Young River

A young River – 60 pounds of muscle and fun.

It’s not all about the research or even finding good treatments. It’s also about getting through these diseases in as good shape as possible, and for me – my dogs, River and Skye – have been a big help.

After Tug – a Border Collie mix I grew up with – I thought I would never be without a dog but then ME/CFS/FM hit and I put the dog idea on the back burner for 30 years. Having a dog, I thought, would be too much, but then Wendy came along.

Wendy, my girlfriend at the time, did not have ME/CFS but loved dogs. Wendy opened doors for me. We did things I thought I would never do. We lived for six months in Mexico, then in North Carolina and Colorado, and, most importantly, we got dogs.

Get a dog, she said – you love dogs – just get a dog. And so we got a dog – River – and then we got another one – Skye. Wendy was such a dog collector that at one point we had four dogs (that was too much).

River - Rockies

River at 11,000 ft in the Rockies (2016)

In any case, the dog idea worked out and when Wendy left, River and Skye (Skye was her dog) remained, and over the past ten years we’ve been traveling the West in our van (and recently a trailer). While they have, of course, overtaxed me plenty of times, and have at times cost a pretty penny in vet fees, I’m grateful to Wendy for supporting me in getting them. In other words, it worked out.

River and Skye have been a source of interest, excitement, wonder, terror (when Skye downed rat poison), at times frustration (please eat, Skye), and companionship. They have gotten me out more – there are walks to go on and dog owners to meet. With my nomadic lifestyle, I feel safer with them as well.

So, the question is whether having a pet of some sort (dog, cat, bird, rodent, fish???) is a good idea. What are your experiences with having a pet? Did it work out? What did you learn? What would you do differently? If you’ve been thinking about getting a pet, are you ready to take the plunge?

River passed away 8 months ago.

Goodbye to River!

River on my lap in the van

River’s place

In May of this year, our 12-year-old companion, River, suddenly collapsed and quickly died. He collapsed in the same place where he spent so much time – in my lap – as we were driving down a dirt road in the Coconino National Forest outside of Flagstaff, AZ.

We don’t know what happened – I would not allow River to be cut open and autopsied – that was too much for me. River was certainly aging – he was a full-on whitebeard by then and was much slowed, but he showed no signs of ill health. A recent thorough checkup revealed no problems, and just a couple of days earlier he felt well enough to chase after a truck with dogs down a forest service road.

All we know is that the end was quick and he did not appear to be in pain. We, my partner and I, on the other hand, were stunned and in great pain.


River and Skye

River and Skye in their home – the Big Yellow Van

Looking for a Catahoula mix, I found River, an Australian cattle dog/pit mix in a small shelter in a small town in Arizona (name unknown). I was told he’d been bullied by some of the bigger puppies in the shelter. When I first held him, he was tense and unsure but suddenly relaxed – and a long friendship was born.

On the way back to Vegas, he slept contentedly in my lap – and there he stayed even as he grew to a 60 lb bundle of muscle for the next 12 years. Even when the passenger seat – which looked more comfortable to me and was at least considerably cooler in the intense desert heat – beckoned, he stayed. How could he stand it, I wondered – at times I hardly could – yet there he remained.

He and Skye – his “sister” were a constant presence in my life for 12 years. They saw it all; Mexico, up to Canada on the West Coast, the Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains, the Southwestern deserts, across to the northeastern US, and all the way down to Florida, he was a faithful, uncomplaining, and just fun companion.

River - Rodeo drive

Checking out the people on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills

Curiosity was his middle name. Whether it was going down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, or heading over the top of the Rocky Mountains, or checking out a counter person at a McDonald’s, he was interested. As he sat perched above the traffic in our van – looking down with a grave expression on his face – hundreds of people must have given him a big smile and a wave… At drive-throughs, he regularly received treats (and just as regularly rejected them).

We knew each other intimately. Just a little sign – a slight change in my posture, a little cock of the head – and he knew it was time for a walk and would come running.

He was utterly devoted – he was not more than a foot or two from me for much of his life. At night he would present himself for his evening massage and then would curl up next to me – a bundle of warmth – where we would spend the night together.

He was no pushover, though, and he trained me well. He was tied to the van – his home for most of his life. When we were staying at my uncle’s house, he would sometimes refuse to leave it for days on end, requiring that I (grumble, grumble) bring him food and water.

Fierce van protector (2021)

Fierce van protector (2021)

There was no getting back to the van after our drives down dirt roads until I gave him a quick body massage. Getting into the van, on the other hand, required little prods in the butt to get him to jump in. River could be stubborn at times but when he knew the game was up and it was time to get serious, he quickly relented, wagging his tail back and forth to let us know all was ok.

