Written by T. Marie Bertineau

Indigenous author of the memoir THE MASON HOUSE (Lanternfish Press), a 2021 Michigan Notable Book.

June 1, 2021

Growing up I had a blueprint in mind, a family ideal loosely based on a 70s television show. It consisted of a white-collar husband, responsible and kind. And exactly two children, a girl and a boy. I envisioned meals around the table, Sundays in church, sleepover Saturdays, and a collage of my children’s artwork magnetized to our fridge. What I hadn’t envisioned was what came to be. Yes, I had the kind husband, two children, the artistic fridge door. But it was a late addition that altered the plan: our third child—an Olde English Bulldogge named London.  

She appeared to us all paw and leg. Adventure in her blood. Endless pup. Though she was the last remaining of the litter, her coat was first class, striped gold and black, a stark white stop and snout with boots and chest to match. Her tail had been cropped to prevent it from drawing up like a fiddlehead fern, and her fudge-like eyes—sweet and dewy as they were—possessed a hue of curiosity, a dab of mischief. She was both awkward and adorable, three months old and filling in fast, except for the wrinkles. Those would always remain.

When first we met, she clasped a bird in her jaw, a corpse she’d discovered beneath the spirea, or perhaps it was a viburnum. The farmer scooped her up, pried two fingers between her teeth, tossed the bird off to the side. “Eck,” he said.

What were we getting ourselves into?

We tried to hold her that muggy July evening, to cuddle her like an infant. She flailed about, ears flopping, bum wiggling, head hung over our forearms. Her body was too busy. I grimaced. “She’s got an awful lot of energy,” I said. But I could see both son and husband were smitten with her, taken in by her fierce independence, her fearlessness. They set her down in the grass, her home turf, and interacted there on her terms. Hesitancy niggled. Did we really want to own a dog? But the look on Noah’s face told me my feelings were moot. The plot had shifted. This dog now owned us.

In her first days in our home, London, as she came to be called, was more interested in sniffing than snuggling. Her nose was ever to the ground. She was under the chairs, under the tables, beneath the beds and the sofa (from which she needed help getting out). She even found her way inside our dishwasher. But when she had finally learned the lay of the land, she settled in to learning more about us. One day, as I reclined on the sofa for my afternoon nap, she didn’t want to be left out. She perched at the cushion’s edge, nuzzled, grunted. Moist eyes pleaded. I had set a rule that she would not be permitted on the furniture. We had just redecorated, and I was bound and determined that ‘the dog’ should remain on the floor. I hung my hand over the edge, caressed her brindled fur. “Lay down, London,” I said. “Go sleepy.” But she persisted, as was her way, working from one end of the couch to the other, trying to make the leap, her legs a hair too short. “Alright,” I said, and gave in, hoisted her up. “Just this once.” She rooted about my neck like an infant, let out a big sigh, then she was out. “Baby girl,” I whispered, then drifted off too, warm puffs of puppy breath upon my skin. Our afternoon naps became the norm. Another plot shift.

As months passed, many pet no-nos fell by the wayside despite earlier learned philosophies. I had descended from a line of old-school dog keepers. My childhood home had supported ‘free-range’ pups, Skippy and Poopsie, who were more like traveling salesmen than household pets. Noah, on the other hand, never had a dog in his childhood. His first experience with one was after he’d moved out on his own. He’d adopted a male pup almost immediately and raised it as a backyard pet before we met. Together we’d adopted a female in our early years of marriage, one you might call a hybrid model who spent her days in the backyard and her nights asleep at the hearth. London was something altogether different. She wasn’t a breed for roaming the great outdoors, even though, given another body, that may have been her preference. A brachycephaly, she couldn’t tolerate temperature extremes. Heat and humidity were especially hard on her with her compressed snout. She couldn’t cool herself, so we had to be watchful of her. As it turned out, that wasn’t the only thing we had to be watchful of.

