A Ridgeback-Shaped Hole


Monday morning before I went to court, as the vet injected him with a massive dose of sedative, Indy drifted off to sleep with his massive head in my hands, and then to oblivion.

About a year ago we had a lymphoma scare. Indy had already had various tumors—mostly lipomas (benign fatty tumors), but also a malignant tumor in his armpit and a parathyroid tumor (both of which required surgery). When he seemed to have lymphoma the vet thought he might have a few months to live; I made the decision not to subject Indy to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, but rather to focus on his quality of life. At the time Indy was almost thirteen years old—past the average lifespan for a Ridgeback—and I thought I had prepared myself to lose him. I thought I had cried myself out.

But he held on for another year with quiet dignity and grace, and when he died I wasn’t prepared at all. I hadn’t yet cried a tenth of the tears that I had for him.

It wasn’t lymphoma that did Indy in. It was something we’d been expecting for a decade.

When Indy was three the doctor (Matt Dikeman, a Ridgeback owner himself and Indy’s vet from puppyhood) heard a heart murmur. He told us that there really wasn’t anything to do for it, that many of us (Dr. Dikeman often doesn’t distinguish between humans and dogs) live long lives with heart murmurs and die of something else, but that it could cause congestive heart failure (CHF), in which the body can’t eliminate water fast enough so that the lungs fill up with fluid and we die.

So for ten years we’d known that this—drowning from within—was one potential cause of death for Indy.

When Indy first started having trouble breathing this year, I thought it might be congestive heart failure. I took him to Dr. Dikeman, who listened to his wheeze and diagnosed the problem not as CHF but as laryngeal paralysis. Because Indy’s larynx wouldn’t open fully, he couldn’t pull in all the air he needed; because it wouldn’t close fully water or food might go down the wrong way. Indy never had a problem with aspirating food or water, but he became shortwinded and lost his bark.

Losing his bark may have been frustrating to Indy because, while he wasn’t a big barker, he had learned to use a single bark as a signal: “there’s someone out front,” or “it’s time to go upstairs to bed” or “I demand a treat.” Indy didn’t bark often, but when he barked you knew it. That one big woof was always enough.

Even short of breath and without a voice, Indy kept trudging along. This summer he would wake me up at 6:30 every the morning by getting up and wandering out of the bedroom (I would almost always wake up when Indy made a noise). He’d wait for me to open the child safety gate at the top of the stairs and turn on the stairwell light, and he would follow me down to the front door. Then, if I was efficient, he’d go for a little walk around the block. If I dawdled, though—if my keys were by the back door, for example—he would go into my office and lie down on the rug, and there would be no dog walk for me that day. Taking a walk in the summer heat was too much for him, but he looked for opportunities to lie down in the sun. He would go out on the front porch to catch the morning sun, then at three in the afternoon he would go out on the back porch for the afternoon sun. In between he might stretch out in the back yard, or lie down with his face in a sunbeam inside the house.

Yesterday Indy was lethargic but remarkably healthy for a big hound dog pushing fourteen years of age (a while back on a walk E said “He’s very fast for his age.” I replied, “He’s very alive for his age.”) But the congestive heart failure finally got him. At about 12:30 this morning I woke up, and something was wrong. I turned on the light, and Indy was stretched out on his side, rigid, fighting for breath, bleeding from the mouth. He had lost control of his bowels and his bladder and didn’t appear to see us. Terrified and in tears, I got him upright and then, slowly, got him calmed down, breathing normally, and cleaned up.


Having been expecting CHF for ten years, I deduced that when he lay down on his side the fluid in his lungs obstructed his airway, making him panic. I kept him upright for a couple of hours, then turned off the light. I heard him lie down on his side, and I listened for a while. His breathing remained normal, so I dozed off, only to wake up at about four a.m. with him rigid, suffocating, and incontinent. This time he recovered faster when I got him upright, but this was, it’s safe to say, the worst night of Indy’s thirteen-year-and-eleven-month life.

Indy had been acting like he wanted to go downstairs but hadn’t wanted to brave the steep staircase, so I carried the 115-pound hound down and then outside, where he lay on the deck while I kept him from rolling onto his side until sunrise. Then he wanted to come inside. He went into my office where he liked to lie between the sofa and the coffee table while I worked on the sofa. He lay down in his spot, and I sat on the sofa bracing him with my legs to keep him from rolling over.

It was while waiting for the rest of the household to get up that I resolved to get him to the vet first thing, and to euthanize him if there was no way to prevent another attack. Two terrifying episodes were two too many. I didn’t want it to happen to him again. My dad had been over after the first attack, so I called him and got him to take me to the vet—a two-person job, since I had to keep Indy upright while dad drove.

