The old cowhand…

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This week, two days before he would have turned 14, I said goodbye to one of the most entertaining and endearing characters to ever cross my path. Bandit came to me just over three years ago, right before his 11th birthday. His rescuer and foster dad, Eric, posted the following on my Facebook page the next day, and I think his words and pictures describe Bandit’s backstory (as he calls them, Acts I and II) so eloquently and beautifully that with his permission I am sharing them with you.

Bandit: Born 2002, Reborn 2013
Part 1

Although the group I volunteer for is called Cavalier Rescue USA, cavaliers don’t often have to be truly rescued. But I’ll never forget the day I met Bandit. I had been called to the house of an elderly woman who could no longer care for him. He was severely neglected, emaciated, ignored, sickly, and bullied by a larger dog. Once in the car, he collapsed and seemed miserable and resigned. I nearly cried as I drove him to my house. To this day, he is the only dog that I feel we *rescued* in the true sense of the word.

I couldn’t bring him inside in the physical state he was in. I gave him a preliminary bath and, luckily, my next door neighbor was able to come over and give him a second, professional washing/grooming (thanks, Erin). Only then could I let him into the house proper. The photos below are from that moment.

Bandit required 7 trips to the vet over a the coming months. He was undernourished, had mange, ear infections, untreated Lyme disease, skin rashes, severely rotted teeth, and infected glands so bad that it required multiple injections of antibiotics administered over weeks. His initial exam called for nearly a dozen vaccinations and medications. Cavalier Rescue USA ended up paying over $1,000 for his (discounted) veterinary care.

What could possibly become of this dog? He was nearly 11 and sickly. Who would love him? We realized that he would be very hard to place in a new home. We therefore thought it likely that we would have to adopt the poor little guy ourselves.

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Bandit: Part 2

Over the subsequent months, Bandit slowly started to recover. His energy increased and his personality began to show. He was never playful, but always appreciated attention and affection. He really began to grow on us. He so clearly loved people and especially crowds.

As he gained weight and grew a new coat, his eyes brightened, and he began to take on his own look: part ragamuffin, part rebel. Since I knew that Bandit would be a hard dog to adopt, I worked hard to take photos that would capture his personality. The photos below are from that time.

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(Thank you Eric!)

This is where I came in. I wasn’t looking for another dog. I had 10-year-old Callie—we were battling the encephalitis that would claim her life later that year—and Gilda, at that time not yet three, a young dog with lots of energy and a need for a lot of attention herself. But these photographs popped up in my Facebook feed and I quite literally lost my breath, followed quickly by my mind. I kept thinking “I don’t need a third dog! Especially not another old one!” but I also kept returning to the description and adoption information Eric had posted on Cavalier Rescue USA’s website, and I kept looking at that face. THAT FACE.

It wasn’t long before I caved and I was lucky to be granted custody of the little highwayman. He blended into our girly household pretty effortlessly, being an independent and self-sufficient kind of guy. He was the rooster in our henhouse, as a friend pointed out. Sure he practically pulled my arm out of its socket when he saw something (by which I mean pretty much anything) that he deemed edible (seriously, there was nothing he wouldn’t eat), and he made fierce preemptive strikes at larger dogs, sometimes making our walks a little fraught with drama. But we understood each other, and he quickly adapted to his new home. He staked out his favorite places to lie (usually where I couldn’t quite see his small black form, thus tripping over him) and made it clear to Gilda that his food was HIS food and she had better back off (she did). When he tired of hanging out on his own he would saunter in and demand a belly rub; or he’d roll around blissfully on his back, ending with his feet up in the air, motionless, while he stared at me with those beady eyes and that “Joker” smile which turned up the corners of his mouth.

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THAT FACE.

He began to garner a good number of nicknames. My upstairs neighbor pointed out his astonishing resemblance to little Eddie from the old television show The Munsters…so his second name became “Eddie.” There was also “the Muppet” for obvious reasons, and with his shambling bow-legged walk he brought the image of a cowboy vividly to mind. Every dog I’ve had has somehow come with his or her own theme song (Gemma’s was “You are my sunshine” and Callie’s the old spiritual “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”). From the very beginning Bandit’s was “I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande”. Of course his black mask had already bestowed the most apt name upon him, but “Buddy” and “the Dude” fit him just as well.

He didn’t mind what I called him (he was mostly deaf anyway) as long as I fed him.

