Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Ace is Gone


There was no fooling this boy.

*I wrote this as a quick review of his life. 18 years of life makes it long. Not originally intended for widespread viewing I took little care to make it worthy of publication. Then Ginger suggested that because so many people always ask about Ace I should make it public. Here it is. If you don't like dogs, don't bother reading it. If you do like dogs always support efforts that reduce the number of abandoned animals - and people who abandon them. Rich

I remember the day Ace arrived. We had been looking for the right pup for weeks when we found and settled on a reddish brown female border collie. Advertised by a lady who fostered dogs from a high kill shelter, the dog was everything we wanted. However, by the time we could get everything together, including references, she (the dog) was gone. Fortunately, that canine had a brother in the same foster home.

one of
One of our earliest photos of Ace. This is Ginger's dad, Wayne,
watching him while Ginger worked.
Photo by Michael Cuy at the Indy Airshow.

The way we heard it Ace was one of those special dogs who the foster family had been unable to resist falling in love with. Yet, they knew they had to move dogs to new homes because they needed to save more from the shelter. Therefore, they suggested Ginger should visit. If Ace took to her, we had impeccable references, and they felt we had good juju they’d consider letting him leave with her.

Ace hanging out in front of the airport house with Ginger
and anotherfriend gone too soon, Ed Escalon.

When Ginger arrived at Lee Bottom with Ace, my brother, John, was there. I still remember him playing with Ace in front of the airport house. Ginger remembers him saying, “I think he’ll fit right in.” He certainly did.

Always hanging out with the cool kids.

There was a problem though. During the drive home Ginger discovered Ace hated riding in cars – he drooled continuously. Since she was still living in Indianapolis and driving to Lee Bottom on the weekends, one very specific pup would need to develop a taste for executive transportation. However, no matter how much he rode in a car it didn’t get better. A solution was called for. Ginger pulled it off. The following is how she did it.

Debating another shot at riding in the car.

Operation Ace Must Ride: First, Ginger started by taking him to the car, getting him in, giving him a treat and getting him back out. Once he could do that she got him in the car closed the door, left him there a few minutes then got him out and gave him a treat. The next stage of the operation involved both of them getting in the car. They’d sit in the car, Ginger would read for a while, then they’d get out and Ace would get a treat. Next came the noise.

Debating a ride on the trailer.

Ginger would get Ace in her car, start it, let it run, then shut it off and Ace got a treat. Are you spotting a pattern? After a few days of that Ace graduated to being on the move. When Ginger started the car she backed to the end of the driveway, stopped, then pull back into the garage acting as though it was the greatest thing they’d ever done in hopes of encouraging the smart little guy. Naturally, he got a treat.

Ace trying to get someone to take him for a spin.

Finally, after all those days or weeks, the big day came. Ginger put him in the car, started it, backed out, and drove away. The clincher? She took him to a local pet store, took him inside, let him pick out a treat on the bottom shelf, let him enjoy it, then drove him home.

Eventually Ace rode on or in everything except aircraft.
We never wanted him to associate a running aircraft with
a positive. All he knew was that when a plane wasn't running
and the people were out he could lay under it.

If I remember correctly, she continued to do the same thing with him every day for a week or more before she drove him to Lee Bottom again. 98% cured of his drooling, he would soon go on to be 100% convinced no vehicle, truck, golf-cart, or even a four-wheeler would ever move more than six inches without him on or in it. When he couldn’t do either, he’d run.

Sky attempting to catch Ace.

Once Ace was comfortable at the airport, we began noticing an unexpected trait. In much the same way farmers found Superman in a field, we discovered our little fur covered bundle of joy was wicked fast. He had no visible traits of any exceptionally fast breed but somewhere in his genes was rocket fuel. It’s still hard to believe how far he could chase a deer and still be calmly jogging inches behind it. For the first few years of his life he’d also run beside or in front of the tractor as we mowed. Note, we’ve always mowed fast. What was crazy was that he didn’t run along with you for part of it, he ran for all of it - ALL OF IT – MILES AND MILES OF IT.

There would be no honor in outrunning this human.

When he wasn’t running another thing stood out. He had the most head high proud trot of any dog I’ve ever known. If you’ve ever watched a thoroughbred settle into a post work out trot you’ve seen how he traveled if he wasn’t running or riding. This is what he’d do as he played his favorite game – outrun the lazy human.

