Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: January 2018

By Dennis Hinkamp

For a dancer.

Trigger warning: this might make you cry. It made me cry writing it, but it was a joyful cathartic cry. On December 6, our 18-pound 14.5-year-old package of fury, attitude and bliss left us behind.

Luba, our French bulldog, had an amazing life. She was born in Russia, hence we gave her a Russian woman’s name long before we knew the new owner of Crumb Brothers who shares that name. I have told the human Luba on several occasions that she can name her new puppy Dennis if she likes. Luba the doggie was somehow smuggled out of pre-Putin Russia at three months old and taken to St. Louis, Missouri. My late parents, the consummate shoppers, found her in the classifieds for the then unheard of French bulldog bargain price of $500. Two days later she was on another plane to Salt Lake City.

We picked her up in a dark cargo warehouse west of the main terminal. She immediately put her front paws on the dashboard of the truck and began surveying the future. We became her people. Her citizenship was never questioned and nobody picked up on the Russian accent in her bark or discovered the Russian identification tattoo on her tummy. She lived her life as an undercover free-roaming citizen of the world.

Luba as traveled with us everywhere from Los Angeles to Calgary. She has been to nearly all the oceanside campsites on Highway 1. She’s been to the San Juan Islands, Slab City, the Spiral Jetty, the Grand Canyon, Burning Man, Yosemite, Death Valley, Dead Horse Point, Goblin Valley, Bryce, Sundance, Zion, the Utah Senior Games and Canyonlands; many more national parks than President Trump (low blow, but I think she would approve)

She has bitten French Canadians, pooped on the fancy carpet of a university VP and lived with me in Iowa for four months. She once got in a snarling, biting, bloody fight with a Boston terrier in the mean streets of a Las Vegas dog park. She scared and delighted small children at different periods in her life. Luba was a weekly hit at the Logan Gardeners’ Market and ignored ignorant humans who asked if she was a pug. “A pug!” I could imagine her snorting incredulously. “I have big pointy Frenchie ears and stubby tail, not floppy ears and a curlicue butt decoration.”

Near the end, our beloved ancient doggie had basically become a rag doll, refusing to eat. So last week I picked her up and put her on the front seat of the car for a little Sunday drive to Idaho which is where we Gentiles go when we forget to go to the Utah Liquor store on Saturday. I stopped at the convenience store to get some wine and a horribly greasy sausage and egg breakfast biscuit. When I self-medicate, it usually involves sausage. Since it was 12:01 they gave it to me for free. As I unwrapped said fetid biscuit, Luba magically looked up at me like “I want some of that.” By some miracle she ate half the thing which was about the only food she ate in the three days leading up to her death. That was a good day.

The small things you miss immediately when you become dogless. If you drop a morsel of food, you have to pick it up and you no longer have to close all the doors. You also have no way to triangulate your conversations. “Luba, tell Dennis to shovel the snow,” Susan might say. She will live on forever in our memories and almost that long as embedded shedded hair on our rugs and furniture.

There is an old Jackson Browne song that I never really noticed when I was younger called “For a Dancer.” I won’t cut and paste the lyrics here but if you want a good cry when someone or some pet passes, I highly recommend looking it up. It is more amazing than Amazing Grace and if you want, you can even dance to it.

I know humans are dying and starving, but there is enough empathy to go around. We have bred dogs to be our best-imagined selves and we have to acknowledge our co-dependence.

Dennis Hinkamp says, “People have told me that they hope that I can write their obituary. It is a skill that I wish I didn’t have, but I’m here for you; please schedule in advance.”

This article was originally published on January 1, 2018.