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Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Tucker, my friend Hilary Burgess’s dachshund, died last week at age 12. Her old cat, Eliot, who was there first, is rejoicing. Those of us who knew Tucker well and witnessed his sudden decline, his miraculous four-month rally on steroids and then his final crash with a number of fatal complications, knew it was time.

I first met Tucker when he was a puppy, assisting Hilary with her duties at the Daily News, in 1998. A short time later, Hilary moved on to be the business manager at The Aspen Times and Tucker became a regular feature of all of our lives here for almost a decade, quickly establishing himself as the Tough Guy of the workplace.

“Let me at him” was Tucker’s attitude about Zack, the un-neutered pit bull chained to Allyn Harvey’s desk upstairs in the editorial department. Tucker always thought he was the biggest, strongest dog on the block.

It wasn’t Tucker who scampered across the floor of the Times clutching a plastic baggie of marijuana with a screaming reporter in hot pursuit – that was another dachshund, Rosie, who held the title (chewed through the computer cables, dove into a chocolate birthday cake) until Tucker arrived on the scene.

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Tuck and I were good friends from the beginning. He’d come over to my place if Hilary were out of town or on vacation and it was a second home to him. Hilary would just drop him off in the early hours and he’d run through the dog door and up the ramp onto the bed and under the covers with my dachshund Trudy.

When Trudy went on ahead, Tucker was king of the castle until, four years ago, I brought home Nicky and Freddie, my eight-week old black dachshund puppies who were so little I could hold one in each hand.

As Tucker grew older, he had developed an increasing intolerance of puppies. This was unfortunate at the Times, where some 15 dogs came regularly to work and the turnover of new puppies was nothing less than phenomenal. No sooner would we have a death of an old dog or the hiring of a new employee than a new puppy would come bouncing onto the scene.

The puppies would dance into Tucker’s territory and yikings and blood-letting would ensue. Tucker bit then-publisher Mitch Bennis’ golden puppy and bit now-publisher Jenna Weatherred’s chocolate Lab, Mabel, as well as every client’s or visitor’s puppy who entered under the assumption that the Times was a dog-friendly workplace. Tucker was banished, confined to Hilary’s fenced-in office downstairs.

Shortly after I got Nicky and Freddie, we had a photo shoot of The Aspen Times in the tranquil garden of the Hotel Jerome. We got all the dogs set up on tables and chairs and the idea was that at the signal from the photographer the owners would all jump back for the instant of the shot.

Nicky and Freddie were sitting on a low table, and at the photographer’s command all hell broke loose. I jumped back, Nicky – startled – fell off the table with a plop and Tucker, several positions away, leapt in for the kill.

No blood was spilled, but you could have heard Nicky’s screams across town to the Aspen Meadows. Hilary grabbed Tucker, I grabbed my babies and headed for my car, and the photo shoot was aborted.

For the following YEAR, Hilary and I tried to reconcile the problem. Every Thursday evening, I’d put up one of those baby barrier fences in my bedroom door, Hilary would carry Tucker in wrapped tightly in blankets, snarling and snapping, and deposit him on my bed. Nicky and Freddie would worry at the fence, wondering why they couldn’t get to their bed and why Tucker would lunge at them.

I didn’t think it could ever end, but spring came and one thing they all had in common was the love of walks. At first, all were leashed and Tucker wore a muzzle. Then the puppies were let loose and only Tucker was on a leash, unmuzzled. And then we just let them all go and they not only romped with each other but came back to my place and curled up together, with never a harsh word spoken among them ever after.

It seemed like forever at the time, but wouldn’t it be great if we could find world peace in a single year?


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