Our Sweet Puppy

Wow, has it really been three months since I last wrote about our fuzzy little bundles of joy? Crazy...

I first introduced the world to Ruby, our 90-pound Akita, way back in the early postings of this blog, back in July, when I talked about leashing dogs. Sometime since then I've been intending to do an in-depth post about Ruby, telling her story, but for whatever reason I haven't gotten to it. Wait, I do know - these take time to do, and I don't always have a ton of that.

Our Dear Ruby

Unfortunately time is not something that is guaranteed, so these things should be done. Here you are...

Ruby's Story

Not too long after Wifey and I bought our house we decided to get a dog. She grew up with dogs and I had one during my teen years, so naturally we would want one together. I never really considered myself a dog person, but we were able to come to an agreement on what we wanted. It boiled down to what dog had all the characteristics we desired: relatively quiet, a little imposing, intelligent, loyal, independent, soft, regal, strong - oh, and cute.

At first we thought about a rottweiler, and while they can be very sweet dogs when they are raised right we decided against them (for some reason I can't remember now - maybe because they are stronger than me?). Then we moved on to huskies, but research showed if you have cats running around - which we already had two of the three crazy little Bengals at the time - huskies aren't usually a good choice since they like to chase small animals who run from them and need tons of exercise.

We finally settled on an Akita. They have beautiful coloring, will protect their families without being crazy (they are more likely to strongly warn than actually attack anyone - I think), can be amazingly sweet, get along with most other animals (as long as they aren't dogs of the same sex), and are somewhat rare (being much more common in their homeland of Japan). How do I know they are rare? To this day people usually have no idea what to picture when I tell them I have an Akita. Most of the time they think of something small, but I give them credit for getting close if they come up with husky or German shepherd.

So now how do we find one? We wanted a puppy, and we wanted it to be a true Akita - not what someone just chose to call an Akita. (If you want to see what I mean, go to petfinder.com and search for Akitas, and compare the pictures in the search results to the ones on this page. It's a joke, really.) That meant finding an AKC-licensed breeder of Akitas, of which there really aren't that many in the area. Or, actually, none that we found. We did our research almost exclusively online, using a web presence with pictures of the dogs as one of our criterion for choosing who to contact and work with.

Eventually, and I have no idea really how, we ended up at Itoku Akitas. Amazingly they had a four-month-old puppy with our preferred color combination of red and white. How perfect, right? (Check out some pictures of Ruby, her parents, and brothers and sisters here. Dad was an 130-pound beast, and Mom is beautiful. See the difference in facial structure between the two? Kali (Mom) is a Japanese Akita while Cory (Dad) is an American one. Don't they look different? Depending on who you ask these are the same breed, but I personally think they should be considered two. The American ones are bigger and stronger, with less delicate facial features.)

As a Pup, Not Long After Coming Home

The only problem? Ruby was in Los Angeles. Yes, the same Los Angeles that is a 16-hour drive from Portland. No worries on our end, right? Or something. After trading some emails and a couple phone calls (Wifey did all that) we apparently decided to buy the dog. And, the breeder offered to meet us halfway, so we made plans to meet at a park in Sacramento. At this point I suppose we could have backed out after driving 600 miles, but really the idea never crossed our mind.

We made a weekend of it and drove down on Saturday. We stayed at a hotel in downtown Sacramento and had quite an interesting time finding food. Let me tell you...I, um, don't like that city. It's a pit. The next morning we met the breeder just before lunch in a park where we got to meet Ruby and one of her older half-brothers. She was about 40 pounds at the time, just the cutest bundle of fluff you can imagine, and the older dog was perfect. Well-trained, restrained, didn't bark at other things in the park, let us pet him respectfully...he was the epitome of an Akita. Ruby, being a puppy, was a little more rambunctious, but not too much. Exactly what we wanted. As a bonus she seemed to like us right away despite the fact Akitas as a breed are normally wary of strangers.

So we loaded the dog, a couple toys, some treats, and a giant bag of dog food (that was thoughtful) into my 1986 Honda Accord and were off. (Side story - we had to borrow a crate from a co-worker of Wifey's so the dog wouldn't be running all over the car. Keep in mind the 1986 Accord. The crate, made for medium-to-large dogs, barely fit in the back seat. We had to push and wiggle for about 5-10 minutes to get it in. That's one of the reasons I now drive a small SUV instead of a family sedan - for the dog.)

We stopped a few times along the way, but Ruby never seemed interested in eating anything. Why would become evident later. She was pretty good on leash for a puppy, which was nice. We got her home without incident; incidents are bad.

Hitting the Bottle Early

I should note that she came with her name - we didn't choose "Ruby." Still, with her coloring it seemed apt and she responded to it well - and we couldn't come up with anything better - so Ruby it was. Now, the funny thing about this - and this is just me, not Wifey - is when I think about her name I always remember this interview comedian Chris Rock did. He said as a parent his only goal was to keep his daughter off the pole - meaning the stripper pole. He went on to say how some kids just are behind the eight ball with regards to that from the get-go because of the names given by their parents. You know the names - Misty, Diamond, things like that. Ruby fits right in there...always good for a smile.

Now we had become dog owners. Turns out, it's really not that different from having a human child.

Writing About Me, Right?

Ruby and the Cats

How our Bengal kitties would handle the addition of Ruby was a concern, but we never really thought they would make too big an issue of it. When they were introduced we made sure the dog was leashed so the cats could see what was up, but they just sniffed here a couple times and went on their way like it was no big deal. For awhile we would be extra vigilant when Ruby was around them in the house, just in case, but she just wanted to play with them.

Ruby and Sera

Never once did the cats show any fear of the dog (okay, I'm kidding - Sera stayed upstairs almost exclusively for a couple months) and Ruby seemed to understand these cats were part of her pack, even in the beginning. Now, if neighbor's cat got into the backyard? Ruby would chase it out as fast as she could - and love every minute of it. But her cats? She didn't mind them.

