There was absolutely nothing special about the dog.
That's what I thought when I first saw her. In a moment of weakness in 2001 I consented to "board" her for a short time while "Outdoors Dan" Young found a home for her with some people who had a farm in Iowa. Dan and I were working together at KTRS at the time, and he said a client of his had this black lab puppy that was wandering around their place of business in downtown St. Louis and getting into the trash. He said it was a good dog and he would make arrangements for it long-term if we could take it short-term. I made the mistake of asking Barb if she wanted a boarder for a few days. Of course, once the dog came home with me that day and jumped out of the box in the backseat to huddle up close to me, the deal was done. Dan was off the hook.
But, there was nothing special about the dog.
I kept thinking...What are we doing taking in a lab/who-knows-what mix when we already have a nice Springer Spaniel? We don't need another dog...especially one that is nothing to get excited about like this one. This dog was no prize winner. It was no guard dog. It was terribly undersized for a lab...even a lab mixed with border collie...or whatever. It wasn't a proud dog. It was always afraid of something. It would cower in the corner, or somewhere, during storms. It wouldn't even protect it's own food from the other dog. What a wimpy mutt. What did I do...bringing this thing home?
What did I do? Well, we better come up with a name... How 'bout Liza...y'know like Liza Doolittle from My Fair Lady. A girl from the streets...with no fancy breeding or training...one that needs to be taught the ways of the world. OK...yeah Liza. That sounds about right.
So over these past seven-plus years the dog proved itself pretty smart and learned a lot.
She learned to enjoy running. Not like on the mean streets downtown. But running like crazy after squirrels in our woods...looking skyward as they jumped from tree-to-tree and she barked. She loved to run. If she wasn't chasing the squirrels, it would be a romp through the woods with the occasional dip in the creek, a bark at an owl, or a growl at a deer.
She learned to love that ride in the back of the pick-up as I drove down to the end of the driveway to get the mail or paper. That ride in the front with that nose stuck out the window wasn't too bad either...especially when we stop at the bank drive-up. Because dogs get treats there. She knew when we were pulling in to get excited.
She learned that the place to be in a storm is the basement. And she might have saved our lives one day in '03 when a small tornado slammed into our woods. The weather guys on TV were way behind on that one. But Liza was on duty barking and asking to go downstairs seconds before the trees started blowing around and down. Had there been any damage to the main level...and potential injury...she would have been the hero of the day.
By this time, obviously, my opinion of her had begun to change. We now sometimes referred to her as "The Black". It solidified her position in our household as not just the other dog. She was "the black one".
About a year-and-a-half ago, about the same time we were putting down our old Springer Fergie, we began to notice a growth on the back of Liza's right hind leg. We didn't think much of it at first. But when it started to grow rather rapidly, we decided it was time to see the vet. We were told that it was a growth that should come off and be biopsied. The biopsy indicated, as the vet had feared, that it was a cancerous tumor known as a hemangiopericytoma which you can read all about by clicking the link. It's not an uncommon thing for larger dogs and it's definitely not a good thing.
We had surgery done to remove the tumor twice. We were told that it was likely to come back more aggressively each time. So when the tumor re-appeared after this summer's surgery, we knew we would have a problem keeping her much longer. The options we had were to have the leg amputated and/or undergo very expensive radiation treatment or keep her as long as possible and then have her put down. I couldn't bring myself to agree to an amputation. This dog lived for running in the woods and playing with the critters outside. She was always on guard, and ready to spring into action, as in the photo above (taken this morning). She wasn't going to be a frustrated three-legged dog on our watch.
Recently the tumor was approaching baseball size. And it was obvious the skin on her leg couldn't contain it much longer. Yesterday it didn't. Barb and I looked at each other knowing the time had come to face the fact that pet owners always fear. Our beloved pets aren't forever. She was still a healthy dog...or so it appeared. But that damned tumor...why won't it go away and let her live? So I took her back to Doctor Mike Harres this morning...and stopped at the bank drive-up on the way. (She seemed to enjoy the milk bone more today.) Having the vet tell me this morning that I was doing the right thing because her life would be miserable very soon didn't make it any easier to watch her draw her last breath.
As I sit here now writing with tears streaming down my face...I say...with tremendous respect for the mutt in all of us...Liza, you will always be proof that first impressions aren't nearly always correct. You were a very special dog. We will love and miss you forever.