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Probably because he had been starving in his previous home he always seemed to think whatever was in front of him was going to be his last meal. He ate labels off my skeins of yarn with almost surgical precision (leaving the yarn undisturbed); he ate Kleenex if I left a box of it in his reach. And I don’t mean that he just shredded paper, either. He swallowed it, wholesale. Outdoors, the number of disgusting things he went after was mind-boggling and sometimes really icky. I pulled a dead baby bat out of his mouth once, and birds’ wings, and sometimes objects that I didn’t want to identify. He ate sticks, he ate mud, he ate anything that wasn’t nailed down with complete and utter dedication. If I left my wine glass where he could reach it, he glugged that down too!

At the time I adopted him, Eric had said that the only black mark on my application was that I didn’t own a car. Bandit loved riding shotgun, he told me. So towards the end of 2014 when Alex moved in with us, pickup truck in tow, Bandit was in heaven.

It wasn’t just the long truck rides to Petco, though. Although he loved his new role as Deputy Dog, Bandit very simply adored Alex. Alex became “his” person in a way I never had been. He was content to mosey alongside Bandit for hours, as slowly as the old cowhand wanted to go, and I am sure he let Bandit eat whatever he wanted as well although he denies it. Every afternoon when it was time for Alex to come home from work, Bandit would appear from wherever he had been dozing and park himself in the hallway, that face pointed towards the door, waiting for it to open; when it did he would pull himself to his feet and break into a little trot down the hall, tail wagging.

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At home they listened to Sports Radio in the kitchen, Bandit sprawled on the floor, Alex feeding him bits and pieces of whatever he was eating. Bandit had already cut back on his attacks on other dogs as he became more secure, and now he pretty much stopped altogether. I know that he was as happy as any creature on earth could ever wish to be, except for the occasions when I forced him to have a bath.

So when Bandit began refusing to eat in late April and even let Gilda steal treats right out from under him, we knew something was terribly wrong. The vet diagnosed kidney failure and although we did our best to sustain him with fluids and a prescription diet and lots of TLC, he went downhill fast. That of course is a blessing for him which is most important. I am really happy that he didn’t suffer, he had done enough of that already in his life; but oh it is hard for us to realize that this little larger-than-life character—our beloved Bandit—is gone. When he let me know that it was time, we held him as he rode peacefully into the sunset. I keep looking for his shadowy figure, and I long to hear the single, sharp, seal-like bark he always emitted when he wanted attention. But his indomitable spirit remains with us. I learned so much about resilience and adaptability and dauntless hope from him that will help sustain me through the rest of my life. Rest in peace little man, the best buddy and most intrepid sidekick anyone could ever want: until we meet again.

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Oh. THAT FACE.

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35 Comments to “The old cowhand…”

  1. Greta, I don’t even know what to say! I saw Bandit for less that an hour and he stole my heart, and you had him with you for three years. Just reading your post makes me sad, I can’t even begin to imagine how you must be feeling. All I can do is send you virtual hugs and prayers that Bandit is comfortable and fed well in doggie Heaven.

    • It didn’t take the old rogue long to steal anyone’s heart away. I am so glad you got to meet him, and thank you for the comfort. It means a lot.

  2. What a touching story. Thank you for sharing 🐾

  3. Thanks for sharing him with us through beautiful stories and pictures… and I love that theme song of his. Hugs to you, Greta.

  4. Dogs are the most beautiful of Gods creations. And bandit certainly looks smashing!!!. The post brought tears to my eyes, greta. I feel so sad that dogs have so much suffering, as poor dear bandit did for eleven long years. Im glad he found kindness, solace, love & care thro you. God blessed bandit through you. God bless you too 💜

    • We humans can be very thoughtlessly cruel (let alone intentionally)…but dogs’ forgiving natures are part of what make them so special. Thank you for your kind words.

  5. Greta, I’m in tears right now. Having met Bandit on several occasions, thought not as often as I would have liked, I’m so sad to hear his tale. (Especially chapters I and II – which I didn’t know so specifically.) He had a wonderful three years with you, and I’m one with you in thinking it was a blessing he went so quickly. Thanks for sharing him with us. (((Hugs)))

  6. What a beautiful tribute, Greta.

  7. So poignant: what a beautiful tribute to Bandit’s huge heart and love!! Blessings to him as he goes on to the next adventure, and blessings to you as you hold him ever more closely in your heart and memories.

