“The Nubster Tribute”

I am on my last of seven days at the cabin in Kohl’s Ranch of Payson. Having spread Nubble’s ashes along the Tonto Creek, I have almost completed my promise and my mission. What lies next is writing him a tribute. Having penned several for friends, parents of friends, and celebrities, I deemed it only fair that this wordsmith write one for his best friend. The challenge has me rubbing my jaw raw, pondering the words to write. Normally this would be the time Nubble sensed that I was stumped and lean against my left knee with his lime-green Frisbee and cast those almond eyes on me. Then he’d flicker his eyebrows.

The Nubster has been a furry bag of stories since he adopted me almost eleven years ago. Many have been published, often helping pay for dog food and treats. And I’m not sure of another dog who virtually took over his “owner’s” Facebook page. His bloodline was mainly cattle herder and his specialty was herding hearts. He combined herding with rescuing. We’d spot a loose dog on the freeway and pull over. If no traffic, Nubble would herd him to the car or corral the scared mutt until I could get one of our emergency leashes on him. If traffic was busy, Nubble seemed to know when to bark to get the mutt’s attention and the stray would climb into our car. We began to keep Highway Hash Marks to record our good deeds, so I stretched my legs to go check the number just now. The count was twenty-seven. Now if a dog was seen running loose in a neighborhood, often when the owner was painstakingly chasing him, we’d pull over and offer to help. Didn’t matter the size, I’d say, “Git ‘em” and Nubble would either herd him our way or circle the hound so he could go no farther until we reached him. I lost count of those herding numbers long ago.

On two occasions Nubble rescued kitties. First was a stormy night and the renters in the complex shared a laundry room off the backyard. I thought he’d found socks the neighbor had missed until he dropped them carefully on his bed. I jumped when I reached for them…and they moved. He was not happy when I found and returned them to the mommy cat. The second time was turned into a short story, Stove-Top Kitties. We kept those three new-born feral felines for two months with Nubble raising them until they found a loving home with the Schraders.

Fetch was Nubble’s favorite game, especially if it entailed Fetch in the Water. There wasn’t a stick, ball, or Frisbee that dog wouldn’t adopt. At the dog park he attempted to gather all of the balls, able to keep three in his mouth at a time. He did not share; rather, he ran and shoved his face in the muzzle of various-sized dogs and then ducked his head and trotted off if they attempted to take one. Tease. The only thing that took Nub’s attention off the bouncing balls was a fight. Ball in mouth, he ran and body-blocked the one he felt was the instigator. Fight broken up, he happily returned with the ball. He didn’t like bullies, just like me. And he was a bit of a director, much like a past girlfriend and my daughter.

At the lake, Nubble enjoyed herding the ducks and geese into the water after which he’d swim circles until they were gathered into a tight flock. Suddenly he’d dive beneath and pop up in the middle, scattering the fowl all over the place. We called this game Dog Gooses Duck. Nubble later noticed that swans can have a bit of an attitude. This was especially true with one in particular over by City Hall in the days when the outdoor fairs still allowed dogs to attend. This one beast decided to snap at Nubble and some kids. This was the only time I became scared momentarily at one of his actions. He attempted to ignore the ill-tempered swan but finally did a quick spin and soft-mouthed the long neck, immediately walking that bird to the water’s edge and led it into the pond. Then he released and scolded the swan. It never bothered him again.

We used to do our morning run along one of the canals. He was only a couple years old when without warning he leapt about ten feet from the bank into the moving water fifteen feet below. I raced ahead to descend the stairs cut into the concrete but the current kept him out too far. As a last-ditch effort, I ran way ahead and climbed down on the bottom step and began calling for him. I was about to dive in when he made a gradual turn and I was able to grasp him by the collar and pull him in to shore. I expected he’d be exhausted but he merely ran and found the perfect stick for me to toss. He quickly learned the command “No swimming,” which came in useful as he loved water fountains too. Case in point, why on earth put an alluring fountain by the gates to the dog park and then become angry when canines jumped in for a swim? Hey – it’s a dry heat for poodle’s sake!