When I described the symptoms Dr. Dikeman first thought it sounded like seizures, but I was insistent on my diagnosis so he decided to take a lung x-ray. Indy was back about ten minutes later, wheezing and coughing. Dr. Dikeman hadn’t been able to get the x-ray because when he had lain Indy down on his side Indy had started coughing up bloody foam, a telltale of CHF.

It was time. As I held Indy’s head, Dr. Dikeman injected the sedative into his foreleg, and within seconds Indy had lain down, fallen asleep, and stopped breathing.

And so passed a wonderful dog.

We hadn’t chosen Indy; Indy had chosen us. We got him from a breeder in Arlington, Texas. When Jen and I drove up to pick a puppy from the litter, I sat down on the floor and was playing with the pups. One of them (the breeder’s kids had named him “Millhouse”) climbed into my lap, and the decision was made.

When you buy a purebred dog, you can get a “show-quality” dog or a “pet-quality” dog. Either comes with a contract: if it’s a show dog you commit to making a good faith effort to get him his championship and can breed him; if it’s a pet you commit to getting him neutered and don’t have to show him. Pets cost less than show dogs. We weren’t interested in dog shows, and we wanted a pet. And this pup was the pick of the litter. But he had chosen us, and so we signed a show contract and, a few weeks later when he was weaned, he rode home from Arlington to Houston on my lap.

We crate trained Indy. The first few nights he didn’t like being parted from his pack, and he protested loudly: bark-bark-bark-hoooowwwwllllll-whine-whine-whine-whimper-whimper-whimper-heehaw-heehaw-heehaw-chirp-chirp-chirp. It was like having brought a living, breathing car alarm home.

We knew that Millhouse was actually Indy (“we named the dog Indiana”), but show dogs need show names. Show Ridgebacks are traditionally named with the name of the kennel (here, Paka) and another name, often Swahili. After a few days observing his strongwilled  independence, we made Indy’s show name Paka’s Nyumbu Dogo, or (roughly) Paka’s Little Mule. (N-D, Indy, get it?)

When Indy was a pup, he would find downed tree branches on walks and drag them home. Sometimes he’d take a branch bigger than he was and drag it blocks to bring it home. I never did find a satisfactory evolutionary explanation for this behavior—Ridgebacks are known for hunting lions, not for building fires.

If we met children on a walk, we would have Indy lie down and let the kids poke, prod, and pull on him—we didn’t have kids yet, and we wanted to get him used to kids’ ways.

When Jen got pregnant with our first kid, Indy knew it before we did. He had been Jen’s dog before that, but as soon as she got pregnant he chose me over her.

Today a prosecutor commented to me that her husband had wanted a Ridgeback, but they couldn’t get one because “they aren’t good with kids.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indy was always gentle with the kids; we never had the slightest concern that he would hurt them. The kids would sit on him, and if it bothered him he would just get up and walk away. He never so much as growled at the kids, and never bit anyone.


Food left on the counters was not safe around Indy. Indy was big enough to counter-surf with his snout and reach anything within about six inches of the edge with his tongue; if his explorations revealed something farther back from the edge and nobody was watching he had no compunction about putting his front paws up on the counter to get at it. That’s how we lost half a leg of lamb (o happy dog!) and, on another occasion, a pound of butter (that’ll clear a dog right out). After we got Indy’s daughter Lucy, Lucy would woof at Indy to chastise him for his countertop raids.

Indy was six when we got Lucy (Julou’s Dread Pirate Lucy, another dog-show champion). We hung a string of bells on the back door, and trained Lucy to ring the bells when she wanted to go outside. Indy figured out that if the new puppy was annoying him he could go to the back door and ring the bells. We would open the door (we were conditioned too), Lucy would go running out, and Indy could have a few minutes of peace from the puppy.

Eventually we had to make the contractually required to get Indy his championship; Jen showed him once, but the dog-show people are crazy, so we contracted the showing out to Sue Cassel; after losing a few pounds on a green bean diet, Indy got his championship quickly.


Indy had a bed in the living room by the hearth (in the winter he loved the radiant heat from the gas logs). He had a bed in the master bedroom next to my side of the bed. He loved to lie, as I’ve mentioned, on the front porch in the sun. But his favorite place to be was wherever I was.  In his last days he had lost much of his hearing and maybe a little of his sense as he got older, and he would wander the house looking for me. If I wasn’t downstairs he would lie at the foot of the stairs; if it was after bedtime (Indy had an amazingly accurate internal clock) he would laboriously climb the eighteen stairs to the second story to find me.


