Cherishing every breath


On Thursday of two weeks ago, we said goodbye to one of the most loving and passionate members any family could hope to have the joy of sharing life with. Travis passed away, setting off waves of tears and e-mails and phone calls and expressions of sympathy that came in truly unexpected numbers. Our little boy made quite an impression on alot of people.

In January, just two years ago, I sat down to remember my best friend... Lady. After more than thirteen years of love and devotion to us, I described her as the piece that made our group a family. She drew us together, protected us, and cared for us in ways we probably never will understand how much we needed.

If she made us a family… and she certainly did… then it is no stretch to say that Travis took our house and made it a home.

A house? A home?

A house is designed to keep you dry. Kitchen… bathrooms… and all the standard stuff that looks so cut and dry on paper, but sum up what you purchase. You buy a house.

A home is warm without heat. It’s a place of comfort, filled with vivid memories and endless dreams.

A home is that special place that just feels right, for reasons unexplained (and in many ways unexplainable).

A home might not even be a house you own… just a place you rent… perhaps just a place you live. And actually, I’d like to think that many friends consider themselves at home when they visit us.

A home is where the driveway is a crushed stone that makes that unmistakable sound when the car tires begin turning as you pull in. It has a big bay window out front, in the middle of the living room. Up against that window is a sofa. And in a home… as you arrive back from your journey, the moment those tires and stone meet to cause even the slightest of sounds, a furry brown head pops into view in that window… paws extended over the back cushions… shaking uncontrollably because of the manically waving tail… staring at you and watching every step you make toward the door. And when you move out of the view from that window, that guy leaps from the sofa to race to the door, so that the moment you open it there is no possible way not to feel welcomed… no possible way not to feel appreciated… no possible way not to feel loved.

Yeah… that’s a home. And that was Travis.

It was around my birthday in 1999… and in my mind I even recall it being on my birthday, though today I can’t be sure of that… that we drove off to select our new puppy. He left absolutely no room for doubt. We met a few puppies that day, but as the others bounced around… playing with each other and just being distracted by the world… only one dove on top of Jay, played consistently with him and Justin, and refused not to be selected as the newest addition to our family. We really didn’t pick Travis… he made it absolutely clear from the very first moment we saw him that he had picked us and would not be denied.

As often does, a debate began over what name to give our new friend. Had been going on for days already. Lasted almost the entire way home. Eventually a Jimmy Buffet lyric came to mind… “Travis McGee’s still in Cedar Key”… and our boy was named after the John MacDonald character. South Park was a favorite at the time, and in the midst of settling the great name debate, we decided to add Beefcake as a middle name. So there you have it…

Travis McGee Beefcake

My youngest sister, upon hearing this, came up with a slightly different name for him. She started calling him Meatloaf. It actually fit. And given his desire to never miss a meal… and to try and get us to add a few extra meals along the way… he eventually looked the part too. His tendency to pop up unexpectedly… at any moment… like a creature in a scary movie jumping out of the darkness… earned him the nickname Travis Monster. And the fact is, you could actually call him anything you wanted and he would be grateful for the attention.

We weren’t sure how Lady would react to him at first. Tolerant would probably be the best description. A few loud growls and several snaps along the way established the pecking order… but something funny took place. Travis didn’t care if Lady wanted to be the boss. He just wanted an invitation to the party. He quickly scooped up tennis balls from the floor and jumped in front of, around, over and on top of Lady… demanding the same acceptance from her that his introduction earned from us. They became inseparable friends over the years. As amazingly different in personality as you could possibly imagine, and yet every so often you’d find them curled up against each other… and there was no missing the connection. Separated as individuals… united as family… our house a home.

