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Chasing the sun: Photos from the road with Zooey-Roo

1 Nov

Nov. 1, 2015 — As I sit here typing, Zooey is in the yard barking at squirrels. Some things never change.

We’ve actually had a couple good days. Yesterday and today she ate all her regular food plus a couple scrambled eggs. She took her pills (cheese!). And went for two walks in the woods and actually ran around a bit. The end may be soon, but it’s not quite here yet.

Times like these often lead to reflections of days gone by. Those fleeting moments lodged in the crevasses of our memory. We’ve been fortunate to share many memorable experiences with Zooey over the years, and she’s gone on quite the adventures!

I read recently that the average American adult has visited 20 states. Zooey traveled to 13. Not bad for a dog.

Veronika and I were going through photos of some of those travels — both near and far — from the past few years last night, so I wanted to share a few of our favorites here.

On the Road(trip)

Photo: Zooey’s “cockpit” on a spur-of-the-moment road trip to the hill country of Northeast Iowa.

Photo: The night we “tried to go camping”. You can read the rest of that story here.

Photo: One of many trips to Northern Minnesota.

Photo: On the shores of Lake Superior. I remember the wind was howling on this occasion.

Photo: Devils Tower, Wyoming. This was a massive road trip — five adults, two kids and one dog in a motor-home for 10 days! By the end, Zooey had chewed threw her mesh travel crate. I think we were all going a bit stir crazy, but what an amazing experience.

Photo: Zooey and Todd hanging out on the shore of Lake Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park. Aforementioned motor-home in the distance.

Photo: Zooey and Veronika on the shore of Lake Yellowstone at sunset.

Photo: Lamar Valley, Yellowstone. I think Zooey caught the scent of wolves. Or maybe bison. OK, it was probably just prairie dogs since they sound like squeaky toys!

Photo: Sunset on the North Dakota prairie.

Photo: On this road trip we spent two weeks driving across the desert Southwest. Here Zooey poses in the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Photo: A gorgeous day for hiking outside Moab, Utah.

Photo: Dogs standing on National Park signs probably isn’t legal, but hey, the photo turned out great!

Photo: Taking a break in St. George, Utah.

Photo: Scanning the horizon on a hike in St. George, Utah. Overall this trip covered 4,000+ miles. The biggest challenge? Getting Zooey to pee in the sand and dirt — not a lot of grass in that part of the country. 🙂

Photo: Hiking in the foothills high above Salt Lake City, Utah. Zooey was such a great travel dog! She loved going new places and exploring countless wilderness trails.

Closer to Home

Not all of our outings were epic road trips. A lot of our adventures were a little closer to home.

Photo: Zooey loved to run! Most of the time this meant heading out with Veronika, but on a couple occasions she and Todd competed in 5-Ks. And she was such a good “runner dog”. Always pointing straight ahead like she was leading a team of sled dogs — or in this case, us!

Photo: Zooey loved boating. She wasn’t a water dog like Jasper, but she still enjoyed cruising the St. Croix River on Todd’s dad’s boat.

Photo: A rare calm moment onboard.

Photo: Enjoying the sunset over the water on a beautiful autumn evening.

Photo: Did we mention how much Zooey loved people? Especially our nephews. She was always so happy with the boys.

Photo: We had adventures in colder seasons, too. And as you can see, that didn’t slow down Zooey.

Photo: Winter hiking in Southeastern Minnesota.

Photo: A cold winter day along the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photo: Exploring bluff country in Southeastern Minnesota late last fall.

Photo: A quiet moment on the wooded trails high above the Mississippi River near our home.


When Angels Sing

17 Oct

Before I post J’s final tribute, there’s one more thing I need to do. I need to write about his last day with us.

Sunday Oct. 3, 2010 was a perfect fall day in Minneapolis. Sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. Leaves burning bright red, yellow and orange.