When they were both young, Moochie - the male cat and the biggest of the bunch at almost 20 pounds of muscle - would sit on a chair and almost entice Ruby to come over. She'd walk over, sniff him - and he'd proceed to use her nose as a speed bag like Muhammad Ali training for Joe Frazier. It was hilarious! He never used his claws, but Ruby would always slowly back up and then look over at one of us with a sad face, like why did he have to do that?

Ruby and Moochie, Boxing

He eventually grew out of it - which is sad because I don't have any great pictures of it - but that image makes me laugh every time.

When we adopted Lilo, the smallest kitty we have at about six pounds, she just thought Ruby was the greatest thing ever. Ruby always gives her a little more leeway than the other two, probably because someone declawed Lilo. Our cats are indoor kitties, so every time Ruby comes in from outside Lilo needs to smell her all over to see what she's missing. Lilo likes to groom the big red dog too, and Ruby gamely allows her. When Ruby lays down to sleep Lilo will flop down and play with the dog's big fluffy tail - well, at least until Ruby wakes up.

Lilo Sniffing Ruby

I won't lie, there were incidents. Ruby gets annoyed if they spend too much time sniffing at her, especially if she is waking up. She'll growl at them, especially as she has gotten older, and there was an occasional snap here and there. One would think the cats would be bothered by this but they never are, almost as if they don't believe she is capable of what she is threatening. And on the flip side, they could have ended all of it with one swipe of a paw bearing claws, but they never have.

On one hand if they had Ruby may have been more respectful, but on the other we may have had to get her stitches, so it's probably just as well they didn't.

Photobomb Ruby!

Ruby and Other Dogs

As I think I stated in the first post about leashes, Ruby doesn't like dogs. I don't know if it's because she feels she was above them, not one of them, or maybe it's just because they aren't part of her pack, but she never felt the need to do meet and greets. When we take her on walks we keep her away from other animals. Akitas in general are indifferent to other people and animals, but Rubes definitely didn't like them.

As part of the puppy purchase agreement we had to take Ruby to obedience training, which was interesting. The class we signed her up for had about 10-12 other dogs in it - all of them no more than a quarter her size. She didn't know what to make of it, all these little things running around her ankles. At the beginning of class the dogs were allowed to run around the room together and play; it quickly became clear Ruby shouldn't join them. Instead, she was put in an exercise pen in one corner so she could watch them. I think the plan was to get her acclimated to all these dogs, but in retrospect I don't know if it was really a great idea.

I also think it was stressful for the other puppy owners, who saw this dog hulking over their little babies and they didn't know what to make of it. Truth be told Akitas can be scary, especially if you have no experience with the breed, which most people do not (goes back to the relatively rare thing). Perhaps in their shoes I would have been a little worried about my puppy too, but it turned out okay.

Prancing on Leash

Like I said, we just do our best to avoid other dogs. It's not horribly uncommon, I guess - they say Akitas are "cat-like" dogs (they are fastidious about their own cleanliness) and may not always get along with other dogs, especially the same sex (and the funny thing is Bengal cats are sometimes described as "dog-like").

Ruby and People

We think Ruby is really lucky to end up with us. She is a home-body type, someone who prefers the comfort of her family as opposed to going out and mingling with the rest of the world - just like us. Another family, one more gregarious, probably wouldn't have been nearly as patient and understanding about her disposition as we are - that's just not what people normally look for in a dog.

That's not to say Ruby doesn't like people; she does. She just likes to take her time to meet them. The first time our families came over and met the dog, she was shy at first, but then excited to have all these hands petting her. Super excited. In fact, so excited we had to clean the carpet. It took that happening twice for us to realize she needed to be outside when she met people, and then she could come inside later. Why twice? Because I'm apparently a slow learner.

I Could Take This Whenever I Want

Ruby also is more wary of some people compared to others. It's somewhat embarrassing, but the darker your skin the more likely she is to bark. Now, before the poor pup gets called racist there have been actual scientific studies done on the subject and she's hardly the only dog like this. Speculation is it has something to do with what they are used to (i.e., growing up in an all-white neighborhood for instance) and could also have something to do with the quality of their vision. Ruby has bad night vision. No idea what this means, but it's interesting.

She has a bubble too. When she is out on leash she doesn't like her bubble to be violated. We discourage children and adults from approaching Ruby; not because we actually think she would bite anyone ever, but more because we can't say for sure she won't. It's funny - if we sit down anywhere, her bubble will get bigger. One time we took her to the beach and sat down to have our lunch where there was no one around. At first the people walking by 20 feet away didn't bother her, then she started to woof at them a little. Then she started to woof at the people walking by 30 feet away. It was almost as if the longer she sat in one place, the wider her bubble became, which is fascinating and maddening all at the same time.

Aren't I Just the Cutest?

At other times she will surprise us. She has a kennel she stays in outside when we aren't home and a few years back we had some work done on the house, most of it while we were at work. One day we came home and walked around to see the dog. The workers were still there so we decided not to let her out yet, but she was just chilling in her kennel, watching them do their job. The second she saw us, she stood up and woofed a bit, scaring the workers. Then, apparently satisfied she had done her job, she laid back down. I asked the guy if she had been annoying all day with her barking (which, honestly, can blow out an eardrum, especially indoors). His answer? A laugh. "That's the first time she's said anything all day," he said. Apparently it was just a little bit of show for her owners, that she was protecting the home. If we weren't around, she didn't care. Interesting...we're on to you Rubes...

Some Ruby Stories

Trucks and Doorbells - Ruby always lets us know when a delivery truck of any kind driving by. She woofs for FedEx, the mailman, UPS, or any other kind of delivery truck - warning them about getting too close to her bubble. The crazy part is this only pertains to trucks driving by, not trucks actually stopping at our house to deliver something.

