Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Eleanor "Skywalker" Roosevelt: 1991 - 2006

On the same day that my then fiance Chris and I were packing up my Uncle Doug's truck in Needham, Massachusetts to move to Columbus (by way of Buffalo, NY, where she would prepare for our wedding in about a month), an as-yet unnamed basset hound was born.

August 18, 1991. I had turned 25 about a month before. I had no job waiting for me in Columbus, but did have an apartment set up. On of my best childhood friends, Dave McCann, stopped by out-of-the-blue and helped us load up the truck. I haven't seen Dave since.

Chris and I were married on September 21, 1991. That October, we went to get a dog. We wanted a basset hound because they are long and low and funny and sweet. A girl basset, because they are less troublesome and don't dig through concrete as much. Seriously. We looked around at some various breeders and a couple pet stores, but eventually found a couple who had bred a pair of bassets (Chris can always remember their names; I can't), and for whom this was the second litter. We went and looked at the puppies (one of whom was soooo porky) and picked out the one with the longest ears.

She was white and black, with only a wee bit of liver-brown on the tips of her ears and the bottom of her tail. As she aged, the brown would spread, which is unusual. Tri-colored bassetts often get darker, not lighter, over time.

We named her Eleanor Roosevelt. Entirely out of respect and admiration for our 32nd-and-1/2 president. I should say, Chris named her Eleanor Roosevelt. I named her "Eleanor Skywalker Roosevelt." There has always been some contention about which is the official name... And though we had thought about "Rosie" as her everyday name (Eleanor is a long name even for a long dog), for some reason, she just looked like an "Ellie."

She never really got the hang of howling. Not the long, low, mournful, baying howl that bassets are supposed to do. She barked like mad. Especially in latter years whenever we left her alone. She could bark for six hours straight. But she rarely gave out that great, wooooooooooo! noise you expect from a hound. She did whuff, chuff, chortle, boof, sniff, snuff, ploof, grunt, burp, fart, wheeze, whine, wheedle and click her toenails on any hard surface.

When young, she rolled on dead fish down by the banks of the Mighty Scioto River. She played a game we called "basset ball" where we'd kick a kids' plastic ball against the basement wall in our apartment and she'd leap up to block it with her belly. She initially feared balloons, and would stalk them, finally overcoming her terror enough to leap on them... either bursting them with claw and tooth, or balancing atop them on her belly, rolling on them comically while wondering, we imagined, where they'd gone for the moment.

She once chased her tail around 17 times.

"Basset" comes from the French. "Bas" meaning "low." Basset can literally be interpreted as "rather low." Ellie was, indeed, a long, low dog. We joked that she wanted to be a greyhound when she was a puppy... but she was brought up short.

She was as gentle a dog as ever there was. You could take food out of her mouth if need be. She loved kids, and tried very hard to knock them down so that they would be at her level and, thus, more lickable. She loved to give wet, stinky kisses. She got the chance (twice) to eat whipped cream out of the mouth of a prominent lawyer (you know who you are). On her birthdays -- 15 of them! -- she preferred ice-cream sandwiches to cake.

We once, many years ago, re-wrote the lyrics to the song "Superfreak" for her:

She's a very sleepy hound.
The kind you don't wake up for breakfast.
She will always put her jowls down
Directly on your feet (yeah)
She likes to eat from your hand
Doritos are her all time favorite
When she makes a move for the couch it is nap-time
It's such a sleepy scene

And such. Also, since she liked to walk around in circles and hop... and skip... and jump around in her blankets in preparation for bed, we liked to sing:

Do a little dance
Make a little nest
Lay down tonite.
Lay down tonite.

There was also a picture, Photoshopped, from very early on in her career, and using one of the very first digitial cameras ever available, of "Stealth Bassets Over Baghdad." What really won the first war, you know...

Ellie took part in the Michigan Bassett Waddle, back in... oh, it must have been 1995 or so. Nothing like 300+ bassetts in a parade.

Her favorite toy was... well... chicken. Or tuna. Kind of a tie, I guess. When she was younger, we tried giving her those disgusting, dried piggie ears. She would take them to a corner of the apartment, or the back of a closet, and then attempt to burry them. Which is hard, when there's nothing there but carpet. She'd drop the ear, push it into the back corner with her nose, and then rub invisible dirt all over it with her snout. Again and again. To the point where she'd rub her nose almost bloody. Very, very odd. Those pig ears were either so foul or so wonderful that they had to be hidden from sight or preserved for posterity. We never figured it out.

Once or twice (or more, maybe) she would find for us a creature outside and bring it in, dead or mostly dead, for us to enjoy. This is what bassets have been genetically engineered to do. And so we did not blame her. Their long ears are designed for picking up underground vibrations. Their noses for burrowing and sniffing out critters. And their short, very powerful legs for digging various fauna from their underground lairs. You can't fight several thousand generations of bassett inbreeding. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, bassets gotta barf up semi-digested bunnies in the middle of a fancy dinner party. C'est la vie.

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but Ellie learned them on her own. In her twighlight years -- bassets normally only live to be 10 or so -- she began to be, well... unreliable as a free-roaming bassett. We had installed a dog-door, and for many years she used it fine when we were out and at work all day. Not so these last few years. She'd go outside and bark like mad, full tilt, all day, until we came home. So we had to keep her inside. An cordoned off unto a particular zone of the house. Or so we tried. This dog could get out of almost any human-made zone of control. She'd chew her way through dog fences. Shimmy under or around blockades. Climb over furniture we left in her way. Much of this behavior after the age of 14, which is, for a basset, pretty much like 110 years old for a person.

The first day we brought her home, she tried to get a tennis ball that was about the size of her head into her mouth. She did it. Hysterical. Just yesterday, the day before she died, I fed her a handful of cut-up hot dogs and one got stuck underneath her and she couldn't quite figure out where it was. When she finally got it, she shot me this look that so clearly said, "You put that there on purpose, you goober." Hysterical.

She had the most beautiful ears of any basset. Ever.

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