashes to college with him, hike up Bishop’s Peak (which overlooks the school), and distribute her at the top of the mountain. That way, he can look up at the peak from campus, or anywhere in SLO, for that matter, and talk to Fergie whenever he wants.
Jennifer plans to take some of Fergie’s ashes up to the Colorado River in Hidden Valley, one of the dog’s favorite spots on earth.
Jen’s boyfriend Mike has a vacation home on the California side of the river, and Jen often took Fergie up there for long weekends, even for a week at a time. The dog loved everything about the place, from jumping in the river, to playing with the other dogs, to riding on Mike’s boat.
“We never had to tie her up or walk her with a leash,” Jennifer said. “If we were in the house or visiting a neighbor, she never left the front porch unless kids were nearby. If so, she would go play for a while, then come back and flop down on the porch.”
Fergie even rode the Polaris, Mike’s off-road vehicle, to the sand dunes. “She had her own life jacket and floated down the river with us, even rode on the Jet Ski a few times.”
Jordan wants to sprinkle Fergie’s ashes in a tiny garden next to the driveway where the dog loved to chase balls. Like all of us, Jordan still sees Fergie everywhere in the house, hears her license tinkling on her collar as she walks downstairs, and sees her sitting on the back deck at the screen door, waiting for someone to let her in.
Rather she used to wait at the screen—until she learned how to open it herself by shoving it aside with her nose.
Good medical care
Throughout Fergie’s short life, she received excellent care at the Family Pet Clinic of Redondo Beach. Prone to ear infections (we suspect from the river), she was always treated with sensitivity and concern by Dr. Christine Pott, who extended her heartfelt sorrow at hearing of Fergie’s passing in a note signed by the entire staff.
At the very end, it was the VCA Advanced Veterinary Care Center that came to our aid—and Fergie’s. Especially Dr. Heather Elliott, Dr. Erin Evans and Dr. Jasmine Matloub. It was Dr. Matloub who administered the final shots, the entire process done with great dignity and compassion.
In the hectic three days leading up to it all, we had help from our neighbors, Andrew and Caroline Osborne; Kathleen Davidson, and especially Larry Sherman. Larry had already recommended a wonderful masseuse at Tailwagger’s Massage in Redondo Beach, Earlene Winn, a woman we unfortunately never got the opportunity to meet.
Although Fergie showed many signs of slowing down over the preceding weeks, the Sunday she
collapsed outside our front door was a shock. She was whimpering with pain and couldn’t walk. It seemed to have happened overnight. Rather than wait for the Redondo Beach vet to open the next day, Larry Sherman insisted we drive her to Advanced Veterinary Care Center (AVCC), a 24-hour-emergency veterinary hospital in Lawndale.
Once there, she was examined and treated with morphine and other medications. The doctor wanted to keep her overnight, but we decided she would be much happier at home. It was the first time we heard the term: lumbosacral disease. The vet also recommended acupuncture.
The next day, Larry Sherman came over and helped us when the acupuncturist, Dr. Joann Boyer, also of AVCC, applied her craft at the house. Fergie tolerated the needles with barely a whimper. Although Dr. Boyer sounded optimistic for Fergie’s recovery, she conceded that Fergie’s life “would never be the same again.”
She would never play ball in the driveway or dog park, run with other dogs at the river, or even walk decently, if at all. Her back legs were useless, the probable lumbosacral disease most likely having impaired her spine and crippled her, perhaps for good. There were even signs it might have been cancer.
Although the acupuncture treatment did little that we could see for her pain, it was still way too early to count it out. Fergie continued to cry.
“…her pain was too great”
Jennifer was already inclined to put her out of her obvious misery by that evening, but Jake, Jordan and G.B. wanted to wait. The next day, driving to find some sort of grass mat that could substitute for grass on the back deck (Fergie couldn’t walk down stairs or out front without a harness to hold her rear end upright), G.B. began to change her mind. Jen was right. The animal was in too much pain. Our neighbor, Cathleen Davidson, was in tears when she saw her; went out and bought Fergie some diapers.
That night, Jennifer, Jake and Jo took her back to Advanced Veterinary Care, in hopes the doctors could medicate her, perhaps see her through the horrific discomfort. Jordan, sobbing her eyes out, was already saying goodbye.
The next morning, a doctor, Erin Evans, called Jennifer at work and reported the worst. “Do you hear her?” the vet asked Jen. Fergie was howling in pain the background.
As Dr. Evans was to write in a later note of condolence, “…her pain was too great, despite additional pain medications.”
A total wreck at this point, Jennifer called to tell us that even the doctors couldn’t ease Fergie’s anguish, we all knew it was over. Even Jake knew it was over.
He told us that night in San Luis Obispo. “I realized we had to let her go.”
At the end, when the family assembled at Advanced Veterinary Care Center, Jake had been there for a couple of hours, lying alongside his dog on a blanket on the floor of the treatment area, talking to her, caressing her. When the rest of us arrived, Fergie looked up expectantly, hope glowing in her beautiful brown eyes. Was she going home?
Only Jordan was absent. She couldn’t endure watching her dog die.
When a vet asked us to leave Fergie and go to a private room where the medications would be administered, Fergie started to cry again. Jennifer asked if Jake could stay with his dog while she was being transferred.
He was allowed to do so, but Fergie was still whimpering, desolate to see any of us leave.
She was brought to the private room on a gurney, Jake walking beside her. We had about an hour or so alone with her, to talk and try to console her. By the time Dr. Matloub arrived to administer the sedative and heart-stopping medication, everyone was crying openly.
Jake’s eyes red from weeping, his cheeks streaming with tears, he watched as the doctor gave her the first shot. Fergie dropped her head on her paw and fell asleep almost instantly. She never even felt the heart-stopping hypo.
When it was over, Jake asked all of us to leave. “I want to spend some time alone with her,” he said.
That night, celebrating the birthday of one of his best friends, Mac, Jake—still devastated by the day’s events—went outside to be alone. As he stood there weeping, Mac and Jake’s other friends, Tate and Stone, joined him, all of them in tears, paying their last respects to a dog they all loved.