Now I’m sitting on the sofa in the office, and there is an empty space between the sofa and the coffee table. The back porch was empty at three this afternoon—Lucy keeps going out there to look for him. There was no thump-thump-thump of a slowly wagging tail from the bed by the hearth when I came home after court. There’s an empty space next to my bed where his bed used to be. His collar and leash are hanging by the front door because I don’t know where to put them. And I keep catching myself talking about him in the present tense.

For almost fourteen years we gave Indy a good life, and in return he gave us almost fourteen years of unconditional love. The decision to spare him more pain and terror was easy: our arrangement had left us deeply in his debt.

[Anonymous-comment restrictions are lifted for remembrances of other great dogs.]

75 responses to “A Ridgeback-Shaped Hole”

  1. My heart goes out to you. I’ve had many great dogs share their love with me.

    I just started reading you last month. I live and work in Houston and think it’s awesome to read post about the law in general and its specific application in Harris county its surroundings.

    I grieve with you for your wonderful pup.

    Your post made me cry.

  2. So sorry, Mark, Jen, and kids. I’ve had to have three elderly goldens euthanized over the years and it’s about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, even if it’s the right thing. Last year, Phoenix got liver cancer, bled internally and bloated and couldn’t get up anymore. He seemed perfectly happy to lie there on his mat and even had a good appetite, but if I tried to move him, he’d yelp and growl from the pain. I had to get a vet to make a house call to give him the injection (as I fed him turkey breast and scratched behind his ears). All the best to you guys.

    • Thanks, MarkY. Phoenix was a great dog.

      I wish I had thought to take some of Indy’s favorite treats to the vet with me. He got a slice of pita bread from the kids before we left.

  3. As you know, I’m no dog guy, but I feel now as if Indy was mine too. Hope Jen and the kids are okay. I hope I have someone like you around when I need someone to care enough to do right by me.

    • Thanks, Scott. “I’m no dog guy” makes as much sense to me as “I’m no music guy,” or “I’m no book guy.” It just doesn’t compute.

      Put me on your durable POA. I’ll bring your favorite treats.

  4. Mark, you leave me with tears running down my face. What a great tribute to a great dog. I still cry sometimes over my Daisy dog, who stayed with us for 13 years after we rescued her from the ASPCA. We thought she was a medium sized cross of lab and terrier, but she grew to 90 pounds of something that looked like a small Irish Wolfhound, but believed she was a toy lap dog. I won’t go on and on about what a great dog she was, but she had no peer in unconditional love and empathy. I am glad you have Lucy for company, but I know she can’t quite fill that Indy hole in your heart. I have a special place in my heart for every dog I loved. They are all different in the way they become part of your heart. He will live in memory and wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Mark,

    What a great family member, and I know your heart is still breaking. He’s in a better place and can run and bark without pain.

    Hopefully you will find another Ridgeback and can tell him/her stories of Indy while sitting by your side.

    Thanks for the post.

  6. Wonderful tribute to a fabulous family member, Mark. Not surprising, it brought tears down my cheeks. I can relate to the emptiness we suffer when we say goodbye. Our fur friends serve so, so many purposes in our lives. As you may be aware, my two were my only company during a very dark time in my life – without them, I would not still be here.

    Thank you for sharing. You write such great articles and share so much information but what you have done here for your readers is show them truly how big your heart is. I respect your love for Indy greatly.

    I hope the hurt for you, Jen, the kiddos, and Lucy passes quickly to happy memories only. (I also hope that you will consider adoption in your future. There are full blood rhodesians, and other breeds, in desperate need of homes. Put petfinder.com in your addy list.)


  7. My Mumu was always under the desk, displacing the chair, so I had to type with my arms outstretched. When her legs gave out, carried her (85lb. Akita) with me from room to room for 3 days until her big, 15 yr. old heart finally gave out. Rest in Peace, Indy. Say hi to my girl for me.

  8. Mark,

    thanks for the good cry. You can tell a lot about someone by how they treat their pets and just as much as how their pets treat their owners. Indy chose you for a reason, and he made a great choice in an owner. I am sure he doesn’t have any regrets whatsoever.

    Having gone through hospice with both my parents over the past year, what you are going through isn’t easy. Over time grief will be overtaken by the good memories, but it does take time.

    You should keep talking about Indy in the present tense. I imagine he is bragging somewhere about how great his owner IS.

    Be Well.