At home on South River Bottom Road,
aka - the Ace Davidson Speedway.

Ace always had to be in the lead. Where it became really apparent was in our nightly walks. No matter how many people or creatures were walking with us he had to be in the lead. From up front he’d look back to ask why you were not keeping up. If you tried to catch up, he’d accelerate. If you started to jog he’d start a slow run. If you took off in a sprint he’d run faster and further ahead of you until you ran out of gas, then he’d fall back into his trot then look back to point out you still were not keeping up.

He loved the cold.  Anytime it was below 70 degrees
he was supercharged.

When we realized this was a game to him we eagerly attempted to make it our own, often trying to distract him then run by. The few times we were successful it was a short-lived victory. Ace would sprint past us and we would never got in front of him again. I’m pretty sure one such time was when I first called him a peckerhead. He relished the title.

During one fly-in I was running to catch a plane parking
in the wrong spot and had to jump over Ace. As my feet left
the ground he jumped up as if it were a game and took my
feet completely out from under me.  I flew threw the air and
landed with a thud in a flying Superman pose in front of a
couple hundred people. I honestly regret nobody caught it on film.

Then there were the days he’d chase a dozen deer off the runway, following them all the way to the top of the hill. Each time he’d come back to us with a giant grin on his face. An old friend was there once when Ace took after some venison. With an exclamation our friend laughed and blurted out, “That’s the fastest dog I’ve ever seen. He certainly was a fast mover.

Ace herded this fawn off the runway and to the house.

Thinking back on those days, I’m required to recount the time Lee Bottom was in the running for Indiana’s Airport of the Year. Somewhat hilarious to start with, a committee much too professional for our kind of airport actually bothered themselves to do an onsite visit. While sitting at the picnic tables reviewing the doubtful claims such a place could be special, they came to the part about training Ace to keep deer off the runway. Obviously, more than a few of them were skeptical. Then, as if we had a trained deer, a doe stepped out of the woods toward the field and BAAAMM! Ace switched from innocuous porch puppy to heat seeking deer dog in an instant - clumps of grass flying as his nails pushed off the turf toward it, the animal turned and placed its white tail in high gear. The look on some of the committee members’ faces was hilarious. Ahhh, great stuff.

Ginger keeping Ace company on the floor after ACL surgery.
That rug had a heater under it and was a favorite of everyone.

Amazed by his speed, Ginger decided to take a shot at training him for agility trials. His learning was fast also. Unfortunately, his mind outran his body and sequentially trashed both rear ACLs. This was the end of agility and the beginning of what would become a very thick book of veterinary care records.

Ace had a love of the finer things in life.

Ace wasn’t unhealthy. To the contrary, he was so healthy he found his way into many minor trips to the vet. Slashes, rashes, and gases, were common symptoms. Whatever it was he received the best ongoing care money could buy. A month ago, a very heavy package arrived on the doorstep. Similar in size and weight to a hard back Oxford English Dictionary, I texted Ginger to ask what it might be. She had requested a copy of Ace’s medical records.

He always thought it was a lot of effort just to bring him shade.
But he appreciated it.

Recently, as we debated the fate of our little guy, thumbing through his records brought a welcome surprise. Every trip to the vet, good or bad, marked a point in the first 18 years of our lives together. In retrospect, yesterday’s emergency was today’s smile. Among the funniest was, “Taught Ace to speak.”

Poor little guy was stricken with caviar tastes and
leashed to a Lee Bottom budget.

Not too long after we got Ace we realized he had never made a sound. His vet, Dr. Foree, helped with that. Within a minute Ace had found his voice. I can still hear it now. Several years later we realized he had gone silent again. Our mistake was helping him rediscover it. After that he never left the building without an announcement bark to let everyone know, “I’m still here mudda fuddahs.”

Laying in bed with one of the most amazing people I've ever known.
My aunt Ursula. Crippled from polio, she spent her life on crutches and
in a wheel chair. She taught on the third floor, there was no elevator, and
she never quit smiling, and more importantly she never quit - period. She was
also the first person in my family to find out Ginger and I were married and that
Ace had been our best man.

Despite that cool gangster attitude, Ace was the most intelligently gentle dog I’ve ever known. Some dogs are the fat dumb and happy gentle. That’s not the same. Ace was considerate, less instinctual. It showed through in his demeanor with kids and other animals.

