Forever the Princess and an Angel
In loving memory of our Annie who we adored and now miss so much. Annie came in to our lives 11 years ago as an abused animal. My wife at the time begged me for days to "just look at this dog at the rescue shelter". I finally relented and my first glimpse at this German Shepherd was her standing in her cage with an expression of "HELP ME". It was like a overwhelming sensation that to the end of her life this dog could at times communicate with you on a basic level of expressions and sometimes sound. It was uncanny at times. I reached out with my hand to pet her and she sat down, reached up with both paws and pulled my hand in to her face. She then rested her head down on my hand, turned and then looked at me with those big Brown eyes of hers. That was it....signed sealed and delivered.
I always accused the ex of teaching her to do that but she claimed she didn't. (As the years passed, I finally believed her after watching Annie how she interacted with people). We took her outside and I was a little hesitant knowing her abused history. I let her lead me to where she wanted to go but she just stood in the breeze, tilted her head and then looked at me with an expression of "let's go..but please be gentle with me...I really hurt". She was at the Shelter on a court hold for two weeks and they would only take names but would actually adopt on a first come first served basis. Mistakenly she was released for adoption earlier but a paperwork snafu that wasn't cleared up until literally the moment we arrived allowed us to adopt her on the spot. The caretakers said that several people wanted her but they couldn't do anything until the court released her. The timing was a gift from God.
The first night we took her home, she slept in the basement of the house and the next morning we found she had ripped open a bag full of the kids stuffed animals. She placed several of the animals around where she was laying. I looked at her with the thought "oh boy she is a little destructive". She returned the stare at me and it seemed she was saying "Hey, I was lonely". I then found that not one of them was in the least bit damaged. It was the first of many touching things things Annie did on her own that seemed to really set her apart. By the way, we renamed her. We didn't want to know her original name as I thought it would bring up traumatic memories for her. My son Ethan picked Annie. She looked right at us and tilted her head. I will never forget that.
Despite her very difficult and traumatic puppy life, socially she was always the most gentle, loving, sweetest dog that anyone could meet. From the veterinarian to dog sitters to our friends and relatives... people always commented about what a unique personality she had. I could never write and put to print the numerous things Annie did that made people laugh and grow to love her. She was sometimes almost human in her reactions and how she would understand a lot of what we were saying. I will try and hit the highlights of our lives together.
Dog sitters? Who hires dog sitters? People that have a dogs like Annie hire dog sitters. We took several vacations in her early years and the first boarding went "ok". She was, well, happy to get out and see us. I got the feeling though she wasn't entirely to pleased but happy just to be out of the kennel. Annie by the way refused to eat their food. We had to go back to bring some of "her" brand. Therefore I found the areas best kennel and boarded her there the next time for vacation. All I could think about on the return was picking up our girl. If memory serves me correctly, we timed the travel end of the vacation completely around the ability to get her before the kennel closed. In other words we went home a day early. Heart pounding I paid and couldn't wait to hear the scuffing of four paws in overdrive. Instead I was rewarded with a dog obviously feeling fine basically walking to the door, practically right past me. As we walked out in appearances only as highly trained handler with a highly trained dog on a leash (she really wasn't highly trained in her early days, she was just angry I think), she looked at me, looked back at the door and back to me. The message was clear. Something to the effect of: "while you were gone I was stuck in there".
From that point forward if we had the audacity to go on vacation it would be necessary to hire someone to come to the house so she would be in the comfort of our home. I swear this dog knew at times how to subtly smile or frown along with these "people" grunts and sighs at the appropriate time for a given situation. Do you have any idea what it is like hearing the sigh of disdain from a dog when she did not approve of something? It wasn't constant but it happened enough to keep you on your toes.
Heaven forbid we take a longer route to the Lake with her in the back of her personal limousine (entire back cargo area of our Ford Explorer aka Anniemobile). Yet she always gave us the "puff and a half" of approval as we got off the "correct" exit for the Lake house. This ability of canine vocal displeasure also manifested itself for mediating arguments between the cats (daily!!) and between the adults or kids (combined with strategic looks of disapproval, paw scratching..gentle head butting etc).
Another common gem from Annie's arsenal of disapproval: If Jennifer and I were talking late at night and Annie wanted to sleep, our penalty was a sound of huffing ranging from minor annoyance to a plainly I've had enough! By the way, it was beneath her to move away from the offender that was actually bothering her. Once Annie was settled in for the night only a cat or thirst would move her. Or the physiological result of such thirst. That in turn would lead up to the weapon of choice for waking us up.
I know what you are thinking and it was not barking (Annie really wasn't much of a barker) but something more deadly and fast acting on the movement of the at rest sleep deprived human body....her hot breath on your face. Not just the mere and simple act of this. Annie had this technique down to a science depending on how fast you actually woke up. Both in timing between each breath, distance from her mouth to your face and most importantly breath velocity. One of her nicknames was in fact "breath". "Hon...Breath needs to go outside" was uttered on many occasions in a semi conscious state. Hon applied universally from and to either of us depending on who could remain a sleepy state the longest.
