A month ago Noodle began to have head tremors and a few times she lost her balance and nearly fell. We took her to the vet and during the visit she had a serious seizure. Subsequent tests revealed the terrible news: she had a brain tumor. Without treatment she was given three months and a sad future of seizures, disorientation, behavioral changes and loss of bathroom functions. Of all the options offered to us, including brain surgery, we decided on chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can have good success in dogs, possibly extending her life one year or more, but ultimately all it does is postpone the inevitable. We went into chemo with high-hopes of more time with the dog we loved so much. It wasn't meant to be.
With the chemo and anti-seizure medications the first two weeks of treatment went remarkably well. But then over the course of a week she had difficulty standing and then had two more seizures. I had never seen a seizure. It's terrible to watch. But worse than the seizure was what followed: Noodle wandering the house dazed and confused and scared for an hour. We felt powerless to comfort her during this. We wanted to let her know that we were there for her and we'd get through it together. In the end it wasn’t the seizures that forced the hard decision on us; the tremors got so bad that Noodle would fade-out every few minutes. If she was standing, she would fall hard.
We got Noodle in 2000. We responded to a newspaper ad for a 2-year-old Italian Greyhound, a breed we knew little about. A quick check on the habits of the breed and she sounded like a nice fit. I remember seeing Noodle as we approached her owner's house that day twelve years ago. I was immediately drawn to her. She had a vulnerable but intelligent look and wide, caring eyes. We were hooked. I wrote a $450 check and she was ours. So began the doggy love-affair.
One of my first memories with Noodle was the first time I took her in our canoe. I had canoed on our lake countless times, but it was the first time with our new dog. Everything felt fresh and new. I remember her standing at the bow, lapping at the lake water from two feet away. Did she think her tongue would reach? Did it look like the biggest bowl of water she had ever seen? She was curious, anxious, eager, nervous, mystified. So was I. We learned early that Noodle wasn't going to run away—she was rather insecure—so when we reached the far bank I let her off the leash. She explored the bank, sniffing as she went, always glancing back to see I was there. As I watched her I was unaware that my canoe had drifted from shore. It was about fifty feet away when I ran in the water to retrieve it. I had no idea that Noodle followed me, that the water was nearly over her head (she couldn’t swim) and she was whimpering with fear. She must have thought I was abandoning her. She nearly drowned trying to get to me. It broke my heart. I scooped her up in my arms. Over the years, it was this vulnerability (and many other great qualities) that I grew to love.
Noodle wasn't always named Noodle. Used dogs come with names and she came with the name Clarisse, pronounced the same as the Silence of the Lambs Clarice. We were told our dog was actually named after Rudolph the Reindeer's girlfriend who is also named Clarisse (a fitting name because Italian Greyhounds are so fawn-like) but we never could shake the sound of Hannibal Lector's voice in our head saying, "Hello, Clarice," or worse yet, "They were slaughtering the spring lambs, weren't they Clarice…" Although we didn't care for the name Clarisse, it wasn't until she and I went for a run on a rainy autumn day that her name changed. We got caught in a downpour miles from home. When we finally made it back "Clarisse" looked miserable: drooping ears, water dripping off her back, her spindly frame reverberating like plucked pasta drawn from a wet strainer. I'm not sure if it was Heather or I who said she looked like a wet noodle but the name Noodle stuck. It was a fitting name in so many ways, not only was she noodle-shaped but her breed stemmed from Italy, the noodle-motherland. And who in the world doesn't like a noodle?
Noodle and I ran a lot over the years but she wasn't very fond of it. It wasn't the running that bothered her—she was a master runner—it was being outdoors. There is dirt outside. And bugs. And something called wind and try as she might she could never duck under it. In spite of Noodle's disdain for the outdoors I took her running with me. I told her she had to earn her keep. I paid $450 for her and by God I was going to get my money's worth. (Heather told me that Noodle would rather lick dirty dishes to pay her dues but I was unwilling to agree to that.)
I figure Noodle and I ran about 1500 miles together over the years. We ran everywhere. My favorite runs were the backcountry trails. I would take her off the leash and she would stay glued to my heels until we reached the turn-around point at which time she would race home, eager to get back on the sofa. My running really improved chasing her home. There was the time Noodle got stung by a wasp three miles away and I had to carry her all the way back to the car. And how many times did we arrive home mud-covered and I would spray her down in the bathtub? We even ran a few pet-and-owner road races. We won on two continents: the Animal Planet Stampede in Maryland in 2003 and a race in Vienna, Austria in 2006.