That is, until the doorbell rings. Then she goes crazy. It always takes us 10 minutes to answer the door because I have to make sure the dog is outside first and her somewhat reluctant to go out with the exciting prospect of someone at the door. Half of the ringers - and most all of the kids selling candy - are gone, spooked by the monstrous woofing of the unknown beast, by the time I answer. I think that was her plan.

And hey, considering we've never bought anything from any door-to-door salesmen, including kids, we actually don't mind either.

Fireworks - By now we've established the fact Ruby is a little bit crazy, especially about the unknown and big noises, so you would think the Fourth of July would freak her out a bit, right? Nope. The whistles and explosions don't faze her at all. We joke this is because she's from Los Angeles, so she's probably used to sirens and gunshots.

It's crazier, though, because the Fourth in our neighborhood freaks me out a little bit. You know how in war movies when you watch them with a good sound system, the explosions sound like they are coming from all around you? How they seem relentless and you can't possibly concentrate? I don't know why people have so much spare money for this stuff, but that's what my neighborhood is like on the Fourth - it's like no other neighborhood I've ever lived in. Explosions echo from all over, some shaking the ground (no doubt fueled in some part by alcoholic hazes), and the air is thick with acrid smoke. It does seem like a war zone.

Blow It Up!

I always thought the Fourth would be a good night if you ever needed to shoot anything and get away with it.

Shockingly, Ruby doesn't mind at all.

In the Car - Ruby loves car rides. We love taking Ruby places, especially to the beach and on hikes (she likes anything that gets her some peace and quiet away from the kitties for a few hours). We first took Ruby to the beach a couple months after we got her. We all had breakfast, loaded the dog in the back (still the Honda with the backseat down), and headed towards Cannon Beach.

About two-thirds of the way there we hear this horrendous burping noise from the back as Ruby's breakfast ends up all over the blanket she was laying on. Nice. Well, we figured, we couldn't do anything about it now so we just kept going, deciding to clean it up when we arrived. At the beach we cleaned it up and gave her some more food - because she must be hungry, right?

That beach was busy, though, so we got back in the car to try another one. About the time we hit Highway 101 to go south, she puked again. Crazy, since she had just eaten and all - who would have predicted that?! After that she was fine.

Step On It!

Now, you would think we'd figure out at this point we shouldn't feed the dog and then take her somewhere. Whether it's nerves, excitement, or motion sickness, the ride and food in Ruby's fuzzy white belly are not a good match. But no. Not us. It takes us about three or four times before we just decided Ruby will be skipping breakfast on days we go somewhere.

After that conclusion, things have been rosy. She's so excited to get in the car, even if half the time it ends up being for a bath at the dog wash or the occasional trip to the vet.

Left at Home - We managed to finish off the fence completely enclosing the backyard, about the time we got the dog. However, we didn't really think it through as to what we would do with her when we were gone. Turns out the Rubes loves to dig herself a hole every so often, so we can't just leave her out in the yard, fenced six feet around or not.

Surveying Her Domain

We bought an adjustable metal exercise pen. In our infinite wisdom we put it in the dining room in a nice round shape on the fake hardwood floor, thinking that would be fine. Well, that lasted a day. We came home from work and Ruby had been running all over the house probably since five minutes after we left and there were plenty of nice scratches in the wood floor.

The floor I wasn't overly concerned about, but the issue of where to put the pup all day suddenly became serious. What to do... Lucky for us we have this nice sunroom that opens to outside to a wide deck - that's where Ruby stayed during the day for a few years while we were at work, until we finally built her a kennel.

Funny story about Ruby - or supposedly about Ruby: One day when she was younger we were walking her around the neighborhood and this older lady came out of our house, chatting us up, asking about the dog. Then she made the comment Ruby had been running around the neighborhood all day. Wifey and I looked at each like "What?" We told the lady no, that wasn't possible (well, unless she developed thumbs to open gates or could suddenly jump six-foot fences, which she never had a prayer of doing, and then make it back inside before we got home). The lady was insistent, so we just politely begged off and walked away.

This became a running joke for us. When we built the kennel we also had a light installed by it, one that would brighten depending on the amount of motion. When we would drive up at night we always knew when Ruby perked up because the light would brighten, and we'd make the joke that Ruby made it home just before we did so she could act like everything was normal.

Laughing At Us

She only got out for an extended amount of time once. This was when we first put her in the sunroom and thought we could leave her in there with the windows open. Well, the windows have screens and the screens don't support Akitas, even an adolescent one. Needless to say, from then on the windows were only left cracked, with a thick dowel in place to keep it from opening too far.

Ruby was so proud of herself too that day. We came home and she was waiting for us with a big cheesy grin, so excited she had figured out the puzzle we had left for her. It was kind of hard to stay mad at her for that, since she really did outsmart us.

After that we seemed to figure out how to keep her contained. Well, until one hot day last summer. We were going to be gone all day and we didn't want to leave Ruby and her thick double fur coat in the 100 degree sun. Admirable, right? So we thought, hey, we can put her in the master bathroom, block off the doorway to the master bedroom, and she can enjoy the air conditioning all day.

Great plan, right?

Well, maybe it lasted 15 minutes.

When we got home at the end of the day it was obvious Ruby had somehow managed to leap over the barrier, run across the bed, and had pawed at the carpet at the bedroom door until she had pulled it all the way back, wearing through the padding to the wood beneath.

Was I mad? Oh yeah, oh yeah. But, the thing is, I should have known better. Can't really be mad at the dog when you know you are the one really at fault.

Snow - Ruby just plain loves snow. She loves to play in it, run in it, throw it, eat it - everything. I'd talk about it more, but I think these two pictures do her joy of snow more justice than my words ever could.

