What Value, the Soul of a Dog?

By Elizabeth Speth

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This will be a hard post to write. I’ve been putting it off for more than a week.

It’s about a beloved family member who stretched out to sleep in the warm sun on the front steps last Friday morning. It’s about Death coming quickly to claim this gentle creature, mid-nap, in his favorite snoozing spot.

I’m talking about our dear friend Dobra the Doberman, who came to live with us as a foster rescue dog when he was a young adolescent. He stayed for more than a dozen years, helped us raise our children, roamed our three and a half acres, kept its borders safe. He kept the horses in line, fended off intruders of all species. If you posed even a possible threat to any Speth creature — equine, feline, human or otherwise — you had to go through Dobra first. And God help you.

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Dobra the Doberman, with my son Leland, whom he helped raise.

We don’t know if he lifted his head in surprise those last seconds, somehow understanding what was happening to him. We don’t know if he fought his mortality, twitched in protest as he struggled up from sleep. We don’t know if he woke at all, or experienced any discomfort. We weren’t there for any of it. Only his best friend was with him. Angus, the Jack Russell Terrorist was there, lying beside Dobra when we found him, keeping watch while the slow humans finally got around to understanding what we’d lost.

I was very sad that Dobra was suddenly gone. It was so unexpected.

But then I was so grateful.

He had just begun to experience some arthritis, but otherwise seemed youthful. So I didn’t have to agonize about the ‘when do we put him down’ decision, which is so hard.

I rarely have the luxury of having the decision made for me.

Let me just say for the record that Dobra had an epic morning, which was typical for him. He chased some horses, cornered a rodent in the woodpile (that was VERY exciting).

I was scrubbing horse troughs, a game he loved.  He chased the water rivulets as though they were live animals, which he killed by digging holes quickly in their paths to stop them. The holes always drove me crazy — I had to fill them before the horses or I broke a leg in the dark, but I’m glad he got to enjoy the activity on his last day.

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Dobra supervising morning horse chores.

I scooped loose dirt back into those holes with such a heavy heart.

He had a ginormous plate of leftover spaghetti for breakfast — his favorite meal ever.

Exhausted from our morning chores, he stretched out on the front steps. I stepped over him coming out the door, on my way out for a horseback ride. He raised his head, and I could tell he was grateful I hadn’t made him move out of my way. He put his head back down and went to sleep.

My husband Neil and I got a call from our son Lyle that afternoon. We were deep in the American River Canyon, at least two hours over rugged terrain from our truck and horse trailer. Lyle was devastated, and said Dobra had not moved from his napping position, but that he was gone.

Neil and I had miles to ride to get back. We both cried all the way home.

We buried Dobra on the property, as we have all of our beastly friends over the years. We thanked him for all his lovely companionship, and we gave thanks that he had not suffered. We were shell-shocked. Diminished.

But the hardest hit was Dobra’s buddy Angus, the Jack Russell. He has not made a peep since Lyle found him lying beside Dobra, whimpering a little.

When Lyle wrapped Dobra in a sheet to bury him, Angus started pawing at it. He looked to us to fix it. And of course we could not.


Angus on a typical day. He is usually pretty feisty, which is how he earned the Jack Russell Terrorist classification. He is not the same right now.

I dragged Dobra’s favorite sleeping blanket over next to the fresh grave, and Angus has been sitting or lying on it ever since, except when I make him come inside for the night. He is not eating. He just keeps sniffing the air and looking around, as if he can’t quite figure out where his friend has gone, or from which direction he will come when he returns. That makes me the saddest.

We are not supposed to anthropomorphize animals. They each behave and think according to their unique, species-specific programming. They are not people, and woe to any of us who assume their behaviors are explained by our own human motivations.

But, after this sad week watching poor Angus in the enormous bewilderment of his loss, I know that animals are capable of great grief. It follows that they must be capable of great attachment. That is why we love them so, and are so grateful to walk with them a ways in our much longer lifetimes.

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Many, many animals, horses and dogs and cats, have passed over this property, leaving footprints that eventually fade, fur and fluff blown away in the winds. We have fostered them, dogs and horses and cats in various stages of transition, some traumatized. Some have gone on to wonderful homes. Some, damaged beyond repair by neglect and cruelty and human failings, have been put down as humanely as possible, which is a weak apology at best. Some have just quietly told us, in one way or another, that they would stay.

Some of them have been very special, for whatever inexplicable reason. They have burrowed particularly deeply into our hearts. I still see them in the corner of my eye if I turn suddenly, or gaze into the smudged shadows of the pond, deep in the trees at sunset. I see a lolling tongue and a trotting dog, the flick of a horsetail and the twitch of a mane. I hear a faint nicker in trees that creak as they are nudged by night breezes.

I know it is these creatures I will rush to see, first thing, when I get to heaven. I hope I can find them right away, because I will be so eager to throw my arms around them. I will catch up with my lost relatives and friends afterward. But everyone knows you always say hello to the dog first when you get home.

My horse Santa Fe. My blue Doberman Baron. I hope they are waiting, that we will see each other again.

And I powerfully, profoundly wish to see Angus and Dobra, together once more, as they most certainly belong, the loneliness of their separation a mere memory. That would be an appropriate end to this story, I think.

