The Tao of Poodle


Tula was a black standard poodle who embodied the notion of irrational exuberance.

For her, everything was exciting and worthy of comment. A ride in the car was the most fun thing in the whole world. A walk in the neighborhood was the most fun thing in the whole world. The chance to catch a tennis ball was the most fun thing in the whole world.

You get the picture.

If I had her out for a walk, and she saw someone she knew, it was pointless to try to hang onto her. I’d let go of her leash and she would race to her friend and greet them like the last time she saw them they were dying and she had not expected them to make it. She loved our neighbors.

She knew our names and if I said, “Go get Joey,” she knew to run to my husband. “Go get Gramma” sent her to my mother-in-law.

We took her on trips and she would spend five, six hours or more standing in the back of the SUV, looking out the window to see what was coming next. She greeted cows with a lowing sound. Horses too brought an excited moo.

She loved to make noise. No salesman ever remained on our front stoop when she answered the door with her deep bark and long white canines. Had the visitor simply stepped inside, she would have brought him a tennis ball. But she looked intimidating.

Her only enemy was UPS, and she would sound the alarm not only when the brown van came to the house, but when we passed a UPS van in the car.

Near the end of July I noticed a funny wheeze in her breathing. I figured I was over-reacting when I took her to the vet.  I was not. He sent us straight to the animal hospital. There Tula stayed, the victim of a hole in her lung that allowed air to leak into her chest cavity. Trapped there, the air compressed her lungs to the size of paperback novels. The vets put in chest tubes so the air could escape, and we waited for her to heal. Every day they would measure the air in her chest cavity. Each day there was a little less. She was getting better. I was glad she was in good hands, but leaving her in the hospital was wrenching.

She wanted the family together at all times. I called her our Family Values Dog. If I left her food bowl in the living room, and Joey and I were in our offices, she would run out to the living room, grab a mouthful of food, and pick an office to chew in. She didn’t like the separate offices.

I am an early riser, and my husband sleeps later. So she’d get up with me, and when she heard sounds of stirring from the bedroom, she’d stand at the bedroom door to be let in to see Joey. If I didn’t go in with her, she’d stand in the bedroom and stare back at me in my office until I got the message.

A week into her hospital stay, the air stopped escaping. When no air accumulated two days in a row, they let us take Tula home. I had to keep her quiet, so I kept her in the office was me, where she couldn’t see out the window. One day she started barking and growling, begging to get out. Puzzled, we walked to the front door together. Parked two doors down? The UPS truck. She had heard her enemy approaching. No question, I thought, she’s getting better.

But by the end of the week, she was wheezing again. This time our vet withdrew the air with a syringe. “Take her home,” he said. “Maybe this will do the trick.” In a day, I could tell it wasn’t working. The next morning, when I didn’t follow her into the bedroom to wake Joey, she came back to my office, grabbed me by the wrist, and led me to the bedroom. We should be together, she said.

Two days later, the wheeze was back.

That evening we took her for a ride in the country to see the horses and cows. At bed time we put couch cushions on the floor and slept beside her. I called the vet in the morning, but before we took her in, we went to the park where she and I spent so many Saturdays and played a little fetch. She still wanted to play. Nothing could stop her. Then we took her to the vet and said goodbye. She would have been eight in October. We are still grieving.

But I’m also conscious of the lessons this large-hearted dog taught me with her unmatched joie di vive. I want to share them with you.

The Tao of Tula

1. Everything is funner when everyone is together.

2. Making someone else very happy is the best way to make yourself very happy.

3. Each morning, remind everyone around you how special they are to you.

4. Greet all friends with great enthusiasm.

5. Sometimes, when everyone else is busy, it’s nice to just sit and feel the sun on your back.

6. Drop everything if you might catch a bunny.

7. When you love someone, you can say anything with just a few gestures and sounds.

8. When choosing between toys, always select the one that makes the most noise. Everyone will want to hear you enjoy yourself.

9. Running is better than walking. Walking is better than sitting.

10. Don’t miss an opportunity to play.

11. Now is everything.

On September 7 we adopted four-year-old Phoebe from Carolina Poodle Rescue. Like Tula, she’s a black standard, but a good fifteen pounds smaller. Unlike Tula, she is quiet, and loves to wind her body around my legs like a cat. She has her own spirit, her own rules for living, her own lessons to teach us.

I just hope we’re smart enough to learn them quickly. We’re working on it. I’ll let you know.

(photos by Joey Harrison)


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