Noodle liked car rides. In old age she loved to sleep in my truck. In her youth the car was a place to burn energy. She used to stand on the back seat with her front feet on the center console and "surf". Sometimes she tried to bite passing cars. In those early days I would play fetch with her in the car. I'd throw the pink squeaky ball in the back seat, Noodle would bounce around and find it, then return it to my open hand. It wasn't as dangerous as it sounds, I never took my eyes off the road and Noodle would return the ball right to my hand. One day I threw the ball and she never brought it back. I couldn't figure it out. When I arrived home I searched the car and the ball was gone. I remembered then that Noodle had stared out the back window as we drove down the road. I must have accidentally thrown it out the window. I felt bad for losing her ball so I bought her ten new ones. She never tired of all the squeaky balls. Well, not until the very end.
She and I played a lot of fetch. Her favorite place to play was on the stairs. She was so nimble chasing the ball up and down the stairs. I loved to play fetch outside. She was beautiful running at full sprint. Dogs would turn their heads, neighbors marvel at her grace. I did find a problem playing fetch outside. Outside was outside. Two tosses and Noodle would be heading home. I was left fetching the ball myself. I think Noodle laughed at this.
Noodle bounded with quirkiness and personality. She barked at distant planes, biting at them sometimes. She hated violence on TV, and horses, and William Shatner. Her favorite toys were the squeaky ball and stuffed animals. She loved to shake the filler out of stuffed toys. Over the years we collected dozens of stuffed toys. We kept them in a huge Humpty Dumpty tin can. Each toy was categorized somewhere between "chewed" and "chewed and shredded" and "chewed and shredded and gross". I remember offering the can to Noodle and watching her sniff around until she found the toy that felt right. She would shake them so hard that sometimes they would slip out of her mouth and fly across the room. Once we were watching TV and smelled burning. We found her stuffed toy (a lobster if I remember correctly) melting on a torch-lamp. We gave her a no-throw rule after that but she never followed it.
Noodle began to slow down a couple of years ago. She chased the pink ball less. She slept a little more. A few years ago she lost the sight in her right eye. She never really figured out how blindness worked and seemed surprised that doors, chairs and tables always attacked from her right side. After that her left eye started to go along with her hearing. When she lost sight in that first eye (it was a genetic disorder) we had to stop running. I kidded Noodle that sleeping on the couch wasn't enough to pay her $450 and if she wasn’t going to run she had to contribute in some other way. She licked a lot of dirty dishes after that.
A few days after Noodle passed away we created a list of "All Things Noodle". Before we knew it it was six pages long. We wrote down how she greeted Heather at the door when she came home from work with whole-body wiggling and whines, her love for the underside of blankets, her little moans she made when she got really sleepy, how she'd never beg at the table but just look at you with loving eyes. She was good dog. She never got into the trash or tore things up. Her favorite spot was next to one of us with one paw on us as if she wanted to hold us and not let us go. She was a well-travel canine: She visited 11 states and 8 countries. She lived with us in Austria for four years and even understood some German.
When we finally made the decision to say goodbye, we were most worried about having to take her to the vet to do it, a place she really feared. More than anything we didn't want her final moments to be in terror. We found a wonderful veterinarian who came to our home. I spent the last 48 hours by Noodle's side and on the eve of her final day Heather and I served her a grilled medley of bottom round, beef chuck, NY strip and Filet Mignon. The next morning she had breakfast in bed, some mid-morning bacon, a pre-lunch meal of McDonald's burger with no fixins. We gave her an entire cup of ice cream for lunch. She had never had ice cream and her eyes looked like they would pop with each happy lick. At the very end she ate filet mignon as the veterinarian began the procedure. Noodle went as peacefully as we knew possible, on the sofa with us by her side.
I'll miss that little dog. The grief will be a long time coming. The hardest thing, I guess, is that I never could tell her thank you. I want her know that she never did wrong, and we appreciate her. So thank you, Noodle. Thank you and goodbye. And remember this, I was wrong to tease you about earning that $450 we paid. You were the best bargain I ever had.
1998 - 2012