Pitufa is now Eloise’s Guardian Angel

Our beloved Pitufa is now in heaven watching over our soon to be born beautiful Eloise.  Our hearts our crushed and we miss her so.

Here is her story:

Her name was Pitufa (it’s Spanish for Smurf)

In August 2006, a new friend entered my life that will forever change who I am.  She was approximately 14 inches tall, weighed approximately 15 pounds, and had more love in heart than I ever thought possible.  Her name was Pitufa (“Pea-Too-Fah”), which means Smurf in Spanish, and now she is gone.

Pitufa (or “Tufa”) was a rescue dog from Ecuador.  Most people look at us strange when we tell them we chose to rescue a dog from Ecuador, instead of one from the United States (or better yet, spend the same amount of money and get a purebred show dog), but that is what we did.  Sarah and I always thought that we were the ones that rescued and took care of Pitufa, but I am starting to think it was the other way around.

We picked Tufa up from San Francisco International Airport late one night during the first week of August.  I had sat for the California Bar in July and was lucky enough to spend a week in Hawaii with Sarah’s family shortly thereafter.  We had gone through the paperwork aspect of the adoption process in the months leading up to July and August and our building expectation had been palpable to everyone around us as all Sarah and I could think about was the homecoming of little Pitufa.

Both Sarah and I had grown up with dogs.  Sarah had Dusty, a loving and particular Golden Retriever.  I had Casey, an exuberant and precocious Airedale Terrier.  Casey had come into my life only after three years of incessant (and probably annoying) pleading to my parents for a dog.  At age ten, I finally convinced my parents with a hand-written “Dog Contract,” wherein I promised to walk, feed, take care of and pick up after any dog we would get.  Despite my preferred tendency to take things apart and (attempt to) put them back together, my parents probably should have known I would wind up becoming a lawyer.

Casey was a wonderful part of my life and my family’s life.  She brought chaos, joy and love to our family.  She was an independent dog who liked to challenge the patience of my father, loved to plan escapes from our house, and had the fear-instilling yearning to find batteries and shaving blades to eat.  Challenging but loving all the same.  Casey tempered in her later years, and I believe (and hopefully my parents agree) that she brought peace to our house.

Just after my 21st birthday, I was diagnosed with Lymphatic Cancer – Type IIIa Hodgkin’s Disease.  It was a shock to me, my family and friends.  I received an outpouring of love and support, including from Casey.

Dogs always seem to have an intuition about illness.  Have you ever seen a dog behave badly when there is an illness or death in the family?  I have not.  And Casey was no different.  My Cancer treatment involved ABVD chemotherapy and radiation, and I had all the humbling struggles of a Cancer patient.  Casey may not have understood exactly what was going on, but she knew something was going on and that I needed her.  She was at the end of her life and seemed to be hanging on just to make sure that I was going to be okay.   On June 22, 2001 and despite needed several more months of treatment, my team of Cancer physicians announced that I was in remission.  It looked like I was going to survive.  Several nights later, Casey died in my arms on the floor of our kitchen.

It was hard not to have high expectations for Pitufa given the experiences that Sarah and I had with Dusty and Casey.  Leading up to arrival, I kept a copy in my wallet of the grainy photo of Tufa sitting in the Ecuadorian field where she lived.  Pitufa was identified as Sheepdog and Portuguese Water Dog mix, and although her size may have suggested otherwise, we did not care.

Tufa was a rescue dog from the Amigo Fiel, the Ecuador arm of the New York based Stray from the Heart rescue dog non-profit (strayfromtheheart.org).  Stray from the Heart is a wonderful organization, and Sarah and I had fallen in love with Tufa’s story.  Typically, Stray from the Heart only places dogs, particularly Amigo Fiel dogs (or Ecuadogs), in New York homes.  Given our situation, however, Toni Boden of Stray from the Heart felt that Tufa would be happy in our home, and we are forever grateful to Toni for that opportunity.

Tufa was a rescue dog from the streets of Quito, Ecuador.  She may have lived in a home at some point, but there was some history of abuse in her life and (based at least on the poor state of her teeth and gums) had lived on the streets for several years.  Tufa also had puppies (and a review of some of the other Ecuador rescues seems to show that at least some of them were rescued along with Tufa).  Sarah and I like to pretend (and given Tufa’s personality, this does not seem to be a stretch) that Tufa was the protective mother, begging and scrapping for food for her family and when necessary, keeping them out of harm’s way.

