In 1989 my friends’ dogs, Bugsy Blodgett and Dolly Mover, got together and had a passel of puppies. Bugsy was a pure Doberman guard dog at Sunshine Movers. Dolly, a German Shepherd, wandered onto the lot looking for food and found her true love. Of their 11 pups, my heart was stolen by the runt, Louie. He was a shy little guy, shoved aside at the food table. We got special puppy milk and food supplements for him, and he grew big and strong.
Louie was VERY smart, the smartest dog I’ve ever known. When he was six months old, I made a list of more than 75 words and phrases he knew and responded to. He was my sidekick, my running buddy, and he helped me through the death of my beloved dad, the most difficult time in my life. Louie saw me through it all, getting me out of the house to walk and play at Precita Park, Bernal Hill, and even sometimes Dolores Park. He was awesome at the ball, but the Frisbee was his forte. He never missed, and you could see him calculating in where it would land and getting right to that spot.
He brought me out of my shell, and I met lots of great dog-loving friends at Precita Park. One of our favorites was former burlesque dancer and costume designer B.B. Hughes and her old snow dog, Chewey. B.B. loved Louie; she called him “the Nijinsky of Precita Park.” She regaled everyone with great stories of her career, such as backing up Mel Tormé and successfully suing Confidential magazine for publishing her photo on the cover under a lurid headline about burlesque being a front for prostitution.
I was a punk drummer at the time, and when I decided to give Louie his first “tattoo” it went over like gangbusters. I got a small paintbrush, dipped it in Miss Clairol Ultra Blue-Black hair dye, and carefully painted a tribal design on his foreleg, inspired by Tattoo Time magazine’s tribal issue and Modern Primitives book. Wherever Louie and I went, we got lots of eager questions and crazy looks, and many photos of us were taken. People would stop their cars and jump out to make sure they saw right, and take a picture. soon, Louie became a true San Francisco character, famous for his flying catches as well as his ever-changing tattoos.
Louie constantly did the most AMAZING things without being told or trained to do so. One that was a real stand-out was once at a friend’s house, we had an acquaintance who was very overweight and unsteady on his feet, who tried to sit in one of those bamboo-based “Papasan” chairs. He knocked it off its base and lost his balance, which pitched him forward. In a flash, Louie ran over and stood on his hind legs, putting his front feet against the top of the chair, holding it steady enough so that our friend didn’t fall onto his face and was able to right himself. We wished we had a camera to document it — it was truly amazing! After he was sure that guy was secure, he got back down and just walked away. That’s how I knew Louie was much more than just a regular dog and we were blessed to have him around us.
We lived in my parents’ house, the famous Beatles House there on Precita, in the bottom flat. Once, Jerry Graham, the first host of Bay Area Backroads, came to interview me. He did his opening bit with Louie, who flew through the air in take after take, catching a tennis ball Jerry threw as he repeated his opening lines, “Welcome to a wild house in San Francisco that’s so rock ‘n’ roll, even the dog’s name is Louie Louie!” That was a really fun day, with the neighbors all watching the filming and coming over to throw for Louie.
During the local filming of the movie Fearless, Jeff Bridges was eating lunch at Corrine’s Deli on Folsom and Precita and came to watch some of Louie’s spectacular flying catches. One day, I heard some guy running from the nearby laundromat, saying, “Look! There’s that dog I was tellin’ you about!” I turned to see bike messenger Puck from MTV’s The Real World grinning and watching Louie.
Louie was a big hit at Ocean Beach, where he would run and run, making spectacular catches while crowds gathered. He would pick out folks in the crowd, passing his Frisbee to delighted spectators to throw. Folks of all ages loved that, and when he invited them to throw, it turned them all into big smiling kids. He did things like picking people in a row, one two three four, over and over. They couldn’t believe he could do that. These kids tried to trick him once, mixing up the order they were standing in, but he remembered and went to them in the original order he’d counted them in.
One day, when he was about two and a half, as we were walking from the Camera Obscura at the Cliff House, Louie saw the shadow of a bird. To my horror, he broke away and jumped right over the sheer cliff. I was terrified. I just knew my beloved dog was dead.
I ran and looked over the cliff, sobbing, screaming, “LOUIE! LOUIE!” As I looked down that impossible distance, on those jagged rocks and into that powerful surf, I saw him stagger to his feet on the cliff. A crowd gathered and we tried to figure out what to do. I was hysterical. This guy John who was with me jumped over the edge and tried to get to the sheer cliff to rescue Louie. But Louie, who had always been wary of John, wasn’t having that, and decided to climb up the other side on his own. By the time he’d carefully made his way back up, he was swaying with exhaustion, almost toppling back down as a surfer reached over and grabbed him.
We rushed him to the Mission Pet Hospital where, remarkably, we learned he had no broken bones — plenty of nasty cuts and a collapsed lung, but he was alive. It was a real triumph of his amazing athletic ability and strength. They said if he hadn’t been such a great athlete, he surely would’ve died. I was so grateful that for days I just held him, crying tears of joy into his fur as he slept in my arms. I’m crying now just thinking about it.
Louie was a wonderful companion, a true friend who stayed by my side for 12 years after that day, playing ball and Frisbee and bringing strangers into our circle, who remain my friends today. He died doing what he loved, playing ball there in front of our house, suffering a massive heart attack as he caught a tennis ball. It was late in the day as neighbors gathered and helped me get him into the house. When we called animal control, they were closed, and said we’d have to keep him with us for the night.
I had his son, Lex Luthor, with me, and we sat there all night, remembering Louie’s beautiful life. We slept next to him on the floor one last time, and I cried sad tears into his fur. He was my best friend, the sweetest and smartest big ol’ dog I’d ever known.
I still have a big Louie-shaped hole in my heart. I’m sure it will heal someday, when I see him on the other side, where he’s waiting for me with a huge smile on his face and a Frisbee in his mouth. I love you, dear Louie, Tattooed King of Precita Park, the best dog in the whole wide world.
Read more about loving and living with animals:
- The Stray Cats of San Francisco’s Beatles House
- Has Losing a Dog Ever Stopped You from Getting Another One?
- What Loving My Dogs Taught Me About Empathy
- No Wonder My Fourth Novel Stars a Rottweiler — I Grew Up in a Menagerie of Cats and Dogs
- I Love My Dog More Than I Love My Husband