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Wednesday, December 19 2012

I attended Clemson University during the late 1970s and earned extra money exercising hunter-jumper horses on a farm in nearby Anderson.  One autumn day as I galloped through the fields, two sleek, muscular, grey dogs suddenly appeared, ran alongside my horse for a bit, then vanished into the woods.  Enthralled by their elegance and power, I vowed to someday own one of those dogs with the striking faces and unusual name—Weimaraner.

Ten years later I was settled in Louisville, KY disentangling myself from a failing relationship and managing a rapidly growing environmental consulting company.  A Weimaraner puppy was just what I needed in my life, I thought.

One Saturday morning in June of 1990, my friend Glenn and I journeyed to Paducah, KY where a breeder from Illinois presented five adorable grey puppies, their eyes vivid blue.  One small female—the pups were just five weeks old—paid particular attention to me.  And so it was, I chose her and gave her a good Germanic name—Hedda.

I never thought to interview Weimaraner owners or to visit the library to glean specifics of the breed.  It didn’t really matter; destiny prevailed.

Weimaraners are companion dogs—in other words, they are genetically predisposed to find a way into your bed.

That first night, I put Hedda in a crate in my den, snuggling her against a large, stuffed teddy bear on a thick, fleece pad.  She curled up, falling fast asleep.  Such a sweet, well-behaved puppy, I mused, crawling into bed.  As I drifted off to sleep, Hedda started a whimper that escalated into crying, then into a high-pitched, yapping scream.  Patience, I thought.  Don’t run to her; you’ll spoil her.  Wait it out; she’ll calm down in a few minutes.

Thirty minutes later, my pillow pressed over my ears, I caved in, went to the den, picked her up, brought her to my bed, placed her on my chest, stroked her back, and she quickly fell asleep.  Oh well, so much for the crate at night.  At least this way I would housebreak her because I will know exactly when she needs to pee or poop—probably only twice a night.

I misjudged.  Hedda woke up every two hours, like clockwork, from ten o’clock until six in the morning for the next six weeks.  Dutifully, I carried her outside each time her telltale whine awakened me.  During the day, tired and irritable, my co-workers with infants and I would exchange supportive, knowing glances with our bloodshot eyes.

But it was all worth it:  Hedda was completely housebroken and had attained permanent stature in my bed.

Weimaraners are food-motivated—a genteel description of pigs disguised as aristocratic canines. 

I constantly removed things from her mouth.  One night I found a blue plastic razor handle on the bathroom floor—she’d swallowed the razor part.  I rushed her to an emergency animal clinic.  The attending veterinarian, a small Asian man I could barely understand, took an x-ray of her stomach, clipped the x-ray to a light box in the exam room, pointed to several white blobs and said, “Here is stomach; these no good.”

Certain he’d want to cut her open, I panicked, but he took a small white pill, pulled out her lower right eyelid and inserted the pill.

“Now go here,” he said, directing us to a back room.  “Put her there,” he said pointing to a metal grate on top of a large stainless steel utility sink.

“We wait,” he said.

Hedda emitted a shallow cough that morphed into heaves, then full-scale vomiting.  Out came her two cups of kibble, three twist ties, four pieces of cypress mulch, several small rocks, two pieces of aluminum foil, a dime, two pennies, and the razor.  The veterinarian grimaced, demanding, “Damn!  Why you let her eat all that shit for?”  I was speechless.

Hedda grew into the consummate kitchen counter predator.   Any food left unattended, for even a millisecond, was fair game.  She indiscriminately scarfed down anything from raw strip steaks to sliced cantaloupe.  She advanced to opening kitchen cabinets with her nose, consuming entire loaves of bread, five-pound bags of sugar, boxes of cereal, and plastic jars of peanut butter.  I installed child locks on the cabinets.  Once, while staying with my friend Glenn while I traveled for business, she managed to jump high enough to grab a box of Godiva chocolates from a top closet shelf and consumed every piece, wrappers included.

She continually honed her skills in this area throughout her long life, proudly passing them down to Max, a male Weimaraner pup who joined our family when Hedda was six years old.  She took him under her wing, and they bonded for life.

Weimaraners require constant engagement, as in doing something extremely physical, like hunting birds all day.  Otherwise, they may develop small behavioral problems.  

Glenn and I worked during the day, so when we moved in together to a different house, Hedda got her own bedroom—no longer would she endure hours in a crate.

One Friday after work, I ran upstairs to get Hedda.  I opened her bedroom door and gazed upon devastation.  She had shredded the queen size mattress and box springs, chewed off both windowsills and several mullions, and had destroyed the wooden mission-style bed—a beaver could not have more completely decimated the four bedposts.  How could one dog do so much damage in four hours?  I had walked her at lunch that day.

Separation anxiety was a new term to us.  Fortunately, we befriended our next-door neighbor, Karen, a dog lover.  Her husband was the opposite, and he forbade canines in his house, well, at least while he was home.  Each morning after he left for work, Karen came over, got Hedda, and they spent much of the day together.  I’m not certain what they did during the day, but often I’d arrive home to find Hedda’s toenails painted bright red or pink.  Hedda’s separation anxiety ceased.

I was a runner and Hedda was my running companion.  She loved long marathon-training runs, some twenty miles or more.  In the mid 1990s most road race organizers in Louisville permitted dogs.  We competed in several races together.  I was careful to keep her on a short lead—her competitive nature compelled her to snap at any runners passing us.

Weimaraners mature late—they exhibit puppy behavior until age five, but it’s worth the wait.

Hedda’s boundless energy was matched by her intense curiosity.  With eyes wide open, she would stick her head completely underwater in Beargrass Creek searching for sticks, cans, or plastic food wrappers.  She loved to ride shotgun in cars, sitting up tall, her eyes scanning the surroundings, her nose quivering.  Even with her daily visits with Karen and all the miles of running, she demanded a great deal of our attention and time until she turned five years old.

At that point, a general calmness descended upon her, and though she became stronger and smarter than ever, she attained a state of canine nirvana.  Friends sought out her regal presence, yearning to touch her.

Hedda became the matriarch of our family, welcoming other dogs and cats into our fold over the years, always loving, proud, and content.  And when we finally had to let her go on a warm April day, just shy of her sixteenth birthday, she passed peacefully on her favorite rattan chair on the back porch, surrounded by many friends.

Hedda taught me so much, and I feel so blessed to have had such a wonderful companion on my journey to middle age.

Posted by: By Jody AT 09:34 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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