Digging Because She Can

In all the years we've had Ruby it only really snowed heavily once, in the winter of 2009. She couldn't get enough of that stuff. For me snow is fine if I either plan to play in it or don't have to go anywhere, so it was nice to just have 9 inches of the stuff in the backyard. We could play in it - making snow angels, chasing each other, throwing snow - and then go back in the house and have hot chocolate in a span of 10 minutes.


Squirrels - Nothing drives Ruby crazier than a cackling squirrel. We have a large amount of them of varying colors who live in the neighborhood and they like to run across the top of our fence and bury nuts in the roots of our plants. Ruby loves to chase them. She thinks she'll catch one, one of these days.

Squirrels Can't See Me Here

She runs back and forth, from one side of the yard to another, parallel to a squirrel running on the fence. When she gets to the side of the yard she'll sometimes jump up with both front paws, a 90-pound beast hitting a fence probably not designed for that kind of force. Ruby never, ever comes close to actually catching one - she's not nearly quick enough - but every time she'll turn back, satisfied, with a look and a grin on her face that says: "Did you see how close I was?! I almost got it! Next time! Did you see?!"

Um, yeah Ruby...next time. Sure you will.

Then the squirrel races up the tree about 30 feet and proceeds to yell. Who knows what he's saying, but it would probably make a sailor blush if he knew the language of squirrels - it's not happy sounding at all. Ruby just looks up, sits back on her haunches with her tongue lolled to one side, cocks her head, and waits for the squirrel to stop and come down, so they can play again.

Fresh Grass - One of the oddest things Ruby does has to do with a fresh-cut lawn, something I've never seen another animal do. In fact, it kind of freaked me out the first time it happened. Back when she was a puppy it was springtime when we got her. I mowed the lawn in the backyard and left her there while I went out front. When I finished and came back, the dog was green.

Well, not totally green - just the white part of her, which is about half. Her face, her chin, her paws, her belly - all green. At first I thought something was wrong with her, but she had that super-happy face going so I figured it couldn't be too bad. Maybe I'm just slow, but I had to actually see her throw herself to the ground to roll in the freshly trimmed lawn before I figured out the green was just copious amounts of chlorophyll.

From that day forward whenever I mow the lawn and the grass is nicely damp - so mostly in spring - she can't wait to start rolling in it. In fact, sometimes I barely make a loop around the backyard before she'd start rolling and I'd have to get her to move before continuing.

This is probably where I envy a dog the most - being able to be happy with the most basic of things. Dogs don't need the internet and a Sony PlayStation 3 to be happy (although I think they are missing out); just give them some fresh grass, a healthy squirrel, and that's all they need.

Imagine All That White as Green, Like the Wall

Killing Things - We make jokes about how Ruby isn't that athletic. There is never a chance she could climb or jump a fence and at her size she isn't going to sneak up on anything, but every so often wild animals turn up dead. Well, two kinds anyway.

Twice we found dead rats in the yard that I think we can attribute to Ruby. They were dead from blunt force trauma, if you know what I mean - if they had died of being poisoned from some other house (I have never seen another rat in the area) I would have been more worried. We actually saw her pouncing on something once and didn't think anything of it - and found the rat later. A little disturbing, but I suppose it's nice she took the time to make the yard a safer place.

What I really don't get is the dead birds. How a dog like Ruby - a 90-pound Akita who doesn't jump very high at all - catches a bird I have no idea. Are the birds just that stupid? Is it natural selection at work? Or is Ruby somehow more cagey and crafty than we give her credit for? Does she lay elaborate traps while we are not at home, like a canine MacGyver?

She even caught one in her kennel once, which is covered  and has six-foot sides. That bird had a small area it could fly through (the cover is arched, with openings at either end), and apparently somehow didn't make it. She snagged one on the deck while in her exercise pen too - I have no idea how that happened.

That's our Ruby - a killing machine when times call for it.

Of course, when she gets super-excited about a person visiting she may just pee on their shoes. Wifey and I joke that's how she will drive off a robber. She won't bite them, but they'll be super-disgusted to have shoes wet with urine.

Hell, I know I would be.

Dressing Up - Whenever you see a picture of a dog in clothes they usually have a look on their face of contempt or embarrassment. For that reason we never wanted to dress up Ruby. She would allow it, but we thought she'd be the one who looked so sad you'd instantly feel sorry for her and think her owner was just mean.

Turns out, she loves it. That we couldn't have predicted.


Once we put a fake lei around her neck and that made her day. She was so proud of that lei - she wore it all over the house with a big grin on her face and even smiled for pictures (she usually treats the camera like it's going to steal her soul or something).

I also decided to dress her up in a football jersey once. I was a Michael Vick fan from his college days, so when he joined one of my favorite NFL teams (Atlanta) in the pros Wifey bought me a jersey. After the story broke with Vick and his dogfighting I naturally wasn't wearing the jersey anymore, but I thought it would be interesting to take a picture of Ruby wearing it - not to make a statement or anything, just as an intriguing juxtaposition. She loved that too! She wore that thing - with it sagging to the floor since football jerseys are big - all over the house and we got plenty of good pictures.

Unfortunately, they are all on a hard drive of a computer that won't boot up...hopefully we can get them at some point.

Who knew a dog as prideful in their appearance as an Akita would get such a thrill out of wearing clothes? That's our Rubes - completely unpredictable.

Which Brings Me To....

You know where this is going by now, don't you? A person doesn't spend this much time writing this much detail (and yet still leaving it so seemingly incomplete) about a prized pet unless there is more to the story. If you have read this far I'll just tell you now it's time get the Kleenex.