For three days we’d been agonizing over J’s situation. We even scheduled, and then canceled, the at-home euthanasia the afternoon before. On this day, we knew there was no turning back. The time had come to make a decision.

Jasper was having trouble getting up and walking out to the backyard. In contrast to other lapses, this time there would be no more miracle recoveries. The cancer on his side had burst through the skin and there were several more visible spots that were likely to open up in the near future, including the most recent growth on his head. We had reached a point in J’s disease where things could only get worse.

Around 9AM I picked up the phone and made the call to re-schedule the at-home procedure for that evening at 6:30PM. It was by far the toughest decision we have ever had to make.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our doubts once everything was set in place. Around 11AM, Jasper decided to get up under his own power (something he hadn’t done in days) and walk over to his water bowl for a drink. Veronika even managed to hand-feed him some kibble and a few of his favorite peanut butter treats. “How long can a dog survive on peanut butter treats alone? Are we doing the right thing? Is it the right time?” Sitting around the house and asking ourselves these questions was driving us crazy.

When I returned home after running out to pick up a few art supplies for a memento we wanted to create, Jasper greeted me at the door – something he hadn’t done for days. He certainly wasn’t making our decision any easier.

After lunch, Veronika, my dad and I decided to take J out for one last walk… “one last walk”… it still hurts to type that now.

As always, Jasper enjoyed the car ride. Veronika sat in back and held her cheek to his beautiful gray face while we traveled along. After a short drive we found a nice path leading down to his favorite place in the world – the Mississippi River.

As we approached the water, a strange thing happened. The dog that could hardly stand an hour ago started to pull Veronika toward the river.

We always said that we’d know it was time when Jasper no longer showed an interest in water. I guess sometimes in life there’s no such thing as “clear signs.”

As we moved closer and Jasper got stronger, I turned to my dad and said, “See, he’s alright. Can’t you see that?” He responded by saying something I’ll never forget.

“I hope I spend my last day in this world doing what I love, surrounded by people I love on such a beautiful day.”

Jasper enjoyed a few playful moments in the water and walked along the wooded trails. For a little while he seemed “normal”, but on the way back to the car it was clear he was in pain.

Photo: Jasper near the end of his last walk

So, back home we waited and agonized some more. I swear it felt like getting ready for an execution given the mood in the house.

Veronika and I took turns lying on the floor with J. It was clear that the trip to the river had taken the last bit of his strength because he was completely knocked out, sleeping on his side barely acknowledging his surroundings.

At 6:30PM, the doorbell rang. The doctor was here.

Veronika greeted her at the door and started crying.

I have to say given the situation and our general condition; Dr. McComas from Minnesota Pets was great.

She sat down on the end of our bed with Jasper, Veronika and I and calmly discussed J’s condition and the euthanasia process.

She asked us if either of us had gone through this before. Veronika said “no”. I flashed back to all the dogs I’ve known throughout my life. The ones who disappeared, were hit by cars, went to live with other families, etc. This time was different. This was our first dog.

We told her we’d been struggling with the decision for days. She said this was normal.

We asked for her assessment of his condition. She said her objective analysis of J’s situation told her it was time. For a moment, this brought us comfort.

A little before 7PM, she started the euthanasia process by giving J a heavy sedative.

Veronika and I held him close and told him he was a good boy and that we loved him as sleep set in.

The doctor asked us if we were ready before giving him the final injection. Everything in my body was saying “no”, but I nodded “yes”. Veronika said “yes”, too, and so she gave him an injection that would stop his heart.

At 7:14PM, he stopped breathing.

A few moments later, the doctor turned to us and said, “His heart has stopped.”

I still can’t believe that after nine years together, he’s gone.

Once the doctor left and Veronika and I pulled ourselves together, we carried Jasper out to the car for the drive to pet crematory. The city was mercifully quiet and the roads were dark and desolate as we traveled in silence.

