All In – Happy Gotcha Day Koda

Koda, Koda, Koda!

This week marks four years since Koda joined our pack. She was four months old when we welcomed her and she came in with guns-a-blazing! Koda very quickly made her presence known. I remember driving her home in my truck and pulling up to our property. She was just 90 minutes separated from her two litter mates who had not been adopted yet. Koda hopped out of the truck and followed me through the gate where her new sisters were “waiting”. Koda 18 pounds at the time was greatly over matched by her new sisters – Kali at 60 pounds an Kloe at 80. There was about five minutes when Koda seemed a little intimidated and she acquiesced to the “big girls”. But she quickly made herself at home and began romping around the yard chasing and being chased by Kloe. Kali went off to sleep and resent the new whippersnapper that dad had just brought into the family without her permission.

The aforementioned five minutes of being intimidated was the last time I ever saw Koda be intimidated by anybody or anything.

Koda is a tough pup who initially made up for her size with loads of attitude.

It was immediately evident how vocal Koda was. Tilting her head slightly down, butt up in the air, and a mouthed puffed up with air she exclaims, “A roo roo roo”. This was just day one/hour two and she had already established her spot in the pack. She was not be the oldest or the biggest or in charge of anything but she always made here needs, wants, and opinions known! To this day Koda speaks her mind and always gets her point across to her intended audience and anyone else who will listen. As if they have a choice… If she could speak english she’d use what might be considered “salty language”.

Early on there were some very touch and go periods.

Holly: “Get that dog out of my house. Send her back”!

Me: She is such a loving girl. She’s doing so much better. I just need a little more time to work with her.”

Koda: (Looking directly at Holly) “A roo roo roo! Roo roo rooooo….”

Me : (Turning to Koda and under my breath) “Koda – work with me here.”

Koda: (Thought bubble over her head) “Hey – where did mom go?”

And so it went.

Koda has matured and has (mostly) learned to temper her enthusiasm. She is lovingly referred by a close friend who also has Golden Retrievers, as my “wild child”. A spot on characterization! But Koda has learned to be a (mostly) respectful and responsible member of the pack. She is very smart and learns things the first time. Whether she chooses to adhere to the learning is another matter. But she does learn it and then makes her choices. I (mostly) respect that.

Did you notice all the “mostly’s” in the previous paragraph? So yeah lot’s of mostly’s. But the all-ins” far outnumber and outweigh those mostlys.

Koda is all in on Loyalty. She is all in on loving her pack members. She is all in on recall – where ever she is, if I call she comes.

Koda was all in on Kali, her Sissy Mama. During the last year or so of Kali’s life when she had a hard time getting around Koda looked after Kali. A great example was a time when Kali got stuck in a corner of the property and couldn’t get up. Koda came running up to us barking and alternating looks from us to where she wanted us to go. We followed her and found Kali OK but stuck in a small hole and unable to get up. Talk about a Lassie and a “Timmy’s stuck in the well moment”… wow!

Koda is all in on being Kloe’s wingman. Kloe, “Protector Of The Golden K” – often sees, smells, or hears potential bad guys. Bad guys like cats, deer, squirrels, someone walking along the road at the bottom of our property, and so on. If Kloe stands up and barks, Koda does too; even though she doesn’t know what she’s barking at. She looks to Kloe for her cues. If Kloe takes off running in the bad guys direction Koda follows even thought she has no idea where she’s going. To Koda, if Kloe is barking, upset, or on the prowl Koda is by her side to provide all necessary back up. Koda is definitely all in on Kloe.

I’m so happy to Koda in my life and part of our pack. My sweet “Koda Koda Koda”, my “Sugar Beats”, my “Kodachrome”, my “Kode-Red”. Oh, yeah and full disclosure of another often used nick name for Koda: “Damn it Koda!” 🙂

Happy Gotcha day sweet Koda. Dad will always be all in on you!

A Dog Of Few Words…

When Kali first came to the U.S. from Taiwan she had a bit of an aversion to other dogs. Our regular walks took us on a trail along a creek that paralleled a nearby golf course. I quickly found that Kali grew anxious when we came across other dogs. As our steps brought us closer to them Kali would start barking. “Ruuuf, ruff!” Not aggressively but in a way that said, “hey – don’t come near me, I’m not comfortable around other dogs”. Over time we worked on this and she became more confident and could eventually pass by other dogs along our walks without much drama. That was over seven years ago.

Our home in the foothills sits up on a hill and although we are well off the road, the road is visible from our large wrap around deck. If any animals pass below on the road, (or – gasp – any of our neighbors have the audacity to walk their dogs down past our home), Kloe will sound the alarm and Koda will quickly chime in. Kloe’s bark is low and deep. She uses all 75 pounds of her body and big chest when she vocalizes. I would characterize it as a WOOF! “Wahooof, waahooof, wahooof”, followed by a low growl and then more woofs! Although Koda’s body size, shape, and weight (65 pounds) would suggest a lower vocalization it is actually quite high. “Bark bark bark bark, bark, bark” as it crescendos up and then back down in pitch. Koda looks at Kloe for reinforcement and to ask, “what are we barking at?”, as they both run down to the yard to see if they can get a closer look.

Although Kali was never too interested when her sister’s sounded the alarm she would get up (usually from a nap in the warm sun) look around, and add her two cents (barely!). Kali’s bark, especially in her senior years, turned into a bit of a “Yip”. As she was woken up by Kloe’s WOOFs and Koda’s bark-bark-bark Kali would seem a bit confused and offer a brief “Yip” or two. “Yip? Yip?” she would say as her sisters ran off to the yard below. By the time they returned Kali had usually returned to her spot in the sun and was once again fast asleep. It’s easy to sleep, even during Red Alerts, when one’s two younger sisters are on patrol!

