Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Zoroaster





She was the dog that was supposed to live forever.  However, this was the only command she would disobey.

I found “Z” at the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Phoenix, Oregon.  Along with her brothers and sisters, she had been left in a cardboard box along a city curb.  It was love at first sight…Wrapped in a pink and white striped knitted blanket, she remained in the back seat of the car on the way back to my home in Ashland, Oregon.  That would be the last time she’d ever ride back seat.

She was named after Zoroaster Temple, a tall rock monolith located just east of Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon.  Anyone who's looked over the Canyon's edge or trampled down its trails has seen it.

I placed Zoroaster in small metal kennel the first night in her new home, but she cried for hours and hours.  I relented, opened the kennel door, and she crawled into bed with me.  That was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.  From that day forward Z slept, ate, ran, walked, worked, and drove by my side.  A leash was a seldom-needed tool (to the chagrin of many) and used only to make others who didn’t know Z feel more comfortable.  She was like Velcro to my side.

I worked at Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland at the time and Hal Koerner, the running store’s owner, was a true dog lover.  Z came to work with me everyday, even while being potty trained.  And while Hal loved dogs, he also loved a clean store.  I know Z and I tested his patience more than once with the accidents that would occur while I was busy with customers.  This is where I believe Z learned her social skills.  Store employees lauded over her and she greeted every patron with a bark and wag of her tail.  As I plundered the back storage rooms looking for shoes she would keep the customers distracted up front.  We made a good team.

  
Z and I made the move to Flagstaff together.  She helped pack and unpack our belongings and then patiently watched me develop as a running coach, writer and race director.  She loved Flagstaff and its people.  Before they knew my name or story, people would first come to know me as the guy with that awesome black and white dog. 

Water is a rare commodity in this desert mountain town, but Z knew where all the water holes were.  When we’d run far into the mountains during the monsoon season she knew which rock on which trail would hold the July rains the best in their nooks and crevasses. She had an uncanny way of randomly disappearing and reappearing soaking wet in even the driest of places.  She was a smart one.

Zoroaster logged miles…many, many miles with her father.  We criss-crossed the country on foot.  From the trails below Mt. Ashland, the high Sierra Nevada mountains of California, the rugged paths of Virginia’s Massanutten Mountains, the red rocks of Sedona, the shores of the Missouri River, to the lofty heights of Flagstaff’s Humphreys Peak.  She made her longest journey at this past year’s Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Training Camp when she covered 30 miles with me from Robinson Flat to Foresthill.  She made it look easy. 

She was my biggest and loudest cheerleader.  She was always disappointed that she wasn’t invited on race day and she’d make that perfectly clear at each aid station and finish line with her disapproving howl, “I wanna come with you Daddy!”  Yet she always waited for me.


Anyone who has met Zoroaster and driven with me can attest to this: She was always a front seat dog.  Anyone that rode shotgun was guaranteed to get a lap full of Z.  She was literally my co-pilot.

I guess the lumps started appearing this past July, but at only six years of age I couldn’t believe the turns that would follow. She ran her last real run on October 21st, 2014…a 10-mile loop on Observatory Mesa (one of her favorites due the number of mucky cattle tanks along the route) and we ran fast.  The surgeries and their subsequent recoveries were brutal on Z.  Then the limping started, then the swelling, and the whimpering and the inability to lie down comfortably followed.  She could no longer join me in bed and so I moved to the floor to be with her.  We lost sleep and cried together at night.  She spent Christmas Eve at the vet.  The deal was sealed a few days later after a visit with a dog oncologist in Phoenix, AZ.  I was shown the ultrasound and the tumors that had gained an irremovable hold in her lymph nodes and pressed painfully into her bladder and back.  I bought the chemo meds, but decided that my baby girl had endured enough and set them aside unused.

Yesterday, in the early morning hours, I drove Emily, Super Bee and Z to the Schultz Creek Trailhead, one of Z’s favorite runs, and parked the truck.  Z got out, smelled the base of a ponderosa and a clump of grass, and then laid down.  I coaxed her down the trail a few more feet, but that was all she had.  She was done.  We drove to the vet, the folks that she had always seen for her regular check-ups and the more recent battle with cancer.  You know your dog has left an impression when the receptionist begins to cry and her doctor can’t keep it together.  I held Zoroaster in the same pink and white striped knitted blanket I brought her home in back in Ashland six years earlier.  I thanked her, told her I was sorry and that I love her, and then watched as she took her last breath.  I looked deep into her big wide eyes and watched the light, the light that I loved, leave her body. 


Zoroaster will always be my Moment of Zen.  She will be with me forever, but my life will be eerily silent and lonely without her.  When her cremated remains are returned I’ll stir up a posse of those that enjoyed her company and head to the Dry Hills Lakes or the summit of Mt. Elden, two places that Z frequented a lot, and spread her ashes into the wind.  She’ll become a flower, a ponderosa, or just float on forever.

I am grateful for the support I have received during all of this.  I thank you all.  Friends and family have all come forward to help and, more importantly, to listen, just like you are now.  My good buddy, Justin Lutick, told me yesterday that Z has left me in good hands.  He’s right.  


28 comments:

Speedgoat Karl said...

