By Yvonne Barteau
Louie visited me as I slept the other night and told me I should write about him. He fixed his annoyingly determined gaze on me as he so often had done in the past and waited for me to respond. l told him I could not put his life on paper as I would have to account for his death and I did not want to re-visit that.
“You have to,” he said. “You have to tell my story.”
I loved Louie and I know my son loved Louie but that does not mean any one else would love, like or even be interested in anything about the life of this overly tenacious and amazingly self-serving animal that did only what he wanted every single day of his life. I am the kind of person who needs a reason in order to do something and I did not have one here.
I argued these points to Louie while still in my remarkably disturbing dream and his gaze never wavered. “Write it for me,” he said. “ And make me a hero.”
Dogs, people, and horses have often made me think of them in comparison at certain times of my life. My oldest daughter Jessica is reminding me more and more of one of my favorite dogs Brandy, and I actually think that is a good thing. Brandy was both independent and fiercely loyal. She was dedicated to our whole family and sure of her place amongst us. I can easily say the same things about my wise beyond her years and ever responsible daughter. I think even Jessie would not object to these references of comparison although she has many more desirable qualities which are uniquely her own. But this is Louie’s story and here it is.
Louie was destined to be ours before he was born as was the name he would carry through life. When I was pregnant with my youngest daughter Hudi, my third child, Kassie, suggested with her six year old wisdom that we name the new baby “Uncle Louie”, stating that would be the best name ever. When we broke the news to her that we already knew that she had a sister coming and we needed a girl’s name she had no other suggestions to offer. She refuted all of our name choices and kept throwing Uncle Louie in for further consideration. “Uncle Louie” (the best name ever) needed to be attached to something or someone just to get Kassie off of the subject. We told her we would save that name for just the right time.
Not long after that conversation Buzz Moore, a friend of the family’s, brought us a puppy that he, not us, had remembered promising to my son Jamie when we were judging an Arabian horse show in Virginia earlier that season. Jamie had spent time playing with the pup’s mom and Buzz had told him that he would bring the best of the litter down for Jamie himself.
Puppies are pretty cute as a rule. This guy was cuter. Eight weeks old, nicely marked, with almond shaped eyes that looked they had been lined neatly with thick brown eye-liner added to the instant ahhh factor. Old timey Jack Russells (the English type) are my favorite , even though we have owned a few of the leggier, racier models since then.
This pup wasn’t a whiner. That was clear right off the bat. He was interested in everything around him but not guarded or backwards or shy at all. We played with him and kept him cozy till after the show when we could bring him home and present him to Jamie. Twelve year old Jamie was thrilled that an adult he barely knew would send him such a fine pup just because he had shown interest in his mother. He smuggled the youngster away to his room and began the process of bonding.
When the subject of a name came up Kassie was quick to throw Uncle Louie back into the ring and we all agreed. Uncle Louie it was. Quickly shortened to Louie, the new pup settled in to life with his devoted owner and set about the business of taking charge of his domain. Louie showed us early on that while he was a very intelligent youngster he absolutely no desire to be trained or bossed around at all.
He figured out very quickly that we did not want him to empty either his bladder or his bowels in the house and if everything worked out in his favor then he would do his business outside. If not, he would secretively find a quiet corner and then stare blankly at whomever found the evidence and tried to hold him accountable. He didn’t seem to mind as most dogs do if their owners aredispleased with them.
Brandy, our older and much larger Ridgeback/retriever mix did the best job of schooling Louie. When he nonchalantly nosed underneath her to eat out of her food bowel she laid in to him as older bigger dogs can do and he understood. When they were outside together he learned to keep a wary eye on her as she was prone to waiting patiently until he became absorbed with something and then rushing in to set him down and remind him of his place in the pecking order. Brandy was probably the only true “master” that Louie ever had. The rest of us were just family.
Louie liked to be outside and he was good at slipping out into the yard as people opened any door leading to the great outdoors. He would seem to appear from nowhere and dart out the door and book it, ignoring his name, a threatening tone or whatever else we could think of to get his attention. Once he got out he wanted to stay out and It was a chore to round him up and get him back inside.