About a year or so ago I realized I hadn’t heard Kali bark for many months or maybe even longer. For a while I used to be able to get her to vocalize before I began preparing meals for her and her sisters. As it got closer to meal time Kali would find a spot somewhere between where I was sitting and where her food was stored. She would fix a sustained stare on me as she tried to will me to my feet and over to the food bowls. When she finally wore me down I would get up and tease her a bit by telling her she had to “speak” for her food. I would put my fingers and thumb together like a puppet, and say, “Ruff, ruff!”, in a high pitch. Kali would respond, “yip, yip”, and begin dancing and prancing around the room and looking towards the food bowls and then back to me.

At some point Kali stopped vocalizing in any manner at all. I don’t remember exactly when. But she was always a good listener and never much of a talker. Other than her early time with me when we walked along the creek trail Kali was never a dog of many “words”. I can’t recall a time I ever heard her growl. If she chased birds or squirrels, which she did on occasion, she did it in silence. Before we had fencing up in the back of the house she once took off after a black tail deer. She ran after it is silence, quickly gave up, and returned to me.

Kali has been gone now for three months. I wish I could say I miss the sound of her barking but she didn’t bark much so how could I? But I do so miss her silent presence. I miss my therapy sessions with her when I would talk and she would listen. And yes I even, and perhaps mostly, miss that laser snake-eyed stare 30 minutes before dinner-time as she laid somewhere between me and the food bowls and willed me to my feet to feed her.

Kali sleeping on the deck. Kloe and Koda ready to sound the alarm at any time…


This weekend marks six months since the grand arrival of Nala and 23 of her Taiwanese foster brothers and sisters. When I mentioned this to Kali this morning she looked at me as if to say, “who’s Nala?” and promptly went back to sleep. I nudge her and ask, “Don’t you remember being called Nala before you arrived from Taiwan in America and joined our family?”. Kali: “Zzzzzz”.

“Come on Kali – you must remember. This was a big deal for you. It was a life changing event”.

Kali looks up at me and with her big sweet brown eyes now open wide and keenly alert. She’s sits up and stares directly into my eyes. Her breathing quickens. Her head tilts slightly When I ask again if she remembers once being Nala. Kali opens her mouth and to my amazement she speaks. I mean actually speaks words. In clear distinct voice she says, “You realize I’m a dog right? So while there may be a chance that at some emotional or instinctive level I remember this event you refer to and this thing called Nala it’s highly unlikely that I can intellectualize the experience. It’s even more unlikely that I can articulate my thoughts in a way that would be understandable to a human. I mean no disrespect and of course I love you more than you’ll ever know. But, as I said, I am a dog. You do know that right…?”

At this point this post could go in several directions. Which makes most sense to you?

The Obvious Ending
“ do know that right?” I wake up and look over at Kali still sound asleep even thought the light is beginning to shine in though the blinds. I’ve always had very vivid dreams and can remember many of the dream’s details even weeks and months after waking up. This dream with Kali was pretty cool but honestly speaking I don’t know if would really want her to talk. I was a little intimidated by Kali’s masterful command of the language and frequent usage of five syllable words. Then there was the cleverly ironic manner in which she used those big words to tell me that it was crazy to believe she could rationalize her own emotions. And frankly, I was a little put off by her posh British accent. I mean, where the heck did that come from?

The Practical Ending
“ do know that right?” It’s fun to muse about dogs talking but there are a lot of situations where it would be very cool to have a real conversation with your dog. What if they could understand relatively complex concepts. For example time. If only Kali could understand what I mean when I tell her, “We’ll go for our walk later.” This way she’d know that I haven’t forgotten. I can hear a rational Kali responding with something like, “Ok, I’ll take another nap and you let me know when you’re ready.”

It would also be helpful at certain times if dogs could articulate their desires and emotions with words. For example, Kali: ” I know you don’t like me eating the decorative figs that fall on the ground but if you would pick them up more regularly I wouldn’t be tempted”. I’d know that she was trying and not simply ignoring me, but it would be helpful if the figs weren’t there to tempt her.

Or, Me: “What’s bothering you? You seem a little lethargic today.” Kali: “I ate a couple of those dried up figs that you keep forgetting to pick up. Oh, yeah and I ate some of a green apple that fell on the ground this morning. My stomachs just a little upset. After I eat some grass I’ll be fine”. Worries mitigated and trip to the vet avoided.

Kali’s Ending do know that right?” Then I snap out of my silly day dreaming and see Kali asleep at my feet. “Nala” I whisper. Kali looks up at me and thumps her tail on the ground. She does remember! Then I whisper, “Kali”. Same result, thump thump. “Agnes”. Again, same result.

And then it hits me. “Kali”, I say, “you respond to all the words I say. I don’t have to say walk. All I need to do is get up and put my shoes on. When we come to a street crossing I stop and you sit without me saying a word. You read my body language. When I do give a command you respond because whether you recognize the word or not you read my body language. You stare into my eyes waiting for me to tell you what I want and when I want it and you are always glad to oblige. So, I guess we do have real conversations, don’t we. Maybe it’s not so absurd after all that dogs could talk.”

Kali smiles and I see a thought bubble over her head:

“At last, he’s thinking like a dog. I’ve made good progress with my new dad over the last six months. He’s very trainable and definitely a keeper. My foster brothers and sisters would be so proud of me. I hope they’ve made as much progress with training their American families as I have with mine. Hey Dad – I’m looking at your eyes. Tell me what to do next ’cause I’m ready when you are”.

Oh yeah, all right  Take it easy baby  Make it last all night  She was an American girl - Tom Petty

Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy baby
Make it last all night
She was an American girl
– Tom Petty