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A (Textual) Conversation With My Son (About Monkeys and Really Bad Parenting)

By Elizabeth Speth

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This poor monkey is being raised in a Monkey Orphanage by Kind But Impersonal Monkey Nuns. He is waiting for Leland to adopt him.

Leland, my youngest, wants many things.

When he was Five, he wanted a robot. That never happened.

Bitterly, he built his own robots — so many of them — out of things he stole from our closets (shoes, hats, watches, jewelry, lingerie), and he left them lying around the house like reproaches.

When he was Seven, he thought he should have a parrot. He faced a wasteland of disappointment on this score also.  I once offered to make him an egg sandwich to ameliorate his grief.  He said he would rather have counseling.

When he was Twelve, he thought his own hut on a beach near his very own rum plantation was a reasonable request. I gave him ten years’ worth of Halloween pirate costume bits and pieces (including a very nice loin cloth) and wished him my very best.

I even demanded:  “Why is the rum always gone?” to express my sympathy, with a hearty “Yo-Ho!” as punctuation.

He squinted at me, sharpened his plastic swords, and said nothing.

This year, he wanted an unsupervised alcohol-rich party at our house (his father and I were meant to furnish large quantities of alcohol, and then cool our heels at a nearby motel, ignoring the sound of sirens and the frantic buzzing of our cell phones) for his 18th birthday.

The Glorious and Much-Deserved 18th Birthday Present (in time for the creature to perform tricks at said alcohol-soaked, unsupervised party) was to have been: a monkey.

Any kind of monkey. It just had to be cute and smart, according to Leland.

If you ask him, Leland will tell you he never gets what he wants.

And, on the face of it, as I sift through the tattered pieces of his childhood under our fumbling supervision, I have to conclude that he may be right.

But the negotiations, which have evolved over the years from face-to-face disappointment to electronic embitterment, are always fun.

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Leland, dear boy, as penance, I am turning myself over to the proper parenting authorities.

Please accept my blanket apology for the Childhood of Deprivation (we know what horrors this phrase encompasses, and we won’t speak of this again).


You still can’t have a monkey.


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A Green(er) Margarita

 By Elizabeth Speth

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Behold the Avocado Margarita

Last night I watched Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ exploration of the SXSW Festival in Austin, TX, a rerun of a great episode I had somehow missed.

SXSW (as in ‘South By Southwest’) is a film and music festival/conference that settles on the city like an electrified storm cloud each year in mid-March. It began in 1987, and it’s been growing ever since.

That is not what I mean to write about here, though. Because SXSW is a thing for another generation.  I’m sorry about this.  It looks like a lot of fun.  I would have no objection to giving it a once-over in person, but there doesn’t really seem to be a place for someone my age there.

Even Bourdain — the epitome of coolly cynical and dissolute living, the expert on naughty pleasure, all close-cropped gray hair and rangy frame, his blood-shot eyes inscrutable behind Ray Ban aviators — Bourdain himself noted that he felt like someone’s perverted uncle as he followed all that exuberant, writhing, partying youth around with his camera crew.

My point here is this:  Somewhere in the tangle of roasted pigs, tacos, blues, grunge, tattoos, etc., the subject of Avocado Margaritas came up.

A throaty-voiced, dark-haired, laughing siren named Sleigh Bells brought it up, actually.

I watched her mix half a blender’s worth of tequila, some other stuff, and the innards of about three avocados into a green, frothy, salt-rimmed glass of brilliance.

When Bourdain said: “This should not have worked, but it did”,  I admit I was hooked.

Now I must see this thing through to its conclusion.

There was no recipe offered on the show. Everyone was lurching around too much.

So I’ve done some research, some soul-searching, some recipe-searching, some blending on my own.

Here is what I have come up with so far. I don’t drink blended margaritas generally, but in this case, we must make an exception. Thank me or curse me, and proceed at your peril.



– 2 cups crushed ice
– 6 oz. tequila (white or brown, make it good)
– 1 avocado, peeled, sliced, and pitted (if a little firm, no worries — blender time ahead)
– 2 oz. triple sec
– 4 oz. lime juice
– pinch of cilantro
– salt on your glass (please see below for an important note)


Place ice, tequila, avocado, triple sec, lime juice, and cilantro in a blender, and blend until desirably smooth. Add agave syrup, a dash at a time, if additional sweetness is needed.  Salt your glasses if you wish. Close your eyes, take a sip, think of it as a healthy smoothie.

I am still trying to figure out how to incorporate jalapeno peppers.  Because that warmth in the mouth is the only thing missing.

Here are my thoughts:  If you have a week ahead of time, infuse your tequila with a jalapeno pepper.  Then proceed as above.

If you don’t have a week, rub the rim of the glass with a cut jalapeno, getting the oil from the seeds and the pepper.  Discard any seeds or membrane in or on the glass.  Dip rim quickly in lime juice, then salt with a little lime zest mixed in for color.  Proceed as above.

Below is a picuture of Bourdain after his Avocado Margarita, which was followed by a whole roasted pig and then this massive crawfish boil.


Apparently, this is how musicians eat now.

This is obviously an enlightened man, to whom good and bountiful things happen.  A man completely without regret.

Blame the margarita.