Before he was six months old he had been hit by a car. Jamie called us one evening as we readied to ride in the Dinner Show crying uncharacteristically. Louie is dying he managed and we begged out of the show and headed home in a hurry. Jamie had Louie in a box inside the house and he looked pretty bad. We took him to the vet and he stayed overnight for tests and observations. They would call if he didn’t make it.
No call came. We went back the next morning and they explained the damage. Hopefully a temporary paralysis from the front legs back, a cracked jaw and missing teeth and likely a tremendous amount of bruising and body pain. We could bring him home and keep up with his meds ourselves or we could leave him there and see how he fared. We brought him home.
Jamie carried him around in his little box and tended to him as good as anyone could have. Three days after his accident Louie dragged himself into the living room on his own steam. He could almost walk (in a drunken sort of way) and within a week he was relatively normal except for the missing teeth. The accident did not faze him nor did it make him more wary of his own mortality. Louie still looked for opportunities to ambush any door he might escape out of and he often forgot his own name once he got outside. He knew where he lived however and he returned almost faithfully whenever he was done browsing around.
Neutering him did not help. Louie always had his own plans and I do mean always. He taught a number of our family some simple dog sign language so he could have his needs and wants catered too more promptly. He would wander into my bedroom, fix me with a stare that needed attending and then start walking towards the kitchen looking over his shoulder to see if I got the message and was following. When I did he would let me know the next step which was either open the door to the back yard so he could pretend to empty out and then take off, refill the ever empty dog food bowl, fill up the water dish, or get that box of bacon treats off the counter or some sliced cheese out of the fridge and open it up for him.
In return for these considerations Louie singled out my son Jamie and myself as his favorites. We got to be the people that he would almost or sometimes obey and not embarrass too badly and that was as good as it got. He pretended to be happy to see us when we returned from our time away from home but never too much or for too long. His happiness at seeing us was always followed with one of his directed requests.
Time passed and our family structure needed a change from working in the entertainment business and so we made a move to Gilberts Illinois to train horses at Indian Hills Training Center a sprawling industrial sized horse park with more acreage than either our children or our pets had ever had access to.
This was to be the best part of Louie’s life. The ten years we spent on that farm could not have been better suited to our rascally terrier than if he had ordered them out of a catalogue specializing in divine doggie getaways and retreats. This place had it all. Woods, fields, no traffic to get run over by, all manner of creatures great and small to practice his killing skills on and very little need for supervision.
Outside the confines of the house he had been burdened with for his own safety in Florida Louie could shrug off the over bearing oppression of our older dog Brandy by nimbly out footing her. Now the world as he saw it was his to rule.
All the animals that were not our pets were worth killing as far as Louie was concerned. He started with squirrels. Yeah squirrels. How many dogs can kill squirrels if they don’t have a human with them who has at least a bb gun. I’ve never seen a dog that could kill so many squirrels and if my kids and their friends hadn’t witnessed Louie in the act I’d still be wondering how he managed the feat at all. Truth is, he barked them to death. He barked them right out of the tree that they were currently safe in. When Louie went to chasing a squirrel they usually ran up the big tree that was near the bottom of our driveway. Once up the tree Louie was willing to set up an all day siege policing the bottom of that tree area. He would bark up the tree like an incessant madman and I think he drove those poor squirrels so nuts they chose to commit suicide. The one the kids witnessed finally just jumped to his death landing two feet from Louie where he was promptly pounced on.
I always wondered what a dog on the ground could possibly say in barks to a squirrel that would make him think that jumping to his death was the only possible choice he had left.
Raccoons were next. Over the years at least nine of them did not make it through their battle with Louie and most of them outweighed him and put up a terrible fight. One day he chased three out from the garbage cans and under the back porch where they all fought for a good long time. I screamed and yelled at Louie but he didn’t even acknowledge me. Finally he drug one of them out from the battle ground and over to the garage smugly looking at me for a high five or something as he did so. Louie knew that his raccoon victories were a big thing and that he was pound for pound some kind of champion of the forest worthy of deference and recognition on a grand scale. This bolstered his over inflated ego even more.