After Pitufa was rescued by Amigo Fiel, she – unlike all the other rescue dogs – had the privilege of living with Dr. Linda Del Pup, the Ecuador veterinary who ran Amigo Fiel, in her home (instead of the shelter).  Undoubtedly, Tufa was well-loved in Ecuador following her rescue and deserved a great home.

Pitufa arrived in the United States scared and intimidated by her new surroundings – a long flight from Ecuador with a short dog-run layover will undoubtedly have that effect.  When we picked her up from the airport, we immediately took her to the dog relief area so that we could meet her and let her stretch her legs.  She had a funny little haircut and was wearing a cute handmade Cosby sweater to keep her warm on the flight (like I said, she was clearly loved in Ecuador).

Pitufa was very frightened and scared.  There were new smells, loud noises, and she had just traveled on a plane for half a day to a different time zone half way around the world.  The first hour in the dog relief area involved leaving trails of bite-sized dog treats from her crate to the area where we were sitting.  She had long eyebrows that she used to cover her eyes (something that would become a trademark Tufa security mechanism) so we could not see her eyes and she would not let us touch her.  It took another half an hour (and a long fight with airport security over parking) to get Tufa back into her crate and into the car.

Back in our North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco later that evening, Tufa became more relaxed.  Dinner made her happier (as it always seems to do) and Tufa finally fell asleep in our home around midnight after a walk and a brief exploration of her new home.

We were happy.  Tufa was finally home and, somehow, life felt more complete.  And then it happened.  The tongue.  Pitufa’s little pink tongue was sticking out of her mouth.  Panic ensued.  Is she okay?  Is she dehydrated?  Is something wrong?  Do we need to go to the vet?  We would wake Tufa up, and she would appear scared and slightly disoriented.  Not signs that helped the situation.  Was it just the new surroundings or was it something else.  Finally, Tufa lifted her eyebrows so that we could see her eyes, looked us in the eyes as if to say “stop bothering me,” and laid her head down and went to sleep.  I remember thinking:  Wow, what did we get ourselves into?  Is she a dog or something else?  I knew that dogs owners place human emotion and characteristics on their pets, but really, did that just happen?

Turns out the “tongue out” while she slept was just one of Pitufa’s idiosyncrasies, like her use of her eyebrows for expression.  Given Tufa’s years of street living, her dental hygiene was poor and her remaining teeth were few.  We never really found out if the “sleeping with the tongue out” thing was a personality trait or a physical reality given her dental situation.  Regardless, it scared us something silly that first night.

Having sat for the bar that summer, I had five weeks off until I went back to work.  Pitufa and I quickly bonded.  Overwhelming trust by rescues is likely an inherent trait when they finally find owners that love them, and Pitufa was no different.  Within a few days (and several breakfast, dinners, and exploratory walks through the aromatic air of our little Italy neighborhood of San Francisco), Tufa and I were inseparable.  She would follow me around wherever I went.  If I was reading on the bed, Tufa would (amazingly) make the jump that was four times her height to be on the bed with me.  If I was sitting, Tufa would cuddle up next to me.  If I was lying down, Tufa would try to snuggle up to my chest and, if possible, lie on my chest.

Pitufa soon became the Queen of North Beach (our neighborhood).  The Italian men who would catcall Sarah while she drove through the neighborhood on her Vespa were now doing the same with Pitufa.  Despite her age (our vet though she was maybe 10 or 11 when she arrived and of a poodle terrier mix), she walked like a puppy, with her tail doing helicopter spins as she walked and her tail end swinging around like she was still growing into her body.  She always brought smiles to people faces, thinking she was just a care-free, little puppy out of a stroll. 

Tufa, however, did not quite know what it meant to be a dog in the United States.  Her street smart training had taught her not to trust people and other dogs simply meant competition for street scraps.  She did not know how to play like a dog – she did not chase balls, she did not want to chase other dogs, she did not want to play tug of war.  This did not bother us in any way; it just made Tufa seem more like an adopted child than an adopted dog.

