A Dog’s Life

Last week, I wrote about preparing to say goodbye to our 11-year-old German shepherd, Xena. It turned out that our goodbyes were short and sweet.

While we were at the park on Saturday, she turned sharply and it was as if the thread that was holding her deteriorating hip joints together snapped. She couldn’t get control of her right back leg and her condition worsened on Sunday. By Monday morning, other systems in her body were shutting down and we knew that we were sharing the last few hours of her life.

As with anyone you have loved, when they are gone it’s natural to think back on your life together”¦

Our life with Xena started when our son was 10. Like many parents, I thought having a dog would be a great lesson in responsibility so we starting thinking about what kind of dog we wanted. We had friends who owned German shepherds and we thought that they were exceptionally handsome and intelligent, so we decided on that breed.

The breeders who we bought her from did Schutzhund training ““ that’s were they train dogs in obedience, tracking, and chomping down on bad guys in quilted suits until they are told to release. They showed us some videos and it looked really cool and we wanted to train our dog to do that stuff too. So we chose the most aggressive puppy from the litter.

And in keeping with our noble and brave image of shepherds, we named her Xena; “Xena Warrior Princess” was an extremely popular TV show at the time.

The only problem was that Xena was my first dog and I didn’t have a clue about how to get her to obey me. Schutzhund training? That was a total fantasy. I was much more concerned with how to get my shoe back after she stole it and bolted into the backyard. I knew she was faster than me and I was beginning to think she was also smarter than me.

And speaking of chewing shoes, I was beginning to think that we had bitten off more than we could chew by choosing a German shepherd. I began to understand why sweet but not very bright golden retrievers were such popular family dogs.

After about four months of this, I thought I had reached the end of my rope”¦or in this case, leash.  I was about ready to put an ad in the newspaper for “A Complete German shepherd package, including the dog, crate, Dogloo, kennel, food and accessories. A $4,000 value, yours for $150.”

But then things improved; Xena calmed down and we got help. We hired a wonderful trainer who trained me in how to work consistently with Xena so that she would predictably “come” when called and could even walk by my side off leash through a crowd of people.

In our years together, I got into the rhythm of having a dog and I found that I really liked it. Why bother going for a walk if I don’t have a dog to do it with? Cooking is more fun when there’s a dog to toss the scraps to. And my house and family was safer because no one was going to mess with a German shepherd”¦even if she didn’t have Schutzhund training.

So I miss Xena and I miss having a dog. I know we won’t have another Xena, but I’m confident that at some point in the future, we will have another dog. I think that will honor her memory.

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