an obituary for our hairiest and dearest friend

My dog had to be put to sleep the Friday before last and we miss him terribly.

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Being good in the car on the ferry to North Haven, Sept. 2011.

It was definitely the right time, there was no doubt that he was very, very sick and ready to say goodbye to us, but it’s just so damn sad not to have him around. For a third of my life I woke up every morning to the sound of his tail thumping against my side of the bed.

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A representative depiction of his food face.

His name was Vishnu. Which may strike you as a strange name for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, but it perfectly suited him. In college I spent some time studying in a buddhist monastery in India and all the pets there had Hindu names (except for one cat called Mitch after a character on Baywatch, but he was an outlier). That’s not really the reason we called the dog Vishnu, though. He was actually called something else at first. As a puppy — OK, honestly, this went on his entire life — he loved, loved to look for snacks on the sidewalk. Bits of bread left for the pigeons, scraps of pizza crust, etc. And one day when he was a tiny little thing, four or five months old, we got into a conversation with a woman in Tompkins Square Park who related a story of Vishnu from the Mahābhārata, in which he holds the entire universe in his mouth. We couldn’t not call him Vishnu after that. And considering that I’d legally changed my name in my early twenties and my boyfriend had unofficially changed his later in life, it was perfectly appropriate that our little peanut should do the same.

Vishnu and his two consorts

Vishnu (the other one) and two consorts riding Garuda, Ravi Garma print c. 1900 via Sarajo on 1stdibs.com.

Vishnu was born June 4, 2000 in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland. His mother’s name was Blanche. Both his parents were professionals (i.e., show dogs with prissy hairdos) but Vishnu happily whiled away his entire life a flâneur. He came to New York as a wee little puppy and he was the first one I picked up out of a pile of wee little puppies at the breeder’s sister’s place on Long Island. Something about him! I distinctly recall thinking to myself “don’t be silly, they’re all ridiculously cute, try another,” so I put him down and experimented with cuddling his brothers and sisters, but I was right the first time, there was something about him. Or about him in relation to me. We loved each other right away, and we went apeshit whenever we greeted each other right up until the very end. My boyfriend often remarked that the only time Vishnu would hurry up the four flights of stairs to our apartment was if he knew I was home, and although I usually didn’t get as visibly excited as he did, the feeling was very mutual.

In my mother’s later years she got a bit sentimental about our Irish heritage — she had a monument to Bobby Sands erected in our hometown, and after a driving tour of Éire we all got Waterford crystal for the next several Christmases. Vishnu’s connection to his Irish roots took the form of a vigorous love of booze, crisps, and strong winds flapping about his ears, the squallier the better.

ears flapping in the wind

Vishnu lived his entire life in the East Village. He made the scene in his younger years — one night as I was coming home in a taxi I spotted him in a crowd spilling out of an art gallery on Avenue B, cozy in someone’s arms while my boyfriend stood in the doorway rolling a joint — and he really, really liked being able to meet so many interesting people on his walks. He came to insist on it. If there hadn’t been enough people to say hello to during his pre-bedtime walk at night, he would want to sit on the corner of Ave. B or Ave. C and wait for someone fun to show up and make a fuss over him. It usually wouldn’t be more than a few minutes before that would happen because he was, even by our very stringent standards, one of the most attractive little dogs around for miles and miles. He particularly enjoyed meeting happy drunks (so affectionate!) and, to our occasional dismay, real nutters (so many interesting smells!). He wanted to meet everyone who seemed amenable to meeting him, and if they lived in the neighborhood they would often become a good friend. For years and years there was a big, burly motorcycle repair beardo who he’d kiss on the lips every time they ran into one another. He also really had a thing for a frizzy-haired woman who was always in the park and who would remind me, as she petted him, that the texture on the soles of my shoes was “just like the fingers of the aliens they found at Roswell,” and he delighted in the attentions of The God Bless You Lady and her cohorts.

V in playground

keeping an eye on things in the playground, 2007

One of Vishnu’s very favorite things to do in the East Village, especially when he got older, was to sit on a bench in Tompkins Square Park and just listen, and watch everything going on around him. He liked to hear birds singing and kids playing — their habit of dropping graham crackers and whatnot near playground entrances was certainly a plus — and to be presented with the occasional baby to lick. He was the most peace-loving dog I’ve ever known in my life, the only one who would benignly wag his tail at squirrels and bodega cats rather than try to catch one.

snout on a park bench

He did nonetheless once get in trouble with the law in that park, an incident I wrote about on my food blog at the time. He snatched another dog’s tennis ball in the dog run and refused to let it go, and the dog’s inscrutably weird companion called the NYPD. To my surprise they did indeed come, and to our mutual surprise the woman who’d been so outraged by this brazen theft refused the replacement money I offered her. (I said, “so, basically you called the police because you wanted them to know you’re having a bad day?” She didn’t like that either.) Meanwhile our little scofflaw, who’d kept the ball clenched tightly in his mouth the whole time, glowered at what was by now a crowd around him. One of the cops asked if I couldn’t pry the ball out of his mouth, and when I said “I’m not putting my fingers in there but you can try if you want,” we all agreed to go our separate ways. Vishnu carried the ball home, climbed onto a meditation cushion — his favorite spot in the apartment for serious contemplation or serious sleeping — dropped it, and declined to play with it ever again.

His vet was, of course, in the neighborhood — always St Marks Vet; in recent years, Dr. De Meola and Dr. Yahalom-Golan, both of whom were exceptionally kind — and before his final appointment we left early so he could spend a final half hour or so on a bench in the center of park, right near the Hare Krishna tree, under which he’d taken his first grown-up (outdoor) pee when he was about four months old, on a piece of newspaper we’d brought from home to help him get the idea.

the trees that morning

the trees that morning

Like any other Manhattanite, Vishnu enjoyed getting out of the city once in a while. During particularly steamy summers he would make extended vists to my family in Connecticut, where he could walk on the beach every night, and eat rabbit turds in the yard, which he considered a delicacy.

Vishnu inspecting the tent

Inspecting our tent in the backyard in CT circa 2009.

me and V on the beach

Me and V on the beach, autumn or winter 2006.

His favorite place to get away was Maine. Fresh air; buttery, lobster-y fingers to lick; hours on the deck, alternating between napping and watching ospreys do what they do; and, apparently most exciting of all, being allowed to sleep in the people-bed at the cabin. He would get so excited about that that every night he would try to get us to go to bed right after dinner.

sniffing Maine, 2007

sniffing Maine, 2007

in the people bed at the cabin, 2006

enjoying the people bed, 2006

napping on the deck, 2008

napping on the deck, 2008

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dog’s-eye-view of Vinalhaven, 2007

Vishnu’s last Maine vacation was in September, 2011, when he accompanied us to North Haven. He was very old and weak by then — his back legs scarcely worked at all, and he could manage just a few steps at a time before plopping down on his bum — so mostly he sat on his bed on the deck, woofing at passing schooners. But he didn’t seem to be in pain at all, and he took several shambolic but glorious near-gallops down the long driveway of the house we’d rented, clearly delighted to be there. It was the last time he seemed unreservedly happy. We’re going to scatter his ashes there next year.

North Haven-20110916-00375 Colorcross

3 responses to “an obituary for our hairiest and dearest friend

  1. Beautiful tribute to a good friend. Brings forth many great memories of Vishnu’s visits over the years. I will miss him.

  2. Such eloquent words and beautiful pictures of a life full of love.

  3. Pashi and I fondly remember Vishnu. Thank you for this!

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