My dad, who had been with us all day, drove, while I sat in the back holding Jasper in my lap one last time. He looked like he was sleeping peacefully. It was a final tender moment together that I’ll hold in my memory forever.

Veronika and I opted for a private cremation, so Jasper’s ashes are back with us now and sitting on the mantle with sympathy cards, mementos and pictures from his life. Even though his physical presence has left this world, we take comfort knowing he will always be with us in our thoughts and memories.

Jasper’s Final Days

2 Oct

(Veronika writing tonight)

I had a comforting thought today… If I write about this moment, it will last forever.

In this moment, Jasper is still with us. He is laying on his side in his crate in the living room with a light blue towel over him to keep him warm. The soft-ball sized cancer tumor on his side is making the towel stick up. As he has been doing for most of the time lately, he is sleeping… but, Jasper is still breathing and he is still with us. We can lie down next to him on the living room rug and caress his head gently and speak to him. We can watch him breathe. Sometimes, we can catch his eye. Sometimes, we notice him gazing at us as we walk by. His eyes are glassy and watery from the pain medication he is taking. He is definitely tired, but he is still with us.

This weekend is probably the single most beautiful weekend of the year in the Twin Cities. The first weekend in October is when the marathon takes place, because the fall colors are usually at their peak and the trees are glowing in yellow, red and orange in the sun. This weekend is no exception.

Thursday afternoon was when I first noticed something had changed. Jasper did not want to get up and seemed to have trouble breathing. When Todd came home, Jasper wagged his tail in his crate, but wouldn’t get up. Things were taking a turn for the worse. The next day, Todd decided to work from home. He called me mid-morning and asked me to come home. Contrary to other times when Jasper wasn’t feeling well, but later bounced back, we knew that this time was different. He had stopped eating, seemed much more tired and in much more pain than at any other time before.

Not knowing if Friday would be his last day, we decided to take Jasper to the St. Croix River. Todd and I had agreed a while back that one of the signs that would help us determine if it was truly time to let Jasper go was if he no longer showed an interest in water… We placed comfortable cushions in the car and took Jasper for a ride. The river was overflowing, but we managed to find a perfect stretch of beach where we could take him down to the water. He was excited as ever, pulled his way down to the water and played with delight (albeit on somewhat wobbly legs) in the water. It turns out that there is no such thing as ‘clear signs.’

After the beach, we didn’t want to go home, so we kept on driving along the river. We made a few stops along the way. Jasper looked out the window and kept his watery eyes open the whole time.

He always did enjoy riding in the car and watching the world go by. Sometimes, just gazing at the sky seemed to give him pleasure. Jasper has always had a fascination with clouds. I remember one of the very first days after we had brought him home as a puppy, he was laying in the grass in the backyard chewing on a stick when he suddenly stopped. It was as though he had noticed the sky for the very first time. Jasper spent a long time (especially for a puppy with a short attention-span) just observing the white clouds passing by against the blue sky.

Another moment that has stuck with me is the first time Jasper went swimming. Todd may have written about the occasion already, but I have the most vivid memories of that day. For most of his young life up until that point, we had tried to gently coax him to step into the river without much success. Then one day, when Jasper was perhaps 8-9 months old, we were walking in the Minnehaha dog park when we got to the beach. It was a windy day and I remember waves breaking against the shore. Jasper went into the water and was caught by surprise when he suddenly realized that he was swimming. He had a panicked expression as he scrambled to get back to shore. He took one look at us… and after a brief pause, his expression turned to sheer excitement! He ran straight back into the water and went for another swim… (and then another one)

This Saturday morning was absolutely beautiful. Todd and I got up a little earlier than we usually do on the weekend, and got Jasper ready for another ride. This time we didn’t travel as far. We wanted to take Jasper one last time to his favorite park – the Minnehaha dog park along the Mississippi River. As we got him out of the car, the air was a little cool, and Jasper was shaking a bit, either from the pain or the cold or both. We walked into the park slowly and let Jasper set the pace. When we passed other dogs, it was as though they understood that Jasper was on a special journey today. They were curious and smelled him, but kept a respectful distance.

