One day, I believe near Butterfly Beach, I spotted a couple of young ladies walking 2 or 3 Jack Russells and I jogged over to meet them. (Dena has her own compelling story about that.. read on) As it happens, one of the ladies was Dena, and she asked if I might be interested in adopting a 2 1/2 year old JRT that was available in Texas. I agreed to consider it, and we made a date to meet at the Bath House in Santa Barbara to see the Jack when she got back from TX. This seemed a bit ironic, as the Bath House was the last place Beau set paw before being euthanized at White Pet’s Hospital some 2+ years earlier.
When I first saw the dog, I was somewhat taken aback by his size and energy. I was expecting a somewhat smaller, more docile dog, but that wasn’t Tango. Dena said at the terminal, or on the flight, Tango escaped, and was walking around covered by his carrying sack. Definitely a born crowd pleaser. She also warned to keep him away from cats, as he had allegedly killed one. And it’s true… he would immediately go for any cat he saw. I signed papers and paid Dena a small fee for the dog and we parted company. I immediately took Tango for a walk from the Bath House to State Street and a ways past the 101, where I turned back. The entire journey was an endless struggle wrestling with this over-exuberant dog. Tango pooped on the sidewalk several times in his excitement. We ran into my friend Dave Schrader, who was quite amused by Tango’s repeated bouncing up to greet him.
I was told the dog liked to hump pillows or blankets, and sure enough, despite being neutered, to everyone’s amusement and/or embarrassment, that was something he practiced until very late in his life. Grab that pillow bee-ach by the neck and hump. I was also told he liked taking showers, and though it seemed the first few showers I took, he was tempted to join me, he never actually made that a practice. Though he always seemed to get excited when I took a shower. Even at the last, he’d run back and forth, and watch excitedly as I stepped in.
When I first brought Tango home to my ranch at 1098 Toro Canyon Road in Santa Barbara, I didn’t trust him to stick around. So for the first week I either kept him locked inside my mobile home or tied to my belt while I performed my ranch chores. Finally, I decided a week was enough, and cut him loose. Though he was free to roam, he stayed fairly close by (within 100 yards) and typically followed me around the ranch. However, at least once I had to chase him down, running at top speed, a half mile from home with my motorcycle. Like Underdog and Beau before him, Tango would run ahead of my truck, while commuting on the mile long private ranch driveway. On one such occasion, unbeknownst to Tango, a coyote started chasing him. Just before the coyote was about to grab Tango’s neck, I honked my horn and the coyote veered off into the brush with Tango now in hot pursuit.
As it happens, I had a mental breakdown in February of 2001, that lasted for 3 or 4 years. OCD the shrinks said it was, and it was genuinely tormenting. I acted out suicide by revolver on a few occasions. I can’t say Tango stopped me.. in fact he seemed indifferent, if not avoiding me. I can’t say, either, responsibility for Tango or thoughts of my family stopped me from following through, though they may have been a mild deterrent. The truth was, I didn’t want to die and I wasn’t going to kill myself.
My mental state continued to deteriorate after I got Tango in May 2001. He was likely helpful, but not enough to stop the decline. I tried therapy and anti depressant drugs. They didn’t seem to work, and on 9-9-2001, I decided to try alcohol after being sober since March 18, 1983, 18 + years. Of course that didn’t work either and by Christmas 2002, I was ready for rehab. I spent 4 days there (priceless experience/amazing/brilliant “classmates”), while ranch resident and friend Todd Hasting took care of Tango. My niece Laura Harner and her husband Mark drove all the way from Phoenix AZ, to clean and organize my disheveled trailer. Sister Ginny and her Husband Harvey Ruffin also on hand, as well as good friend Corey Welles. I only mention my breakdown to say, through it all, Tango was loyal and tolerant and provided me vital companionship, if not a cure.