Sarah and I are (and probably will always be) crazy dog people that make non-dog owners cringe.  We considered Tufa more than a pet.  Our rose-colored glasses are heavily tinted, and we saw no flaw with Tufa.  Her unequivocal devotion to us (and desire to be with us and near us) at all times was reciprocated in full.  Any fault that Tufa had was more a product of her history than her temperament, and she was forgiven for all faults by us.  Even before her passing (and to undoubtedly repeated annoyance of everyone around us), we felt that Tufa was perfect and would recap our amazement that not once had she done anything to disappoint us or make us angry.

This is not to say that Pitufa was not difficult for other people.  Pitufa (and us) just happened to be blessed with people who loved her as much as we did and understood why and what problems her past had created and how to address them. Tufa’s dogwalkers – Keith and Donna of Hot Diggity Dog Walking – cared for Tufa as if she was their own.  Despite Tufa’s ever increasing challenges with blindness and deafness, she always knew when Keith was there.  It seemed like Tufa had selective hearing for happiness, and when the sound of Keith’s truck would arrive, Tufa’s helicopter tailwag would start spinning and you could see the excitement in her eyes.  Despite her past, Tufa seemed to make friends with the other dogs in her dog walking group.  I like to think that they became Tufa’s new pack, and unlike her time in Ecuador, this pack was about having fun in the fields of San Francisco instead of searching for food on the streets of Ecuador.

Pitufa’s groomer, Javier at Bow Wow Meow, also had the patience and grace to understand that time was required to earn Pitufa’s trust.  Javier was the only one that Pitufa allowed to groom her, and the only person I know that could cut any of the dreads out of Tufa’s hair, particularly near her face.  She also found love and kindness with the various veterinarians – the doctors at the SF SPCA, the Petaluma Vetinary Hospital, and the Palo Alto Animal Doctors – who provided her with such kind and gentle care.

Pitufa brought great joy to our lives and seemed to take joy from hers – my family, Sarah’s family, and friends, particularly the Purdy family.  Pitufa particularly loved Sarah’s mother, Katherine, and spending time with her at Katherine’s Petaluma home.

Despite her practicality, Katherine permitted our overindulgence and effusion of love for Tufa.  Katherine cared for Pitufa as if she were her own, and Katherine always made sure that Tufa had the very best care and comforts in life.   Tufa understood this and loved Katherine as much as us.  Despite Katherine’s (artificial) complaints that Tufa was underfoot during Tufa’s attempts to get her attention and love, Katherine, I think, loved such pleas for love.

Katherine also indulged Tufa in one of her favorite activity.  Driving so that Pitufa could see out the windows and, if possible, with the windows rolled down.  Tufa loved doing this in the fields and hills of Petaluma, particularly when her sight and ears began to fail her more.  Tufa loved the wind on her face and the smells of the cows, fresh grass, and vineyards of Northern California wine country.  Strangely, once we moved out of the San Francisco, Pitufa similarly loved doing the same in the City.

I think driving become one of Tufa’s favorite activities.  She loved sitting in Sarah’s lap at any time (and in fact, Tufa was only comfortable in Sarah’s lap – not mine – when driving) and combine the wind and the smells, Pitufa was a happy dog.

Eating (not surprisingly) was also one of Pitufa’s favorite activities.  Skinny when she arrived, Pitufa was up to and maintained her vet-approved weight very quickly.  Tufa was fed in the morning after her morning walking and in the evening after her evening walk.  In the morning, when Tufa was particularly hungry (which was always), she would wait until she knew we were actually awake (somewhat thoughtful) and then as soon as she was sure, she would begin nuzzling my face (she knew better than to try to get Sarah up) and if necessary, jump around until I would get up.  Tufa would purposely and stubbornly mope around on her walks in an attempt to get me to turn back home so she could eat.  Once she reached the halfway point, she would speed up until she was at a full sprint for the last fifty yards home.  As soon as she was in the door, she would sprint to her food bowl to see if there was any food in there and then begin to “double-kick” me until her bowl was full.  “Double-kicking” involved Tufa leaping in the air with all four feet and using her two front paws to kick me in the shins until she got her food.  It never stopped being endearing and funny.

Like me, Tufa also liked to nap.  As she got older, the two places that Tufa felt most secure was on her giant bed and in our bed.  Tufa knew that if she was sleeping in either place, we would come find and pet her.  If she was awake and we did not come to her, she would come find us and follow us around until we would sit down and pet her and let her sleep near us.

The older Tufa became, the more she relied on us for comfort and safety.  This meant (happily) that more than ever, she always wanted to be with us and if possible, in our arms.