If there is something else after this world I'm sure
these two are hamming it up again.

Not very long after we got Ace we added Meatball, the cat, to the family. The two of them became fast friends. Very similar in demeanor and intelligence they made quite the duo. Often they’d fall asleep lying so close the two appeared as one. Both of them being black and white, more than once we were surprised to see a large growth on Ace’s side began to yawn. Yes, it was Meatball. Their similar appearances also earned them the nickname, “The Monochrome Mini-dudes.” Our friend Nick gave them the moniker after living with them a few days during a fly-in.

After a big fly-in Ace makes sure Ginger is left alone
for a nap.

Ace also served as Ginger’s bodyguard and all around top-notch security detail. He noticed everything and never left her side. For years he slept with us in the bed. When he could no longer do so he slept beside the bed nearest the door. Other times he’d sleep in the door. He noticed everything. One winter’s morning he stood at the door and let out a strange bark – strange enough to cause Ginger to look. Snow had collapsed our hangar and I guess he thought she really should know.

This photo was taken next to the sheep pen. I'm guessing
the sheep were doing something to get their attention.

Another year in the middle of winter he did the same thing. This time when Ginger looked there was a beautiful but scared and hungry Border collie outside the door. She became the next addition to our family, Sky. We’d go on to add Gilmore and Bair. However, Ace always remained the animal Alpha. He also was the only one that travelled.

A trip to the Davidson homestead. Here he is with my uncle Walter
looking across the yard, and Mill Creek, at the bluff that helped
define the property.

From the time Ginger taught him to love the car, he went everywhere with us. Rarely was he out of our site. A few months after arriving at Lee Bottom he even travelled to Tennessee to be the only attendee at our wedding; our best man.

Me sleeping with Ace on the floor during his recovery.

Unfortunately, one of the few times Ace wasn’t with us a car hit him. His rear end mangled, head smashed, and very far from care when it happened, I have no idea how he lived. Yet, everyone who could assist the effort did and the surgeon was able to rebuild him. We were at Oshkosh when we heard. Ginger immediately rushed home and I flew home with my brother the next day.

Here he is with the C3B Stearman. A few days later we flew it
to Oshkosh and that is where we were when he was hit by the car.

When I first saw our injured pup I knew the next few months would not be easy. All we had to do was to transport a broken egg home, take it outside several times a day, unwrap and rewrap it, feed it and make sure it was comfortable all without spilling any yolk. 

More shade.

Keeping his hip in the socket and having it heal in place was a critical piece of the post op puzzle. Making this happen meant every time he got up we had to pick up his rear and carry the weight of it in a sling. We traded off nights of sleeping with him on the floor, taking him outside, changing his bandages, and splints for the next three months. Did I mention how much we loved this dog?

Standing at attention.

Once the surgeon said he’d healed enough to put weight on the leg it had been so long we had to teach him to walk again. It started with one of us holding him in the sling while the other articulated his leg to drag his paw across the ground. He was reluctant. We were persistent.

When the power went out the week of the fly-in
we all relocated to a hotel.

Weeks of this therapy finally began to yield results as Ace began to test the waters. Gently touching the ground with that leg, he’d hop over it to keep the weight off. That’s when we introduced distractions.

Hanging out with the nephews.

Doing anything we could to get him to forget about his injured leg wasn’t easy. However, eventually it began to work. Then one day, I have no idea when, we all forgot about it. Only when the vets who knew his history reacted to him as a bit of a marvel did we realize what the three of us had accomplished.

I just like the photo.

Eight months later, he survived the tornado. After that we saw his first weakness appear. The deep rumble of storms rattled him until the day he died. Anything with a low frequency made him uncontrollably chatter. It was so bad I had to remove as much bass as I could from any sound system in the house as it became nearly impossible to listen to music or watch a movie. Thankfully, those changes allowed us all settled into a groove; Ace became an even bigger part of our lives and life was generally good until he began to have seizures.

Eagerly waiting to help Ginger with her bees.

Nobody knew what was going on. He would start pacing, teeth chattering, and looking for a way out of the house. A canine panic attack was the best way to describe it. Once again, after many vet visits, Ginger found a specialist and off we went.

Helping the guys get ready for the fly-in.