A recreation of an extinct breed, the Olde English Bulldogge was said to have better health outcomes than the more well known English Bulldog. That was the primary reason we chose it. Unfortunately, for London, this didn’t hold true. From puppy vaginitis to skin allergies to pododermatitis to gingival hyperplasia, London experienced it all. Our closet overflowed with limited ingredient food and treats, medicated shampoo, antihistamines, ear medications, creams and salves, and antifungal wipes and solutions. Because of her skin allergies, we took to showering her at home rather than taking her to the groomer’s. I learned to trim nails, flush ears, soak inflamed paws, and treat yeast infections. Mama’s good girl, I’d say after I cleansed her facial folds with a foul-smelling wipe, an activity she would only tolerate because it was followed up with a treat. She’s always good for Mom-Dog, Noah would say, though I wasn’t sure how I felt about that moniker.

It was the combination of it all that made London more like our child than our pet. Through the cuddles and the playtime and the ailments and the treatments, a deep bond developed. She wasn’t ‘the dog’ anymore—she was our Baby Girl. We’d take her for car rides when she was bored. I’d surprise her with toys when I returned from the store, for which she would wait at my feet at the sight of a bag. She even took possession of Noah’s club chair, something I never dreamed he’d allow. We’d line it daily with fresh bedding, to protect the upholstery we said, but really it was to make her more comfortable.

When we moved to a new home, London’s needs came first. The home lacked a fence, so she couldn’t be off-leash. There were a lot of other things the home lacked too, but the first thing Noah built was a pretty wooden fence for London. She loved to lie in the yard, to watch the neighbors through the pickets, to duel the chipmunks, to hear the buzz of the hummingbirds. It was within this fence that she experienced those joys. And it was within this fence where she first showed signs of what was to come.

We were sitting on the patio swing when Noah noticed it, a slight drag of a rear paw, the scrape of nail on pavement. “Something’s going on with her,” he said. There was gravity in his voice, a shadow uncommon to him.

“It’s just her lazy walk,” I assured him. But that was just the beginning.

She began slipping on the floor of the new home. “This floor just isn’t her thing,” I said, and added some rugs. Soon she began slipping outside too, losing her balance when she ran, tumbling in her turns. While grooming her one day, I noticed the nail of one toe worn away to the quick, a result of the dragging. She began struggling to jump into her chair, climb the stairs, leap into the truck. “Are you getting too old for climbing?” I asked as I hoisted her hips. She turned to me, gave me a sloppy kiss. Translation: Thanks, Mom.

We brought our observations about the dragging foot and growing lack of strength and stability to her veterinarian. Concerned about a spinal injury, we tried laser therapy. Her condition didn’t improve. An MRI was recommended. We travelled six hours to a southern Wisconsin clinic. They coaxed her down the hall. She looked back at us. Our hearts ached. “We’ll be waiting,” I called. Baby girl, I thought.

The vet met with us afterward. “There’s no evidence of spinal injury,” she said. What they saw instead were symptoms of a condition called degenerative myelopathy, a disease affecting the spinal cord. She wanted to run a test on spinal fluid they had drawn to see if she carried the DM genes. “That will take a few days,” she said, “but we’ll call you when we get the results.”

The test returned positive; both genes were present. Other conditions ruled out, London was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease of the spinal cord, a fatal condition. It began in the hind quarters and would ruthlessly work its way through her body until all was gone: the wag of her tail, her legs, her bark, her ability to swallow, and eventually her ability to breathe. London was dying, and we couldn’t help her.

“She may have a year or so,” the vet said. “I’m so sorry to have to deliver this news.”

In the months that followed, we managed to provide for our girl as best we could. We ordered special booties with bands to help with foot placement and grip and to protect her skin from abrasion. We exercised her, created resistance on her rear paws to promote muscle tone. Walking became more and more difficult. We ordered a cart, and though she learned to use it, she wasn’t happy. Noah took to walking her in a sling instead. He bore the weight she couldn’t. She was thrilled to be out of the cart again, tooling across the open field, just like the old days. Now, it wasn’t her feet dragging behind her—it was Noah. I would watch from the window as he scooted along at her hip, struggling to keep up with her momentum, holding the straps with his right arm, using his left as ballast. She’s doing great! the neighbors would say. 

Though we did all we could for London, we couldn’t stem the tide of her disease. We couldn’t change its outcome.

