The Lhasa Apso is a beautiful dog with a storied history. It was originally bred by Tibetan Buddhist Monks to live in temples of nobility and sleep with its masters. Recorded history of the breed goes back to 800 B.C.E., when the Lhasa was claimed to be the sacred vessel of its master’s soul upon the owner’s passing. It also served as an indoor sentinel dog since its keen hearing and quick bark alerted the much larger outdoor Tibetan Mastiffs of an intruder. The Lhasa was even used as a food taster and foot warmer.
Although adorable, playful, and usually friendly, Lhasas are famously strong-willed, opinionated, and very hardy, having lived in Tibet’s harsh environment for thousands of years. Many of them are also very arrogant and have little patience for small, clumsy children, but when treated with respect, they show love to everyone. Originally, the only way to acquire one was as a gift from a Dalai Lama. In 1933, the Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso gave a pair to naturalist C. Suydam Cutting, who brought them to America. Lhasas were accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1935 and have since won Best in Show and Best in Breed at the Westminister Dog Show in the non-sporting event.
My dog Rufie was a Lhasa Apso, and he came from championship stock, but there was one little problem — his underbite gave the appearance that he was always biting his tongue. This small fault eliminated him from dog show competitions, but it didn’t matter. He remained as self-assured and regal as a dog could be. When we went walking, he always held his head high, his tail curled up over his back, and he trotted as though presenting himself at a dog show. Moreover, his luminous coat somehow gave the appearance that he was floating, not walking, an awesome sight.
Rufie and I understood each other. I knew, for instance, that he not only required extra attention, but he fully expected it. During tummy rubs, he would lie on his back spread eagle, absorbing every bit of the moment until he fell asleep with his tongue hanging out from the side of his mouth. The rub itself was never enough. Rufie needed to be stroked to the point of unconsciousness.
Similarly, when I brushed Lucy, the other dog in our family, Rufie would push himself between Lucy and me, demanding all the attention until he got at least some of it. He might have even loved the brushings more than the tummy rubs. If I was holding the brush, he would nudge my hand to the top of his head until I got the message. He was just one of those dogs that needed extra everything, but especially pampering and attention, and Lucy never seemed to mind all that much. She loved Rufie, too.
I also loved Rufie’s adventurous spirit and willpower. I’ll never forget how, on one of our winter walks, we came across a pile of snow that had been collected by a snowplow. Rufie tried time and again to climb to the top of the pile, and although he kept sliding back down, I wasn’t about to stand in his way. After several failed attempts, he finally reached the peak of the snow pile, where he ceremoniously relieved himself. This was my little friend’s Everest ascent.
In July during a thunderstorm, I was in the bedroom when I heard an awful scream. It sounded like a frightened child outdoors wailing away. I walked into the living room, and there was Rufie on the floor having a seizure. Minutes later, the seizure passed, and he was behaving normally again. I found out later from the veterinarians that he had probably been suffering seizures for a while. They had begun very mildly and weren’t recognizable, so I hadn’t noticed any change in his behavior.
Eventually, it became apparent that Rufie was getting weaker while his seizures were getting stronger and more frequent. On one walk, a seizure knocked him off his feet. He couldn’t stand. He seemed aware of what was happening, but he couldn’t move. All I could do was sit on the grass next to him and try to comfort him until the seizure passed. He looked terrified. Because of his broad chest plus his weight in combination with my bad shoulder, I wasn’t able to pick him up. I called my neighbor Frank to come and carry Rufie home. Still, despite his illness, Rufie seemed to recover some of his confidence and energy. As always, he was showing real character. Since he had another vet appointment coming up in a few days, I figured the situation would be manageable until then.
The following day, I walked into the bedroom looking for Rufie and found him in a strange position halfway under my bed. He was panting rapidly. I pulled him out from under the bed and sat on the floor next to him. I held him and stroked him gently, telling him how much I loved him. After a few minutes, he looked up at me, licked my face, and then took his last breath. Frank tried to help by giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but my Rufie was gone.
Rufie lived to be eight years old. I had him cremated, and I now have his ashes at home. He left a big hole in my heart that someday will heal. Lucy has finally resumed eating and has quit looking for him. I’m a little surprised by how much grief Rufie’s passing has caused me. I’m equally surprised that some people around me think I’m overreacting. After all, he was “just a dog,” a few people have actually told me. In fact, because of the special relationship many people have with their dogs, the grief one feels for the loss of a dog can be more intense than for the death of a family member. I notice Rufie’s absence every time I open my front door and he’s not there to greet me. Eventually, I’ll come to terms with this emptiness, but until then, I still have Lucy to care for, and I try to return all the love she gives me. Rufie will always have a place in our hearts, but we still have each other.
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