It was quite apparent to us that he had a lust for living and experiencing anything he could be a part of. If it could be tasted… he wanted to eat it. If it could be explored… he wanted to crawl around it. And… if it could be torn apart so that he could see what was inside…

We probably should have known what was coming in the future when we saw what he did to the tomato. Not a real tomato mind you… but one of those red pin cushions that look like one. We came home to find a trail of sawdust one evening. From the kitchen… down the hall… to the doors of the bedrooms… did you know how much sawdust goes into one of those things? Alot. He must have been entertained for quite some time shredding that fabric and spreading those pins around.

And… not one mark inside his mouth. No cuts. No blood. No pins in his tummy. It was the start of a pattern for him.

A few months later Terry and I went out of state to attend a wedding. If that Denny’s just outside of Syracuse, New York still exists, I could walk you right to the table we were at on that morning. We had called home from a pay phone, and Justin said: “We’re fine but you’re not going to be too happy with Travis.”

As the investigation drew to a close, we never did decide for absolute certain that Lady was not involved. However, the presence of a chew stick under the sofa leads us to believe the story went something like this…

Travis not only welcomed you home by staring out that bay window… he used it for saying goodbye as well. And quite often, when given a chewie, he would carry it around and not start working on it until Lady had finished hers. (Kind of a “look what I have and you don’t” version of the game kids play.) Occasionally, you could leave by the mud room door, turn around as you neared the car, and there would be Travis, on top of the couch, tail wagging, bone in his mouth.

After we left for our journey to upstate New York, we have a strange suspicion that Travis dropped his chew stick behind the couch at some point. And, when unsupervised at a later time, he decided he wanted it back. Too big to crawl behind the couch as he had done while exploring as a smaller puppy… he made the next best choice. He decided to dig through it.

That furniture will always hold a special place in my heart. Though it has long been gone... another story for another time… I can still almost feel the warm spot on it on those nights when Terry and I would arrive home from work and find Lady under the coffee table. New furniture you know… and she wasn’t allowed on it. But she wasn’t stupid… we weren’t home and it was comfortable… she knew what the squeaking floorboards and key in the lock sounds meant… and she just stepped off the couch and quickly laid down on the floor. If you listened carefully when you reached the door, you could hear the thud as she moved. And now Travis? Yeah… he chewed that thing apart.

For almost eight years we have lived in our current house. Lady and Travis christened it by sliding across the floors and into the stairs the first time they were inside. Many days were spent lounging in the backyard, moving from sunny patch to another sunny patch.

One night, Terry called me. A bottle of medication was on the floor.

An empty bottle. No pills nearby.

Terry called an emergency number. She was told how to make the dogs throw up. Lady did… but of course, Travis didn’t. And then he ran. Wasn’t silly enough to fall for that trick twice. In the end, Lady had to go to the emergency clinic too. We just couldn’t take the chance. Another case of Travis getting in trouble and bringing Lady along for the ride.

By mid-morning, Travis deposited the evidence we needed on the ground outside our vet’s office. He went through eleven straight days of visits to a vet. He survived while getting fluids through IVs and while getting fluids subcutaneously so he could come home every night. He was a great patient through everything he had to endure… and endure he did. We will be forever convinced that this episode took a great toll on Travis, a toll that likely cost him a longer life.

My memories of Travis are scattered around an amazing web of people and places. I could go on for thousands of words and only capture a few…

I remember a game called British Army. The origin of the name isn’t quite so clear as the rules of the game. Justin would bring Travis into his bedroom. Justin would defend the bed from the invading Travis. Whenever Travis would jump on the bed, Justin would push him back to the floor.

I remember playing fetch with Travis and Lady. Travis wasn’t that interested in the fetch part. He’d grab new tennis balls, but the older ones he kind of ignored. Lady would run for hours after tennis balls… Travis would run for hours after Lady. And… like a great cornerback… Travis, in full sprint, would press his body against hers and try to shove her away from the ball.

I remember Travis taking us for pulls instead of walks. We were always afraid, as he stretched against the end of the leash and gasped for breath, that he would pass out and we would be forced to carry him back to the house.