He spent all day one fall killing a huge ground hog and no one could catch him or call him away. He dug out the ground hogs den and dove down there for a terrific battle from which he escaped largely unharmed and with his poor dead victim again drug to our garage for display. He was most happy on these battle days like a great hunter who has proven his mettle to the tribe, yet again. In his mind he was the undisputed Rambo of the Indian Hills Forest and that was a title he both relished and cultivated daily.
During these years young Jamie grew up finished school and eventually moved away deciding wisely to leave Louie where he so very much wanted to stay. About a year after moving out he somehow ended up adopting a stray pit bull who needed a home. Skitz was an affable dog but typical of many pit bulls in some of his mannerisms. In certain circumstances he would respond to the fear he inspired in others with aggression and Jamie had to be careful to always keep him in check. He was great with our whole family though and he seemed to love kids and got along with most of the dogs he met. Jamie knew all the stereotypes attached to having such a dog as Skitz but he loved his new pet, the dog certainly loved him and that was that.
Louie , however, despised him - instant never before seen hatred towards another dog was Louie’s reaction as soon as he met Skitz and he had to be deflected as he launched himself savagely at Jamies’ new pet the second they were introduced. Skitz did not react to Louie with any animosity in fact he seemed rather puzzled as to why this pint sized dog so badly wanted a piece of him. Jamie was quick to run blocker and keep them separate and he showered Louie with affection trying to remind him that he was just as important to him as he always had been. Louie was not to be mollified and instead put his considerable canine intelligence to work trying to ambush Jamie’s new dog whenever opportunity arose.
The size of his chosen enemy and probability of victory if there were to be a physical confrontation were not even considered by our ridiculous Russell. He acted as if he was Jamie’s only and forever dog and Skitz would have to be vanquished or run out of town just to re-establish the working order of things in Louie’s battle driven brain. Everyone pitched in and helped to keep the dogs away from each other whenever Jamie brought Skitz over but Louie never gave up trying to wage his war. He got quite tiresome with his never ending,” I want to fight you to the death attitude”, but we all loved Louie enough to worry and guard against the chance that he would enter into any real battles with Skitz.
Old Brandy our loyal Ridgeback mix was almost 14 when she could no longer get up and down on her own. It was a sad day for the whole family when we had to take her on that final one way trip to the vet’s office. Brandy was my dog originally. She had been a great farm dog, she loved my children and knew her place was secure as a treasured family pet. Even though I had known for a while her time was coming to an end I was still sadder than I thought I would be when the decision was made.
It has always worried me that animals don’t really know what lies ahead of them as we make choices with their lives. There was no discussion with Brandy where she signed a do not resuscitate agreement or made out a last will and testament so we all knew her wishes. She trusted us to do right by her in all matters. I hope she felt that we did.
Louie was a little unsettling during that time frame though. I felt he did know what happened with Brandy and that somehow he didn’t agree with it. He would stare so intently at me sometimes like he was a little professor trying to solve some puzzle and he needed the last clue from me. I knew many of Louie’s looks but he developed a few new ones right after Brandy left and I often remarked aloud that Louie was almost scary he was so smart. He seemed to want something from me during this time but I didn’t know what it was. If I had to make a wild guess I might have said that Louie was considering his own mortality but that is ridiculous so I’ll leave it at that.
Everyone who lives near open wooded areas often worries about coyotes and their pets. Many a small dog or cat are easy prey for these pack hunting scavengers. I am sure Jessica’s favorite cat Bear was grabbed by coyotes as he disappeared one day while Jessie was at school and he had been with us for years and never run off or gotten lost before.
The coyotes had a way of setting up these local farm dogs. One of the pack would edge towards the house and bait the dog into chasing it. As the coyote retreated towards the woods the rest of the pack would circle and kill the dog. I witnessed Louie fall for this ruse. It was almost dark one weekday and I had let Louie out when I got home from the barn. I didn’t notice the coyote at the edge of our yard line until I heard Louie’s battle cry and saw his focus train on his target. As I watched him race after the lone coyote I could see the others by the tree-line, waiting in anticipation. I ran across the field in my socks yelling for Louie to come back but I might just as well have been calling to the coyotes themselves. Louie vanished into the woods and I could hear him barking like the deluded maniac he was as he ran farther and farther away.