Amazingly, the veterinary neurologist knew in less than thirty seconds what had been a mystery to many others. Seizures, most likely caused by his run in with the car, were freaking him out. He could sense them coming on, then he would try to get away from them and couldn’t.

He led a pretty good crew.

Thank God for this lady. She was brilliant. An hour later, for all practical purposes, a medicine commonly prescribed for Parkinson’s disease cured him. For the rest of his life we’d give him those pills morning and night.

One of his many trips to "the vet."

Finally, two years ago his right rear leg started to drag and getting up became difficult for him. Conversations about how we’d know if we should put him to rest became common. Twice it got so bad we were sure it was days away. Both times he rebounded and continued to walk with us nightly.

As Ace grew older, Bair became what we affectionately called,
"Ace's hearing ear dog."  When Ace lost most of his eyesight and
hearing Bair became his guide. Bair didn't leave him and Ace
stuck by his side. Ace still knew his way around but Bair could hear us.  Therefore, the few times we let Ace out by himself then needed him to come in we had an issue. 
The solution? When we really needed Ace to come in I would fire off a few rounds from the deck and Ace would hear them and come running.

We always joked his tail was his gas gauge. A few years ago he’d easily walk three miles. Then we began to notice he could only do two. Then one and a half. We knew this because his tail went from high to low in a linear fashion in relation to the energy he had remaining. When he could only do a quarter mile we became worried once more.

The Forees. They gave Ace such good care.

His life fading while we had another sick animal in the house wore on our nerves. During one memorable call a friend asked how the animals were doing and I blurted out, “I wish they’d just die.” Hearing the silent shock on the other end made me realize what I had said. When they verified I wouldn’t do anything to rush their demise, I realized they had no idea how much I loved the animals in question and how often we were questioning if our desire to keep them alive was for us or them.

Toward the end he would go outside, lay on this bank, and watch
the world go by.  To me it looked like an old man sitting in
the sun thinking about better days and wondering when
and how the end would come.

That was the maddening concern all along. Were we actually causing Ace to suffer by doing everything we could to keep him alive? We asked the vet, asked another vet, researched the topic online, and the best thing we could come up with was what Ace’s original vet suggested, “Find three things he loves and when he cannot do two of them, you have your answer.” Yet, if he’d “just die” in his sleep it wouldn’t fall to me to decide when that was. That was the source of the statement that caught our friends off guard.

Always watching you.

However, no matter how weak, old, or thin he got Ace continued to do all the things he loved, only slower. Ginger had always marveled how Ace knew when I was gone and would take on the role of guard dog. Then as soon as I got home he’d play with me like a puppy. This too he did as little as a month ago, although painfully slow.

The last days were filled with hugs and clad in extra grip
booties for getting up and down. 

Ten days ago, that all ended. Ginger and Ace had been enjoying a warm Florida get-a-way, making new friends, walking nightly as we always had, and generally relaxing when Ace decided he was done. I don’t know if he couldn’t get up or he decided he was through trying. All I know is that Ginger’s voice told me it definitely was not good. Unfortunately, I had just left on a short trip.

From a group of photos taken by Shelby Lynn Photography.

Over the next few days we talked frequently about what to do and how. Ginger had already found a service that would come to where we were and now she was asking me where that was going to be. All I knew was that it had to be somewhere special – somewhere he’d love. Thankfully, she found it.

Ginger and Ace smiling for the camera in 2020.

When I arrived in Ft. Meyers, straight from my trip, I was exhausted and Ace was motionless on the floor. Walking over to him, his eyes followed, nothing else moved. Lying down beside him I tried to express in some manner all the ways he’d made my good life better. He made one small movement he always made when happy, and that was the last real effort I saw.

My little buddy's last ride.

Picking him up for his last car ride, I felt the skin on his spine as he, for the first time ever, assumed the fetal position in my arms. Honestly, I have no idea how I took the next steps without folding. Looking deep into my eyes, looking for something, I did everything I could to reassure him everything was going to be better. Laying him in the car, his eyes followed and nothing else moved. An expression of resignation was all he could muster.

Our little boy made a good thing better.

When we arrived at the spot Ginger had found it was perfect. When times are tough she always pulls off miracles. We laid out a blanket, I got Ace from the car, and we rolled him from my arms onto his side. For the next half hour Ginger laid with him on the ground, petting his head, his eyes focused on her, then trying to find me while I mostly paced.

