There is something to be said about the relationship between a family and their pet or pets, and I am not here to disregard the love any living being has for another creature. However, there is some this special about the symbiotic relationship between a singular human and their dog. That dog becomes a child, a best friend, a confidant, a support system, and in many ways, a mentor. It is almost unbelievable how many independent roles one single creature can play at the same time. It is in this light that I pay homage to the life of my best friend…
It was February 2006, I was a senior in college at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. My girlfriend at the time was a senior at Butler located in downtown Indianapolis. Valentines weekend was descending upon the world so I caught a ride up to Indy with a friend to surprise the girlfriend with flowers and dinner. Little did I know that the next 14 years of my life were about to be decisively changed from what I had imagined them to be. (Insert Valentines day kissy kissy crap here.) After all that was done, I was informed we were headed to the Humane Society where she was planning on adopting a puppy. Naturally I went along, however, being a person of little patience, I decided to wander around the place as she was filling out all of the required paperwork. What beautiful creature should I stumble upon but a 13 month old Boxer/Rhodesian Ridgeback named Zeus. He wasn’t barking (he was always the more “strong and silent” type). He wasn’t jumping against the cage and pawing at it. No, he was literally springing directly into the air on all fours (any of you who knew him during those early years knew how hilarious this was to watch. He was seriously half dog/half Tigger). I thought to myself, “this guy is as crazy as I am. I have some time to kill, why don’t I just take him outside and give him some play time while I’m waiting for the girlfriend”. Thirty minutes later, the girlfriend had finished up her paperwork and we each were walking out of the Human Society with a new dog. After a quick stop at PetSmart for necessities, we went to my parents’ house, whose reactions could best be summed up with, “Are you CRAZY?!” Well, yes. For any of you know who know me, I am. I have always been the one to act on impulse, spontaneity has always been my friend. None of you would be surprised if you called me on a Monday and I was living in Denver, and if you called me again on Friday and I was living in Detroit. Sometimes these decisions I question. I never once questioned adopting Zeus. Not one time in 14 years.
But I digress, I still needed to graduate. So Zeus and I went back to the magical campus in Bloomington, IN.
Not gonna lie, the roommates were a little pissed at first. Zeus had an uncontrollable tail that would leave bruises, clear coffee tables and sometimes even drop an unsuspecting victim to the ground if they got hit in the back of the knee just right. There were several moments in college that Zeus would whack his tail against a corner or door jam so hard, the end would start bleeding. But, seeing as how he never felt pain, he was unaware to the fact and would go around the house continuing the uncontrollable wagging, now with the added bonus of flinging blood all over the walls. It was not uncommon for our house to look like a scene out of a slasher film. We did everything we could to try and prevent it: socks with duct tape, old tied up t-shirts, toilet paper and masking tape, hell we even tried using a pool noodle. All to no avail. He would just tear off our handiwork and we would come into the house with the scraps of our attempts on the floor in the entry way.
There were several other neighborhood dogs owned by our friends and they all fell in pretty quickly. I’d freak out because Zeus would be missing and I’d get a call from a friend down the street, “Hey, we have Zeus, just come grab him when you get out of class.” He was notorious for taking himself on walks. He wasn’t an escape artist, he was just an adventurer. It’s why we got along so well.
Zeus’s life in Bloomington lasted about 6 months, through graduation and most of that summer until we moved out of Bloomington to Indianapolis. But Indy was never where we were planning on staying. And shortly thereafter, Zeus was in my Wrangler and we were moving to Winter Park, CO.
We loved living in Colorado (and would do it a few more times in the next several years). The mountains were our favorite place to play. I don’t know who loved the snow more, myself or Zeus. Whenever there was fresh powder on the ground, as soon as the door was open and he got the green light, Zeus would tear out of the house or the car and run directly into a snowbank. It was a delight to watch–just another thing we had in common. Another great part about Winter Park back in those days is there were a couple bars that would allow our dogs to accompany us, so even when we were having a good après, our friends could still chill with us. Zeus was so great, they even let him sit at the bar.
Winter Park was a snowy playground for us. We went hiking and snowshoeing a considerable amount. We went sledding, but we only went sledding once. Zeus did NOT like sledding. I’m pretty confident it was his least favorite thing ever. The one time I tried to take him down on a saucer sled, he was not having it. He jumped off mid-slide, causing us both to wreck and tumble down the hill in snowy chaos, much like a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. The look he shot me after the dust settled was one of complete and utter disapproval.
But as we all know, the road is winding and come the following summer, Winter Park would no longer be our home. It was off to Chilmark, MA on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard for some beach adventures.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we would become very familiar with Martha’s Vineyard. Zeus would meet another person that summer he would share a special bond with (technically we both would) in my ex-wife. But that wouldn’t really become a thing for another calendar year. Zeus’s first year on the Vineyard was full of late nights littered with friends, long walks through the woods while playing disc golf, and delicious meals of fresh brown rice and salmon bellies (one the occasional evening I would treat him to swordfish pieces as well). He definitely made out from the fact that I worked on the fishing docks (I think we both did).
