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barsuk, the dog (1991-2004)

barsukWe never knew Barsuk's exact birthdate — Jason and I found him at a local animal shelter on January 4, 1992, and the vet told us he was about 6 months old, so I decided his birthday was July 4, 1991. He had been given to someone as a Christmas present just a couple of weeks earlier, but apparently the gift receiver wasn't prepared to care for a dog, so they left him at the animal shelter. They had named him Griffey, presumably after Ken Griffey, Jr., who was very popular at the time in Seattle, but that name didn't seem to fit him. Even as a puppy, he was very calm, very thoughtful, with those amazingly expressive eyes that made him seem like just another human being. At the shelter, watching all of the adorable and hyperactive puppies screaming out "Pick me! Pick me!", Barsuk calmly sat and waited for us to find him. Jason was concerned that he wouldn't be a playful dog, but the instant we threw a tennis ball for him and saw how eager he was to chase after it, we knew he was the dog for us.

barsukWe had a difficult time naming our new friend — we knew it had to be a special name, because he was such a special dog. One of our friends proposed that we call him Fafner, after the dragon in Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen, but that didn't stick. Being a student of the Russian language, I thumbed through my dictionary to find him a name. I found the word barsuk, which is Russian for badger and — maybe because Barsuk loved to dig as a puppy, or maybe just because we all liked the word — that became his name. He had a whole slew of nicknames, of course, including Bunky, Sook, Suki, Barchunk, Bunkus, Sukin Syn, Subi, and my personal pet name for him, Bumbu.

Barsuk was easily frightened as a puppy. He didn't like to walk up open-backed stairways (like the one we had on our front porch) — other stairs were fine, but if you could see under the steps, he always stopped and you had to force him up them. He was afraid of most non-carpeted floors (his feet slipped) and any snapping or slapping noises. He was very much afraid of what we termed "fall-over monsters" — anything that looked like it could easily fall over on top of him, including freely swinging doors that were moved by the wind, and, most frequently, microphone stands. The poor dog had to suffer through years of This Busy Monster band practices, which were held in our living room, where he was subjected to brazenly loud guitars, crashing cymbals, microphone stands with booms looming above him, and mic cables, which, if he walked too closely to them, would get tangled around his feet like a snake, startling him, which inevitably caused the mic stand to topple over.

barsukBut he was also a very happy and brave dog, who had many adventures while he was with us. He absolutely loved the water, and could spend hours chasing after balls thrown into a lake, swimming as far out as necessary to retrieve the ball, and then bringing it back to shore, where he'd grace us with a good old-fashioned shake, spraying water everywhere. It was dangerous (although very fun) to swim with him, as he'd inevitably try to swim towards you and grab onto you with his front paws, pushing you under the water as he tried to hang on. He loved being out in nature, and was a great companion on many hikes and camping trips. He was also one of the friendliest and most personable dogs I've ever known — I was constantly amazed at the number of people who would walk up and instantly form a connection with him, talking with him as if he were just another human, sensing immediately that he was an intelligent and compassionate animal. Even people who normally don't consider themselves "dog people" would befriend Barsuk — there was something very special about him.

barsukHe had his share of adversity too, although he faced everything very stoically (there are some who say that pit bulls don't feel pain as much as other dogs do, and this certainly seemed true of Barsuk, who was a lab/bull terrier mix). When he was maybe 2 or 3 years old, a friend was playing fetch with Barsuk and, intending to kick a racquetball out into the field, accidentally kicked Barsuk in the jaw and broke two of his teeth. Barsuk shook it off, and kept wanting to play. We used to throw sticks for him to fetch as well, and one time Barsuk was running, somewhat stupidly holding the stick in his mouth like a cigar, pointing forward instead of laterally across his mouth. He stumbled, and the stick jabbed him in the back of his throat — a very traumatic experience for me, the one who threw the stick for him, but Barsuk didn't seem very bothered by it (despite the ensuing surgery and stitches). Most recently, Barsuk had to struggle with a form of cancer that attacked his blood and spleen (which had to be removed), and eventually his liver. Again, he defied expectations and fought off the cancer heroically, far outliving the inital prognosis. He was a strong dog, and enjoyed his life up until the end.

barsukOn April 10, 2004, complications from the cancer finally took Barsuk. It's unbearably sad to watch the slow decline of a dear friend, but I don't believe he suffered at all — he just became very tired, and it was clear it was time for him to go to sleep. He had a great life, made many friends while visiting planet earth, and will be sorely missed. His legacy will live on in his namesake label, and he will always be alive in my memory and in the hearts and minds of those who knew him.

You're a good dog, Barsuk, and we love you.


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