Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The String of Life is Just a Thread

I wrote the following 6 months ago upon the passing of our family dog, Wolfgang. 
I publish it today on the half-year anniversary.

January 23, 2008

Woke up this morning at 5:45 am. It’s a New Jersey winter out there and I don’t relish the idea of going outside to walk the dog.

Nonetheless, after breakfast, I walked the dog -- our beloved Wolfgang ---on this cold winter’s day. It’s now 6:30 AM.

Wolfie trotted outside with me and made short work of all his duty, and in less than 5 minutes we were thankfully headed back home. We were only a few hundred feet from the house -- this walk than normal. But it is cold and I think both of us want to get back indoors.

Before we got back into the warmth, Wolfgang abruptly stopped and tugged on the leash. I thought he was had to poop again and turned around in time to notice he actually was throwing up. This, in itself, was not unusual. Schnauzers have notoriously sensitive stomachs and occasionally Wolfie will snarf something up of the ground he shouldn’t have. So I didn’t think anything of it.  He was a perfectly healthy young dog of only 6 years.

When we got back into the house and he threw up again after moving just 10 feet into the house and standing in the hall stock-still -- and I saw a disturbing yellow bile come out. I cleaned it up but Wolfie was no longer moving. He was just standing there, looking sickly.

I yelled upstairs for Rita -- who leaves for work about an hour after I do to alert her of the situation. There was something about this particular bout of sickness that disturbed me. I asked her to watch him carefully and to advise daughter Meredith to do the same a little later in the morning.  This remembrance is not meant to be overly melodramatic and it is not my intention to drag you through the next few unbelievable hours, which they were. 

However, fourteen hours later, as my wife and I wept unashamedly,  Wolfgang was put to sleep at the Animal Hospital in Jackson, NJ. His internal systems had shut down one after the next during the day and his blood pressure was undeectable. His kidneys were not functioning at this point and he was inoperable. The vet said there was no hope for recovery. We do not know what killed him but the best guess was that a level of toxicity in his body was more than his organs could bear.

This was one a devastating blow for our family. Of course this was just a dog.  Yes, but this was just a dog that brought a newly blended family together. 

When Rita and I first married, 7 years ago, we combined a family with 2 children on each side. Anyone who has done such knows how difficult that really is.  Just a few months after we married, we went out and bought a dog -- a 6 month mini-schnauzer. We named him Wolfgang. The breeder told us that Wolfie (as we nicknamed him) would be a “low key” terrier and was bred as such.

Upon arrival in his new home, we put him down on the floor to allow him to explore his new surroundings. He just stood there. He certainly was low key. We picked him up after 15 minutes or so and put him down again in a different spot. He just stood there again-- not moving a muscle.

In fact, he just stood there wherever he was placed down at first and I wondered if something was wrong with him. I had never seen a young dog so, uh, immobile. A couple of days later still with little movement progress, we took him to the Vet. She examined him and declared he was a bit immobile -- but was healthy. He was just a dog that needed some adjustment time. Just a dog that cost $1600 that acted like a pet rock, I thought.

As time passed though, Wolfgang finally came out of his torpor. And for the next six years, Wolfie became a central figure in the new family. Unlike George Bush, he really was a "uniter." Wherever there were family, there was Wolfie. He helped our blended family to grow together, even though he was just a dog, he was always the center of attention in a positive way.

Maybe he wasn’t the smartest dog anyone ever had. He really didn’t know how to play fetch, no matter how much we tried to convince him that was a necessary dog skill. Oh, he would go after toys that were thrown -- he loved to chase them down. But he rarely brought them back. He would stand there with the toy in his mouth and just look at you -- as if you should fetch instead of him.

Not that he was without a few cute dog tricks, Phil did teach Wolfie to “attack the bear”. Phil would hold his favorite stuffed bear at ankle level, then Wolfie would fly across the room and “attack” the bear. He would do this over and over, retreating back a few feet before the attack the bear command was given again.

Then there was a ‘leap over my leg’ trick. This involved Wolfgang going to the top of the stairs, then the “attack the bear” command. Instead of holding onto the bear, Phil,would toss it a few of feet away and as the dog charged down the stairs, Phil, in a sitting position, would extend his leg as a barrier between the charging pooch and bear. Wolfie would leap over the leg like a championship hurdler to get the the bear. Phil would retrieve the bear from Wolfie after a little tug of war and then make Wolfgang retreat back to the tops of the stairs for another go at it, Once in a while, Wolfgang would duck under the leg (cheater!) if he saw that Phil had raised his leg too high.

Then there was the dancing. Lord, how this dog could dance. Rita and Phil trained him to rear up on the hind legs, paw the air and “dance” in little circles for a treat. It was always good for a smile from everyone who witnessed this phenomena, no matter how many times you saw it. Wolfie mostly only danced for treats, but once it a while he would humor us by busting a move without the promise of a treat.

Rita taught Wolfie most of his manners. He would mind very well when treats were in the area.  They had a little routine of tricks they would go through. He also learned to go to his “crate” in the kitchen when we were eating a meal in the dining room. Even though there was no crate any longer -- actually it was just his dog bed -- that he “recognized” as his crate.

“Go to your crate” was a like a “time out” command when he was being a underfoot. I am not so sure Wolfgang thought it was punishment though. He did so love to rest and relax. And after scanning the floor carefully for human food, he would oblige us and retreat to his crate.

Wolfie was a great dog companion for the years we had him.  He performed above and beyond in helping to center and unite our blended family and we will not forget him. 

Wolfgang was called away unexpectedly on that cold January day to the crate where he will rest forever.  He heeded the call like the good dog he was even though it was much too early for him to go.


  1. Joyce van den BergAugust 5, 2008 at 2:57 PM

    He definitely was more than just a dog. R.I.P. Wolfgang.

  2. Your comments bring to mind both my much-loved first dog, Dora, and Eugene O'Neill's letter from his beloved Dalmation, written as that pet approached the end. Are you familiar with this wonderful little piece?

  3. I haven't read O'Neill's letter but I will. RIP Dora. You were a durn good dog, I am sure.