Martha’s Vineyard was also the first (and thankfully only) time Zeus would get us both put in time-out for a few days.
Scene: it is 2 am. The party was over and everyone had left or gone to bed. I went outside to sit on the rocking chair and have a smoke while letting Zeus out to the bathroom. It was a quiet night on the island, I could hear the waves crashing in the not-far-off distance, a half moon lit up my yard and honeysuckle bushes. In regular Zeus fashion, he came running back up towards the house, only this time, I could see something moving quickly in front of him. I squinted to see what it was, and it was about that time I saw two white stripes down the creatures back. But it was too late. Everything–as I saw that tail raise–seemed to move in slow motion. I yelled for Zeus to stop, and tried jumping out of the rocking chair. Zeus started to hit the brakes and started back pedaling. But we were doomed. We both got sprayed that night, and spent the next two days smelling like the lawn section of a Peter Frampton concert. Nobody would come near us. Lesson learned.
The summer drew to an end and it was time to leave the island. I do not have photos of the following road trip until we ended up in Los Angeles (Studio City) as smart phones weren’t exactly a thing and my digital camera had been stolen. We even had to travel by map (can you even imagine?!). After we left the island, we first stopped in Boston to see an old musician friend from high school. Then we went on a tour across the country to see various friends from the island that had returned to college, and other musician or college friends that had relocated across the country. Our second stop was Poughkeepsie, NY to see a fellow island musician. Zeus and I were both extremely puzzled at the students attempting to play Quidditch (which we all know requires a flying broom). From Poughkeepsie, we traveled to Susquehanna, PA to visit another island friend. From Susquehanna, we traveled to Cleveland for a very short stop on our way to Indianapolis to shed the summer gear and pick up some snowboard gear. From Indianapolis, we drove down to Enid, OK where we spent Thanksgiving on my cousin’s farm. From the farm we went and spent a month snowboarding back in Winer Park, CO. We left winter park to visit an island friend in Albuquerque, NM for a couple days. From Albuquerque we solo traveled to Flagstaff, AZ to check out the town and then down to Phoenix to visit an old friend from high school. Upon leaving Phoenix, we traveled to San Diego to see one of our best friends in the world and this is when we would take our first swims in the Pacific ocean. Finally we headed up to Studio City, CA where we would stay for several months. Zeus and I had just completed our first coast-to-coast road trip.
LA was pretty ok. Not much has changed there. We used to walk the Venice Beach Boardwalk and around Santa Monica a bit. We went and visited a CO friend in Redondo Beach. Zeus and I were never really ones to just lay on a beach though. We took a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park for a photo shoot and were able to nab a cool photo of the two of us in the process.
We were spent on LA and decided to move all the way back to MA. We left Studio City, headed up Highway 1, through Big Sur, to San Francisco to visit some more friends from my college summer job as a camp counselor. Several days in SF turned into almost a month. (That is also where we grabbed the banner photo for this blog, one of our friends snapped it as we were all [humans and dogs] taking a fabulous walk through the Richmond and Golden Gate Park to the beach.) From SF we stopped in Park City, UT to visit Medsger who was Zeus’s dog-sitter from time to time during college. From Park City it was on to Indianapolis, IN (with a quick stop in Winter Park, CO) so I could ditch the snow gear and get ready for another summer on the island. In the process, we completed our second coast-to-coast road trip.
The second summer was similar to the previous. Zeus and I ate tons of fish, hung out with great friends, had beach bonfires, hiked through the woods and in general just enjoyed island life. But at the end of this summer, we would not be going back west. Instead, Zeus and I moved to Washington DC to be with my then girlfriend (eventual wife) whom Zeus would also establish a very close relationship with.
DC was a definite adventure but our apartment on the 9th floor was small and a little confining for the adventurous types had grown to become. So Zeus and I would go on lots of hikes to spend energy. Shenandoah National Park one of our favorite places to explore outside of the city.
He was such a fashionable dog that we even bought him his own tuxedo fort the wedding.
One of Gwen’s favorite things to do with Zeus was to dress him up. He was such a good sport about it.
Like I said before, we got a little stir crazy in DC. Once I found Great Falls National Park and the great trails around there, we found a little respite from the noise and concrete. So, Zeus hiked the Billy Goat Trail with me on a very regular basis. We would go clambering over the boulders. We would sit and soak in the sun on rock faces, and watch the Great Blue Herons fish in the river below.
After the divorce, Zeus and I made a beeline back to Colorado. However Zeus would end up staying in Indianapolis for several months while I found a job and an apartment, as I flew to Denver with only a suitcase and a mandolin because I had sold my 4-Runner when living in DC as two cars were not necessary. Zeus would rejoin me in Denver after a U-haul road trip with my parents, but not until after his little buddy Lucky was brought into my parents life. Zeus looked after the pup for the several months he was with my parents and created a pretty strong bond with him.