About two months ago Ruby wasn't interested in food and seemed a little extra lazy one day. She showed no interest in going outside at all, which just isn't like her. It lasted just a day or so and she perked back up, so we didn't really think about it much. Heck, she was seven years old, just into "senior" life for an Akita, and we all have those days where we just don't feel like doing anything, right? Skipping breakfast wasn't completely unheard of, especially on the weekend when breakfast always comes later than it does during the week - if nothing else she is a creature of routine.

Rubes Not Wanting Food Is Unheard Of

It happened again a few weeks later, but again only lasted a day or two. Right about the time we thought about making a vet appointment she bounced back to normal, running around the yard and wolfing down her food like she had been starved for weeks. (Full disclosure: Ruby has never been starved. Don't believe those puppy dog eyes.)

About three weeks ago she had another bad day. One bad day became two, and then she would barely move. We'd take her outside and she'd crumple into a heap replete with old man groans and noises. We decided it was time to take her in.

Ruby was good at the vet, allowing her to do her job with no complaints - so we knew she wasn't well. The vet found nothing obvious, other than noting her back legs seemed less muscular than normal and her breathing a bit labored. She suggested X-rays, blood test, and urine test, which made sense.

The X-rays didn't give any specific results, other than perhaps a hint of fluid around the lungs. However, when the vet called the next day with the bloodwork results that's when the hammer hit. Her white cells were way up and red cells way down. I'm not much of an expert with medical stuff, but I watch enough Grey's Anatomy and House to know what that means. I still played dumb and let her keep going, knowing what was going to be next but hoping it wasn't.

"It's cancer."

I knew that, but that didn't make hearing those words any easier. She told me it was most likely from the spleen which would explain Ruby's good days and bad days. Apparently spleen cancer causes bleeds - the days there are bleeds are the bad days. It's true a dog - like a person - can live without a spleen, but once those bleeds happen the cancer has very likely spread to other organs, so simply taking it out isn't going to stop the cancer (it would also likely mean she wouldn't make it through surgery anyway). The technical word for it is hemangiosarcoma (for more details, go here).

Apparently spleen cancer isn't that rare in dogs and there is no predicting it. The only way to suspect they might have it is when a down day happens, and by that time it's too late.

Diagnosis complete, I asked about the timeline we were talking about here. She gave Ruby a few weeks to two months, tops, but suggested it was going to be closer to the former than the latter. If I had any breath left it would have been knocked out of me, although on some level that wasn't surprising either given the other information.

She said we didn't have to do anything special for Ruby, just watch her breathing and the color in her gums (lighter = worse). They could give her medicine if she seemed to be in pain, but that's pretty much it.

Wifey and I cried about it that night, coming to grips with the fact we'd be losing our puppy way, way too early (hell, I'm tearing up writing about it). She should have at least three more good years. Ruby, who was recovering and starting some good days, wondered what our deal was, I think, although I am pretty sure she knew something was up.

We decided if Rubes didn't have a lot of days left we were going to make damn sure they were good days. We took her for a bath, so she would be fluffy and soft for all the loving up she was going to get and pictures she was going to star in. My parents and sister came over one afternoon to say goodbye to her. I boiled some chicken legs and am giving her chicken, rice, and chicken broth over her kibble for every meal, her favorite.

At Frog Lake

Ruby has a couple favorite things: snow and surf. We took her up to Mount Hood one afternoon since we wouldn't be getting any more snow at the lower elevations and let her play a bit on the snow and ice. She wore herself out, but not before she managed to show how strong she still was and pull me over a snowbank while she inspected the base of some trees off the path - all with her trademark grin.

Just Before She Yanks Dad Down

Then we took her to Cannon Beach (not on the same day), which might be her favorite place in the whole world. She loves the sand, the cool water of the Oregon coast Pacific Ocean, chasing sea gulls she will never catch (see the squirrel section above), and general frolicking. We limited her to about a half hour so she wouldn't tire herself out too much, but she acted like she could stay there all day.

She also acted like she knew it was her last time and she was okay with that. Some people - Dad - tell me we anthropomorphisize our pets too much, but you can't tell me Ruby doesn't know what's up that she doesn't know her dog tags are being cashed in early. She knows and she's made peace with it as best as anyone could - much better than Wifey and I have, that's for sure.

So Happy in the Afternoon Sun (Cannon Beach)

I think she appreciates what we are doing for her in her final days also, helping her through a bucket list of her favorite things, if you will. It's hard for us, but seeing that puppy dog smile on her makes it worth it, a smile making it seem like this could go on forever.

Forever is something you should never expect when talking about a pet. I mean, you know going in that a dog or cat has a finite number of years in life and that number is drastically less than your own, but that doesn't make this stage of life any easier. Hell, it might make it worse, especially in a case like this where Ruby should have at least a few more years of life.

People talk about the "social contract" humans have with their pets, where in exchange for shelter and food they offer us love, companionship, and devotion. That's a great thing, that social contract, but I think this - the end phase - is the fine print. You don't think about it when you sign the contract and even if you do you know you'll sign the thing anyway so it doesn't really matter. Until it does.

It's sad. Amazingly, painfully sad, sadness I didn't think I'd be feeling - I was the cat person, remember? - but on the flip side it's also proof of the goodness in Ruby. She wasn't perfect, but she was perfect for us, and she will always be in our hearts.

Ruby doesn't have a lot of time left, but I'm hoping her story is something that will stand for a long time, a testament to the impact on us she made in her shortened life.

Love ya, Pups.


It's probably time to add the inevitable postscript. The longer I wait to do so I think the worse it makes me feel at this point. Plus, Ruby deserves better than to let me leave her story without the ending.

After some very emotional discussions, we decided we had to send Rubes over the rainbow bridge (see the movie Hachi, with Richard Gere) on April 5th. We knew it had to be done, and I think Ruby was ready. She was always the sweetest, most trusting of us dog we could ask for.

Rest in peace Ruby.


