Pete Takes a Tumble

Pete is our camera-shy smaller, auxiliary dog. And, I should add, at 9 years old and 68 pounds, he is the boss of 115 pound, 2 year old Moses, our sweet-tempered German Shepherd. Moses generally does what Pete tells him, but for some reason the other day, he didn’t feel like it. When Pete bit him, Moses lunged back, and in the scuffle, poor Pete dislocated his elbow. Now he has a cast, and pain pills, and antibiotics, and the most pathetic cry a dog ever made. So I’m sleeping on the library couch so I can be near him. Pete has many talents: among them a knack for drawing sympathy.

This time he really deserves it.Image

A Word About Pete


People who have been reading my blog (both of them) have asked me about Pete. How is he? Has he adjusted to life with his enormous brother?
And so, lest anyone think that a youthful, high-energy German Shepherd has completely stolen the show, a word about our smaller, auxiliary dog.

Pete is now officially the old man of the family. His white face and love of the couch are in contrast to his youthful self, when he leapt and ran like the coursing hound whose blood is somewhere in his veins. He loved to run, and when he soared over a low-lying bush to give chase to some trespassing creature, he looked exactly like the side of a bus.

He rarely shows this side of himself now, unless there are squirrels involved. He eyes the antics of Moses and his puppy friend with an air of skepticism, occasionally joining in the chase, but only briefly. He is more likely to bark and chase them down, rolling them onto their backs as he shows his teeth, just to show who’s boss. Remarkably, Moses, who outweighs him nearly two to one, rolls over timidly, submitting to Authority.

Pete is a snuggler. When he sleeps with us in the bed, I will frequently wake up to find his face lying delicately against my cheek. He is difficult to budge in the mornings, preferring the warmth of blankets to a brisk excursion in snow and cold. If you are busy and not paying him proper attention, he will nudge your hand with his nose insisting that you pet him, even if your hand has a cup of hot coffee or some good bourbon in a hand-blown glass.

There aren’t many photos of Pete, but this is because he has a horror of cameras. We don’t know much about Pete’s early life, because he came to us at 10 months old, or so. We know it wasn’t entirely happy, and we also know that it involved something bad with cameras. When a camera comes out, Pete slinks away or hides under the table. In the photos we do manage to take, Pete’s expression conveys the idea that he’s in a hostage situation. IPhones seem to have made a difference, but haven’t completely eliminated the problem. I think maybe it’s the high-pitched hum of digital flashes. My husband believes that someone posted an unflattering picture of Pete on Facebook.

In this unusually cold winter, both dogs have been getting less exercise than they should. Our daily walks in the woods after work have been curtailed by sub-zero temperatures and early darkness. I love these walks as much as they do, but the dogs are able to run easily in the deep snow of the woods, while I can only trudge along in big boots. Pete, on the trails, becomes his old self, and Moses sprints behind with his own equine grace, but he is less nimble and with a higher center of gravity.

The other day, they both started at the chuffing snorts of deer nearby, and in a split second they took off to give chase, Pete in the lead, and Moses leaping behind. They were gone for nearly five minutes, and I ignored it, knowing the deer were safe, that the dogs would be doubly tired when they returned. After a reasonable period of time, and before they made it to the next county, I whistled for them, and I heard them charging back long before I could see them.

This is our routine, and in it Pete returns to his younger days, while Moses simply blows off steam. The dogs bounce back to the car, panting, snow-covered, and happy, and then, in my own tribute to lost youth, we go up the road a bit to practice bootleg turns in the snowy parking lot of the golf course.

You have to make your own fun in the winter.

Big Scary Dog: A Moses update

We started out here

and here


and ended up here


and here


Moses is nothing like a golden retriever. He is gentle, yes, and he is loving, yes. But he is not a teddy bear. He is highly sensitive and always alert, like a finely-tuned machine. He loves, not by cuddling–although he loves to have his tummy rubbed, and he gives big kisses–but by watching. His focus is forever on you and with you, and he will wait, and watch, and shepherd faithfully, and with his whole being. The vet told me recently than no one on earth will ever love you the way a German Shepherd does.

I think she was right.


Moses Leads his People out of the Wilderness- Part 3

I wrote this series of essays two years ago, and I publish them here at the request of a friend who just lost her big dog. My sympathies, Anna. He was such a good, sweet boy.