A near tragedy occurred just a few month after I got Tango. A good friend, Ken Kalb, tried to interest me in golf. He loaned me clubs and we went to Tee Time in Carpinteria a few times to practice. On one occasion it was quite warm, so I left Tango in the car with the windows open and the hatchback ajar. I tied Tango to the steering wheel, so he wouldn’t escape. I considered the possibility of a hanging accident, but I’d done this before without incident, and it didn’t seem at all likely, or even possible, he’d try to wiggle out the hatchback. We were only driving balls for about 10 minutes when I needed to pee. We were about half way between the restrooms and the bushes. I considered both and opted for the restroom in a close decision. As I walked towards the restrooms, to my horror, I saw Tango dangling on the side of the car. I sprinted towards him, looking for movement; any sign of life. There was none. It happens at the time I was taking Lifesaving at the YMCA and practicing CPR. I also knew a woman, Debbie, who once told me she revived her Beagle, by giving it mouth to snout respiration. With these thoughts in mind, I quickly unleashed Tango and laid him on his side in the back of the trunk. He was not breathing at all. A man happened to be watching, when I first gave Tango a couple chest pumps, then began mouth to snout. I could see his chest rise and fall with each breath. Then, hark, he kicked a bit and vomited. I began to have hope. I pumped his chest again and breathed into his snout. Soon, more hope and relief, as Tango began panting rapidly. More pumps and breaths, and damn, if he wasn’t coming around. His breathing became slower and deeper, his eyes began to focus. In less than 10 minutes, he was on his feet, tugging at his leash, looking for something to kill, like nothing happened at all. (Note here… never leash your dog unattended if there’s the remotest chance he might hang himself. A harness rather than a collar might be substituted, though I don’t think they like wearing them all the time.) Being already in a state of despair, losing Tango through my own negligence, might have been the end for me. The fact I walked back to the car when I did, if not an outright miracle, was one damn coincidence. I’ll be thankful for that blessed reprieve to my dying day.
A funny thing happened a day or two after I revived him from the accidental hanging. Tango was in such a deep afternoon sleep, I had difficulty arousing him, so, panicked and having a hanging flashback, I started mouth to snout again. When he abruptly awoke, bleary eyed, and not knowing what was happening, he snapped at my face. I was startled, but greatly relieved.
After rehab, I quit drinking and slowly began to recover. Mid 2004 I sold my ranch and moved to Rancho Granada Mobile Home Park in Carpinteria. I knew I would have to make up for Tango’s free range at the ranch with at least one or two long walks a day. Within a couple weeks I realized I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him on foot, so I bought a bicycle to keep up with him. Typically I’d take him for a 2-3 mile walk in the morning and 5-6 mile walk in the evening. Morning loop might be around Carpinteria Middle school, while the evening walk might be around the soccer field at the bluffs across the railroad tracks, past the Seal Sanctuary, RV park, sometimes Linden and further, back. C. 2010, there was loud noise near the park entrance as we were leaving for a walk, and it frightened Tango so badly, he refused to walk past that spot to exit the park. So, I began walking him out the back way, by Carpinteria Creek in the AM, and in the afternoon, I began to drive him to Rincon Beach for walks. Dogs are supposed to be on leash there, but most are not. Up to this point in his life, Tango would sometimes be confrontational with other dogs. Especially big Labs, Goldens, and German Shepherds, no matter how friendly they might be. However, eventually at Rincon, he made peace with almost every dog he met. The one very worrisome thing he did at Rincon, was bark at, and chase the horses. Fortunately, they were always well-behaved horses, who paid Tango no mind, or galloped away in a blink. Eventually he overcame his fear at RG, and we stopped going to Rincon after a year or so, to resume walking through the park. But Rincon Beach was a special era in our lives. We met many nice people and dogs there, and had many splendid runs along the shore.
Back at RG, over time Tango’s walks got shorter and shorter. The last few weeks, I didn’t need the bike, because he was done “sprinting” even for a short distance. Though a time or two, near the end, he’d push himself surprisingly far, as though he wanted to take a last look where he used to roam. I nearly always encouraged these last adventures for Tango. Still, though he might not go as far, I noticed he spent more time studying his territory with his nose. That was interesting, because as a senior, I found myself doing the same thing. There’s more time for close study as raw ambition and strength fade.
Even near the last, as before and always, Tango would descend stairs or dismount couches/beds, like Superman. He’d launch himself, up, up and away, with forelegs extended.. and fly though the air with greatest of ease,.. until landing nimbly on all fours.
Tango was the last dog my parents saw and touched before they passed in 2002. On her deathbed, 9-18-2001 in Henderson, Nevada, Mom reached up and petted Tango shortly before she died. Though she was embraced and caressed by her family, the only one she made the effort to caress in return was Tango. He remained a living link to them for me.. now he’s with them awaiting me.
If there’s anything good about losing a loved one, it often changes one’s perspective, values, priorities and routines, in a beneficial way. Temporal things become less important; time with family, friends and nature, become paramount. A more serene, spiritual side may emerge.
I reconnected with a place I haven’t been in a long time: dread, powerlessness, inevitability, surrender, acceptance.
The end of domestic tranquility: Morning’s are the worst after a loved one passes. You dread waking up and facing another day without your friend. But you must…and face the day bravely. Things will get better, day by day.
– Steve from Carpinteria, CA