Little Etta

I may have eaten at one of the best food carts in Portland this past weekend.

There is a new restaurant coming to the downtown area, just west of the Fox Tower, called Violetta. Their restaraunt space is currently being worked on, but instead of waiting around for it to be finished they decided to open up a food cart - called Etta - in the new Director Park, very close to where the restaurant will be.

Director Park is new - it's similar to Pioneer Square (two blocks away) in the sense it's wide, open, and can be a nice gathering place. The seating is plentiful, the architecture is pleasantly contemporary, there is a water feature, and I believe it's set on top of underground parking. Given the proximity to central part of downtown shopping and business, it's the perfect location.

Violetta's motto is "slow food, fast." What does that mean? It means you get food made to order with high quality, locally-sourced ingredients, and they do it in a timely manner. The menu has burgers, breakfast foods, salads - all fairly basic, but with freshness. That's not to say you won't get this quality in other food carts - absolutely not true - but with them it's a point of pride.

Etta's has been open for a few months now, but this past Saturday was their first weekend day. They did it as a test run to see if anyone would come - and it must have worked out because they are going to be open this Saturday as well.

Wifey and I read over the menu online before we went and ended up deciding we were going to be getting quite a bit of food to try it all out. The first item we ordered was going to be a breakfast sandwich with bacon, but they had a Saturday special of eggs benedict for (I think) $8.50, so we had to get that.

One thing about eggs benedict is the eggs can be messy. Sticking a fork into them can cause yolk to run all over the place, and this being take-out food that could have been a problem. Instead the eggs (there were two in an order) were cooked perfectly to where they still had a bit of softness to them but didn't run all over the place. The hollandaise sauce had great flavor, and the wheat English muffins had just the right amount of crunch. Not only that, they held that crunch even after sitting under the egg and hollandaise sauce for a bit. Two thumbs up for the eggs benedict for sure.

The second item we ordered were the beignets. They come with either espresso chocolate sauce or apple butter, and we - of course - opted for the chocolate sauce. They were wonderful bits of fried dough, with not too much powedered sugar and not greasy at all. A bag of them contained about 10 for $6 - we had a few then and took the rest home to have with afternoon coffee where a few seconds in the microwave were all they needed to be perfect again. While these were excellent, it would be nice to be able to get half the amount. Unless you are sharing 10 of these little guys can be a bit much. Still, very yummy.

Finally we ordered a burger and fries, thinking we'd take that home and have it for dinner later. We did that with the burger, but in retrospect we should have known better thinking we could do that with the fries. We decided to eat the fries with the eggs benedict, since taking them home would mean eating them cold, nuking them and making them soft, or putting them in the toaster oven and probably burning them; none of those options would do justice to their flavor. And these are really good fries. They are handcut from Yukon gold potatoes - our favorite - and fried just right so not be too greasy. Excellent flavor, perfect crunch, and the small order ($3) was plenty with our brunch.

Then there was the burger - wow. Full disclosure: we did not eat this fresh; instead we took it home, put it in the fridge, and then heated it up for dinner. And it was still damn good. They have plenty of options, but we opted for half-pound bacon and cheeseburger for $10 (hey, we were splitting it). Even though it wasn't fresh this was one of the best burgers I've ever had, and I don't give that praise lightly. The pasture-raised beef was cooked just right for both of us, which is amazing since I lean towards preferring my meat medium while Wifey prefers only a slight bit of pink - this was right in the middle (it was probably pinker fresh, but the microwave cooked it a tad too). The accompanying bits - pickles, lettuce, onion, tomato - were fresh, tasty, and nicely proportioned so not to overpower the star, the meat itself. The bun, a brioche from Grand Central Bakery, was also pretty dang good.

The service was excellent too - and like their slogan, fast.

The only thing I didn't love about the cart was the coffee. However, since the French-pressed Caffe Vita was free last Saturday to all customers, I can't exactly complain about it either. I'm not sure if it was the blend, if the beans were a little burnt, or if maybe I just don't like French-pressed coffee, but it seemed bitter to me. It was free though.

And yes, this was the most I've ever spent at a food cart, especially for two people, even if it ended up being two meals and an afternoon snack for both of us. It's handy, though, that they take credit and debit cards - most carts are cash only. It's a little more expensive than other carts, but the quality of the food justifies the cost.

I absolutely, whole-heartedly recommend making Etta a destination on your eating travels. When Violetta opens (website says late May or June), Wifey and I will be there as well. If it stands up to our first trip to Etta, this could very well become our go-to dining option in downtown Portland. Go there. You will like it.


The Local Color

Where I work in Portland I park my car in a garage about a block or two from the office building. Normally my afternoon walks back to the car for the drive home are are about as calm as can be, once I am able to cross a busy street - sometimes with and sometimes without the benefit of a stop light.

Friday, though, it wasn't quiet. From a block away I saw a man standing at the bottom of the stairs I take up to my car on the second floor of the garage. I could tell, even at still quite a distance, something wasn't quite right with him. For one, people don't hang out there because there is no reason to; it's not exactly on the way to anywhere. Either you are passing by, or you are going to or from your car - no need for lollygagging.

As I came closer I could see better what he was doing - and hear him. As he waved his arms - heavily clothed on a warm late-winter, early-spring day - he ranted unintelligibly. Well, perhpas that's not the right word - I could understand the words he was saying. It's just that those words made no sense when strung together in the combinations he was using.

In one hand he held a bag, one which looked like it was originally from McDonald's or some other fast food outlet. It looked full of something, with the sides of the bag puffed out. As I drew closer the man swung the bag over his head and threw it into the concrete sidewalk. The sound of shattering glass echoed around the area. Completely non-plussed, the man then picked up the bag - which didn't seem to leak any of the glass, nor any liquid that may or may not have been inside - and stuck it under an orange traffic cone. (Why there was a traffic cone, I have no idea. Did he bring it with him?)