  9. I hope that Indy gets a chance to meet and run with my former black Lab Sheba. When I put her down I cried like a grandmother. That day I had to drive down the Interstate to a client and got pulled over for speeding. I still had tears in my eyes and told him I was sorry but I had just lost a loved one. He said that if I could tell him a story he hadn’t heard, he’d let me off. So, I told him. Unforch, he had heard that one before and wrote the ticket. Then, he said I had no business driving while in that state, and he was correct. Good call, good officer. Damn sad day though. Give yourself the time to grieve, while you’re in your emotional state.

  10. Mark;
    I can not express the sorrow I feel for you and your family,, it’s like losing a father, mother, sibling or perhaps a child. I can only say that it is my sincere hope that you and your family will honor Indy the way Indy would want to be honored.
    Love to all your family.

  11. Condolences on the loss of Indy. We had three dogs, and losing them was far harder than we thought it would be. When the last one made his final trip, we swore we wouldn’t get another one. Last year, though, a stray chihuahua walked up to our back door, barked, and walked right in when we opened the door. So, we are a dog family again.

  12. Thanks for posting pictures of Indy. Your post made me cry but the pictures made me smile!
    He was and is such a beautiful dog. I wonder what dog heaven is like. It would be so cool to be there to play with such amazing dogs.

    Six months ago I took my car to get the A/C fixed and two newborn kittens where in the mechanic shop. The shop owner asked me if I would take the kittens because he feared someone would run over them in the shop. I decided to take them home and find someone who would care for them the next day. That someone ended up being me. It took less than 24 hours and I just could not part ways with the two little creatures. I can’t imagine how painful it would be to part ways after 14 years.

    Rest in Peace Indy…….

  13. Mark,
    You know that you have my heartfelt sympathy and condolences. Sounds like Indy was every bit as fortunate to have you and your family as you all were to have Indy.


  14. I’m so sorry, Mark. We went through this two years ago with our Harry, and it’s heartbreaking even though you know it’s the right thing to do. Indy was a great dog, and he had a great life with you and your family. My sincere condolences to you all.

  15. I met Indy once and he was a wonderful dog. Our older Portuguese Water Dog Scout passed away last year. It is good that our pets do not outlive us but it is so sad when they go.

  16. Mark-
    Beautiful tribute to Indy. I am so sorry for your loss. I met Indy in your office about 3 years ago in that now empty space in your office. I have to say he was the most intimidating dog just by his size and looks, but the friendliest, gentlest, most lovable and beautiful hound. I know you will miss him terribly and he will miss you too, but he’s in a “better place” (or at least what I’d like to think of my 18 year old cat Buddy who had to be put to sleep, i.e. no more pain or discomfort). Three months later I was back at the SPCA and adopting a 3-month old kitten because I missed him so much. He doesn’t replace Buddy, but I still love him. So maybe you will find it in your heart to find another companion for Lucy and those empty spaces….?

    Rest in peace, Indy.

    My burning question for an upcoming blog: how is it we can legally euthanize pets but we cannot make that decision for ourselves or our loved ones?

  17. Mark, I am so sorry. Your beautiful remembrance has brought me to tears.

    Our pets are our beloved friends. It’s terrible to lose them.

    Ave atque vale, beautiful Indy.

  18. One lucky dog. One lucky man. I was smiling through the tears. Thank you for this post, Mr. Bennett. As Mark Twain said, if dogs don’t go to heaven, then I want to go where they go.

  19. I know quite a few Ridgebacks. My brother had one that passed away at about 13, and he was quite broken up about it.

    I think they’re a fine breed, and I’ve never known any to be vicious either, although they don’t like it if you get between them and their food.

    Condolences to you and the family. Sounds like he was a great dog, and you a great dog owner.

    • Thanks, John. I have long said that if I were God, and I were to design the perfect dog, it’d be a Ridgeback.

      I hope everyone feels the same way about their own dog’s breed.

  20. Thank you so much for sharing Indy’s story and photos. I know you miss him terribly. I’ve always said I live in a canine-centric world. I’m on my fifth dog, Fido, adopted from a shelter. The others have all lived to 14 or more, and I know how hard it is to lose such a beloved member of the family.

  21. Oh, Mark. I’m so very sorry. This makes me cry and cry. When it was time to say goodbye to our dog Gloria, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You do feel a dog-shaped hole in your life. Big hugs to you.

    • Thanks, Lisa. In high school we had a dachshund named Barney (you may remember him). He had to be put down when I was a freshman in college. I was sorry I couldn’t say goodbye.

      I’m glad I got to say goodbye to Indy.

  22. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, Mark. I hope right now he is happy and chasing rabbits somewhere, with no heart murmur to slow him down!

    • Thanks, Mike. I hope so too.

      A couple of weeks ago I woke in the middle of the night to a “thump-thump-thump” under the bed. Indy was wagging his tail in his sleep.