That was the month a friend’s daughter was slated for a stay in Phoenix Children’s Hospital and she loved for Nubble to visit. If his visitation papers were totally legit, we’ll never tell. But she liked the way Nubble jumped into fountains, so we made her a series of pictures to last her the three-weeks she was hospitalized and called it “Fountains Nubble Has Known.” Every day the nurses flipped the pictures to show Nubble swimming in a different fountain at City Hall, Tlaquepaque, Royal Palms, Marriott’s, The Phoenician, to name a few.

Not on the swimming agenda was the day we came across a crowd at Camelback and Scottsdale, so we jogged over to find a Terrier trapped in the canal. I was shocked to see a pre-teen in the water holding onto the ledge evidently trying to save his pooch and everyone merely staring at the unfortunate event. I’m no swimmer but I looked at Nubble and said, “Go.” He dove in and herded the doggie out of the current until we could get a hold of the boy and dog. We still hear from them at Christmas.

Nubble was a good protector. Most know he assumed Starbucks was Starbarks, a place where folks came to pet him and occasionally buy a beverage. If a child moved dangerously close to a curb as the result of a parent focused on their cell phone, a simple “Git ‘im” and he herded them back. Our antics earned us many free foo-foo drinks. There was also one child in a stroller whose mother said loved dogs, so I let Nubble go to say hi. Nub got a mischievous look in his eye right before gently snatching the pacifier from the tot’s mouth, then doing three tight circles to show how impressed he was with himself. When I told him to give it back, Nubble hesitated but then tossed it in the air. The mother dipped it a few times in her hot coffee and popped it back in Samuel’s mouth. Cool mom. On future visits she let Nubble mouth one of the toys hanging off her son’s stroller and pull the tot around the patio. Nubble also caught a carjacker and the amused officer listed him as an Honorary Member of the Canine Unit which I shared in “There’s a New Sheriff in Town.”

Nubble enjoyed some other antics as well. As stated earlier, he was and still will be great fodder for writing. “The Doggie Lama” is about the time he defrocked a Buddhist Monk and received a personal blessing. Another time he befriended a one-legged pigeon to share his water as shared in “A Leg to Stand On.” Or the time he mistook a man’s toupee for a monster toy in “Toupee Toss.” Oh yes, and take a peek at “Good Vibrations” for the time he claimed a house guest’s personal toy as his own.

Nubble amassed a number of toys, most from me but many from his adopted aunties and uncles. We’d thin them out once a year, but I had to be sneaky. He amazed me the way he learned the names of the toys and their colors. Played hard with them but wasn’t destructive.
However, if a toy had a tear and the fluff was exposed, it was history as he de-stuffed it with the energy he enjoyed opening birthday and Christmas gifts. He still had a floppy fish Luna gave him the first year after he pulled a live fish from the canal, but that’s another story. People often asked how I taught him so much. I’d shrug, and explain that I just stayed out of his way although I do send thanks to the Monks of New Skete for their books. For years I’ve given them to folks, no matter the ages of their dogs. One of my promises focuses on going through Nubble’s toys and his library, but I’m not rushing. One step at a time.

Nubble was quite the maître d. Folks with dogs will understand this is not an exaggeration in that many, many dogs sense someone’s coming to the door before that person even drives into the lot. On our third floor, I knew, based on which toy Nubble brought to the window in my Word Corner who was about to visit. Big Badger for UPS, Gorilla for Domino’s Pizza, Tug for Federal Express, Wabbit for Judy, and Mojo for Edward or Valerie. I won a few bucks off a plumber once and again from a friend who thought I was telling tales until a knock at the door and my “prediction” of the visitor came true.

On a side note, I wasn’t in the mood to cook that first night back from the vet with no curious nose staring up at me, so I ordered a pizza. The delivery guy said, “Where’s the toy ‘meister’?” After he said his condolences, I told him to let the crew at Domino’s know. Then with no warning he burst into tears, telling me how special Nubble made the delivery guys feel. Here we are standing in my doorway with me holding a sobbing delivery man as I began to cry, comforting him with “There, there.” I find that pretty impressive for a dog to have such an effect on the delivery man. I hope I can leave such an impression on strangers.