This type of scene isn't a rare thing in Portland, though it is by our parking garage. The homeless issue is one that crops up every once in a while, usually around the time of elections or when it becomes too concentrated in a single area and local businesses start to complain. The homeless then - no matter what the reason for the homelessness - are then strongly encourage to spread out and find a new place to hang out, away from people. Currently there is quite the community that has sprung up under the west end of the Morrison Bridge, in the sidewalk area fenced off from Naito Parkway. Soon someone will make an issue of it and they will be forced somewhere else, because no one has a solution that is feasible to the powers that be for one reason or another.

By this time I'm only about ten feet away, but I'm pretty sure he has no idea I'm there. In fact, even if he turned and looked right at me I don't think he'd know I was there. He's yelling, completely self-assured in the idea whatever he has to say is not only important, but that it's being heard. (By whom, I have no idea.)

So I have this dilemma, because this guy is still standing at the base of the stairs I take. Sure, I could take the other stairs or the elevator, or just walk through the lot and up the ramp, but I'm lazy and somehow assured this evidently crazy guy is not dangerous. Why I'm so sure of that I again have no idea. As he turns to the right and extends his arms wide like a prophet, yelling at the traffic 25 feet away, I slide in behind up and quickly step up the stairs. As I do so, I get a whiff of the man's smell - and it is not pleasant.

That smell - the smell of the unshowered human body - instantly transports me for a second to my college years in Eugene, where the neo-hippies wouldn't shower, burned incense, and smoked weed like it was going out of style. Why "neo-hippies"? I'm pretty sure driving mom and dad's SUV or BMW doesn't exactly fit in with the original hippie lifestyle, but I'm hardly an expert on the subject. Of course, the difference between them and this guy is this guy is obviously homeless and his mental state is hardly reliable. (Though, by now, if those college kids kept up with the weed that might be true of them also...)

I slowed my pace, which had increased in order to shoot the gap between this guy and the stairs, as I walk to my car, thinking about him. How does one get there? I mean, presumably at some point this man was relatively normal. Now he's a raving lunatic, homeless in winter on the cold streets of Portland, screaming at random strangers, traffic, and getting extra angry at the ambulance whizzing by with his siren blaring.

Perhaps his life was always behind the eight ball. Maybe he grew up poor, maybe he was always mentally unstable, maybe he didn't have anyone to care for him, maybe he never had any of the chances someone like myself did. Maybe he suffered a brain injury in an accident. Or maybe he just made a serious of bad decisions in life - or life handed him a series of unfortunate events - leading him down a path of drug abuse, destroying his life, taking his ability to hold a job, taking everything he owns and loves in this world, and finally taking his competent mind.

How do you get there from here? These are the things I contemplate as a get into my car, turn the keys in the ignition, put on my seatbelt, and turn on some music. This is what I wonder as I slip on my Oakleys, put the car in reverse to back out of the parking spot, and then in drive to head for home.

Did this man make all the decisions that led to a life of raving madly on a downtown sidewalk, breaking glass in a fast food bag and feeling like this is what he must do with his life? (I'm sure on some level in his own head this is perfectly normal and whatever he does next is the most logical course of action.) Or was he in control each step of the way, until finally he wasn't? Did he know what he was he doing?

I think part of why I spend so much time thinking about things like this on my 40-minute drive home to my house in the suburbs, the loving embrace of my wife, and a home full of fuzzy crazies and the things I feel I need to be happy, is that I wonder how much really separates me from this man. How many choices stand between normal suburban happiness and raving homeless looney? Are they many? Are they few? Is it something controllable, or is it the result of not being able to control anything, of losing control completely?

I want to think that could never be me. I mean, I don't think it could, because I feel like I have decent awareness of myself and my surroundings, a good handle on my life and the impact of my choices, that I could never be that guy.

Then I wonder - did he think the same thing at one time? There had to be a point in his life when he wasn't a lunatic - assuming he wasn't born that way and then shunned first by his family and then society as a whole, leading to his current circumstances as "the one to be ignored," which sadly happens - and I'm sure at that point he saw someone similar to him now and thought that would never be him.

But now it is, and he probably has zero capability to fathom the concept anymore, leaving himself as a cautionary tale - which leads me back to wondering how far I really am from that guy.

During my drive home, thinking these heavy thoughts, I flipped the track on my iPod and found something loud with a good bass line, something to distract my mind from itself. Thinking too much like that, with no answers making themselves available to your own deep musings, could drive a mind mad.

And we all know where that gets you: smashing glass on the sidewalk and yelling at ambulances.

Maybe I'm not that far after all. Or, maybe just by being able to think these thoughts and analyze them the way I am, that's all the defense and cushioning I need against that life.

I should stop - why take the chance?


Foodie This and That

There are a lot of things that in my mind don't deserve a blog post all on their own - seems so formal - but I think deserve a little mention. Here's some tidbits from over the last few weeks.

  • The Sugar Cube at Mississippi Marketplace, which had closed for the winter, is opening back up tomorrow and Kir has been teasing us repeatedly on Twitter. We won't be there on opening day, but we will this weekend. Multiple times.
  • Nong's Khao Man Gai never, ever gets old - we love that stuff. Nong is open on Saturdays now too, so if you haven't been you officially have no excuses. If this is what food is like in Thailand I'd do just fine.
  • City Market, on NW 21st and Johnson, has a pretty amazing variety of stuff. I was making spaghetti alla carbonara and wanted some guanciale (pork jowel) to put in it. I had heard Olympic Provisions had some, but they were out and directed me to Chop, the specialty meat counter within City Market. Bingo! Also picked up some very good pancetta from the other meat counter (City Market has a couple businesses within the building - they have a nice looking fish counter too but haven't tried it yet). I really, really like this place - if I lived in the area I'd probably shop there 2-3 times a week.
  • Tried Upright Brewing's #7 a couple weeks back and just really wasn't impressed. It was a tad sparkly and citrusy for me. If I try another of their's I'll make sure it's something darker next time. Those bottles they come in...holy crap they are huge.
  • Speaking of bottles... why do all the good beers only come in 22s? I mean, sure, I like good beers, but at the same time I'm the only in the house who drinks them, most of them have alcohol contents in the 8-10% range (or more), and the only way I can get them (assuming I don't get it on tap somewhere) is to crack open a giant bottle. Well, what if I don't want to get wasted that night? Perhaps logistically it's harder to put these smaller batches in 12oz bottles, but I'd pay a little more for that convenience. Breweries, are you listening?