I made my way back home justifying that this would be the way Louie would want to go out. In a big battle, fighting to the death against insurmountable odds. I was sure sad though. And mad too. What a thoughtless jerk he was to ignore me right until his last breath. No one else was home and I went in the house, sat on the couch and cried. We would probably never find his body and It just sucked imagining Louies last realization being that he truly was not king of the forest after all.
After a time I heard Kim’s truck drive into the garage and as I got up to let him know the news he opened the door to the kitchen and Louie walked in with him like nothing had even happened. He was fine. Fine. Didn’t have a mark on him. Unbelievable! Why wasn’t he dead? Injured? Scared to death and glad to have escaped? How could that situation, the part I witnessed, have possibly worked out this much in his favor? Did the coyotes think he was poisonous, or some kind of demon who couldn’t be touched? How had he maneuvered himself out of that tangle? To me things that should happen usually do happen with only occasional mishaps or accidents. The situation with the coyotes fit into none of these categories and once again I was stunned by Louie’s tenacity and will.
On our way home from a horse show one spring I happened upon a cocker spaniel pup that needed to belong to my oldest daughter Jessica and so I got him for her. Teddy was the happiest most benevolent little sleepy head of a dog that I have ever met. Jessie loved him madly and trained him to do so many things that her younger sister Kassie wanted a piece of the dog training action. She did not have a dog of her own but I told her I would pay for her to take Louie to the dog obedience class with Jess and Teddy and she could try and get him to obey a few simple commands.
what a carry-on that was. Louie had never been interested in any kind of training unless he was doing the training and as soon as he figured out what the intended plan was he sabotaged the whole thing. he would not obey even one simple command even though Kassie had cut up pieces of steak to bribe him with if he would do her bidding. The trainer of the dog obedience class took Louie from young Kassie to use as the example and Louie refused to even acknowledge her and then growled menacingly when she tried to assert herself more forcefully. The trainer had been around enough dogs in her life to know that this guy was NOT interested in her program whatsoever. Wisely she told Kassie that Louie might be too old and set in his ways for this class and that she would give her money back to her if she would leave. Louie dragged Kassie triumphantly over to the dog training sign and peed on it just to make the whole thing clear in everyone’s mind.
More time passed. We got a new puppy. A Standard Poodle female whom Kim and Hudi picked out at a breeders about two hours away and named Anouk. She was lovely and very tolerant of Hudi toting her around and smothering her with childish affection. It quickly became obvious though that she felt she was really Kim’s dog and that Hudi was just part of the price of her admission to the family. She was a reserved but contented youngster without many plans of her own. Outside she was more timid and cautious than any of our prior pets. She was so opposite to Louie that it was almost comical to witness.
She was the Lady to his Tramp except without the romantic involvement the Disney tale had included. When she was let out in the yard she barked, but it was more of a plea for the creatures of the forest to go back to their homes and leave her alone than anything else.
A decision to re-locate came our way yet again. Horse training wise we had out grown the facility we worked out of and our main sponsor and client was building a state of the art training barn that would suit any horse trainer in America. Construction on the project began and our oldest daughter Jessica moved into the house on property to help out with the few mares we had brought over to the property and to oversee the day to day operations.
The new house was big and beautiful and we had great fun painting and decorating it to suit our needs. The bulk of our business remained at Indian Hills so we continued to live in the farm house and work our horses as we waited for the new facility to be ready to accommodate our horse training needs. The winter before we moved in we had to go to Fla. For a horse show and we left Louie and the poodle over at the new house with Jess while we were away. Jamie was staying at the house for a few nights while we were gone and everyone had their orders as to keeping Louie in check around Skitz so he didn’t get himself killed.
He almost did anyway. Skitz was in the fenced in back yard and Louie got out the front door, snuck around the house and then dug his way into the backyard to pick a fight with Skitz.