Pete and Baby MosesDogs grieve. I had heard it and understood it, but I’d never seen it before. We stood in the kitchen talking about Reggie, and hearing the name, Pete’s ears perked. I looked him in the eyes and said, “Reggie’s gone”, and had the uncanny sensation that his face had changed. What did he understand? He had been moping; not eating. He ran outside briefly when necessary and ran right back in. No dawdling in the sun, no sniffling where squirrels had been. He didn’t bark when we came home, there was just silence when we opened the door. Pete wasn’t in the mood for cheerful greetings, preferring to hide upstairs.

We realized very quickly that none of us could bear the empty silence of the house with Pete hiding and refusing to eat, and us feeling our own mortality too much. You get tired of crying, and you can’t dwell on death. Another dog was inevitable. We knew, at least, that much.

Since I was a little girl, I have wanted a German Shepherd. I admire them for their bravery and intelligence, their dignity and loyalty. And I think they are beautiful. But the time had never been right to have a dog who would demand so much training and so much attention. With the passing of Reggie I realized that this was my last chance. In the span of another dog’s life I would probably be too old to have such a powerful dog. And maybe as much as anything, I couldn’t bear having another Golden.
I knew from long correspondence the right person to call who specialized in gentle German Shepherds, but the wait would be long. Probably 6-12 months. We sent an e-mail to add our names to the list.

So life-changing things hang upon the large things and the small. And sometimes on the misfortune of others. We all live within some margin of error. At home we joke about how houses and cars always seem to sense that there’s a little extra in the bank, timing their infirmities or demise with the moment when you have something special planned, just as you’re about to get ahead. And when you’ve been saving to buy the German Shepherd puppy you’ve been waiting for since last year, that’s probably about the right time for your furnace to die. And sure enough. Within half an hour of applying we got an e-mail back. “I’ve just had a cancellation. Would you like to pick him up this weekend?” Somewhere in the universe someone named Nick has a shiny new boiler for his furnace. But he will wait for another year to get a puppy.

On the other hand, there is Fate. What made us write then, that night? It was too soon; we weren’t ready yet. There aren’t many weekends in which we have no obligations, but we had nothing planned. And then there was poor Nick and his furnace.

We got up at 5 that Saturday morning and drove the twelve hour round trip to an Iowa farm on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, leaving Pete at home with a friend. It was so remote the GPS didn’t recognize the place. We arrived around noon. Even knowing what I knew about the disposition of these dogs I was a little nervous about getting out of the car while an extremely large German Shepherd with an enormous head barked at us. But when we met, he gently nudged my hand and then leaned against each of us separately like a big cat. We knew who he was. We had seen his picture on the breeder’s website standing shoulder to shoulder with a pony. This was our puppy’s uncle. We met the family: Dad, Mom, Grandma, another uncle, a full brother from another litter, and, of course, the puppies.

His official name is Moses, Prince of Egypt. We call him Moses Mooch. He is mostly black, with red legs and paws, and the beginnings of red markings around his face and inside of his ears. He wasn’t the biggest puppy in the litter, but he had the longest legs. When we brought him home he had two floppy ears, like all German Shepherd puppies. This morning he woke up with one standing straight up, the other still flopping at the tip. He looks like a small puppy rabbit.

Moses bounces in with joy. His mother, his father, and his uncles are gentle giants, so calm and sweet that they make a Golden look like Cujo. He is too young to know about big losses, and he seems delighted to have a new house with a soft blanket and no littermates to eat his dinner. He is curious about sounds. He’s not too keen on sleeping alone, but he is getting the hang of it when he has to. He likes singing: both his own and others’. He chews hair and the tassels on blankets. He chases ice cubes around the kitchen floor, and has learned to sit when he comes in the house. He’s trying really hard not to bite fingers when he plays, although I dreamt the other night that we had a pet crocodile. He has an endearing way of climbing into your lap to snuggle. He has a special affection for the big yellow blanket that probably still smells like Reggie, and from the first moment in the car he curled up in it and went to sleep.

He’s a smart puppy. Today he showed admirable, almost supernatural restraint in resisting the temptation to bite Pete’s tail as it hit him repeatedly in the face. You could see his eyes sparkling at the prospect. Pete snarls, though he is just barely tolerant, like a teenager rolling his eyes. But little by little, Moses creeps up on him. Sometimes with a paw on Pete’s paw, sometimes copying what Pete is doing, sometimes waiting until Pete is asleep to snuggle up against his back, and sometimes with an insistent puppy bark and a play bow. This morning as we walked, Moses was leaping alongside, trying to bite Pete’s floppy ears. We tell Pete that now is the time to make friends, before Moses changes his mind.

