Remembering Pizza-the-dog

bram towbin
8 min readJan 28, 2024

By Bram with contributions by Erica

“The dog does not have an opinion about you… that’s why you love the dog so much.” -Eckhart Tolle, On Dogs

You arrived via a Craigslist ad from a loving, but hard pressed, family that couldn’t handle you. You were advertised as a Lab… you weren’t. You were a pure maniac. Too big and narrow to be a lab, but with the personality of a Lab on speed. You were about 9 months — old enough that bad habits were part of the package.

You tore up the apartment of the previous guardians when left to your devices. What’s an overworked family to do when the parents must work and the kids are in school. It was a tough act of love for them to turn their guardianship over to us.

You trashed the house, chased the sheep, chased the chickens, found the holes in the fence and barked and barked and barked…. We thought having you fixed would help calm you down. It did nothing. You continued to bark and lunge at everyone when we walked on public paths.

I recall one trek through the Marshfield forest where you serenaded this poor woman who was out for a quiet walk in the country. It was a very long 4 miles for all of us. No matter how far she disappeared on separate trails, you positioned yourself so the full force of your bark was 100% targeted in her direction. I don’t think my shouted apologies improved the situation.

Back on the farm you only ran free from the leash with a first rate tracking collar. And that collar got A LOT of use. We took regular, adrenaline filled car rides ending miles away in remote woods or stranger’s yards. It is established law in Vermont that a dog that chases livestock or deer can be shot. This fact certainly added to the drama. I distinctly remember being in the middle of a forest and hearing this rushing sound thrashing the silence. The tracker told me you were moving at the speed of light. Suddenly a huge buck tore past me, mere feet away — I could feel the wake….. followed by you. It was pure joy. FOR YOU. Not for me. Beet-red, arm-waving screaming and totally invisible.

Then there were the encounters with the skunks, porcupines, ermines, groundhogs… and the endless flocks of turkeys. You were always close to them… but never fast enough.. Not all the encounters ended up with stitches and vet bills.

Mr. Z, our quiet, contemplative, short-haired, Rhodesian Ridgeback, was generally aghast and often left the room when you entered. It took several years before he was willing to be friendly.

Pizza was usually too much but he was never aggressive. Pizza might have a live chicken in his mouth or the sheep on their backs… but would never bite. It was never about the kill.

Our highest form of play was the daily walk. For over a decade I would take Pizza & Z in the upper field, 10 laps around the shrubs (I grow flowers) and it would take a bit over an hour. It was so routine. I only now realize it was a sacred ritual. Some go to the house of worship, some meditate, some recite prayers…. We walked amongst the pearl pink, blue and dark wine varieties of French hybrid lilac .

It would begin with a short but very steep ascent from the house into a patch of Beauty of Moscow and rise further to the rows of Maiden’s Blush. You were permitted a few laps without being on the leash, usually towards the end of the walk. Without the restriction, you left the farm. Even this way, every few months you’d break the trust and flee with abandon into the woods or roads. Z, generally more mature and happy to obey the rules even unleashed, would join your jail-break.

Why did I keep on playing the fool? I knew part of my job was accommodating Pizza’s lack of respect for boundaries. The stress probably put years on my life, but that is the price I pay for honoring the spirit of my charge.

I remember being on the trail walk on Cape Cod and we encountered a young family with two small dogs. I was pulling to the side with all my might to avoid any chance of an encounter. Pizza sprung into action nearly ripping my arms from my sockets as I leaned back hard to counterbalance. I was the first to tumble over the embankment, followed by Mr. Z and finally the barking behemoth…… I remember the small kids peering over the side looking down on us. Z and I were scowling. The father spoke up: Everything Okay? Pizza answered, “absolutely.”

Even at the hardest moments… It was all good. During worst bouts of Pizza’s failing health, he never lost his enthusiasm. I certainly did… but he didn’t. Let that be an example. Years before, chronic kidney disease was discovered by our conventional vet. They prescribed the standard food that is formulated for this condition. I winced at the smell when I opened the bag and Pizza wouldn’t touch it. He began losing weight and even losing interest in traditional food. It looked as if he would perish within weeks. We turned to a magnificent doctor who practiced Eastern as well as Western medicine. Exotic herbs were added to special vegetable based raw food that had to be cooked . It was as much of a hassle as it sounds and I, being a natural skeptic, went through the paces only due to lack of any alternative. But Pizza rebounded. I didn’t and still don’t understand the wonderful physician’s explanations about energy and flow…. But the proof is in the Pizza. He thrived.

The condition eventually returned after a reprieve of several years. We stepped up our diet and medical game.

We learned about delivering IVs fluids. We struggled to master loading numerous pills at once via hollow horse capsules. We marveled at the dexterity of the Vet’s assistant’s ability to smoothly load and administer the medicine. When I tried, Pizza never failed to spit them out after the careful application of coconut oil and a water syringe. The sense of accomplishment when the pills finally went down was akin to crossing the finish line of a marathon. Some days he ate meat and some days only crackers. One day only processed meat, then the next only fresh. Chicken nuggets were more successful than anything else. Drinking became an issue. He agreed to drink out of the toilet but not the water bowl. Then came… no food, no water. He wasted away but his tail never stopped wagging. He stopped having to use the leash, then he stopped completing the 10 laps, then less than 5, then simply climbing the hill to the top of the loop.

Just a couple days before he died, Pizza would still climb the initial precipice and then wait, shivering in the cold. Each lap I would place my heavy winter coat over him… and each lap he’d have shed it standing proud and shivering. Then he kept it on.

The next day he failed to climb the hill and lay in the yard looking up at us.

The ground is now cold, preventing any hope of a quick burial. What to do? I run a flower farm so I went to the barn and converted two large shipping boxes into a make-shift cardboard coffin. It sits next to the wood-pile adjacent to the house. We’ll wait for the ground to soften.

Of course it is sentimental and self-indulgent for a silly man to prattle on about the death of his silly dog. Most people keep these end-points of their animals’ lives private, but for some reason, I don’t. I can only point out a very old tale from one of the wisdom traditions that suggests that man’s best friend is the touchstone to salvation. The story of Yudhisthira’s dog in the Mahabharata reveals a person who refuses an invitation into heaven, unless he is permitted to bring his faithful canine companion. He is rewarded when the animal turns out to be the incarnation of his beloved father. The hero passes the test by not forsaking the sacred bond even for the promise of paradise.

The hard facts about Pizza would describe an undesirable dog. He always smelled bad. The intermittent incontinence in his last year did not help our constant battle against the stench. The final weeks left the house covered in urine and vomit which usually was bookended by mad rushes to the door at all hours trying to get him to exit in time.

photo by Erin

But I find myself looking at my tracker on my lonely walks with Mr. Z hoping the “?” next to your deactivated collar will miraculously light up and warn me you’ve “once again” jumped the fence. What I wouldn’t do now to feel the adrenaline of another maddening adventure in the forest. It is fitting that the dog I wanted least turns out to be the one I miss the most. Pizza had an expert ability to gently block your path just as you were trying to walk across the room. It was maddening but I believe it was his sense of humor. He also had a goofy run which included awkward unpredictable leaps and I was never quite able to capture it in a picture. This one comes closest:

As the cold-hard-ground drags on and your cardboard coffin sits next to the wood, I imagine what I would say if someone drove up and asked me what was in the box. In honor of your comic spirit, I would just say: Pizza. It’s a Pizza box.

GOODBYE

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