Zeus and I spent the following three years in Denver,CO and Golden,CO having all sorts of wonderful adventures in the Colorado Rockies. Mt. Evans wilderness was a favorite spot of ours. We also hiked a few 14’ers, Lincoln and Democrat. (For those of you unfamiliar, a 14’er is a 14,000 foot summit and it is a work out for the body as well as the spirit.) Zeus made friends with all sorts of dogs as we frequented a local dog park bar, and he also became pretty close friends with my roommates cat believe it or not. Zeus just did not have a hateful bone in his body. He literally loved every person or being he came into contact with (remember the skunk story…). Here are a bunch more Colorado photos.
One of Zeus’s favorite things in the world was snuggling. He would find himself a couch or a blanket and just make himself a little nest and nap away. I couldn’t tell you the number of mornings I would wake up, open my eyes and find Zeus’s head on the pillow next to me sleeping away like it was only natural for him to put his head on the pillow like the rest of us.
Zeus was all about making friends and having a good time. And he has lots of stories with so many people we have met along our path together.
But at the end of it all, he was always a daddy’s boy, and his favorite place was on my lap.
In 2015, we had had enough of Colorado and headed back to Indiana where we would spend nearly a year trying to figure out what to do next. We spent a lot of time hiking local woods, but by now my parents puppy Lucky, was big enough to hike with us. Over that time Zeus and Lucky became fast friends. In early 2016 I decided to return to Martha’s Vineyard for a season but didn’t have a place to live by the time I moved (housing on the island is a serious crisis). So Zeus stayed in Indianapolis. At this point Zeus was starting to get older and my schedule after returning to the world of bartending could keep me away from he house for up to 14 hours at a time somedays. With Zeus and Lucky being so close, as Zeus aged, Lucky started to look out for him the way he looked out for Lucky when he was a pup. It was also very helpful that my dad worked from home so both dogs could get frequent walks be able to go out amongst the other dogs of my parents cul-de-sac whenever they wanted. All of these things lead to the decision that it was best for Zeus to spend his “golden years” in Indianapolis where he could lounge, sunbathe, and drive my parents crazy with his (still) uncontrollable tail.
I spent the following three years working seasonally between MA, MT, and CA. I would come home about every 4-6 months for a visit and get to spend time with Zeus. I didn’t get to see him as often as I would have liked and it was incredibly lonely, especially the first few months, to not have his companionship and constant snuggling. But my parents always updated me with photos and videos of his wacky self.
In 2019 I relocated to Nashville, a mere 4.5 hour drive from Indy. I was able to drive up pretty frequently, sometimes every other week and spend time with him. But at this point he was getting old. He muscles had atrophied and he wasn’t able to climb stairs. So when I would visit, I would sleep on the floor with him at night
Two weeks ago, on the night of October 5th, I drove up to Indianapolis to visit friends. I had been up there just four days prior, but this trip I wasn’t staying in my parent’s guest bedroom. I had originally planned to go camping for about five days and then drive to Indy but I had not received the correct scheduling information and since I was traveling solo, I was able to reorganize my vacation. I had promised to bake an apple pie for my friends and for said pie, I needed to pick up an apple corer from my parents. I called them and told them I would be by to pick it up and that I would return it the following day. Their reply was, “I thought you were camping”. I pulled up to the house and got out of the car, turned to my friend and said, “Put on your game face, you have to meet my parents, but as an added bonus, you also get to meet my dog!”
My dad was standing by the front door. He beckoned me over. She and I walked up to the porch.
He said, “We didn’t wan’t to tell you until you were out of the mountains. Zeus didn’t wake up yesterday morning.” I had no reaction. All I could do was look around aimlessly looking for some way to respond. I knew that was not the moment to process it. I calmly said, “OK” and that I would process that on my own time.
So this is my own time.
After leaving Indy I drove out to go solo camping and hiking in the Smoky Mountains. But after arriving, the TN side of the mountains was absolutely crowded with people. Nothing was to be found by ways of a campsite and I’m positive the trails would have been packed as well. So, I decided to call a friend who lives in Asheville, NC who also happens to be an avid outdoors person, and ask her if she knew of any good spots around Asheville I might be able to find a campsite and do some good hiking. She told me to drive to Asheville. I did.
She pointed out several good hikes, the last one being Shining Rock, in the Pisgah National Forest. Shining Rock holds a very specific place in Cherokee lore and is said to have been the home of Tsul ‘Kalu and also served as a place for spirits to pass from this world into the next. I decided that hiking up to Shining rock was the most appropriate was to process the passing of Zeus.
I started at the trail head and hiked with him all the way up the mountain. When I got up there, I looked at the sky and said a final good-bye to my best friend.
I love you Z.
Jan 15, 2005 – Oct 5, 2019