My Eike pup came home in June, 2003. She was 12 weeks old the day I brought her home. I don’t have too many photos of her, because she never stayed still enough. (Also, I don’t have a camera phone. Or a phone of any sort.) Truth: I didn’t see her sleep til she was five years old. I’m sure she DID sleep, but my approach was enough to wake her up.
She was a red sable Czech/DDR working-lines German Shepherd. She was a little shy, a lot neurotic, and very high-strung. We were kindred spirits, and when I brought her home, I had no idea what I was in for.
I’d expected to have a fun pet. I had not expected to have a life-changing epiphany of a friend.
We went to great obedience classes, and she loved them. Once I was leaving her on a stand-stay among the other dogs and was walking to the other end of the gymnasium. I kept looking back to be sure she was ok. The instructor hollered at me: “Girl, trust your dog!” And I did, and she did great. Those words became kind of talismanic for both of us. Over time, they built both Eike’s and my confidence in ourselves and in each other.
She was easy to train, but also easy for me to underestimate, until I got the hang of outthinking her – or, rather, staying a step ahead of her. She was so damn smart. It only took me one or two times to show her something and she’d get it, and get it forever, with gusto.
She collected her toys from the yard before coming into the house, and put them all in her toy box. When I had to take out the trash, she’d run out to the patio ahead of me and spin around under the motion sensor on the security spotlights til they came on, lighting the way for me.
Her English vocabulary was vast, though I’ll never know why “zombie” put her on high alert. It sounds nothing like “Kong.”
(That’s another reason I have few photos of her: she was obsessed with her Kongs and had one in her mouth most of the time.)
She had her own vocab, too. It consisted of monkey grumbles and yodels, all delivered with intense sincerity and increasing frustration as she tried to talk to me. I’d try to figure out what she wanted, what she was missing or needed to access – starting with the obvious (outside, food, water, food, kong stuck too far under couch for her to reach, food, kong not being thrown for her to retrieve, etc) and then progressed to the trickier: was a door down the hall closed? Music too loud? Did she want my spot on the couch, or want me to go to bed so she could rest, too? Were zombies afoot?
That may be what I’ll remember most vividly, those moments when we were totally focused on each other, and she was trying so hard to make me understand her. Because I always felt simultaneously like I was an instant away from doing so, and like I never would. And I felt like I was letting her down somehow: she learned my language, knew my words and read my body language and expressions, and no matter how well I thought I knew hers, there were those times when she’d want me to understand something and I just could not.
So I’d eventually give up and apologize for being a dense human and rub her ears, and she’d give up and heave a huge, peeved sigh. She might then grab her bed and drag it over close to my desk chair so she could lay beside me while I worked, or maybe she’d get on the couch and hook her chin over the back to stare at me, or maybe she’d go down the hallway and flomp in front of the bedrooom door, a drama-queen demand that I get some sleep.
She would have been eleven years old in April. We lost her on February 28th. It messed me up – it was sudden and devastating. I still cry occasionally. I’ve been working on this post since mid-March and kept having to put it aside. Even now I can’t type certain strings of words here because they just hurt too much.
For a while, I kept feeling like she’d come back home. Like she was away on business or something, and at any moment the front door would open and she’d trot in with her big grin and life would be normal again.
I loved my best friend so much. There will never be another dog like her, which is both a lovely thing and a terrible thing. I miss her.