Trust me, Breath made it clear in a hurry if things didn't move pronto. I can't explain it, but you could be in a deep sleep and Annie would also at times stare at you until waking up. I know it wasn't a breath/stare combination because neither of us had any 3rd degree burns on our face from that soft hairy black blast furnace snout of hers. Depending on Annie's mood either one of these, or combinations thereof of early morning alarms/weapons were available to her. Woe be to either Jen or myself to dare fall back asleep prior to fully regaining consciousness. That, in her earlier days resulted in eighty pounds of German Shepherd joining you in the sack without actually wanting to sleep there..merely to prod along the process.
I was initially really worried about that breath as something had to have been perpetually decaying somewhere down in that bottomless pit for food, or the temperature was somehow petroleum based with a high thermal BTU rating. Yet our vet. said: "as far as dog breath goes, it isn't to bad". You know, the vet. was right. I miss it so much now even as I type this.
We also were convinced Annie somehow had the ability to count or reason and logic to keep track of 3 or maybe 4 pieces of treats or table scraps. I would show her 3 treats or 2 and give her less, Annie would patiently wait for the rest. Even if I hid the other pieces where she couldn't smell them. Many times, mostly with 4 toast corners we would let Annie get a glimpse of the plate (usually Jennifer's since she caved early to give Annie table scraps). If Jen ate 3, Annie would not move until the last piece was gone via anyones mouth. It worked with various combinations almost every single time. We knew Annie was waiting for or seeing if the last piece was eaten because she would tap her foot on the floor if we were not giving her a piece of food. I'm sure Jennifer had something to do with the foot tapping business but she "claims" Annie learned this herself. Yea..sure...OK. I'm sure Annie learned that all by herself to tap harder and more repetitively if she wasn't getting what was in her mind "a good dinner deal". I'll sign off on the paw trick for the adoption, but I never bought into this charade.
Rarely a day passed when Annie would not make us smile or pull some stunt to make us laugh. If she knew we were feeling down or sad Annie would always literally brush up against us, start thumping her tail until we snapped out of it. She earned the nickname "Thumper" for this. Dew claw hugs and belly rubs were always her preferred order of the day. If you didn't shape up, you then got the "claw treatment", a relentless grabbing with her leg "usually the left one" until you acknowledged her. A perfect day for Annie was either all of or partly: Going "Bye Bye" (car ride to us lessor humans), stealing cat food (all of it), waste basket diving preferably from the kitchen, (although Kleenex was a special forbidden treat), snout rubs, scarfing table scraps, hassling other animal house residents (in order of preference) 1) Cats 2) Mollie 3) if she was really bored Klondike, Kisses from Mama, Roughhousing with Daddy, Lights out and NO talking by 9pm (that includes the TV), NO thunderstorms, snoozing (dare I say cat naps?) and most of all going to the vacation home on the Lake or as we called it Annie's "Kitty cat free zone".
We brought Annie to the Lake almost every single time we went there. We did leave her behind just one time in 4 years and it made us feel so guilty and missing her we left early. When we got back she knew where we went because of the type of bags we used so instead of greeting us with her normal elation, she sulked around pouting for awhile to let us know not to ever do that again. We didn't. Her look of disdain, combined with that bent head and those beautiful brown eyes looking up and turning a bit scolding...was a sight to behold. I remember saying "well we'll never do that again". In fact packing bags became a problem because Annie always assumed (she was right) she was going and made a beeline to the car. I always wanted to let her out early because she went crazy seeing the bags and the cooler come out in preparation.
She absolutely loved going to the lake, sniffing everything in site relentlessly (we said she was "reading the newspapers"). She also snored so loud and unladylike there it would wake us up at night. We realized Annie was always in such a deep sleep at the Lake home because there were no cats to contend with. I was always thrilled we bought that place up there for Annie! If you were really lucky Annie would reward you with a "Love nip". A gentle toothy slight nip from her front teeth (we called them her "bunny teeth" and I don't know where that term started), usually under your chin. Very rare indeed and doled out by her only on the most special of occasions. However Trevor, the youngest of our clan, was the recipient of "Love Nips" more often than others. Cause? Unknown
On those really special days she would do what we called the "Happy dog". She would lay on her back, move around and kick her back legs up in the air repeatedly like she was using an invisible upside down Stairmaster. All the while making huffing and growling noises. We never were able to film this because every time she caught you watching her...she would then stop and look at you like you were bothering her.