I remember him getting on his hind legs for access to the counters and knocking food down to the floor. Loaves of bread… English muffins… and once (yes, we know) a chocolate cake. And I also remember him tipping trash cans and pulling dirty laundry out of the bathroom or basket and into the hall.

I remember one day when I was trying to take a nap. We have a king-sized bed with a sleigh frame. The footboard is probably over three-feet high. I had blocked him out so he couldn’t get on the bed, but he was going to make an attempt. I heard the sound of nails striking the wood floor at a quickening pace, looked to the end of the bed, and saw his head and front paws appear. He placed his paws over the footboard, but only about half of his body was above it. He didn’t kick… he didn’t fight… he knew he wasn’t going to make it. Just a massive thud as he hit the bed. And then, for at least two or three seconds, he just sort of hovered in the air, staring at me, knowing something wasn’t quite right. Finally, gravity won that battle.

I remember the way he slept on the bed. He always had to be touching someone. He’d often crawl against my legs and fall asleep with his head on my thigh. Just before drifting off he’d take a deep breath and let loose with a contented sigh to end his day. And while he started the night at your feet, he was a creeper. If you woke after two hours he would have moved from your feet to your knees… after four hours to your hips… and after six hours to your chest. Fall asleep all night and you’d wake with Travis comfortably in place with his head on your pillow. On several mornings I opened my eyes to see his head next to mine, a cheerful thumping of his tail into the mattress the indication he knew I was awake.

I remember another game he played with the bed as well. We had a hamper we used to block the dogs from getting on the bed. Whenever we went out for the day, he would break into the bedroom, knock the hamper down, and get on the bed. We got tired of him just getting up there anyway when we weren’t home, so we moved the hamper so he wasn’t blocked out. Once we did that, he would go into the bedroom and go out of his way to knock the hamper down… usually straying several feet in the opposite direction from his path to the bed to accomplish this, as if it were a necessary part of the process.

I remember the way he begged for treats. Every time he came in from outside he would race to the cabinet where they were stored and look upon you with the sorriest expression in the world.

I remember the way he slept on his back… often accompanied by a “chasing the rabbits” dream or, funny enough, a sneeze. (And I’ll never forget the morning that he and Molly caught the rabbit in our backyard in the middle of the night.)

I remember how he would race down a flight of stairs, his paws seemingly not touching a single step.

I remember his head diving into Christmas stockings when Santa brought presents for him too… and I remember the year he pulled over the tree.

I remember him not being a fan of baths… which stood out in huge contrast to Lady, who occasionally we would find lying down in the tub with no one around.

And I remember him getting everything out of every moment he lived… his very first breath around us to the very last.

Terry has been remembering as well. His soft, soft fur… his fondness for her bras and other clothes… his way of never asking to go out, but instead waiting until someone was headed in that direction… inhaling his dinner and occasionally snipping fingertips for treats (“easy… eaa-ssy… good boy”)… and the messes he made as a puppy in his kennel, peeing everywhere in apparent anger while Lady walked around with house privileges he had yet to earn.

When no one else was around (or in the house) with Terry, he always made time to climb up on the couch next to her and snuggle up against her leg. He’d do the same with me, getting on the ottoman and carve out a place for himself in my seat. He never left anyone alone… you always had a friend there with you.

As time goes on, a countless number of other Travis memories will race through my mind. Some I’ll wish I shared… some just bringing a smile to my face. And I’ll think about them, and all of these, and I’ll probably sit there with tears on my cheeks. What I can only hope though, is that I’ve learned from his example, and that I try to experience everything in my life with as much enthusiasm as he had for every one of his experiences and with as much love as he had for all those around him...

I want to feel that deep contentment and warmth of being with the people I love…

That I’m always there for those I care about even when they just need someone next to them…

That I can’t wait for my next adventure…

That I never stop looking for treats…

And that I fight for every breath of life I can get.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at