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Hazel the Research Assistant died on May 25. Photo by Jeff Prince.

That weed growing outside my glass door needs to be pulled. The stalk of Johnson grass keeps waving in the wind, catching my peripheral vision as I’m sitting on the couch. And each time, for a quick second, I think it’s Hazel Doodle Doo. I look out the glass door and expect to see her smiling face and wagging tail with her mouth open and tongue hanging out, which was her cue for me to open the door. I’ve been jumping to that silent request for more than 4,000 days in a row since she showed up.

Hazel, also known as Poopsicle McSweeney, was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes and put down on May 25. She was 12. Now every creak of the house sounds for a moment like the clicking of toenails on Pergo flooring.

Hazel gained fame around 2010 when she began serving as research assistant for Off Asides, the best Dallas Cowboys blog this side of Sulphur Springs and possibly the world. Without Hazel’s googling expertise and knack for digging up crucial statistics, Off Asides would never have become the worldwide phenomenon that she and I pretended it to be. We spent many Sunday afternoons together in the living room, stretched out in front of the TV, rooting for America’s Team, and churning out insightful, important, and award-winning columns. (Full disclosure: No awards were actually won, nor was anything important or insightful ever imparted.)

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Oh, the adventures we shared, including Hazel being threatened by a mean old lady (Off Asides, Oct. 5, 2015), sparring with Joe Pesci in a New York bar (Dec. 12, 2016), and gorging on Amy’s Restaurant tamales (Nov. 2, 2015). Sometimes Hazel was more hindrance than help (Oct. 3, 2016) but she always wore her game face come kickoff time.

Hazel spent her early days living on the hardscrabble streets on the North Side, just west of the Stockyards. The abandoned stray was a few months old and lying on her stomach in Bermuda grass when I drove my new pickup truck into my friend’s driveway to pay a visit. The little yellow dog rolled over as I approached. I rubbed her belly and then began walking toward the front door. The pup followed. I stopped. She stood up on her back legs and put her front paws on my thigh, looking up at me with big brown eyes. My friend, Victoria, opened the door and said, “Wow. That dog is usually skittish around people, especially men.”

A neighbor kid had given the pup to Victoria because his mom wouldn’t let him keep a dog. Victoria already owned a much larger dog that didn’t cotton to any young, cute, brown-eyed bitches coming along and stealing affection. Then the dreaded words: “Why don’t you take the dog?”

Despite a brief show of resistance, I succumbed to the big brown eyes – the dog’s and my friend’s. Victoria’s daughter had named the dog Hazel. I added the Doodle Doo and wondered what I’d gotten into. A bachelor and independent cuss, I’ve never been one to assume unnecessary responsibilities, and yet I had become the instant owner of a living thing that would soon grow to 60 pounds and love a steady diet of dried food covered in boiled chicken and raw egg and broth – but not too hot! I boiled a big pot of chicken every week and cracked open lots of eggs.

On our way home that first day, Hazel rode in the passenger seat. She threw up before we got two miles down the road. She was happiest in the truck bed, where she loved peeking over the side and letting the wind blow her face. The only time she didn’t like being in the back of the truck was my fault. My large yard isn’t fenced well enough to hold a dog, so I ran electric wire around my property and put a collar on her neck that beeped when she got close to the property line. If she crept closer, a small jolt of electricity would give her a zap. Occasionally, I would put her in the back of the truck to go somewhere and forget to remove her collar. I would remember when I’d hear her yelp as I pulled out of the driveway.

I would stop and rub her and apologize. She forgave me immediately because that’s what dogs do, and that’s why we love them so much. Over the years, we forgave each other for various wrongdoings, although Hazel was always the nobler about it. Eventually, she learned that she could run past the fence line and take a quick shock in exchange for hours of freedom spent roaming the neighborhood. She also had a big neck and a tiny head, which made it easy to pull off her collar and come back home without having to get shocked again. Those damned things cost $75 apiece. I spent many mornings walking around neighboring properties looking for discarded collars. Hazel was clever, never shedding them in a convenient place. No, I always found them lying under a bush, out of sight, stashed away. Half the time, I never found them.

Hazel was smart in good ways, too. That first day I brought her home, we spent a couple of hours relaxing in the living room, then I let her outside to do her business. A minute later, she was scratching on the glass front door with wet paws. I opened the door, snapped my fingers, and said, “No!” She looked startled and turned and walked away. I didn’t budge. Teaching her a lesson that first day would mean many years of not having to listen to scratching and looking through a glass door always covered in paw prints. I let Hazel dwell on her scolding for a minute, then went outside to fetch her. She wasn’t anywhere in sight. I walked around to the side the house and found her sitting by herself, looking sad, staring off into the distance. I picked her up, hugged her, apologized, and carried her inside. She was happy again and seemed to have forgotten all about her scolding. But she hadn’t forgotten. She never scratched on the front door again. Not one time in 12 years. Sure, she left snot marks from her nose, but I never scolded her about that. Looking at the door now, I still see some snot marks. And that weed blowing in the background.

8 COMMENTS

  1. So sorry Jeff, Hazel was a great dog. I remember many a night (though some still a little foggy) Hazel Jean laying in the garage listening, or maybe not, to us making bad music, but having a lot of fun. She was always glad to see me, and me her. She will be missed.

  2. Sorry for your loss Jeff it’s hard to lose s good friend (pet). Your still the best muckraker and you need to do a Pulitzer Award article on dog fighting in memory of Hazel . Call and we’ll go to lunch. I’ll buy.

  3. Hey, Jeff I’m sorry. Great column! You are a born writer. Sorry about your loss. Maybe you can find another Victoria to help you through the hard times ahead.

  4. I’m sorry for your loss but I enjoyed your story about Hazel. I lost my girl in Oct and so many things you wrote were the same for her and it brought back great memories that made me laugh and cry. Sounds like Hazel had a great life!

  5. The loss of a good dog is a painful experience. Interestingly though, she died on the exact same day as Bill’s wife, Robin. Great article. You made Hazel proud.

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