The Libertine

A while back, I wrote about our old pal Jasper. Today I’ll write about his counterpart, Libby, affectionately known as Libby-Lou, and less affectionately known as Libertine Lucifer. For the sake of this piece, I will focus mainly on her “Libby-Lou” side, and less on the demonic traits that have made for some hair-raising events over the past 10+ years.

Libby’s first days in our home, back in March of ’08

Libby is much like her mama in that she’s not too stoked on members of her own species. When she sees dogs, she thrashes around like a 100-pound tarpon at the end of a line, and introductions to other dogs, when unable to be prevented, tend to include a swift bite to the face. Many years ago, after I explained to a man on a hiking trail why it wouldn’t be a good idea for my crazy dog to meet his nice one, he replied, “Got it. She’s not good with ice breakers.” I thought that was a lovely way of putting it. The one positive thing about Libby’s attitude towards other canines is that I don’t have to go to dog parks and have stilted conversations with strangers. After all, I didn’t get dogs so I could meet people. I got dogs so I could hang out with my dogs.

Libby’s murderous instinct carries over to other creatures as well. She’s killed gophers, lizards, squirrels, rats, and a pet chicken at my friend’s parents’ farm, an incident that earned her the nickname Dexter Dog. While hiking along a ridge on Orcas Island, a small animal dashed across the trail in front of us, and Libby went after it. If I hadn’t been holding her harness, she would’ve plummeted straight off a cliff. This incident made me realize that Libby’s prey drive is strong enough to eclipse her survival instinct. Pretty impressive.

Okay, enough about that! On to the good stuff…

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Libby loves, loves, loves to be outside. When she sees her leash, she dances around like she’s won the dog lottery. (This is in stark contrast to Jasper, who pouts at the sight of his leash. What, again? his sad eyes say. There’s a perfectly good couch right over there…)

In her younger days, she loved to run whenever possible and was incredibly fast. One of my happiest Libby memories is taking her to an empty beach on the Oregon Coast around 1 a.m. and letting her run to her heart’s content. Her violent tendencies made off-leash opportunities a rarity, and her joyful face each time she raced by was a beautiful thing.

Of course, all that activity must be balanced out with some serious resting, and Libby has the adorable habit of sleeping with her tongue stuck out. The best is when she wakes up with her tongue still out, then looks at me like, What? Why are you laughing?

Libby is great with humans of all ages. When I worked as a counselor at a construction pre-apprenticeship program where most of the students were young men, I sometimes brought her to work so they could tell their problems to her instead of me. The best example of this was when I got a heads-up that a particularly guarded, tight-lipped student was struggling with meth addiction. He looked horrified when I asked him to come to my office, but his eyes lit up the moment he saw Libby. For the next hour, I watched as he held her face, shared his fears, anger, and pain, and cried into her fur. In the end, he looked at me with a smile and said, “Libby thinks it’s gonna be okay.”

As a counselor, Libby works some real magic. She exudes this sweet sense of comfort that makes people know they’re loved.



Libby didn’t come to us as a snuggler. While Jasper likes to sprawl his 65-pound bulk across anyone who’s around, Libby needs more personal space. For the first few months she lived with us, she wouldn’t even sleep in the same room as the rest of the family. Over the years, however, she’s gotten more comfortable with proximity.

Here are a bunch of pictures of Libby just lying around being cute. Do all dog owners take hundreds of photos of their dogs doing nothing? Because I certainly do.

I write this now because my sweet Libby’s light is fading. Arthritis and degenerative disc disease have taken their toll, she hardly eats, her activity level is almost nil, and her mind is muddled. I feel her preparing to make the big transition, and it sucks.

When it comes to the loss of my pets, I am not strong, brave, or resilient. I am a blubbering, inconsolable disaster of a person. That’s how the whole last week has been. Crying at the office, then furiously fanning  my eyes when I hear a coworker’s approach. Crying in the car until I can’t see a damn thing. Crying while I pet Libby and soaking her fur. Crying right now as I type. Princess Leia watched her home planet explode and didn’t react so pitifully. But I cannot help it. It’s simply a reflection of how much love I hold for these animals and the amount of joy they’ve brought to my life.

Dogs are the best people. I just wish they lived forever.