    • He’s wreaking havoc at that famous Rainbow Bridge ;-) I am so grateful to have had his company for the time I did. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  8. “The little highwayman” is exactly how he looks! What an adorable guy! So wonderful you had each other for a few years. As they say, dogs have only one fault, they don’t live as long as we do :-‘( I don’t think I ever want to revisit the time when the big ugly was going through the big C and the eventual going away. As I told you, the soul went out of the house. Miss her every day. I can imagine how you feel. Lots, lots of love and hugs. And best to Alex.

    • There is still plenty of soul in your house :) but yes, the loss of one as great as a dog’s leaves a huge huge hole. Lots of love and hugs back to you. LYMI.

  9. Oh my, he was gorgeous! It was wonderful to finally meet you last year (thanks Suhan!) but I wish I’d gotten to see the rest of your family too. Now it’s too late to meet Bandit. :-( I don’t need heaven, but I sure hope one exists for dogs. Big hugs to you.

  10. Thank you, dear Greta for sharing. You both are lucky persons to have met each other. He is in a different realm now and the bond between you is still there. Sending you warm hugs and lots of love, to see you through this loss.

  11. He looked like Beagle Boy ready to pounce on Scrooge :) Bless you for taking so much care of the chap.

  12. Yes, that adorable face ! Bless you for giving him happiness for 3 years. His eating everything in sight reminded me of the writer Janet Evanovich books, one of the charecters has a dog who just about eats everything. Bandit must have been so deprived of food, I shudder to think of it. Many hugs for you.

    • He was very thin when he was rescued :( But he wasn’t deprived with us, that’s for sure (well, except for the stuff I INSISTED on pulling out of his mouth)…

  13. Of course I meant deprived before you rescued him, I reread part 1 and 2. So adorable, you are so generous to volunteer for the rescue group. I really liked the pictures, you want to hug him.

  14. Even though you sound cheerful, reading the last passage was painful. I have a dog which is just 5 but from the time it came home as a 3 month old pup, it has epilepsy which was brought under control by medication for months. It has weak legs, skin allergy due to which it indulges in long periods of scratching. The vet was not able to get the allergy under control. It has very strong likes and dislikes where food is concerned. When I brought a slightly different variety of dogfood, it just wouldn’t eat it. When I tried mixing both varieties, it patiently seperated the two and ate the old variety. The thought of life after it is gone is too painful too bear.

    • Allergies are very difficult to pin down and treat, especially if you have a picky eater :( Hang in there and keep trying, your pup is lucky to have you. I had a friend with a dog who scratched herself constantly until she bled, and the only thing that really helped was frequent bathing with a skin conditioner.

      If I sound cheerful, it’s only because I loved Bandit so, and talking about him helps me feel better. I miss him terribly, as I still do the other two who have gone before. It’s hard to be left behind, but I wouldn’t trade a single minute I spent with them to spare myself the sorrow.

  15. What a most beautiful and fitting eulogy. You were indeed lucky to have found eachother!

  16. I am late by nearly ten days in discovering this post. I knew that Bandit has a rough past, and I did not want to know the details of his past as I cannot bear to imagine what he may gave gone through. I was very happy though when you got him, because I knew that he had come to just the right person that unwanted dogs like him needed. He brought sunshine in your household as well in the lives of the likes of us who lived half world away. He had already lived much of his life and that too in misery, but he must have thanked his stars that he got you to care for him for the last three years of his life. He must have done some good deeds in past life to get cared by you (as we say in India).

    You have adopted so many pets and given them lives that they deserve to lead -I am sure you are like Mother Teresa to all your pets. My heart goes out to Bandit, to you and to all the near and dear one’s of bandit. He had the best three years of his life with you and I am sure his blessings will be with you.

    Such a moving and eye moistening post this is. Losing a pet is always tough. Our prayers are with you.

    • Thank you Atul…he easily brought as much joy to me as I did to him. I like to think that his bad memories had faded, certainly his behavior seemed to indicate that they had. He is terribly missed, but that is all to his credit <3

  17. What a beautiful tribute to a beloved friend! Sending you my best wishes. Lost two such beloved souls growing up and the pain never goes away…remains a dull ache…but their memories bring such joy and warmth, always. You seem like such a good person, Memsaab Greta. Be well.

  18. He really looks like a bandit with that hairstyle. Maybe the Pran among dogs :)

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