It was mid-January when our vet made a house call. The pandemic was among us, so she couldn’t come inside, but she was willing to meet outdoors. Fortunately, the mild winter showed mercy. We dressed London in her jacket, lined the frozen ground with a thick pad, covered it with her favorite bedding, and placed a sprig of sage in the center. Noah helped her outside where she met the vet with a kiss-filled lunge and a tumble. We gathered close around her, held her, whispered endearments to her. I told her how much I loved her, what a very special girl she was, how much she meant to us. I heard the murmurs of Noah and Sam. We were all together there, suffocating in a stew of grief. I saw out the corner of my eye the syringe that delivered London’s departure, wished I could have reversed it. She let out a big sigh, just as she had as a puppy when first she laid on my chest for our nap, rested her head on her front paws, closed her eyes. “My baby,” I whispered into the thick folds of her neck. “My baby.”

*     *     *

Throughout the winter, I often looked for signs of London in our yard. At first, there were sink holes in the snow where her feet had been, but fresh precipitation soon erased them from view. In the spring, I waited for the snow to melt, anxious, hopeful. Surely there would be signs of her left over from the fall, a chew toy, a ball, some droppings here and there. But when the snow receded, I found nothing. No sign of London. No sign of her life.

It wasn’t until the temperature warmed and the grass began to thrive that London’s former presence at last made itself known. It appeared as crop art, burn spots in the lawn, traces of her urine in unusual shapes. A comma here. A figure eight there. “Sweet baby,” I said. “Thank you.”

I know one day these spots will green again. They’ll fade away, erase what is left of our girl from the lawn. But not from the heart. Never from the heart. For now, I’ll cherish them, cling to them. For as long as they last, I’ll treasure these precious works of art, just as I do the ones on my fridge.

London “Lundy Lu” McAlister
April 2011 – January 2021

Photo by Natalie Carolyn Photography

Born amidst the copper mining ruins of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, T. Marie Bertineau is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of the L’Anse Reservation, migizi odoodeman. Her work has appeared online with Minnesota’s Carver County Arts Consortium; in Mino Miikana, a publication of the Native Justice Coalition and Waub Ajijaak Press; and in the annual journal U.P. Reader. Her debut memoir The Mason House (Lanternfish Press, 2020) was named a 2021 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. Married and the mother of two, she makes her home in Michigan’s Keweenaw.

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  1. Rebecca Glaessner Author

    What a heartwarming tribute you’ve written. We have 2 dogs and 4 cats at present, and they really do become members of the family, our children. Our babies. Our oldest boy, a tabby, is experiencing his final weeks now too, so this story reached a deep ache but we are treasuring every moment with him. Pulling out all the stops, no matter the cost, to ensure he’s comfortable, has his favourite foods whenever he asks and always has a lap to sleep on. They will never leave our hearts, no matter how old we grow, their spirits remain with us, inspiring us to treasure life and each other in the fullest of ways. Beautiful piece. Sleep well London.

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Thank you, Rebecca. That was a struggle for me to write even though I waited several months. It was difficult to capture her life in 2K words, and her impact on our lives. I send you and your family love and empathy as you help your tabby transition with comfort, security, and respect. Best to you . . .

      • Rebecca Glaessner Author

        Thank you also. I don’t think any number of words could ever correctly capture the wonder and magic of our fur babies. However, I felt your love and admiration for London through this piece. You’ve opened up her life to be loved and admired by us all, and I will treasure that.

  2. denmaniacs4

    A lovely “love” story, tugging at the heartstrings, warming the heart as well…

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Thank you for reading about London, and for your kind words.

  3. Shweta Suresh

    What a beautiful summary of London’s life. It’s hard not to tear up while reading this. The last few paragraphs had me crying. The tears just wouldn’t stop. Dogs leave their footprints on our hearts. That’s one bond that will always remain special. I know. I have survived the loss of two furbabies. London is in a much better now. I hope that she can run around chasing butterflies and play for as long as she wants without any ailments holding her back. Rest well, London. You are very much loved and cherished. Though you are gone, you’ll always continue to live in the memories and hearts of your loved ones. You’ll always be their baby girl.

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Thank you for reading about London and for sharing your thoughts. They do leave their footprints on our hearts, you are absolutely right. If only they could be with us longer.

      • Shweta Suresh

        If only they could live longer indeed. It sucks that they lifetimes are so short compared to ours.