[P.S. ~ I’ve done my best to focus on Libby’s positive attributes in this post, but JR said I need to tell the chicken-killing story, so here goes: We were invited to a friend’s parents’ farm, and she let us know they’d had some issues with canine visitors in the past but had lifted the ban for us, so Jasper and Libby could come, too. We had a wonderful first day which concluded with a lavish dinner on the back deck. As soon as we all sat down to eat – before the napkins were even placed on our laps – I heard my friend’s mom gasp, “Oh, no.” I peered over the edge of the table to see Libby, looking quite proud of herself, drop a dead chicken on the deck, then sit beside it like: Look – I contributed! As my friend’s dad scooped up the dead hen and whisked it out of the mom’s line of sight, I looked at JR and said, “I wanna leave.” He looked right back and replied, “We can’t leave.” It was like a Southwest commercial. So humiliating. We kept Libby quarantined for the rest of the weekend.]

Sir Jasper of the Too-Large Heart


When Jasper joined our family in 2006, only his head was too big. Still in his puppyhood (the pound predicted his age at around 1 year), he’d been found in a field in Salinas, California, then spent two weeks at the shelter waiting for his people to arrive. The moment I saw the giant block head perched on a skinny little pound puppy body, I knew we’d found our dog.

For his first few months with us, many of the people we encountered on our daily walks referred to him as “the big head dog,” but after plenty of regular meals, treats, and exercise, his body grew to match his head. By that point, he’d taught us (and anyone who entered our home) a great deal about the profound power of snuggling.

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When he was about two, Jasper was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The vet said it would likely develop into something more severe later in life but discouraged us from limiting his activities. We readily took her advice. Over the next ten years, Jasper had tons of adventures. He climbed scores of mountains ~




Traversed many waters ~


And wandered under rainbows ~


He traveled across the country and up and down both coasts. As a road trip dog, he was an absolute angel from day 1.

1(After many years, he finally taught Libby how to win at road trips: go to sleep immediately & snooze through the whole thing.)

A lover of all living things, he made friends wherever he went ~IMG_2582Over the course of a decade, Jasper swam in both the Atlantic and Pacific, drank from countless lakes, rivers, and streams, rode the ferry to the San Juan Islands, went canoeing and camping, and hiked in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Carolinas. He even toured a vineyard in Napa and stayed in a yurt. When it came to family adventures, he couldn’t stand to be left out.2About a year ago, Jasper started to cough. The cough was prolonged and troublesome enough to warrant a visit to the vet, and we soon found out that the left atrium of his heart is enlarged, which pushes against his trachea and triggers a cough. This is a chronic issue that can be controlled somewhat, but not cured. At times, it gets really bad. He chokes, gags, and wheezes, unable to get a breath. It’s terrible.

My husband blames us. He says we love Jasper so much, we’ve enlarged his heart. I don’t know what he’s talking about. I mean, I may sometimes wrap Jasper in a handmade afghan because he’s looking a bit chilly… but doesn’t everyone do that sort of thing??20160125_124944While I don’t really believe we had anything to do with his heart issues, it is difficult to witness a dog’s aging process. It happens far too fast. Both of our dogs now gaze at us through eyes clouded by cataracts. They’re hard of hearing. Their bodies are dotted with fatty cysts. Their walks have been reduced from a brisk 3+ miles a day to a slow (maybe) mile. Libby has arthritis. Jasper’s heart is too big. As someone who loves them dearly, it hurts a great deal to see them grow old.

But it’s also worth it. Despite the pesky, encroaching mortality issue, dogs make life better. Jasper was the first dog I got to share my home with since I left for college at age 18, and he has been one of the best things about my adult life. IMG_3675I tell my husband that our home is a geriatric facility in which our pets now stand in a queue, waiting to cross the rainbow bridge. But I only joke that way to soothe myself, because I know how painful their passings will be. That’s why I chose to write a post about Jasper now, while I can still look at him across the room, snoring gently on the couch. If I waited until after he passed, I don’t think I’d be able to write this. It would be too hard.

My strategy for the remainder of Jasper’s life is to keep loving him as much as I can, even if it makes both of our hearts swell up until they burst. Because first of all, he deserves it, and secondly, what a way to go. 💖