Feynman, 1994-2006

Feynman, our first basset hound, died yesterday. She was twelve. A tumor burst in her abdomen, but she wasn’t in pain for long, and we had time to say goodbye and buy her one last cheeseburger and some coffee ice cream.

She was my first dog. I don’t even know where to begin. This is the best I can do.

  1. She was a horrible puppy. She chewed up our wedding album, books, CD cases, chairs, carpeting, and four straight pins that after a night in the hospital she passed without incident. We still have the straight pins, in a plastic jar in the closet. I can maybe understand one; but four?
  2. Despite all that, and despite our obedience trainer’s joke that as a basset hound she would be her “special ed student,” Feynman was certified as a Canine Good Citizen when she was two. For years I had the certificate framed on the wall over my desk. I never hung the Ph.D., just the CGC.
  3. We used to watch a lot of TV, because we were in graduate school and avoiding work. Sometimes we were desperate enough to watch rodeo, and Feynman sat on the couch and watched with us. She was a rodeo fan. If I changed the channel, she would look pointedly at the remote control, then glare at me.
  4. You might not think a dog could glare. You might not think a dog could have a lot of expressions Feynman used daily. When I did something she thought was stupid (like put up a Christmas tree or bring home a puppy) she looked at me with a combination of guilt-inducing sorrow and something close to pity for being so thick.
  5. She could balance a Milk Bone on her nose, flip it up, and catch it in the air. She gave the impression that a lot of things were beneath her dignity, but food talks; dignity walks. Thanksgiving will never be the same without her.
  6. She had a working vocabulary of over a hundred words. We counted them, once. Her favorite was “waffle.”
  7. She once outsmarted my mother-in-law. She pretended that she needed help getting up onto the couch, and when Kathy’s mom got out of her comfortable chair to help her, Feynman leapt up into the warm spot on the chair. There was no getting between Feynman and her personal comfort.
  8. I could talk about her as the noble dog, and in fact she could carry herself with an air of nobility. But she also thought the litterbox was a snack bar and the cat a vending machine. So I won’t.
  9. When we brought Toby home from the breeder Feynman, the pampered only dog, knew immediately her gig was up. I have a photo framed on my bookshelf of her on that day looking at us as though we had sold her to the redneck neighbors. She growled at him, she barked at him, she wanted him dead. She stayed surly for a full year, and then they were best friends for eight years after.
  10. If you referred to them as “the dogs” and told them to do something, she ignored you. What, me? Toby was the dog. She was, well, Feynman.
  11. When Kathy found a kitten starving in the drainpipe under our driveway and brought it inside, it decided that Feynman was its mother and tried to suckle off of her. She kissed him so much that we had to take him away from her; he was soaked in basset drool. We didn’t want a cat, but we kept him. Now we have three. I blame her.
  12. One Christmas when we were visiting my parents it snowed and we took Feynman sledding: grabbed her, held her on the flexible flyer, and careened down the icy hill. At the bottom she leapt away, shook herself off, barked at me, then raced to the top of the hill to do it again.
  13. This summer when she came with us to the farmer’s market every week, limping around the lot on her arthritic hip, she made so many friends that there are people who changed their Saturday morning schedules so they could see her.
  14. There were times when she seemed nearly human, but she made me a dog person and taught me to be a dog, and that’s as good a gift as anyone has ever given me.

Feynman and I sledding