Several years back I started a tradition. When someone dies that I knew who added meaningfully to my life, I sought something in their essence that I could elicit and instill in myself to make me a better being. It is a means of honoring them, so some of them live on through me as detailed in “Flow Through Me.” I am still exploring which of Nubble’s special traits to absorb and practice. I think of the lil’ furr-face and the way he often made me laugh out loud, and he knew he was doing it. Another huge one was his patience with me. I also think of his forgiveness and a host of other qualities as spectacular as the colors on The Rainbow Bridge. I’ll remain open for insight.

Nubble’s patience included me dressing him up for pictures. Reading books by such folks as Dave Pratt, Lee Child, Stephen Cannell, Michael McGarrity, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Lauren Myracle, Deborah Coots, and Jackie Collins. Quite the eclectic pooch. Then there was Nubble’s talking pitch in a video to Ellen DeGeneres for Free the Puddles. Dressing up as Sam Axe to surprise Bruce Campbell. One Halloween I blacked Nubble’s other eye and gave him a red bandana and then taped a feather to my head and crashed a party as The Lone Ranger and Tonto. We won a couple hundred bucks and I sent a picture to Clayton Moore. I learned years later from Clayton’s widow that our picture hung in his office next to a picture of Roy Rogers with Trigger.

He was also patient with me as I am attempting to learn guitar. When I’d bring it out in the evening, Nubble would lie at my feet and pretend to care. In later years I realized he seemed to enjoy me reading aloud, so I’d sit on the floor with his head across my ankle for a chapter or two. Maybe he was just coaching me to practice for my book tours. I do think my guitar picking suffers without him.

Nubble also was invited by authors to join their book signings, as in Lisa Lillien, author of The Hungry Girl. Al Franken who’d missed his family and dog for three weeks joked that I should bring Nubble on the early morning run to the airport. They rode together in the backseat while I chauffeured. Laura Van Wormer would stop by with gifts for her “nephew.” Hugh O’Brian, Robert Tanenbaum, and Deborah Coonts met with The Nubster. Robert B. Parker sent him an email from Pearl. Nub adopted Xander, the son of Andrew Grant and Tasha Alexander as his own nephew. Lisa Gardner posed with him on a baggage cart.

I fully expected Nubble would be attending book-signings with me for Free the Puddles and more. Heck, many of the bookstores have requested him. It’s only fair because when our lives joined, I “officially” became a writer. Nubble is actually cast as himself in my fictional mystery as the dog of Daro Brónach the protagonist, so Nubble will live on with Daro. And I promised Nubble I’d go ahead with the children’s book that casts him with my daughter in a tale whereby he becomes a furry dragon at night and she a sorceress, and they fly into children’s dreams to teach them the way to deal with their fears.

The week after Nubble died, I attempted a storyline based on all of the dogs Nubble would meet as he crossed that Rainbow Bridge. Included were many of those beloved creatures from our Facebook friends who sent me touching stories and anecdotes of their beloved pets, but I failed so far to write the saga, finally realizing it is simply too soon. I promise you as I did The Nubster, it will come to fruition.

This loss has hit me differently from any other. Death has been no stranger to me and I’ve been in the immediate vicinity on several occasions, more of a blessing than one might think. I also don’t want to dwell on it but there is now definitely, as my new friend Stowe Dailey Shockey sings, “A God-Shaped Hole” in my life.

Despite suggestions, I’m not sure at this moment if I have another dog left in me. I do know it is too soon because I’d be comparing that new pup to Nubble, which isn’t fair to the puppy nor fair to Nubble. Plus, I want to be in a place where I can provide a solid foundation for a new dog and with an upcoming book tour on the horizon in my wishes, it just doesn’t feel right. I assured Nubble I’d be open if he sent the right dog my way.

Tomorrow I pack up to leave Kohl’s and head back to the Valley. I’m not eager to pull into my parking spot. I still look up at the third-floor window in my Word Corner expecting to see those spotted Dingo ears and big black nose, and attempt to guess which toy Nubble will greet me with this time.