In 2007, Sarah and I were engaged.  Pitufa was, of course, at the center of this engagement.  The morning before a weekend trip on the coast, Tufa and I stumbled into Katherine’s guest house to wake Sarah up.  Tufa, too old and no longer spry enough to jump up on the bed on her own, was lifted into the bed and woke Sarah with a lick to the face and an engagement ring tied with ribbon to her paw.  I do not know if Tufa understood what was going on, but she always seemed to act and take responsibility (which is ok by us) for our marriage.

Although I think Tufa still is upset that she had to give the ring away.  Until she passed, Tufa would always like Sarah’s ring finger more than Sarah’s others, like she is trying to get the ring off and reclaim it.  Tufa was made expressly part of our wedding, and particularly the wedding prayer for her long life.

We moved down to Palo Alto at the beginning of 2009.  Tufa was getting older and the absence of San Francisco hills seems to be a better fit for her aching bones and her steadily increasing blindness and loss of hearing.  She seemed particularly happy in her new home, and so was I as this meant that I would get to come to spend lunch with Pitufa every day (as well as more time at home with the absence of a commute).

It was hard to recognize it at the time because we spent so much time with her, but Tufa was definitely slowing down with old age.  Tufa was slower to get up for her walks at lunch.  And her walks were slower.  But she was happy.  And so were we.

Tufa lunchtime walks:

Happy Tufa on the couch:

Tufa playing with her toys.  Sorta. 

Puppy dreams:

Throughout her life, I have, at times, hand fed Tufa to make her feeding easier for her.  About three months ago, we pulled fourteen additional teeth for Pitufa.  It was difficult but necessary, and after a few days, Tufa was much happier with the procedure.



It was, however, shocking to see how few teeth she had after the procedure, but Tufa did not seem to care.  She wanted to snuggle more than ever and actually seemed spryer after the procedure.

Yet thoughts about her quality of life were, for the first time, in our minds.  About a month ago – I broke down in tears thinking about how difficult it was going to be to ultimately put Pitufa’s happiness ahead of our love for her.  Things were getting harder for her.  And how could we know when her quality of life was such that regardless of her love and her happiness with us and being taken care of by us, the best thing for Pitufa was to end her struggle.   As it turns out, in true Pitufa style and as she would have wanted it, things occurred such that we would not have to face that difficult situation.

All of these big picture thoughts had been preceded by great news for our family.  Sarah was pregnant with our first child, a girl we are contemplating naming Eloise.  I think that Tufa knew that Sarah was pregnant before we did.  Tufa seemed to have an immediate connection and understanding.  Sarah had horrible morning (and afternoon and evening) sickness.  Pitufa knew something was going on.  And she liked it (not necessarily the fact that Sarah had morning sickness, but definitely the fact that Sarah was no home all the time with her).  Instead of always coming to me to snuggle, Pitufa now always wanted to be in Sarah’s arms and she wanted her head to lie near Eloise on Sarah’s baby bump.

For this reason alone, we know that Pitufa’s spirit lives on.  The morning after she passed, Sarah and I had spent most of the night crying.  It was a very hard night.  It was a very hard morning.  And it continues to be a very hard each passing day.  Yet in the tradition of Tufa, Sarah awoke to a double kick from baby Eloise the morning after Tufa passed.  This is exactly what Tufa would have done this morning to get us up to walk her and feed her.  I am not sure what the afterlife holds, but if there is a heaven, Pitufa is surely there.  She is undoubtedly playing in the fields as she did in her puppy dreams, has full sight and hearing, and is sprinting around with her Ecuadorian friends, hopefully look down and watching over us, and I have no question in my heart that she will be baby Eloise’s own guardian angel.

We love our pets because the capture our love, our joy, our sorrow, and everything else in our lives.  They are able to do this when our friends and family are sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  Pitufa was especially good at reading the human expression.  She knew when we were happy.  She knew when we were sad.

Tufa was the friendly face to greet you when you came home from work, the happy puppy-like stroll that changed your mood regardless of how you felt or how stressed you were, and the best friend who only want to be in your arms or close enough to you that she could feel your physical contact.  She felt safe and loved when close to us.  And we felt the same.

Tufa passed on January 31, 2010.  Yet, Sarah and I feel as if our world has stopped since that time.  She will be greatly missed.

more photos and videos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/christophergrewe/sets/72157614980494904/

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