Jessie heard the commotion in the yard and ran out in time to break it up but Louie was snarling mad and hurt. She had to rush him to the vet emergency style to have his stomach sewn up. Jessie called us in tears and both she and Jamie were upset that Louie had been injured on their watch but I could have seen it happening no matter whose eye he was under. If Louie had a plan then that was what was happening and I told them as much.
Louie had one more incident before we moved out of Indian Hills permanently. I was usually the first one up in the morning and so I always let the dogs outside first thing before I started the coffeepot. One morning as I opened the kitchen door that led out to the open garage door Louie caught my attention as he tried to slink past. First off he was second out behind Anouk which never happened. Also he was uncharacteristically slow and humble looking and that definitely caught my eye. I gave him a good look and then reached down and caught him round the neck stopping his escape. He had some long dagger like wounds on the side of his shoulders and he seemed pretty painful and stiff because of them. I got him up on the counter and got a good look at them. They looked like they must have happened the night before because they were already crusty and inflamed. Whomever had let him in from his last prowl of the evening obviously hadn’t noticed the damage. I cleaned-out the fairly deep and touchy wounds as best I could, put some medicine on them and then showed Kim when he got up.
After examining the marks more scientifically than I had he determined that the big huge owl that he had pointed out to me a couple of times must have took a stab at trying to pick Louie up and then had to let him go as he was probably much more dense and furious than he might have guessed when he swooped in for his dinner. I always had antibiotics around and I started Louie on a round of those and tended his cuts till they healed. He was neither grateful for the care nor humbled by the experience and I marveled yet again at the tenacity of this disturbed little maniac that was my dog.
We finally moved for good. Louie hated the new place as much as he loved the old. There were no forests here. No varmints. No acres to get lost in. Just a hay field some turn-outs and a big training barn with an indoor and outdoor arena. No fun for him at all. At first he made the rounds and went where he pleased. The fenced in yard was a joke to him and he dug in and out at will until Kim sunk some wire fencing underground to keep him in and then he was just mad and sulky.
He seemed to age a year a week at the new place. At the old farm he had appeared both timeless and ageless. Always the same, now he became, in a sad and small way to appear somewhat institutionalized and I realized I missed the real Louie, the annoying self serving one and I wondered if he missed himself too.
The worst was when he realized he could no longer jump up and down on the furniture at will. he tried and missed a few times much to his embarrassment and insult and when I go him a fuzzy little dog bed that he could curl up in because he couldn,t get up on the couch with me his sense of degradation was complete.
He went back to burrowing which he had done on and off for years anyway. In the past he spent whatever time he was not on the furniture holed up under it or whatever else he could disappear beneath. Since he had never been a pleaser if Louie was hiding he often stayed hid until he wanted to be found because you could call him using whatever tone of voice you might think would work but unless Louie wanted to come out or you had a freshly cooked steak that he could smell from his hiding place you could spend hours looking for him to no avail.
It wasn’t that Louie was never content at the new place he just obviously missed the good old days of roaming and killing. he still was moderately happy to see us when we got in from the barn each night. He just didn’t have much to do all day and I often felt bad for him even though the new place was as good for our business and well being as the old one had been for his.
my son Jamie continued to work for us and we all had to do our parts to be sure that when he brought Skitz over to the house that Louie did not have access to him. The particular grudge Louie harbored against Skitz had been cultivated by Louie with such intensity that it was still not to be trifled with.
I got a new puppy. Not that we needed one. No one ever needs a dog when there are already five in the family. Nontheless, I was down in Florida with some horses and made the mistake of going into one of those silly puppy boutiques down there mostly to make fun of all the people that would think to shop for a dog in an environment like that. The puppies were all in cribs like they were human babies and people were just eating it up. I was watching the people more than the dogs when this one pup caught my eye. This tiny black fur ball acted like he knew me. I mean like he was already my dog. He seemed happier to see me than Louie had in years and he was trying to sit up in his crib, keep eye contact and wag his tail all at once. he fell over a few times trying to keep my attention and
even though there were other folks around he had singled me out like he had already been my dog for years and I had somehow left him there and was now coming to fetch him home. I petted him a bit even though the shop manager said not to but the last thing on my mind was buying an expensive silly puppy from such an environment as this. I petted him again and cleared out of there.
