8/1/2001 – 10/8/2014
I can’t believe you’re gone, Bunny. You’ve been part of the very best parts of my life for over thirteen years. From the time you were born into my hands, we’ve been inseparable. Every day we’ve shared our special mantra. I’d put my hands on either side of your face, deep in that gorgeous ruff, look you in the eyes and say, “You’re the very best Bunny in the whole wide world.” You, of course, would agree, and usually give me a kiss. Even these last several months when you were nearly deaf, we continued our daily routine. I am sure you could read my lips even if you couldn’t hear me. Or perhaps you could hear me in your heart even if not in your ears. That mantra accompanied you, over and over, as you left my arms and headed for heaven, my good friend, my spirit companion, my Bunny.
I’ll never forget how you got your name. You couldn’t have been more than four weeks old. Every morning, as soon as all of you pups could toddle well enough, I’d let your litter come out in the big yard while I threw the balls for the big dogs. The others would play a while and crash in a heap, but not you. You stayed right with me and watched the big ones zoom back and forth, then followed me as I did poop detail all over that big area. You obviously thought you were a big help, because you wouldn’t quit until chores were all finished. Only then would you consent to go back in the puppy yard for a good snooze. I began calling you Bunny, after the Energizer Bunny who never quits, and the name stuck. All the others went by their color colors (Mr. Blue, Miss Pink”, etc.) but you were Bunny. When you were grown, people occasionally commented that “Bunny” was a dumb name for a magnificent, noble German Shepherd, but I didn’t care. It fit you, because you never quit, ever. Of course you had a registered name, Celhaus Hallel (Hebrew for “praise”), but no one knew you by that.
I hadn’t planned to keep a pup from that litter but you insisted that you would stay with me. “No, you’re not.” I kept saying, “You’re going to Seattle to be a top competition dog.” You were so obviously the pick of the litter from the day your ears opened and you began learning. But you had the last world. Everyone came for the temperament test, and you wouldn’t play. You would have nothing to do with the tester – you, who had romped through the nursing homes and visited with everyone there plus everyone who had come to the house. You, the pup with nerves of steel who was afraid of nothing, acted scared to death during all the surprise tests. You, the maniac retriever from day one, would not look at any of the toys. I was flabbergasted and embarrassed about my super puppy. The lady from Seattle went home with a different pup. People left with the others. You remained, because how could I send you off to a working home if you were going to be shy??? You were too high drive for just a pet home. I could only keep you a while and see if you grew out of your fear stage. That, incidentally, lasted only long enough for all the cars to get safely out of town. Then my real Bunny reappeared, very self-satisfied that she had won after all. I kept you.
You grew up into a fascinating dog. As I was socializing you, I realized you could have been a narcotics dog; you had such a fantastic nose and were so driven to check everything out completely. Our walks would take forever because you had to investigate everything we passed. You examined corner of the buildings, pile of material stacked by the sidewalk, every parked car we passed, checking out bumpers, wheel wells, following the scent left by people who exited the passenger side all the way to their front door. Nothing passed by uninspected.
The first glitch in my plans to have you as a breeding dog came when you were seventeen months old. I hadn’t gotten around to doing your OFA hip/elbow prelims, but when I got a new male (Caz), I took you with me to do your x-rays as well as his. At that time I drove to Colorado Springs to an orthopedic specialist who did the x-rays without anesthesia. The entire trip, including driving down Sunday and visiting my GSD friends in Denver, a motel Sunday night, an early Monday morning drive to Colorado Springs, the x-rays and the drive home, could be done at about the price of the local vet who used anesthesia. This time I got Caz off the plane in Denver on Saturday, got to know him a little, and on Monday did x-rays on both of you. Your hips were gorgeous, but the vet said, “We have a problem with an elbow.” You had UAP (ununited aconeal process) in the right elbow. Although this problem usually brings obvious lameness at around four months of age, you had been totally asymptomatic. I was crushed. I later took you to CSU to see if we had to do surgery, but they said no one had told you that you had a bad elbow so just let you live life normally, although at some time as you aged the elbow would begin to give trouble and I’d have to restrict your activity.
You were such fun at agility trials. You loved agility and you loved competition. And you loved playing “catch” with a tiny piece of straw or a twig as we waited in line for our run. People enjoyed watching you leap in place for the object and often, when we had exhausted everything within reach, would search for pieces to bring us so we could continue. We had a glorious nine years of athleticism, the only problem being sometimes in agility courses run – at which you went all out in sheer joy – if you had to make a tight turn to the right before taking a jump, you’d knock a bar. Otherwise, it was no problem at all until you were 9 1/2. Then you’d become slightly lame after a run so I had to retire you. The first six months of your retirement was awful for both of us, as you screamed when I left you crated and took other dogs out to train here at home, or when I left for training or an agility trial without you. Finally, though, you decided retirement was okay. I did think I’d use you as my main therapy dog to give you something to do, something special just you and I did together, but you let me know in no uncertain terms that it was too tame and you didn’t want to. So we settled for lots of car rides and walks and, always, one-on-one time so that you always knew you were the very best Bunny in the whole wide world.
