Those of you who know me, or maybe if you’ve read one of my previous posts, you know that I am a dog person through and through. I’ve always had a canine companion or two in my life. I hope that’s how it will always be, for the rest of my life.
My boyfriend at the time and I had just moved into an apartment down in Derby. After a couple of months, I decided it was time to go dog shopping. I headed over to the old Kansas Humane Society campus* to look at what types of dogs might be available. I walked through the front kennel room, which is where the puppies and small dogs were kept. Like most people looking for a new dog, I was hoping for a puppy, but all of the puppies in the front room were going to turn into big dogs. Big dogs are not suitable for apartment living.
I walked down the long hallway to the back kennel room, where the bigger dogs were kept. “Bigger” doesn’t just mean larger breed. “Bigger” also means medium-sized dogs which are no longer puppies. You know, the ones that usually have a harder time getting adopted. Anyway, a few kennels in, there she was: my new dog.
She looked like a German shepherd puppy. She had the typical pointed muzzle; pricked, alert ears; black and tan coat; sleek body, tapering at the waist; and curved tail, with hair fanned out from rump to tip. She weighed thirty pounds, and with her frame, you’d probably consider her a small medium-sized dog. She was about a year old, the staff thought. She was house trained, and knew how to walk on a leash. She had been someone’s pet. Someone who either didn’t think to look for her there or didn’t care to. Their loss was my gain. After a short time in the visiting room, my new doggie BFF and I hopped into my ’71 Super Beetle and puttered home.
Her name card from the Humane Society said “Max.” But she was much too pretty to be a Max. I named her Piper. She was the best dog I’ve ever had. She was smart, beautiful, just the right amount of protective, and obedient.
There’s one particular incident I can share to illustrate the depth of her obedience. It still amazes me, all these years later. One sunny spring Sunday morning, not long after we moved into a house, I was out front, planting flowers. My fingers worked the cold, dark earth, replacing the bare spaces with pansies as I went. Piper lie near me on a cool patch of tree-shaded grass. All of a sudden, she jumped up, and, without barking, ran toward the street.
The rest of what happened appeared to me in slow motion. I turned and looked at what she saw: a man, running down our street with two full-blooded German shepherds, their leashes each in one hand. Piper was still sprinting toward them. Several thoughts flooded my mind.
“What if she attacks the dogs?”
“What if the dogs attack her?”
“What if she attacks the runner?”
“Do we have enough homeowner’s insurance?”
All of these thoughts and more swirled in the periphery of my awareness, as a deep, calm voice that seemed to come from somewhere else issued from my mouth, “Piper, stay in your yard!” She came to an immediate stop, and stood, stock-still, where the curb met our yard, and watched, silently, as the man and his dogs ran by.
After a few minutes, my heart returned from my throat–where it had lodged itself– back to its rightful place. I called Piper over to me to lavish her with petting and praise.
We had each other for twelve years.
The last day I had Piper, we had breakfast, and went for our morning walk. When we got back, she got sick. She got sick, and then came and stood very close to me. She usually stood close to me, but this time, she was unusually close. I didn’t know then that she was dying.
I rushed her to the emergency vet. The technician who brought her in from the car thought she was a puppy. “Oh, no, she’s thirteen,” I told him.
“How much do you want us to do for her,” he asked me over his shoulder as he hurried her back to the operating room.
“If you can save her, save her,” I said, “if you can’t, then just make her comfortable.”
A few minutes later, the vet came out. “I’m sorry, but she’s dying,” she said.
A tumor had burst in her belly, and was bleeding out. German shepherds are susceptible to tumors on their kidneys and liver, something which I hadn’t known and couldn’t have prevented. I stood beside the operating table and stroked and whispered to my faithful friend as she took her last breaths. The vet gave her something to help her along.
Losing a friend, two-footed or four-footed, is never easy. It takes time to get used to the fact that they are no longer a part of your daily routine. We may get new pets, but the ones who have gone before will never be replaced.
*The Kansas Humane Society has since moved to a new, more spacious building. There are now comfortable kennels for the animals they house, as well as spaces for obedience trainings and other classes. You can visit them at https://www.kshumane.org/.
What is the best pet you’ve ever had? What made that pet the best?