When camping, he loved to sleep in the van during the day. First, he would go to the driver’s side door and bark to be let in but ended up just looking at me and barking as I was working away at the table. (It took me a while to figure that out).

River Boat

Making friends on his only boat trip (Oct. 2022)

He was a handsome fellow (and appeared to know it) who loved people and was clear that they loved him as well. On his first and only boat trip, he trolled the deck, licking people’s ears, and soliciting pets and kisses.

He loved hotels. When it was time to go for a walk, he became a whirling dervish. He was truly irrepressible, almost out of control with excitement. He would grab his (or Skye’s) leash in his mouth, pull me (and sometimes Skye) this way and that, get in a quick rapid-fire (imitation) hump of Skye (he humped her virtually every time he got excited), and then back to the leash, he would go dragging me down the hall.

He made so many different vocalizations when young that I thought I wouldn’t have been surprised if he broke out in English someday. He loved encouraging Skye to run faster and faster and faster as he yipped at her while she ran beside the van (during desert exercise sessions).

River mud

Happy as a clam in the mud.

River was always coming up with something new. Just a couple of weeks ago before he died, he avidly watched me as I worked for several hours to get the van unstuck but at some point, disappeared. We were free, but where was River? An ensuing search revealed that this old dog had climbed up the hill to our old campsite, where he eagerly greeted us when we finally arrived.

He was gentle. He took all treats – including potato chips and popcorn – with great softness, carefully taking them from our hands. He took great care with water as well, slowly, slowly bending down (would he drink?) before finally flicking out his tongue for the first sip.

He and Skye – his Australian cattle dog/Rottweiler sister that he grew up with – had their small spats but were overall great friends. When young, she pummeled him mercilessly, rolling him over and over and then dragging him by the scruff along the ground in their incredibly fierce play. It took time for River to build up the bulk he needed to stand his ground, but then he could stand his ground and occasionally throw her off guard.

River Skye playing Oregon Beach

River gets the upper hand on an Oregon Beach (2017)

River patiently put up with voluminous and drenching ear lickings from Skye, and Skye always looked after River – frequently looking back for him when he fell behind as he slowed. When he tried to play with other dogs, Skye proved to be a jealous sister (would be mate?), barking fiercely at him, bumping him, and in general producing havoc. River’s play included keeping one eye on the other dog and one eye on Skye – a difficult situation – but he never seemed to mind.

He was steadfast. River’s severe limp later in life kept him from running much (although he did recently manage to chase a truck with other dogs in it down the road), but he kept on his walks to the end. I will never to the end of my days forget the sight of River slowly and steadily following us.

River Hurricane Ridge

River checking things out on Hurricane Ridge in Washington (2017)

The only time he consistently got upset was when early in the evening in hotel rooms we would disturb his sleep by accidentally prodding him. He would give out a gruff half-bark, get up, move around, and then come back and lie down.

He was a fearless coyote, cow, and donkey chaser, a fierce protector of the campsite from all hot air balloons and low-flying planes, a great guardian against the depredations of skateboards and similar wheeled objects, and a ferocious defender of the van should any dogs dare to venture anywhere near it. A world-class humper at dog parks (sigh) – he particularly loved intimidating the really big dogs (and trying fruitlessly to hump them).

He was a bit jealous at first and made my partner work for his love – giving her many sideways glances (his specialty) – and terrifying her one evening when I was gone by barking at her every time she moved. His standoffishness left her in despair until one point she let out a great sigh and cradled her head in her arms – only to find his wet muzzle reaching into her face – and they were good. They eventually became great friends, and he was always tremendously excited to see her again at the airport.

River getting old

Getting old (2023)

River survived a rattlesnake bite, getting hit by a car, an attack by a pit bull (saved by Skye), an attack by a coyote pack (saved by Skye again), parasites (after eating a rabbit), getting seriously lost in the dense forests of the Northwest, getting accidentally left behind in the desert once, being put in “doggie jail” in Colorado for several days, and enduring multiple surgeries as we tried (unsuccessfully) to fix his limp.

Despite River’s love of life, he’d aged rapidly over the past three years and was a full whitebeard by the time of his passing. At times it broke my heart to see him aging so rapidly.

River’s death tore a hole in our hearts. He was our baby boy, and we miss him more than words can say. We will carry him in our hearts forever and hope we will meet up with him again someday.

Here’s to you, my baby boy!

So, for us, the answer to the question of whether we should get another dog – the answer is yes!



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