On a day in March...

When the vet arrived she marveled at his health even in his near motionless state. He was clearly ready to go and it was obvious we had spared him nothing. After sedation, I kneeled down with him and Ginger and noticed his breathing grow shallow and rapid. Knowing the drill I steadied myself for the final injection. Resting my hand on his head, he took five breaths and was gone.

A little while later I sent the following to those I knew who’d care.

“It is with the greatest of sadness we inform you that Ace Davidson left this Earth today, March 17th, at 1:57PM. Under the Page Field pattern, in a shady spot next to a lake, birds chirping and butterflies flying, his parents said goodbye to him – the truest of companions, their best man, and all around great dog.”

He was 18 years old.

Months earlier self-doubt filled our thoughts. Were we keeping him alive for selfish reasons? On Ace’s last day I thought back on all the times he could have died and wondered, “Was he living for us?” In retrospect, it sure feels that way. Giving until he had nothing left to give, the little peckerhead left us behind again.

...and into our memories he went.


Stuart G Glenn said...

Beautifully worded concise history of a loving companion. I knew I shouldn't have read this in the office as my eyes continue to water as Aces story resonates with my own. 18 years is hardly enough when you hold such a special bond with your furry companion. They are a part of you that can never fully be replaced. A chapter has ended. God bless Ace!

Terry Bowden said...

Rich and Ginger, Your beautiful story is just more solid proof that our pets (especially canines) are much beloved as part of the family (and maybe the most beloved). And when a dog lives life as an "Airport Dog", nothing could be more special. I am sorry he's gone, but it is apparent that his memory lives on with you and many. Our daughter recently adopted a young pup, "Hank", also a border collie. He's already establishing himself a fixture here at Tick Hill Airfield. We've had to others who have gone on before Hank came along. One also named "Ace" and one named "Jake". Now Hank joins "Sam" to greet everyone who stops in at our airstrip. I am sorry I never got to meet your "Ace". May he rest in peace! Thanks for writing this wonderful record of his life. In memory of Ace, I invite you to post a link to his story on the "Airport Dogs" facebook page? God Bless you! Terry

Unknown said...

Whew.....there is no way anyone with a beating heart could read that story and not end up with wet eyes at the end. You and Ginger gave Ace the best life and home he could have ever hoped for and a life well-lived. Thank you for sharing Ace with the rest of us. Many blessings, Michael & Carrie Cuy

alex said...

Our animal children trust us to do the right thing for them. They love us most when we have to struggle to deserve that trust. What a great pal and the joy of it is he’ll always be with you.

Unknown said...

Dearest Rich and Ginger
I read this story about ACE with tears in my eyes. I remember ACE very well, and especially so since he is very similar to our MAX. Poor Max is still with us, but we are sure to lose him soon, as he has a host of infirmities, chief among them being a dilated left ventricle and mytral valve failure. He has been our constant companion for over 15 years and has taken good care of his little sister, Tilly.
We have him at home for now but he requires a lot of care. We will surely treasure what time we have left with him as you obviously did with ACE.
God Bless you, "ACE"!

Bruce Edsten

Unknown said...

I swear to God: I've cried enough for my own wonderful dog children but now I'm doing the same for yours. It's an old cliche, but a very real one , "The reason God didn't give dogs longer lives is because the grief would be fatal." Truer words were never spoken. However, few ever have just one dog. We know the joy and memories are stronger than the pain of losing them so another usually joins us. And ever single one creates their own place in our hearts. Adios, Ace. Your life made many other lives better.
Budd Davisson, Dog lover.

Unknown said...

Rich, once again, you have outdone yourself in honoring Ace. Our only request is that you publish this manuscript, pictures and all, just as it is to further honor Ace. This would make a remarkable short book that anyone who has had to give up a “best friend” like Ace, would find comfort in reading. You have captured all of the feelings and love that exists in the hearts of those of us who have experienced a family member like Ace. Thanks for being willing to share.
Baird and Cathie Foree

Floyd Taber said...

Dear Rich and Ginger,

This is an amazing tribute to Ace. You captured the essence of his very soul for all to enjoy Ace had a great family to be with. My condolences for your loss, as this memorial brought tears to my eyes.

God Bless Ace and his wonderful family

Floyd Taber