The house feels different. There is a puppy bed in the kitchen and toys on the floor, and half a dozen kinds of large breed puppy food samples in the pantry. We hurry home after work. Charlie has notions of the correct number of toys for dogs, but I just buy new ones when I see something he could handle. Moses can’t carry most of the ones you see around; they’re too big and heavy for puppy teeth.

The juxtaposition of life and death is everywhere always, but it slips in and out of our awareness, sometimes in the background, and sometimes in the front. Moses was comforted on his first nights sleeping on the yellow blanket where Reggie closed his eyes for the last time. The puppy trips along behind me to the bird feeder, and I see Reggie’s paw prints in the mud. On our visit to the vet for Moses’s shots the tech gently placed a small package on the counter, and while the staff passed around the puppy, I took Reggie out to the car for his last ride home.

Tonight we all sat on the couch together, and we had to counsel Pete to take note of the dangers of co-sleeping; Moses just barely escaped Pete’s indifferent sprawl by climbing onto my lap. Pete seems less than grateful for his new brother, occasionally snarling, and sometimes snapping at the puppy. But even so, I think Moses will win out with Pete in the end, even before he gets too big. He’s kind of difficult to resist in a force of nature kind of way.

The puppy is sleeping on the rug by my feet. He sleeps hard, indifferent to the sounds of the squirrels chuckling, the geese on the water and the cranes squawking. He has had a run and eaten as much as he can hold, dancing in excitement while he waited for his bowl. He looks so innocent lying there, probably growing as I watch. I think he’s bigger since yesterday, but that’s a good thing. He has big boots to fill. And judging from the size of his paws, they might actually fit.

Pete Loses his Wingman-Part 2

I wrote this series of essays two years ago, and I publish them here at the request of a friend who just lost her big dog. My sympathies, Anna. He was such a good, sweet boy.

Pete woke up this morning an only dog. He is an animal with odd pockets of timidity, and has depended on Reggie’s cheerful steadiness for inspiration to leave the warmth of the house. Normally when we get up in the still dark mornings both dogs rush out together, but this morning Pete wouldn’t go. He doesn’t like the wind and he doesn’t like the rain. I put on his coat and told him there were squirrels. He wouldn’t go. There were no squirrels. Pete isn’t stupid, and Reggie wasn’t there to encourage him.

We had a rough night last night. Our kind vet and one of his techs came to the house while Pete was locked away upstairs with a very nice bone. We held Reggie and told him we loved him and used something I learned from the late Barbara Woodhouse, an old-school British dog trainer whose advice was of mixed value, but who said that the phrase “What a good dog” had an electrifying effect on dog morale. It was a term with meaning for Reggie, and we said it repeatedly, along with other endearments that are embarrassing for me to admit, but which Reggie seemed to like. He passed into a deep sleep and was gone. They carried him away. We cried.

Pete wouldn’t come down. Pete is our rescue dog. Part whippet, maybe; part pointer, maybe; part lab maybe. It’s a lot of maybe. We call him an Indiana Spotted Dog, because he came from a kill shelter in Indiana. We were told that he was abused, but he’s never said anything about it. His disposition is a curious mix of Eeyore and Eddie Haskill and he is extremely skillful at gaining love, even from strangers. But his courage—and he actually has a great deal—has always been supplemented by the knowledge that he had a larger, eager comrade who was never as fast, but always right behind him. Anyway, in the end, we went up and sat on the bed with Pete so he wouldn’t be alone.

This morning will be the first of many adjustments for Pete. All the bones that are scattered around the yard are his now. He gets both the squeaky squirrel toy and the squeaky frog. There will be no one to steal the thrown tennis ball from because he’s faster; the ball will be for him. He doesn’t have to nudge his nose in while someone else is being loved; he gets all the love to himself. He gets both windows when we go for a ride. He won’t have to hang around veterinarian waiting rooms to offer moral support. And the two months of gourmet foods: the sautéed chicken livers; the chicken breasts; the raw beef; the Italian sausage will suddenly cease. It will be back to health food, which is boring, as we all know, but important if you have a future.

We did the right thing. It was hard, but it had to be. I found myself thinking of my late father over the long last days, and remembering the agony he was forced to endure from this same disease.

Thank you to all of you who sent us so many words of kindness and support. You can never know how much it meant to Charlie and to me. Pete can’t write a thank you. But I think he would if he could. Maybe.