A Little Bit About Boo
Early in the morning I put on Boo's "suitcase" harness, lift his old bones into his ATV, a bright red Radio Flyer wagon, and head to the Peninsula with our adopted grandson, two-year old Mujo. As I turn the corner of the lake, I run into Carole who I've been thinking about a lot because her dog, Sammy, passed away a few weeks ago and soon I'll be going through the same painful experience with Boo. Suddenly I see a skinny, wide-eyed young dog at her side; a lucky rescue taking his first ogle at Prospect park. I smile, greet the new puppy, Major, and Carole and I talk about how lucky Major is to get to come to Prospect Park, the perfect place imaginable for a rescued dog to heal and become socialized with dogs and humans.
When we enter the park, Tony, President of FIDO, is already here, picking up trash and his 12-year old service dog, Fannie, trots up to greet us sweetly (along with the little monster, Jupiter). Betty, another FIDO member and Editor of this Newsletter, is also here, picking up trash and her little dogs, Linus and Coal run up and greet us as well. Surrounded by old friends, Boo gets out of the wagon and totters around a bit, saying hello to 15-year old Baisley, 9-year-old Puff Daddy, 12-year old Jake, 9-year-old Molly and a few younger friends like George, Suki and Fuzz. Then he lays down for a while with Brandy, a 17-year-old Belgian Sheepdog; two ancient dogs quietly keeping company in the cool grass by the lake.
Boo isn't sick. A veterinarian couldn't greatly prolong his life. He's dying of old age. He's almost 16-years old and we've been together 15 of the best years of my life. When we met, Boo was about 6-months-old, the smallest pup in a tiny back yard, knee-deep in mud and feces and milling with 17 large, un-neutered, un-socialized mutts in a small town in PA. The neighbors were complaining and Animal Control had given the owner an ultimatum. The owner wasn't intentionally abusive; he just had a few loose screws and neglectful. He claimed to love his dogs and didn't want to give any away. First we tried adopting Boo's year-old uncle, but he was so un-socialized he wouldn't let us near him. Finally, Boo came over for a trial weekend and never left.
Before he could come into the house, Boo had to be bathed. Luckily it was summer and we had a fenced-in backyard, a hose and a ton of shampoo. It turned out he was white! He fell in love with our first dog, Bird, (a jet-black Belgian Sheepdog/Malamute) at first sight. At first sniff, he worshiped her. After a few days, she was smitten as well and they were inseparable for 12 1/2 years. At first, Boo didn't make a sound. I thought there was something wrong with his vocal chords and left it at that, but one day, after he'd been with us for about 3 months, he let out three, joyfully, loud, resonant barks. A vet told us he'd been too stressed to speak out until then.
For most of Bird and Boo's lives, we lived in Ithaca, NY, a place with miles of trails, waterfalls, parks, lakes and gorges. The dogs and I hiked for hours whenever we could. Boo made friends with all the local dogs and cats. He wasn't possessive about anything except Bird. He sat placidly as cats and blue jays ate his kibble, waiting his turn. He only had two fights in his life, and naturally, both were over his beloved Bird.
Boo didn't fight like an ordinary dog. He wasn't an ordinary dog. He never showed a single sign of aggression or intent to dominate but he never showed any fear either. Once a friend came to live with me and the dogs and cats along with her enormous un-neutered dog, Vito (a 100-lb. Burmese/Shepherd mix). Bird flirted with him shamelessly and Vito constantly tried to dominate Boo. Then, one night while I was walking with the three dogs through the fields, Boo found some wonderful skanky thing -- a putrefying deer head or something.
He was delighted, but within seconds, Vito snatched it away. Without a growl of warning, Boo leapt up (Vito was twice his size) and grabbed the loose skin at the back of Vito's neck. Vito snarled and struggled and twisted wildly but he couldn't reach Boo and he couldn't shake him off. Boo waited until Vito had completely stopped struggling, let him go, and it was over. He hadn't even broken the skin but he had earned Vito's enduring respect and friendship. Winter nights, laying by the wood stove, my friend and I watched in wonder as Vito gently teased burrs out of Boo's long white belly fur.
Boo is a wild animal; tamed but never domesticated. Old and weak but undefeated. He still has a mind of his own and an unshakable will and he is tireless when in comes to cuddling and petting. He's been called an old soul by many and a great being, and wherever we go, people of all ages and types smiles when they see him. Even today. Children call him the "polar bear" or the "lion" because of his long white coat, thick mane, huge feet and hazel eyes.
Even though Boo loves the wild and ran like the wind through tangled forests and fallen logs and swam in cool lakes when he was young, Prospect Park has been the perfect place for him to retire. Here, he is able to walk on grassy, well-tended meadows and rest his old bones floating serenely in the warm water of the dog beach. We can let our young one, Mujo, off-lead so he can play with unfettered enthusiasm with his friends, Opa and Kia, Chinta, Ninja, Remy, Belly, Patches, Shep, Layla, Colin, Kodiak, Kuro, Shayna and many others while Boo and I rest in the shade.
A year or two ago, when we first moved to Brooklyn, Boo still played, barking loudly for attention and impressing everyone with his wild howling, but these days, he's just content to sniff millions of fascinating places and doze in the sun surrounded by friends. Without Prospect Park, walking Boo and Mujo together would have been incredibly difficult since they move at such radically different speeds. My arms would be 20 ' long. We moved to the area because of the Park and we've been going there twice a day almost every day since.
Hundreds of people know Boo and stop to pat his fuzzy head or offer him special treats. Dozens of kind people are also helping Mujo get over his fear of humans and he's turned into a world-class moocher. By coming to the Park every day, he's learned about bicycles, roller blades, skate boards and horses, ducks, babies, fire engines, bees and millions of other things. Meanwhile, the elder Boo, has taught him circumspection, how to walk calmly through the constant maelstrom of city sounds and sights, and not to respond aggressively to dogs who challenge him as he walks down neighborhood streets. Thanks to the Park and Boo's example, Mujo will now be able to enjoy practically any environment and have a broader, fuller life. Thanks to Prospect Park, Boo is enjoying a wonderful retirement and, when it's time, a peaceful ending.
Boo and Mujo in Prospect Park Summer 2009
Strangely enough, I too have made dozens of friends. Usually a newcomer to the City is ignored as people rush to get from one place to another, but in the Park, dogs must meet every passing dog, and through their relentless gregariousness, they've taught dog people to be more social as well. If I was alone, few people would stop to talk to me (and if they did, I'd be wary of their motives) but walking with dogs I meet new people every day and have benefited greatly from their wisdom, kindness, tips about the neighborhood, tips about dog care and more.
Thanks to all those who have shown us so much kindness are care. And thanks to FIDO for being here when we need you.