  23. Mark,

    I weep as I finish reading this post. This was the best eulogy ever. I, too, have been chosen; my life has not been the same since. I am sorry for your loss. May the memories carry you through – my mom and I still laugh at some of Oatmeal’s antics and, despite knowing the deep grief of losing a pet, I would not change the experience for anything.

    Indy was lucky to have you and your family. He obviously ended up in an incredibly loving environment. You and your family were blessed to have his unconditional love and acceptance.

  24. Wow. Now that tears are wiped away I would like to express my heartfelt condolences. I know what a great dog he was and how much you loved him. I’m hoping that someday you will have that Indy son. Take care and give Lucy a big hug from me.

  25. So so sorry, Mark, and join you in celebrating our great doggy friends. Our own Lucy Girl, a strange mut we picked up 15 years ago from a cardboard box in a carpark, similarly passed away in similar circumstances about 12 hours earlier. My family and our friends all shed tears at her passing, and her comrade of the backyard (12 year old alsatian) is still waiting for her to come home. So sad. But such good memories and I don’t regret a moment of it. Hope in that respect it’s the same for you.

  26. Beautiful writing–crying at work for you and Jen and the kids. Indy was such a character! So very sorry. XOX

  27. Thanks for the wonderful account of a great family member. My family took in an aged Retriever last year who was about to be carted off to his final slumber, a lot of energy spent to give him a good life (he’s about 12, had all sorts of medical problems). He’s still alive and kicking, stories like yours remind me how precious dogs are and how it is worth it. Best Wishes.

  28. Indy seemed like a wonderful family member. 14 great years…that’s hard to beat. I feel the same way about our Lab (affectionately referred to as ‘the boy’). My condolences to your family. Your beautiful memorial had me crying my eyes out.

  29. Mark, so very sorry to read your loss of Indy. As a lad, I lost quite a few faithful hounds due to their mostly having been struck by a vehicle, and one resulted from her having taken a deliberately-poisoned bait. They’re such wonderful companions and give much joy.

    I’m wondering if the spelling of Indy’s initial puppy-name might have been “Milhous/Milhaus” [former president Richard Nixon’s second given name].

  30. Dec. 14, 2001. The day my new US Atty took over as boss. I didn’t give a damn. The only reason I remember the day is that it was the day that my dachshund Millie was killed. (Put to sleep is a euphemism I don’t like. She died, dammit.) That little dog had been with me for 14 years. She stuck by me during some really bad times and helped me out with a lick and a nudge. This reminds me of the part of the Mr. Bojangles song where the singer says after 20 years Mr. Bojangles still mourns his dog. I still mourn and miss my Millie dog. Now I’m crying, so I’ll go and watch “Sassy Dachshund Puppy” on youtube. That pup looks just like my dog. A great little girl.

  31. Hello guys,

    I will probably go to Vet with our Ridge Jack in few hours for final injection … I’m devistated and we don’t know how we will live withhout our dearest friend. With only 4,5 years (in May this year) doctors found Lymphoma in nose. We spent over 2.5K€ for Vets, but after 5 month we are giving up …
    Devistated … because I know, that after few hours our dog will be gone …. oh my god

  32. I had not read this story, Mark (for some reason I missed a lot of stuff around that time because I foolishly violated one of the first rules of a solo who values happiness and sanity–I took a nasty divorce/custody case because I'm weakened by weeping females grieving their children's absence–and knowing how much I hate those kinds of cases and how they ALWAYS rob the very marrow and soul out of your bones)–the final death-match for all the marbles was in August so I didn't really exist in the normal universe of normal (non-family) law practice.

    Enough about my foolish case choices, I was sobbing as I took the painful journey down the page with you.  Glad I'm at the office alone–I would have been taken into committment custody because I looked like I had a nervous breakdown. (I'm known for yelling profanities in front of my computer, not weeping uncontrollably).

    I finally got my shit together enough to comment.  A good dog like that comes along once (maybe twice if you're lucky and long-lived) in a human's life—a friend you can always depend on without worry. Better than the humans we will encounter in our lives by a long-shot.  A belated condolence to you for the loss of your friend and family member.

  33. Although I enjoyed your story about Indy, I like every other dog lover in the universe, had tears in my eyes, because I have gone through similar experiences being loved and owned by a dog. What a great story! Sorry for the loss of one of your very special family members. My heart goes out to you.

  34. Thank you for sharing this. When you take a dog into your life, you know it is so likely that you will outlive them. I dread the day when my 6 year old Cleo will be twice her age and we may have to make a tough decision too.

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