Gus and his dog Taz
Gus convinced his father and me to bring Taz into our home in the winter of 2008. Gus had met Taz at his friend Matt’s mother’s doggy daycare. Gus loved animals and had started to go with Matt after school and on the weekends sometimes when Matt went to his mom’s shop. She groomed dogs and also took care of them in a little storefront in Oceanside New York. Taz was one of six puppies who had been shipped in to the shop around holiday time, I guess to be sold as Christmas presents.
Taz had taken a liking to Gus. And Gus had fallen for Taz. Gus told me that whenever he came into the shop Taz would bark and run to him so he knew Taz really knew who he was and liked him. He convinced his father first to allow him to have Taz. I never understood how that had happened. We had always been “cat” people, and our landlord definitely did not want pets.
My concern about getting a dog, and I said this to Gus and his father and Oskar, was that a dog cared much more about having its family around than a cat did and you couldn’t just leave it alone all day. I said it was not fair to the animal so that there needed to be someone who was around most of the time. Because his father could be around for some of the hours in the day time while the rest of us were at school, he agreed to do that and also to walk Taz. I was impressed by this offer.
And so Taz came into our family in February 2009. He was terrified of the world and shook like a leaf when we brought him home. It turned out that he had sensory deprivation (according to our vet)—likely from his puppyhood days at what we learned was a puppy mill in Missouri. After a while he got used to the world, and going outside, and he became even more attached to Gus. And Gus loved him.
When Oskar, Gus and I moved into our new apartment, we had a little more space for Taz to move around in. Now we had a very small but fenced in backyard. It was a nice place for us to hang out in and for Gus to teach Taz about sticks and playing fetch. Gus showed me videos he had made of himself tossing sticks for Taz who had learned to “fetch” them.
He was able to complete his high school requirements by meeting two of his teachers at the public library after school and by emailing them his assignments. Because of that, he pretty much stayed home all day. And when he was home all day, his human friends were at school. His brother was at college in Pennsylvania, and I was at work myself.
Gus was therefore alone at home for most of the day, and the only friend he had during the school day was Taz. It was Taz who kept Gus company and gave him unconditional love and attention during what must’ve been one of the most difficult years of Gus’s life. Many of Gus’s friends “fell away” as their parents told them they were not to come over to our house. Gus was shunned by people who had once liked him. He had a solid and significant core of friends who stuck by him, but he felt the shame and sorrow of rejection in so many ways.
Taz did not leave Gus‘s side. He loved Gus, and Gus loved him. They slept together, snuggled together, chilled together, and hung out in the back “yard” together.
It is easy to see how much Taz meant to Gus and how much Gus enjoyed his company by looking at the multitude of photographs and short little videos that Gus took of Taz. When I opened up Gus‘s laptop (which had backed up his phone at some point), I saw hundreds of little videos and photographs of Taz.
Gus simply adored Taz. He observed him, noticing his quirks, interests, and preferences. Taz, in turn, loved hanging out with Gus. Even though Taz had, and still has, a reputation for being a very barky little dog and even chasing and nipping at some of Gus’s visitors and friends, he loved hanging out with Gus and his friends. There was often pizza, with crusts to beg for, and leftover Burger King French fries to scrounge.
Gus made a little video of Taz while he explained how Taz always begs for dinner at the same time every day—4:00 pm. But, Gus explained, daylight savings time had just begun, so now it was 3:00 pm when Taz began to beg. Gus called Taz “a genius” for that.
I will always remember one morning when I was taking Taz for his morning walk. Just as Taz and I had begun our walk, a dog who lived across the street, and who also loved Taz, got out of her back yard and ran into the street to see him. She was struck by a car and at that moment I screamed. Amazingly, she was not hurt. After the car pulled over, she ran back into her yard. A couple of neighbors ran out and I brought Taz across the street while I knocked on the door to make sure that this dog was OK and to let her owners know what it happened.
My knees were weak but I finished walking Taz and then came back into the house. Usually Gus was asleep at this time. This morning I walked in to find him standing in his boxers and T-shirt in the doorway with a terrified expression on his face. He had heard me scream apparently and he had thought that it was Taz who had been hit. When we walked in the door he fell down on his knees and wept. He wept with relief, letting his fears flow out. The thought of losing Taz had clearly terrified Gus. He loved that dog more than life itself.
The day after Gus had dyed his hair bright pink for his first public performance with Schemaposse in Tucson, Feb. 2016, he sent me a short seven second video of himself lying on my bed next to Taz—who was on his back with his paws drawn up—clearly in “tummy rub” position. It came at the end of the school day, and it made me chuckle to see it. It was a signal to me that he was happy, enjoying chilling at the house with his pink hair, and his little dog.
Taz is in several of Gus’s videos. Gus put him in his Instagram post when the Awful Things video was released. You can see it on Gus’s Instagram page, dated August, 2017.
Every time Gus came home from California or wherever he was traveling from, as soon as we pulled into the driveway, he would unbuckle his seatbelt and run out of the car to get in the house as fast as he could to see his dog. I always ran after him because I wanted to see the moment Taz first set eyes on Gus. It was such a wonderful moment when that happened--each time. Taz would jump and wiggle with joy, and Gus nearly did the same. They really were soulmates.
In the last post Gus made about Taz, when I had sent Gus a photo of a very long-haired Taz (who was about to go to the groomer—one week before we went up to Cambridge to see him perform there on October 27, 2017), he said simply: “This is my dog Taz. He is a legend.”
Taz was an integral part of Gus’s life, someone who made him know he was loved—unconditionally.