The park was beautiful as the sun was shining through the leaves above. The river was overflowing so we didn’t spend much time by the water. Instead, we walked down other well-worn paths that all three of us know so well. At one point, we met a young male Vizsla. The strange dog was bouncy and happy to be in the park. He wagged his tale profusely as he greeted Jasper. He reminded us so much of Jasper when he was young. It was a beautiful moment of coming full circle.

Like the tales of a Native American preparing for his final journey, Jasper walked with slow determination in the park with us. On occasion, he would glance up at Todd, as he always did. On occasion, he would lead the way, as we got close to the water. When we stopped and sat down for a few moments on a fallen tree, Jasper would come up and rub his head against our legs, and give us gentle hugs, as he always has. It was as though all three of us knew that this would be our last trip to the park together, and we cherished every moment on our walk.

Unless Jasper does not wake up in the morning, tomorrow we have to make the decision about letting him go. No matter how much you try to mentally prepare for something like this, it is not an easy decision. Todd and I have gone back and forth on it all day today. On the one hand, as recently as Friday, Jasper showed an interest in water. On the other hand, he is clearly tired, uncomfortable while standing and walking, and not eating much of anything. What ultimately will help us make the decision tomorrow is the realization that we are not the ones to end his life. Cancer pulled the trigger a long time ago. While we can never know how long Jasper would have lived beyond tomorrow, it is clear to us that it would have only been a matter of time.

One thing is for sure. Jasper never stopped loving water – and the only thing we could get him to eat on his final days was peanut butter. Some things never change.

With much love,


Take a breath

28 Sep

I’ve been thinking all week about Eva Markvoort.

Eva was a beautiful young woman who lived in Vancouver, Canada. She also suffered from a horrible disease – cystic fibrosis.

I’ve never told anyone this before, but Eva’s blog “65 Red Roses” inspired me to start “The Adventures of Jumping Jasper-Roo.” You see, she wrote about the day-to-day struggles of living with cystic fibrosis and made it OK to share your thoughts with the world as death crept closer.

Photo: Eva (from her blog “65 Red Roses”)

One entry of hers really stuck with me. Five days before her death while lying in a hospital bed she wrote:

“making the effort this evening to sit up in a chair
good to change positions
stretch different muscles
sending air to different pockets
mum asked what i miss?

i miss walking in and out of buildings
the feeling of air pressure change when you enter or exit a building
i miss getting in and out of cars
how your view changes when you sit at a different height
change really
i miss change…

hours of gasping for breath
waves of nausea lulling out into
hours of sleepiness once the meds have hit
leaving me daydreaming about stepping out of this room
just getting up
free of tubes and plugs
and walking out the door
pushing open doorways
skipping down the street
breathing free

It still brings tears to my eyes reading that today. I’m struck by the last part where she writes about simply walking out the door and breathing in the air. No cares. No worries. How often do we take the simple things in life like that for granted?

I’ve been thinking about Eva and this passage all week because Jasper’s circle is getting smaller and smaller and the outings shorter and shorter.

He used to play in the backyard and then sleep outside in the sun for hours on end. Now he just takes a few steps outside, does his business and walks right back in. We did take a nice walk around the neighborhood tonight that he seemed to enjoy, but mostly he’s just sleeping now. I sense the desire to keep up the fight is starting to slip away. I’m really sad to say that maybe it is for me, too.

My sister suggested I take a photo of J and his tumor so other who are reading this and are in a similar situation can see what we’re going through.

I can’t bring myself to do it.

Jasper was always such a gorgeous dog. In the dog park people would often come up to me and comment on how beautiful he was. Now it breaks my heart to see him being disfigured by this awful disease.