    And actually, the same goes for wine. Whenever I hear people talking about going through an entire bottle of wine at a meal, or multiple bottles in a night, I'm frankly shocked. Maybe it's because I'm more of a beer or liquor guy than a wine guy, but at least for us we have a half glass about every few days. That wine bottle? Lasts us a couple weeks in the fridge, sometimes more. I 100% realize by the end of the bottle it's far from optimal, but since only crap comes in tiny bottles, we're kind of stuck. Seriously, is there no market for 375 ml (standard is 750 ml) bottles? I absolutely understand the cost would be more per ml, but I don't need a full bottle. Ever.
  • Wifey and I were hungry mid-day a couple weekends back and in the area, so went to Pambiche to get a sandwich to go. We had never been but had heard good things. It was still pretty busy at 4pm in the afternoon, but as we sat to the side and waited for our order we saw a lot of different dishes going out to various customers. All I have to say is oh my lord, we need to go back there again. Everything, honestly, looked awesome. We ordered the Croqueta Preparada sandwich, which has roast pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, and croquettes with jamon - excellent. We both also really liked the tostones that came with it - sort of like a French fry equivalent, but wide and flat. Very good. We also sprung for Tres Leches cake, which was pretty good (warning, there is coconut...). We definitely need to go back, multiple times - the breakfast items looked amazing.
  • Found another good coffee place - Heart on Burnside. They do all of their own roasting, and actually do it in the shop - I think if you get there early enough in the day you can watch (no idea if that is interesting or not). We checked it out after hearing good things and ordered a mocha and a bag of beans from Guatemala. The mocha was pretty good, but wasn't very chocolatey. The beans, on the other hand, were amazing. There are flavors of caramel and chocolate, while the all of the flavors mix very smoothly. It's a very relaxing cup.
  • Neither of us are all that big on candy that isn't chocolate, but Northwest Sweets on 23rd and Johnson intrigued us. We actually went there for the old style lollipops, but came out with a few other things as well. As it turns out, the lollipops are as big as your head (I might be exaggerating, but not by much) and very, very good - and a deal at $1.50. We got grape and it's going to take us awhile to get through it. Now, while that's the reason we went, we have multiple reasons to go back. The vanilla bean marshmallows are hands down the best we've ever tasted. They come in a package of two for $1 and can be shared. As if that wasn't enough, we also picked out a couple handmade caramels. The vanilla bean infused one was a little confusing and flowery at first, but after letting the flavors marinate for a bit turned out to be amazing. Apparently he also does chocolates, which we missed, and sells some old school candies as well. It's a tiny little shop in a place where the rent can't be cheap at all, but it absolutely deserves to stick around. Fantastic stuff.
  • I'm really not sure what I can say about Cacao. We were first exposed to it when we stopped there on our Portland Walking Tour and honestly, I have no idea why we don't go back more often. All of the drinking chocolates are amazing - and rich, the smaller sizes are enough unless you are sharing! - and they have such a variety of chocolates, bars and treats, it's impossible not to find something you like (and spend less than $30). If you have never had real drinking chocolate or even good hot cocoa, you owe it to yourself to try this place.
  • Because I know everyone likes an update, you'll like this if you read my dentist saga. If you recall, your hero was left wondering if his blood pressure was insanely high and had ordered a blood pressure monitor for $70 from Amazon at the doctor's suggestion, with directions to track it for a week or two and come back if it was still high. So. The monitor arrived on Friday and I decided - right after having a cup of coffee - to make sure it all worked. My first reading? 124/85. Hmm... The next morning I tested it again, this time within the parameters it recommends of no food or drink in the previous half an hour; 117/75 (honestly, I think that's the lowest I've ever seen for me, which is a good thing).

    So, um, what conclusions can I draw from this? Was the nurse at the doctor's office woefully inept? Or was that day just an aberration because I was worried about the stupid non-lymph node? The doctor was adamant that kind of stress wouldn't cause such an abnormally high reading. Of course, that doctor also insisted the blood pressure monitors at Haggen weren't to be trusted; yet my new home machine - which he said I could trust - registered similar numbers. The bad numbers only came from their office.

    So, my conclusion? I think stress played a part - I'm always a little worked up at the doctor, especially when WebMD tells me I'm going to die. I also think doing the tests manually is a bad idea when - in the doctor's words and actions - there are inexpensive machines that do the job just as well.

    And now I'm getting recorded messages my doctor wants me to come in for an appointment, presumably because of the blood pressure number. Which is apparently based on crappy data. Doctors suck. Well, except when they save your life and all - I'm sure at some point I'll be grateful for them.

    For now, though, I'm not a big fan of health care. Not the system - but yes that does suck - but health care in general. I have about as much faith in them being able to diagnose anything in me as I do in a random mechanic when he tells me something on my car needs to be fixed. Healthy skepticism.

    And I'm also thinking that's a problem. When you hear a diagnosis from a doctor, these aren't the thoughts you should be having. You should be agreeing with them and doing what you are told, because you should trust your doctor. If you don't...well, I'm not real sure where to go from there.