Annie never had a malicious aggressive bone in her body despite such a traumatic start in life. Yet she was an awesome watchdog and knew the difference between the two. When I was away she turned into a fierce guardian of Jennifer and the household. Upon my return she seemed to take a back seat. Almost as if it was her time off duty while I was home. She knew the bounds of protection and when it applied without any training. Over the years she started slowing down as most Shepherd's do, but she always had a sparkle in her eye and her demeanor, character and yes a sense of humor it seemed, still brightened those around her.
Recently, this summer of 2007 we noticed she was possibly having the very beginning signs of a terrible neurological disorder. We had her hip issues under control with advice from the vet, but the thought of her future now had us very worried. As much as we loved her, Jennifer and I were terrified of the possibility of this disease and what it would do to her. We knew that there was no cure only hope, but even that was slim. I came to grips now for the first time she was obviously mortal and we couldn't watch her deteriorate past a reasonable point if it was true. We didn't know exactly where that was but we would never have let her suffer in pain just to keep her around.
I travel for a living and two days before she passed, I did something I never had done before a trip. I sat down and talked with her to tell her how much I loved her, what she meant to all of us and how thankful I was to have found her. I told her not to worry about the future as we would always be by her side and will help her through whatever challenges she faced. She waited for me to finish my speech then licked me as if to say thank you. I didn't know it then, but it would be my last time I got to speak to her. Fact is, I have no idea why I did that with such conviction that day instead of my usual parting hug, head scratch and what we termed "Double kisses" (Jennifer and I each giving her a peck on the side of her snout at the same time)
The day I have always dreaded, came late on October 6, 2007 while I was working out of town. Annie was overall very healthy still for her age (and little sign of the nerve issue). She was having a bit of an off day which Jenifer thought was due to her hips but showed no signs of whatsoever of distress. Later that night Jennifer brought her outside then suddenly, without warning at all, Annie laid down, looked at Jennifer and with her uncanny ability to communicate with her facial expressions. Annie said it was time for her to go. Despite Trevor and Jennifer's best efforts she quietly, without pain or suffering, moved on from this life to the next. If there is a silver lining, I cherish the fact that she took her last breath in Jennifer's arms. We hope Annie knew that right to the end she was with one of us who rescued her from her dark days and gave her a real chance at life.
Annie was a constant companion for Jennifer. Annie never willingly left her side. I was very comforted knowing it was her holding Annie in those final moments. I think God knew her start in life was so painful that he was not going to let her end her life the way she started being in pain. After much heartache about what to do with her body, we decided to have her cremated and spread her ashes around our vacation home, Annie's "Kitty cat free zone" where she absolutely loved being She was like a puppy up there. We felt it would be the perfect place for her eternal journey. I don't know how we will be able to go back right now without her. Still, we agonized about having her cremated. Both of us were absolutely heartbroken bringing her to the vet's office. It was a windy drizzly dreary day with overcast skies. As we were pulling into the parking lot...the sun broke through the clouds for the first and only time on that day. I hope it was Annie telling us she was happy with that choice.
I have never felt such a void in my life. As I write this in the days after her passing, I really just can not believe she is actually gone. We have had a very difficult time accepting this. I know how terrible my wife feels but I am absolutely crushed. I am not the type of person to be so emotional but Annie's passing is really hurting. The day after Annie passed we stopped in a store we rarely go which was not on a route we were driving to see my Dad. Inside, Jennifer found a glass figurine shaped like an angel. It was in a silk type bag that had a purple band on it. It was ironic because her leash was purple, this was the only set like that on the shelf and it was right out in the open. I used to call Annie my "Angel girl" often. It was almost as if it was meant to be for us to buy it. We did. On the Monday following her passing, I was really very, very depressed about her while I was holding the angel. I suddenly had a very calming feeling and sense of peace go through me. I don't know if it was my mind playing tricks on me or if it was Annie telling me she was safe and not to worry about her. I hope it was the latter. We will always miss you Annie. You were one in a million. The way you touched all of our lives will never be forgotten and always cherished. I do not know how we will get by without your love and comfort. You truly were a Shepherd of our hearts and souls.
I hope that anyone who reads this passage will remember that abused animals should never be forgotten or avoided for adoption. If you ever have the opportunity, please don't overlook them. If I ever get the courage to get another dog I will only adopt one of these special gifts. We both really appreciate those who have left comments. They have been very helpful. I grieve at yours and everyones loss of their own. For us, and as I am finding with others, they truly are a part of the fabric of our lives and not just pets.
***More pictures of this special girl on another web page titled "Photo Album", upper left corner
*** P.S. One of two special caregivers in Annie's life was Debbie W., her wonderful, conscientious and loving pet sitter. We couldn't have ever found an individual with a bigger heart for Annie. They had their own bond. The other is her amazing vet, Dr. S. who has always taken unbelievable care of all our pets. Your wisdom and tender care will always be appreciated. Thank you for helping us to understand.