I will say, though, that the tumor started small and grew fast over time. In June it was the size of a golf ball, now the dimension is closer to a softball. The doctor said he’s seen dogs with tumors twice this size, but that’s hard for me to imagine.

Oh, and the skin covering the tumor has now started to bruise and crack and peel. The smell is also pretty bad, so I’ve moved Jasper’s crate from the bedroom to the living room. On top of all this, he’s now wearing an e-collar nearly 24-7 to keep from licking it and making it worse.

This is the part of dealing with cancer that really starts to break your heart. Seeing an animal (or person) you love in decline. The nausea, the loss of appetite, the weight falling away.

I keep asking myself if the time has come to say good-bye, but then I’m reminded of days like Sunday. I took Jasper to one of his favorite beaches on the St. Croix River and he was swimming and chasing rocks just like the old days, albeit a little slower this time.

So on we go. Trying to take it one day at a time. And trying to remember that we’re fortunate to be able to still walk outside and breathe the air, even if the walk is a little shorter and the pace a little slower.

How to Disappear Without Really Trying

19 Sep

A day without deadlines. A day without lists. Without responsibilities or places to be.

Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you see?

If you stripped away all the things you should and shouldn’t be doing, what would be left? My wife and I decided to find out – for three days in a row. No work. No to-do lists. No schedule. A “stay-cation” right here in our own backyard. Each morning we’d wake up, browse through the paper or look at a map and go (with the dogs of course)!

Guess what? It was amazing!

Here are a few photos from day three of our getaway.

Photo: Hitting the trail and J is ready to go!

Photo: Peace and tranquility in Lake Maria State Park

Photo: Fall is on the way in Minnesota

Photo: J enjoying a moment in the sun

Photo: The prize at the end of the hike – swimming!

Photo: Happy together at the trail’s end

Introducing Zooey-Roo the Wiggle Dog

14 Sep

“What a nice puppy!”

“Puppy?? She’s seven years old!”

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know Jasper isn’t alone with us in this journey. There’s another dog in the house and her name is “Zooey” (named after U2’s Zoo TV tour, but that’s a story for another day).

Back in the spring of 2003 we were a happy family of three – Veronika, J and I. Earlier that year, though, Jasper’s best friend Tomo – the Akita next door – had moved away. So, one day Veronika comes to me and says, “Jasper, looks so sad. We should get another dog.”

My first thought? “Uh oh, here we go again.”

Zooey in a flash
Photo: Typical shot of Zooey – always on the move!

In what seemed like a flash, Veronika put a word out to the Twin Cities Vizsla Club (yes, there is such a thing). Within a week or two we received a phone call:

“Found a Vizsla rescue dog. Ten month old female pup that needs a home. Todd and Veronika please help this poor little doggy.” OK, maybe I made up that last part, but Veronika was convinced we had to go – now!

So, off to Brooklyn Park we went. Zooey’s first owner was a young guy in his early twenties who soon decided he couldn’t take care of her. She was then shuttled off to his parents, but they were too busy to give her the type of exercise she needed. When we arrived, Zooey was a bundle of energy, but she could barely run because her legs were too weak from sitting around the house all day. When the owner showed us her one toy and ratty blue blanket, we were hooked. Zooey was coming home with us right then and there.

As soon as we got back home, we let her sniff around the yard a bit without J. She couldn’t have been happier! So many new smells and squirrels to torment.

After a while we decided it was time. We slowly opened the door and let Jasper join the party. To our surprise, he didn’t bark or growl. He just bounced around and did a happy dance… “Another Vizsla, another Vizsla!”

That was the last time he was happy for three months.

It soon became apparent that Zooey had wayyyy more energy than Jasper. While he was slowly moving out of the puppy phase, she was squarely in it and wanted to play ALL THE TIME! Poor Jasper. He was constantly being chased, jumped on, run over and chewed on. All the while he had a look on his face that said, “What have I done to deserve this??”