She'll always be with you Ian. I had a really hard time reading this, but it sure was a great tribute to a great, wonderful dog. She will be missed, and Binger.....well, he's got a new friend to play frisbee with. Hang in there, it's hard to believe it'll get better for you, but it will.

Jess Miller said...

Yes. You nailed it. Great read and it must be cathartic. Now, I sit here with tears streaming down my cheeks, as I am sure you did, too. Again, you and Z were a wonderful team. An untimely death may have ended Z's life, but NOT your relationship with her (I paraphrase Jack Lemmon). Love you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ian! What a tale of hearts and souls entwined. Sharing days, years and moments with our four legged friends is precious beyond words and your words shed light on that.

Lauri Burrier

JowderBalls said...

Excellent tribute. Maybe Z will run into my girl Tukka who left us too young as well and they can run like the wind where ever they might be now.

Jana said...

A beautiful tribute to your buddy. She was a really special dog. Hang in there. I know she's out there ripping up a stuffed animal before a long run. xo

Patty Burke said...

Your good girl "Z" will always, always be with you in spirit and soul. My heart and eyes are leaking for you and "Z" as I read this. Through your written words I can see and feel the sparkle, the closeness and the respect you had for one another. That, and the memories can never be taken away. Nor will the memories fade...cherish them forever. Rest in peace runner girl. ((Hugs)), tail wags & love from Patty Burke

Amine Mekkaoui said...

A great tribute that brought tear to my eyes! So sorry for your loss Ian, hang in there. Z had a great life full of happiness and love!

Unknown said...

I am very sorry for your loss. It sounds like you were a wonderful master to her and in the end made the heartbreakingly tough but selfless call for her.

Emir said...

So sorry for your loss Ian :( She will always be with you.

Nick said...

Ian - my first ever trip out to Squaw in 2010 wouldn't have been the same without meeting Z. I'll never forget her wonderful company down the Cal Street Loop or indeed how gracefully she dealt with Alistair's eruption on the drive back up the hill. Beautiful tribute. Nick

Forrest Boughner said...

Beautiful tribute, Ian. I'm sorry for your loss.

Missy B. said...

I'm so sorry, Ian. Just like you, I can't believe she is gone. I am so glad she found you that day at the animal shelter. We are all better for having known her. She was an amazing dog and companion. I'll never forget coming around a corner at Pemberton 50k and seeing her smiling face, "You want to stop and throw this stick for me?" She will be missed.

trailjane said...

Very beautiful tribute to your girl. My Murphy and Flagstaff (yes I named my dog after my former place of residence) are in heaven showing her the ropes, and all of the trails they've found. Hugs to you. A great man loves a dog like that. I always respected you as a runner, but now I respect you even more because of your heart.

Anonymous said...

Well said and felt Ian.....peace and love to both of you....

Andrew said...

Zoroaster made an indelible impression on everyone she met. Reading your tribute brought tears to my eyes, as I remembered times I got to share the front seat or some trail miles with her. Your description of her last visit to the Schultz Creek trail head made me recall something you posted on your FB years ago, a quote (from Todd Williams, on his retirement) that is also apt I think for how Z lived: "Don't hang em up until you can promise yourself you'll never say I woulda, shoulda, coulda. I'm walking away MAXED OUT."

Billy said...

Jesus Ian. Was so hoping this story wouldn't take that turn...thanks for sharing this buddy. Thankful I got a chance to meet her. Hope you guys are doing well considering.

Joe B said...

Touching and beautiful words Ian. So sorry for your loss.

Rogue Valley Runners said...

Z definitely helped this OCD boss gain some perspective, numerous times. ; )

There will never be another Zoroaster, and you sir are much better for that.

I will definitely think of her on my run today, and that will be something to celebrate.

HK3

Anonymous said...

We only met once or twice around town, but I'd see you all the time running. I would be on my bike, we'd pass, then I'd see Z behind you and think, Oh, I recognize that dog! Z was unforgettable. The first time I saw her I could tell she was special. Her markings were beautiful, her personality one-of-a-kind. We have a border collie/heeler mix that is 4. I can't bear the idea of her leaving us at 6. I could hardly finish reading your post. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Chad R. said...

Sorry for your loss. I never met Z but had tears in my eyes while reading knowing all to well the pain of losing a cherished pet like her.

Andy Benkert said...

That is a wonderful tribute to your partner, and I know she will be sorely missed. But she will also be forever remembered and loved. Peace and strength to you.

Jacob Puzey said...

A moving tribute to a true friend. Z has and will be missed. This was such a surprise. She seemed to be improving the last time I saw each of you. I'm truly sorry for your loss.

David Tyler Martin said...

You both were so lucky to have each other. She was such a special dog and had such a loving father. We were hoping she would improve. So sad : ( She will enjoy having her ashes spread on the trails she loved.

Kat Raber said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

You both were lucky to have each other.

Gravityh said...

Ian, so sorry for your loss. My eyes welled up thinking of what you felt at the moment Z began her journey to the next place. My Anouk had a similar journey and it was gut wrenching but the right thing for her. Never met Z but her rep was legendary... Peace to your and yours...
H'ard

Unknown said...

You will see her again.

Barefoot 4 Parkinson's said...

Beautifully written. I am sitting at work with tears in my eyes. What is life for if it is not for each other and love. Sadly so many people wander through life finding neither. Clearly you and Z shared both and touched many others in doing so.