I did call my husband Kim though and told him about the ridiculous little dog who thought he was mine and he good naturally said go get him if I wanted but I resisted. I slept on it and thought about it and I was not able to get him out of my mind so I returned to the store the next day and snuck in there to see if that puppy had found himself a home so I could be off the hook. he wasn’t in his crib and relieved I turned away and there he was in a different crib with a new room mate. as soon as he saw me he launched into his there is my person routine again just as if he knew he was mine and Had been for years.
I got him. Named him Stewie and he is the most ridiculous happy sit on your lap forever with no plans of his own puppy I have ever met in my life. Stewieh loved me so much and so instantly that it was easy to love him right back. And so I did.
When we returned to Illinois Stewie met the gang and everyone tolerated him for the harmless little sap that he was. even Louie didn’t lay into him. He just burrowed under my bed and growled at Stewie if he infringed on his space. I don’ t think he even categorized him as a dog much less a threat. I am sure he thought Stewie simple minded for seeming to have no desires of his own besides trying to be with me all day.
Business was good. the horses were working well in fact we had three horses that we had trained ourselves who got invited to the Festival of Champions for the Dressage National Championship and so Kassie and I headed to Gladstone New Jersey for the finals leaving Kim, Jamie, Jessica and the working students to keep up with things at home.
The day before competition started out there Jessica called me pretty early to tell me that one of the working students who had just gotten her license had accidentally drove her new car into our client locker room and while she had not been injured there was a heck of a lot of damage to the barn. Oh well, that’s what insurance companies are for i thought and I told Jessie as much before signing off.
She called back half an hour later and I was expecting a further report on damage when I answered the phone but while the call had come from Jessie’s phone it was Kim on the line and he had a bad tone in his voice.
jamie had gotten to the barn earlier than usual and put Skitz out in the backyard before Kim was even out of bed and had headed down to the barn to work horses. When Kim got up he said he was still half asleep and he just let Louie and the poodle out into the yard and went back upstairs to the bathroom. He did not even know Jamie had come in early that day and that Skitz was in the yard. By the time he heard the commotion and registered what must be going on it was too late. Gravely he informed me that while Louie was not dead yet there would be no saving him this time. He was going to give him some pain killers to ease his way but there was way too much damage to recover from. Jamie came up from the barn and he and Kim wrapped Louie up in a blanket and sat with him till he passed.
it was a terrible moment and I sat on a rock outside the barn I was at in Bedminster NJ., thought about Louie and cried. That was it. He was gone. Jamie was digging him a grave as I sat over eight hundred miles away and wished I was home. Kim was tore up about the whole thing and Jamie who loved a dog that killed a dog he loved was as sad as he could be. it was a day to get through for everyone and still hard to think about now.
that night Louie visited me in my dream and told me to write about him. I never dream and this one was so real and so disturbing that I had to get up out of bed and go outside and walk around just to think about things. why did he pick a fight with Skitz knowing that he could not win? Why was I supposed to write about the whole thing and if I did how could I make Louie a hero? at that moment all I could think of was that he was a suicidal maniac. I have known a lot of dogs in my life and loved quite a few. But I never knew a dog like Louie.
The show went very well despite the cloud of heartache that tarnished my days. All three of our horses finished in the top six which was a huge accomplishment. Bittersweet for me though because I had Louie on my mind and in my heart and the “what if’s” burned on my mind. There was no sense blaming anyone or wondering how things could have been different because I carried the sickening feeling that Louie had orchestrated his own demise and such disturbing thoughts have no need to be dwelled on or cultivated because they don’t change anything
When we got back to Illinois I had one more dream about Louie. he didn’t tell me anything he just looked at me like I owed him something and I knew I had to write his story. So it is done.
Louie was a good dog. He was true to himself till his very last breath and there are not that many people I could say that about. If I had to guess the words that Louie might have inscribed on his own gravestone, “I did it my way” is the first thing that comes to mind.
Is that enough to make him a hero? In my eyes it is and maybe that is all he wanted.