Over time, Zooey started to relax (a little!) and the two became best friends. On sunny days we’d sneak a peek of the two of them chasing each other around and wrestling in the back yard. Still to this day, those are some of my favorite memories ever.

Oh, and anyone who thinks dogs don’t have personalities has never had a dog.

Zooey and Jasper couldn’t be more different!

Zooey is the typical Vizsla – high energy, bouncing off the walls. The usual comment about J goes something like – “He’s the calmest Vizsla I’ve ever seen!”

Zooey is always on the hunt for rabbits, squirrels, birds… J likes to watch the clouds roll by.

Zooey chews her paws, licks her behind, and gets up and down and up and down, while Jasper lays down calmy on the couch and takes a nap.

Zooey’s fur is a light red. Jasper’s is dark. Zooey has a short tail. Jasper’s is long. Zooey loves people. Jasper loves a quiet walk in the park. Zooey puts her toes in the water and hops out. Jasper could swim all day. Like I said, they couldn’t be more different.

There were times over the years when I questioned getting a second dog. Wondered if we’d made the right decision. Now I know. I know why Zooey is with us.

Zooey is with us to provide comfort and love in the days ahead. I sometimes feel bad that we aren’t paying as much attention to her at the moment, but I know the day will come when she’s the star of the house. A time when her bounce and wiggle will bring a much needed smile to my face.

Happy Birthday!

29 Aug

Hey, Jasper at the keyboard. What? You don’t think dogs can type? Well, obedience classes are pretty high tech these days, ya know.

Today’s my ninth birthday. I think that’s 63 in doggy years! Wow, I don’t feel a day over 30.

Where has the time gone? Seems like just yesterday I was a wee little pup learning the ins and outs of housetraining. (Between the two of us, I had it figured out early on but liked the extra attention so I kept having “accidents”.)

Anyway, today was a great birthday! After waking up Todd’s friend Jon and doing my morning business in the yard, I had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and kibble. Yum!

Guess what happened next?!? Guess, guess, guess!!

We went to my favorite place in the world – the Minnehaha dog park. I just luuuuuuv swimming in the Mississippi River on hot days! I’ll share a few pics below.

I have a strange new thing I like to do in the park these days (gotta keep those humans guessing!). I stick my head all the way under the water and grab a rock between my teeth! Todd thinks I’m going to eat it, but I’m not that crazy. I just like placing the rocks on the shore. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I do it in the hope that the next time we visit the park, Todd will pick up the stone and throw it in the river so I can chase after it. Fun, fun!

After an extra long stay at the park – it’s great being the Birthday boy – I had a yummy peanut butter and jelly sandwich back at the house. Don’t tell Veronika, though. She probably wouldn’t want me eating that sweet strawberry jelly, but I liked it!

Next on the agenda, a much needed nap. Think I slept for about 5 hours. Ahhhhhh…

Todd decided to take Zooey out for a walk. Good idea! She drives me crazy when she hasn’t been out of the house all day. I love my little sis’, but she’s a squirrel-chasin’, rabbit-harassin’, toe-lickin’ maniac when she doesn’t get enough exercise! Plus that gave me a little more time for sleep.

I think I could get used to this Birthday thing because for dinner I ate like a king. I had fresh salmon with potatoes, veggies and some more kibble. Could’ve skipped the kibble, though, and just stuck with the good stuff.

After some peanut butter treats and some back scratchin’ it was off to bed for me. What a day!

Enough woofin’ from me, here are some photos.

Photo: I love riding in the car!

Photo: We made it to the dog park.

Photo: OK, let’s get going!

Photo: Throw the rock! Throw the rock!

Photo: Check me out.

Photo: So many rocks, so little time.

Photo: The far end of the dog park. My favorite place in the world.

Photo: Time to go home.

Photo: Here I am devouring a PB&J.

Photo: Shhhh, nap time…

Photo: Salmon dinner!!

Photo: Phew, I’m tired now.