You were fun at home. You’d only retrieve when it was just the two of us at play. When anyone else was in the group – Joyful or Berakah – you had more fun carrying your ball and physically blocking them when they returned with theirs. We always did a round of ball first, then switched toys for poop detail. You loved the big Jolly Ball (10″ diameter) and used it to block me as I tried to walk. You’d hold it to the ground and put all your body strength against it so I’d really have to kick it to gain a few inches. If I did get in a lucky kick and moved you out of the way, you swung around ahead of me and blocked me again. It took forever every morning to do that poop detail.
You loved to block the walk-behind lawn mower and the leaf rake and every part of yard work that lent itself to the game. You’d block Berakah as she returned with her ball. When I used the riding mower you would come alongside it so I could reach down and at least touch your ball, and you’d jerk it away and prance off holding it high. Everything was a game, everything was fun. No matter what I was trying to do on my place, you’d be there to supervise and to tempt me to play.
In your later years, you also enjoyed nose work, a new sport where dogs hunt for hidden objects containing a q-tip soaked with an essential oil such as birch, anise and clove. You were past competition, and I didn’t take you to classes as I did the other dogs, but every time I hid scents around the house, you insisted on having a turn. “This is fun!” you’d say as you sniffed busily, enjoying learning something new. You had a ball searching for the hides, and I always left lots of treats with the hides for you to enjoy.
When you were 11 1/2, you suddenly began refusing to leave your crate. I thought, oh, no, I can’t lose you too. It was January. I had lost Jubilee during Thanksgiving week and Quinta the day after Christmas. I just couldn’t face losing a third good friend, so I took you to the vet and we checked everything we could, taking all kinds of x-rays. It took a radiologist to spot the problem. Evidently in some dogs the pelvis pieces don’t seal tightly and, suddenly when they’re old, the cracks become exceedingly painful. We put you on a human medicine that blocks pain at the nerve endings and began weekly laser treatments. Soon you perked up and returned to your usual self, and we stretched the laser treatments to every other week.
Those x-rays also showed that you had arthritis all along your spine, which explained the slight weakness I was noticing in your right rear leg. Prognosis was not good – it would get worse until the nerve supply to your rear would become more and more constricted. The laser treatments would help slow the process. I also began monthly cranial-sacral treatments by a vet from Casper who comes monthly to Sheridan. This spring I added a massage every three weeks. That gave you some kind of special workout most weeks. You loved all of them and definitely perked up each time. We couldn’t reverse the aging process but we slowed it down and kept your comfortable.
Once we had your pelvis pain controlled, you began demanding a play session all by yourself. You were always very definite when you wanted something or when you didn’t like something. I remember, years ago, when you decided that you didn’t want to be outside in one of the large areas (complete with shade, water, bones to chew on, a nice dog house, etc.), while I was at work. I came home to find that you had opened three gates to move from your area into the house. Those were big chain link gates, double because of the snow (a bottom panel about 20″ high with its own latch, and a larger panel that made the whole gate 6′ high (again with its own latch AND a rod connecting both parts) that I could open when the snow was too deep to move the lower gate, so you must have spent hours figuring out how to open all those latches. Of course you let everyone else in the house too. You looked me right in the eye when I entered and pretty much said you’d do it every time I left you outside, so I gave up and from then on you had the house and back yard as your domain. I remembered, when I left you at the vet clinic to be spayed, that they called me and begged me to come get you early because you were barely awake from the anesthesia and had already destroyed one chain link kennel and were nearly through another one. I raced there from work and put you in the car, where you happily waited until I got off work. You were quite proud of yourself then and now. My mild, easy-going Bunny just wouldn’t be put somewhere unless she permitted it.
When you got the bee in your bonnet about private evening retrieve sessions, I tried to ignore you because I was afraid that extra exercise would aggravate the arthritis buildup and I’d lose you too soon. You were adamant, though, and I realized you were telling me life wasn’t worth living unless it was fun. So we began an evening ball session, just you and me. I tried to make it short, but you absolutely wouldn’t come into the house until we had done 20 minutes, so I shrugged my shoulders and gave in. The vets were initially aghast but eventually agreed that quality of life was more important than length. They could see how much happier you were and soon began commenting that the weakness in your rear legs was lessening so that we began to believe the nightly sessions were actually better for you. You sure thought so, anyway, because you wouldn’t eat our supper until after we played. We developed the practice of crating everyone else as soon as I got home, feeding them supper, and instead of me putting my feet up and reading the paper while all ate, I tromped out in all weathers, and in the dark during the wintertime, to throw the ball for you. Occasionally, if the weather was too vile to be out in, I’d refuse, and you’d sit in your crate and mutter all evening until I turned out the light. I didn’t get very many nights off.
