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Saturday, March 18, 2006

In Memoriam: My Sweet Old Dog Kendall


At 11:26 a.m. Saturday, March 18, with a tummy full of sirloin and in the arms of people who loved her, Kendall Brecher, at least 16, departed this life.

For weeks, this exceptionally sweet old German shepherd had barely been able to stand or walk. At nearly 80 pounds, with hips and knees that had all but crumbled, she seemed content to lie on a fleecy pad. But in the past few days the light had gone out of her deep brown eyes, and with every embarassing defecation where she lay, it became clear that the inevitable was upon us.

There are few decisions so agonizing as the one to put a pet down, as anyone who has ever done it knows all too well. You cry for yourself for the loss, and for your pet because of her pain. You hope against hope for a magical cure, another pill, another treatment that will roll back the years and repair the damage. You wrestle with guilt about rushing things or having waited too long. You seek affirmation from everyone you know that you're making the right decision, and you wonder what this faithful, trusting animal is really trying to tell you. Then you cry some more.

Kendall was my Hurricane Andrew orphan, found, of course, on Kendall Drive. She was about 2, trim, and in pretty decent shape despite a past broken front leg and heartworm (and later ACL and cancer surgery).

She loved to be under furniture, in her little caves, and kept me such good company when I was writing my book, hanging out under the desk. This photo is of the two of us in our prime, from my book jacket, in 1994.

She had impeccable manners and was unfailingly cheerful and obedient. Every morning when the other dogs bounded around like wild animals for their breakfast, Kendall would greet me by rolling onto her back and pawing the air. That meant she wanted her stomach scratched, which was a nice way for both of us to start the day.

In her last couple of days, my stepkids, Alex and Jonathan, came by to bid her farewell. Alex is 17 now, but as a little kid, she used to call Kendall "Precious Sweetie'' and dress her up in beads and scaves and ribbons, which Kendall took with utmost grace.

So this morning my boyfriend, Jake, and I, lay down with her on a blanket on the floor and fed her chunks of steak, some fries, a brownie and milk. She certainly still had an appetite, and relished the treats. That's the toughest thing about big dogs at this stage of life, said my vet, Ron Tapper: the front end stays fine long after the back end gives out.

"If she was a person, she'd be in a nursing home with someone wiping her butt and swinging her out of the bed in a sling,'' he said. He assured me this was the right decision.

So as the moment arrived, Jake and I sat with her, stroking her head and telling her all about Doggy Heaven: an infinite grassy field dotted with shade trees and springs of fresh, cool water, where biscuits grow on bushes. There are squirrels and rabbits to chase, and all our other dogs are waiting for her with squeaky toys, and who's to say it isn't so?

First came a sedative, then a few minutes later, the powerful drug that stopped her heart. We hugged her and said goodbye and cried some more, as she took her last breath, and the pain in her wrecked hips and crippled knees went away forever.

I loved her with all my heart and will miss her terribly.

My friend Mark Derr, who has written two noteworthy books about dogs - A Dog's History of America: How Our Best Friend Explored, Conquered, And Settled a Continent, and Dog's Best Friend : Annals of the Dog-Human Relationship - sent me the following poem by Robinson Jeffers the other day, when I told him that the dreaded moment was nearing. It gave me comfort and, if you're facing the loss of your best friend, I hope it will do the same for you:

The House Dog's Grave

(Haig, an English bulldog)

I've changed my ways a little, I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a moment
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot your bed; no, all the nights through
I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read -- and I fear often grieving for me --
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.

I hope that you when you are lying
Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.

No, dears, that's too much hope: you are not so well cared for
As I have been.
And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.

Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided . . . .
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Wegman's Wonderful Weimaraners

I love William Wegman's Weimaraner photos. Even if you don't know who Wegman is, you've probably seen pictures of his dogs drizzled in flour or propped on furniture or sitting on boxes.

I've got several of his books, including Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, in which the silvery-taupe dogs, in costume, play all the roles. Some people think that's kind of creepy, but the dogs' patience and wisdom and sardonic humor tickle me.

Wegman has an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and you can link to an interactive interview with him about it - and see some dogs - at:
http://www.nytimes.com/pages/arts/design/index.html

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Boy Loses a VIP (Very Important Pet); Needs Your Help

Some time in the next few days, I'll have a story in the Herald about a 17-year-old boy named Carl, who has epilepsy. His little poodle-type dog, Sparky, is one of those special creatures that by some indefinable mechanism, is able to sense when he's about to have a seizure.

Sparky barks and runs to Carl's mom, Dr. Nita Lewis, to alert her. She's able to take measures that mitigate the severity of the seizure.

Carl is seriously impaired. Thousands of seizures have shortchanged his brain of oxygen. He's got the mental capacity of a small child now, and needs round-the-clock care.

Sparky used to give Dr. Lewis a much-needed break at night, because he'd sleep with Carl and run to Dr. Lewis if something was about to happen.

On Dec. 15, someone apparently stole Sparky out of the Lewis's yard in Homestead. Dr. Lewis has been advertizing everywhere she can afford to - she's a University of Miami prof - and drives around with a huge banner on her truck asking for help finding Sparky.

Not only does Carl cry for his dog, but he's having more severe seizures and is more heavily medicated.

Go to miami.craigslist.org and fidofinder.com - a great national lost/found site for pets - for ads about Sparky. This is really heartbreaking, and it would be great if somehow this little dog was returned.

The whole seizure dog phenomenon is fascinating. To read more about these amazing critters, go to http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/epilepsyusa/seizuredogs.cfm, and www.canineassistants.org.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Great Minds on the Subject of Dogs

If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went. Will Rogers.

Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful. Ann Landers.

Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate. Sigmund Freud.

The average dog is a nicer person than the average person. Andy Rooney.

I wonder if other dogs think that poodles are members of some wierd religious cult. Rita Rudner, standup comic.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. That is the principal difference between a dog and a man. Mark Twain.

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. Groucho Marx.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Small Kids, Big Dogs Don't Mix

From Reuters, about a recent study in Austria that showed why it's not a good idea to have tiny babies and some large canines in the same household. Of course dogs' temperaments are as individual as ours, so if you know you pet well enough and are confident that he/she isn't a risk, all the better. But check out the following:

''Bringing a dog into the family should wait until the children are of school age, and even then parents might want to think twice about a Doberman pinscher or German shepherd, according to a [recent] study.

A review of dog bites treated at a trauma center in Austria over a 10-year period found that children aged 1 and younger ran the highest risk of being bitten though anyone up to age 10 runs a higher risk than in later years.
"

To read the whole story, go to: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11700472/

Monday, March 13, 2006

Did You Hear the One About the Talking Dog?

A funny dog joke, sent to me by several friends (who makes these things up, anyway? I once read that all jokes start on Wall Street, but that might only refer to my portfolio....)

A guy is driving around Tennessee and he sees a sign in front of a house: "Talking Dog for Sale." He rings the bell and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a Labrador retriever sitting there.

"You talk?" he asks.

"Yep," the Lab replies.

"So, what's your story?"

The Lab says, "Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA about my gift, and in no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running."

"But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any younger so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired.''

The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.

"Ten dollars," the guy says.

"Ten dollars? This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling
him so cheap?''

"Because he's a liar. He never did any of that s---.''