Beloved Formosan Mountain Dog Saison. Photo courtesy of Heather Jess

‘A girl and her soul dog’ — remembering Saison at Rideout Park

By Christine M. Quirk — 

The sturdy bin by the tennis courts at Rideout Park bears a sign: Free For Dogs. Inside are treats, balls, and toys, all placed in loving memory of Saison, Heather Jess’ cherished Formosan Mountain Dog. 

“[I’m] honoring Saison and the love that exists between a girl and her soul dog,” Jess said. “I wish everyone finds that type of love one day.”

Saison — named for Saison Farmhouse Ale — was well-traveled. She was born in Taiwan and rescued by a shelter in Seattle, where Jess lived at the time. There was an adoption event outside a bookstore, and Jess happened to walk by. 

“She caught my eye, and that was kind of it,” she said. “They find the people they are supposed to be with.” 

Jess is a seasoned dog owner; Saison had canine siblings, including Marley, an East Asian Village Dog who remains with Jess. But Saison, her person said, was unusual and wise from the start. 

“When she met people, she would just stare at them,” Jess said. “It sometimes made people uncomfortable, but she did it everywhere. She really wanted that connection.”

Saison. Photo courtesy of Heather Jess

The local park, Jess said, was Saison’s favorite place.“We went to Rideout every day,” she said. 

“There was usually no one else there, and we’d sit on the bench by the tennis courts. The dogs would lay in the sun, I’d read a book, and it became our special outdoor space,” Jess recalled. “In Seattle, we had a house and a yard, but here, we have an apartment, so this became our little backyard. We called it ‘the dog park,’ and she’d get so excited.”

A sad goodbye

Early on Monday, April 8, Jess came home from her job as an ER nurse. 

At 11 years old, Saison was graying around her muzzle but was still Jess’ happy, active dog.

After a quick 3 a.m. walk, however, Jess knew something wasn’t right. She took the dog to the emergency vet, and it became a four-day stay. 

Saison was getting a little grey, but was still an active, happy girl. Photo courtesy of Heather Jess

Saison had internal bleeding, and the vets couldn’t find the source. After many ultrasounds and labs, the doctors favored waiting it out rather than doing surgery that might be risky. 

Jess took Saison home on Wednesday, but that night, they were back at the animal ER.

“I really advocated for her,” Jess said. “Part of it is I work in health care, but I knew this dog like I know my own body, and I needed them to really look at her because this dog was dying.”

Saison went into surgery on Thursday. Jess said they sat together for a half hour before the operation, looking into one another’s eyes, communicating in their familiar way. 

“I knew I was remembering everything I could about her, and she kind of did the same thing,” Jess said. “We remembered all our lines, wrinkles, and gray hairs.”

Saison lived another six hours after the surgery.

“She was suffering, so… I let her go be whatever she is now.”

The legacy of a very good girl

The treat chest placed at Rideout in Saison’s memory.
Photo by Christine M. Quirk

After Saison passed, Jess avoided Rideout for a week, but then realized that she needed to resume her routine for Marley. 

“Marley needed to go and do the things that made her happy,” Jess said. “So I picked myself up, and we went to the park and watched the people walk by, and I thought how lucky they were that they still had their dog.”

And as Jess watched these dogs, she hoped their people appreciated what they had. 

“I wondered if there was something I could do to make them take their earbuds out or look up from their phone and look at their dog,” she said. 

So Jess filled a plastic bin with treats and toys, and checks it when she and Marley take their daily walk. Thus far, she’s run into three people who have commented on it; one even added treats of his own.

A neighbor “was out walking his dog one night, and we said hi, and he turned back to me and said, ‘For what it’s worth, Smudge’s favorite two toys are from that bin,’” she said. “It brought tears to my eyes.” 

A note of gratitude left at Saison’s bin in the park. Photo courtesy of Heather Jess

Jess may be the one who checks the contents but says Saison is responsible for the trunk.

“It is only there because I was loved so beautifully by a very special dog,” she said. “She lives on in Rideout Park because people stop at the chest, meet her, and love their dogs.” 

In the end, that’s all Jess wanted – for people to know how special Saison was and for her spirit to live on. “I find the times I miss her the most is when I think about how lucky I was to have ever been loved by her at all,” she said. 

“I wish everyone finds that type of love one day. How rare and beautiful it is to be seen by a dog.”