You loved it when I retired in April. You could supervise ALL I did, though when I was inside you chose your favorite bed and napped unless I was moving around too much. You enjoyed our time outside doing yard work. You also got to go on more car rides, which you loved. By August, though, your rear legs had weakened to the point that it became too difficult after each ride to get you out of the high crate behind my seat. I have a frame that puts those two crates off the floor about 2′, giving the dogs a better view and more air. Much as I hated it, I had to take out the two crates in the back and put a bed on the floor for you, and to use a ramp to help you get in and out. You hated it, too, and would go to the side door on “your” side of the car every time, wanting to be helped into the high crate, but even though I could help you up, I couldn’t hold you well enough to keep you from falling as I helped you down. It didn’t help, of course, that you had gained a little weight from the extra treats and bites of my meals that I increasingly shared as I realized I would soon lose you.
Even though you missed your place at my back, you still enjoyed going and bounced eagerly at the gate until I opened it, moving as fast as you could to the car. The last year or so you had become nearly deaf and, as your hearing disintegrated, you became noisier. You had always loved to announce with woof after woof, “Intruder to the NW at 40 paces…30 paces…20 paces…10 paces…ran them off”. You couldn’t see quite as well from the hatchback window as you could from the high crate, but you still enjoyed monitoring all activity around you. It must have been hard work, because you were ready for a nap as soon as we got home. You preferred your crate for serious napping because that way none of the other dogs, especially young Glory Too who was crazy about you, could come to check on you and disturb your snooze.
These last couple of weeks your hind legs began trembling and you began to crouch down in the rear after only 15 minutes, so I shortened your ball sessions. The first few nights you refused to come in “early”, and I’d have to throw the ball another time or two. Soon, unfortunately, you said that was enough. You had never in your life said anything was enough, so I began to worry. In the mornings you needed to rest during poop detail, putting down the Jolly ball and sitting or lying down as I moved around part of the back yard, then resuming your blocking as I completed the circle. When we came inside, you’d lie down on your favorite bed, which I had moved to the closest spot where I spent the most time–kitchen and computer room. When it was time to go to your crate so that I could get other dogs out, you’d be reluctant to move, but when I insisted you’d get up and go to the next bed and lie down. With urging, you’d get up and go to the next bed. Finally I’d be able to get you the last few feet to your crate. I knew it was getting to close to time to lose you.
Friday night, October 3rd, you told me that life in-between play sessions was becoming too difficult. I listened with great sorrow but not with surprise. You had a massage scheduled the next day so I knew I had a few days to come to terms with losing you and to make arrangements. Meanwhile we did everything together, spending as much time as possible doing everything you enjoyed. The other dogs were a little miffed, but they got lots of attention whenever you rested. I scheduled my vet, who had treated your for years besides being in our agility training group, a person you knew and trusted, to come to the house Wednesday afternoon. By the time she came, we had played ball, and you had rested, then we made a circuit with the Jolly ball, me kicking, you blocking. By the time Cindy arrived, you were sitting and I was throwing twigs up for you to catch. You died as you were born, in my arms, with me repeating our mantra as long as you breathed: You’re the very best Bunny in the whole wide world.
It’s now the 15th so it’s taken me a week to write this. I’ve been writing as the memories came, crying each time, just doing a little bit because I couldn’t see to type any more. I took the bed and ramp out of the car. I’ve put away your bowl and your crate with its special orthopedic bed. Lively’s crate is now where yours was and both she and I are finally okay with that change. I’m starting to get used to the first morning play group being only Berakah, and the boring poop detail circle afterwards without you and your Jolly ball. I still can’t get used to no more evening play sessions but it will probably become okay once the weather turns bad. That time had become a contemplative time for me–you took so long to go out to the ball and bring it back that I began to enjoy it as a time of peace when I watched the hills, the clouds and the birds. I entered my favorite photo of you as a memorial in the Shelter’s calendar contest. The other dogs, especially Berakah and Glory Too, have quit looking for you. Today we’ll go out and rake leaves, our first yard work without you. It will surely be easier to rake the leaves without your “help”, but I know I’ll keep looking over my shoulder for you. The gaping hole in my heart will gradually heal around the edges, though nothing will ever fill it.
We spent the last two years aging together. You taught me a lot about accepting increasing physical limitations and not letting them keep me from playing. Now I’ll walk that journey alone, meanwhile thinking of you often and praying that your angel is doing a good job of throwing the ball and kicking the Jolly ball so that you’re content to wait until we meet again. And that angel had better be continuing our daily mantra: You’re the very best Bunny in the whole wide world. Good-bye, my friend.