  4. beth

    what a lovely tribute to London , bittersweet and so full of love

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Thank you, Beth, for reading about London. I hope I did her story justice. She was a special girl.

  5. Sherri Matthews

    Aww Theresa, such a heartfelt tribute to your gorgeous baby, London. The price we pay in heartbreak for the love of them. We have lost too many and the grief is real for our beloved fur babies, but the signs are always there… <3

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Good morning, Sherri. Thank you so much your kind words. You are right–the grief is real. And painful. But I do hope she is running strong and free again, and happy.

      • Sherri Matthews

        I am sure she is, Theresa <3

  6. Jules

    Dear T. Marie,

    How lovely to have had such a member to your family. I’ve had my share. The last ‘four footed member’ of our family was adopted from a shelter. And when the time came… she had cancer (the first time it was removable) – the second time it wasn’t… it was difficult to ask for that ‘needle’, but it was more for her relief than ours.

    May you always remember your London with love and fondness.

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Hello, Jules. I am grateful for your words and sorry for your loss as well. May we all remember our sweet ones with love and fondness always.

  7. Michael B. Fishman

    This was a beautiful memoir/tribute. There is so much love in your words and I went back and read it a second time to try and figure out what made me cry. I didn’t figure it out and that’s good. Never from the heart… Thank you for sharing this.

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Thank you for reading about London, Michael, and for sharing your thoughts. It was a difficult piece to write even though I thought enough time had passed to be able to do so. Still, I was captive to the grief of our loss, and I struggled to express in words all that London meant to us. I am grateful that emotion still found its way through to you as a reader.

  8. Melanie moyle

    Loved this story about your doggy child! We had a miniature schnauzer. She was sixteen years old , when we had to have her put to sleep it was so hard! My husband went on a week long hunting trip and left me to have it done, I was so angry with him I told him if he passed I didn’t want another husband for the rest of my life just another dog,!

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Oh, Melaine! I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how lonely you must have been losing your schnauzer like that and facing the week alone. I know our home felt so empty without London. I don’t blame you for being upset. Thank you for reading my post and for your continued kindness . . .

  9. suespitulnik

    You made me fall in love with London from her puppy-hood by the way you described her. I especially enjoyed how the doggie no-nos went by the wayside. I think any fur-baby owner can relate to that. I’m sorry she got sick. I’m a cat person myself and currently have two “guards” that wait for me by the door whenever I go outside. Their company is worth tons.

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Thank you, Sue, for reading about London, and for your kind words. I can identify with you on the felines. I have always been a cat person myself, so my bond with London was really unexpected. Though our cat would have nothing to do with London while she was with us, now, we often find her sleeping under London’s chair, or on blankets London once slept with. I honestly think she misses her. Cats and dogs are so different, but you are correct, their company is priceless.

  10. Charli Mills

    Sweet London. I felt like I rode along with her life from puppy to end, falling in love and mourning the loss of your Baby Girl. Not only do you honor her memory and place in your family, you also open the door for readers to experience the grace of grief. Thank you, T.!

  11. Norah

    Such a beautiful story of love and loss. So sorry for the loss of your baby girl in such a tragic way. Disease can be so cruel. You loved her until the end, and continue to. Love never dies. Thank you for sharing her story.

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      I thank you for reading my post about London, Nora. I’ll carry her with me always, that is certain.

      • Norah


  12. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Thank you for sharing London. She was clearly a special dog. She was blessed to be part of your family, loved and cared for always. This must have been a tough write and thanks for doing it. I still think of my dog every day, and it’s been 24 years now.

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Hi D., thanks for your reply. It sounds like your dog, too, has a forever place in your heart. I see animals on rescue sites, and I wish I could provide for them all. They all deserve the same love and care. And you’re right, it wasn’t easy to write. The beginning was pleasant to recall, but the ending not so much . . . Take care!

  13. robertawrites235681907

    This is the sweetest and the saddest story. I had a dog when I was a young girl. She was shot by a farmer for running about in his sheep. She was a small little thing and couldn’t/wouldn’t have hurt the sheep but he shot her anyway. I’ve never had another dog.

    • T. Marie Bertineau

      Thank you for your reply, Roberta. I’m so sorry to hear of your poor pup’s story. That must have been a trauma for you. Their deaths leave such an emptiness in our hearts.

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