I met Cricket at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, where her forlorn face was nervously peering out at me from inside her wire cage. I slipped my fingers in, and she gave them a tentative sniff.
"Don't worry, girl," I told her. "We're gonna spring you."
I was at the Humane Society on that day in February 1995 with Mari Wadsworth. Longtime Tucson Weekly readers might remember the byline; back in the mid-'90s, when she wasn't keeping track of everything happening in the editorial department, Mari wrote a lot of the copy in our pages.
Mari had just lost her dog, Oscar. She went to the Humane Society and discovered a half-grown puppy who looked a lot like him—a midsized cattle dog with short brown hair, a giant white spot on her chest and big ol' ears that moved every which way.
We got Cricket—who was then about 9 months old—out of that cage as fast as we could.
I'm not quite sure how Mari snuck it by management, but pretty soon, Cricket was down at the Weekly, sharing our office in the back of the old downtown headquarters. She learned to knock on the glass door when she wanted to go out on the patio for some sunshine and made herself quite comfy by curling up in a beach chair that a movie studio had sent our way to promote their summer lineup.
Around noon, she would frequently wait until we were distracted before slipping down the hallway to make her rounds through the sales offices in search of lunch scraps. Her scavenger hunts led to occasional complaints from the reps, especially when she knocked over wastebaskets. But she won over most of them with her one trick: catching any morsel of food tossed her way. She had spectacular eye-mouth coordination.
I seem to recall Cricket getting banned from the office after snatching a tuna sandwich right off the desk of then-publisher Doug Biggers' one day, after he had foolishly left it unattended for a few moments. The ban—one of several—lasted a few days before Mari started bringing Cricket back in.
When Mari's adventures took her away from Tucson, she called me up one day and, through tears, asked if I'd take Cricket in. The answer was yes, of course, but I fully expected her to be back for the super brown hound within a few weeks.
Cricket quickly adapted to life with Jennifer and me. She was adept at waking us up early for breakfast, letting us know when we were supposed to take her for walks down to Beyond Bread or the neighborhood park, and finding the most comfortable spot among the pillows on our bed. In return, she helped clean up any food that dropped on the kitchen floor and used her mighty bark to protect the backyard, especially from any cats that might try to sneak across it. Stacey Richter, one of Cricket's best friends, once told me that cats probably would have long ago taken over the world if Cricket hadn't disrupted their planning with all that bark bark bark!
Over the years, Cricket served as my research assistant on numerous Tucson Weekly assignments, especially environmental exposés that involved desert field work. She did her fair share of investigations of beaches in Mexico and California, although she wasn't crazy about swimming. She loved vacationing at the Hard family ranch up in Flagstaff, where she became quite skilled at crossing a bridge over the creek and leaping over a short fence so she could wander about the pasture.
As she closed in on her 15th birthday, Cricket seemed a little under the weather, so I took her down to the vet for her semi-regular check-up. The news was bad: She had masses on her spleen and in her lungs.
We got Cricket into the office of Dr. Mary Kay Klein over at Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center, about a week later. By that time, Cricket's appetite, which rarely failed her, had gone seriously south; she had even lost interest in Snausages.
Dr. Klein—a wise, sensitive and wonderful vet—gave us some surgical options, but they all sounded too rough for a 15-year-old girl like Cricket. Dr. Klein recommended that we try some steroids that would help restore her appetite and help her with pain in her aging joints. She told us to feed her anything; it was OK to spoil her.
Cricket rebounded quickly on her new diet of McDoubles, although within a few days, she settled on a more sensible diet of noodles, chicken broth and bread. She was back to patrolling the backyard with her fearsome barks whenever she spotted strangers in the alleyway.
On her last weekend, Cricket started out as fierce as ever. She went for a walk and, as usual, stubbornly wanted to keep going when I tried to get her to turn around to come home. That afternoon, she got a big rawhide bone that she carried around the perimeter of the backyard, looking for a good hiding spot. On Sunday morning, she took a stroll down to Beyond Bread for breakfast, but she passed on the bacon and bread I offered her.
Sunday night, Cricket started struggling on her feet. By morning, it was clear she couldn't get up anymore. I gathered her up in my arms and took her to Dr. Klein, who let us know there was nothing more we could do for her. We stayed by her side, scratching her behind the ear as she got The Shot and went to sleep for the last time.
Since losing Cricket, I keep expecting to hear her claws clacking on the floor, or her knock on the back door, letting me know she's ready to come back inside. I sure do miss that dog. I hope that wherever she is, there are plenty of cats to chase and treats to catch.