On Easter we congregated at my mom and dad’s house. It was an informal gathering of my parents, my brother, sister-in-law, niece, aunt, and of course my wife and kids. Oh, and my parent’s dog Gunther.
Gunther is a miniature schnauzer, though “miniature” doesn’t correctly describe Gunther. Gunther is the largest miniature dog I’ve ever come in contact with. My parents got Gunther back in July/August of 1999. He was a pup. Before he came home with mom and dad he had been christened “Goliath” by the very simple breeders my parents bought him from. He was the biggest of the litter, by far. My wife and I had also gotten a puppy from this litter. He was known as “Tiny”. Yes, he was the smallest of the litter. We had a two-year old miniature schnauzer at home already named Dieter. He was very much the king of the castle and I don’t think he ever truly got over the betrayal of us bringing another dog into the home. Folly for another post, or therapy I suppose.
Anyways, something interesting happened at this point. Within a month of Gunther, aka “Goliath”, going to live with my parents and Helmut, aka “Tiny” coming home with my wife and I we found out we were pregnant. Well, she got pregnant and I helped out in the process. We’d been trying for a couple years and had even gotten pregnant the year before but had a miscarriage pretty early on. I think in bringing another dog into our home we were attempting to build a family of humans and dogs, in lieu of changing diapers and midnight feedings. But as they say life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Life certainly was beginning to happen for us. Two dogs, a two-year old and a pup, and a baby on the way. Okay then.
Kids came along throughout the years and the dogs adjusted somewhat. Dieter didn’t mind the kids, but he never really got used to Helmut. Theirs was an interesting relationship. One of play and resentment. Gunther on the other hand grew into his new home well. He also just grew. He was like a standard schnauzer trying to grow in the body of a miniature schnauzer. And while our dogs were both relatively healthy(with the exception of Helmut’s really bad teeth later on), Gunther would run into all kinds of maladies. Skin problems, ear problems, hurting his paw on more than one occasion; poor Gunther was always dealing with something. And yet, he would go on to outlive our seemingly healthy pooches. In 2005 poor Dieter, our very first dog as a couple, began getting sick and losing weight. The vet never figured out what was killing him, but we had no choice but to put him down in December of 2005. I cried like a little kid. That was a hard one for me. Dieter was a reminder of my wife and I as just a couple, before we were parents. Not that I don’t love being a parent, that’s not the case. But Dieter was sleeping in on weekends, lazy afternoons watching movies and ordering pizza in the evenings. He was cool with whatever, as long as you had a spot on the couch for him. Losing him felt like saying goodbye to not only an old companion, but an aspect of my wife and I’s youth I wasn’t ready to let go.
So this left us with the nervous, twitchy little Helmut. Gunther’s true little bro that never got a chance to grow into his own. Dieter made sure of that. Helmut did his best on his own, though. He would eventually create his own little niche of independence despite the absence of his mentor and drill sergeant Dieter. Gunther continued on through dry skin and hurt paws, constantly barking at the kids when we’d go over to mom and dad’s house. The barking would be a constant. If one of the kids got up to go to the bathroom? “BARK!” If one of kids sneezed? “BARK!” If one of the kids twitched? “BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK!” Gunther was very attentive to the kids.
In 2009 Helmut became very sick. Losing weight, vomiting, not eating. Another round of expensive vet visits, no answers, and ideas of sending him down to Purdue University for more expensive tests. That wasn’t an option. Withering to skin and bones we had to put Helmut down. As sad as it was, I knew it was for the best as he was suffering. One incident stands out in my mind not long before he died was on an evening when my then 5 year old daughter was suffering from what is called a bronchial spasm. It’s a fancy way of saying asthma attack. She was lying in our bed after just having a breathing treatment. If you’re not familiar with asthma or breathing problems after you have a breathing treatment you become very tired as the body works so hard to get air. When that relief hits from the Nebulizer you pretty much collapse into exhaustion. Anyways, our bed sat high. Like real high. At this point I was making a little bed for Helmut to sleep in on our bedroom floor as he couldn’t jump on our bed anymore. I’d left the room to get my daughter a glass of water. When I came back in the room Helmut had jumped onto our bed and was lying next to our daughter. He wanted to be there for his friend. He was gone less than two weeks after that.
I guess that brings me back to Sunday. It brings me back to Easter Sunday and my parent’s dog Gunther. Gunther will be 15 this month. The dog with a million maladies and million more barks. He outlived them all. I was out in the backyard with Gunther on Sunday and watched him as he limped and hounded my aunt as she talked on her cell phone. He kept barking at her. He wanted her to know he was keeping an eye on her. I knelt down and pet this old man of a dog. In dog years 15 years old is 105. 105. He would’ve been mentioned on The Today Show by now if he were a human. Gunther’s back leg is swollen, he’s got countless tumors, breath like a thousand rotting trout, dry skin, and he can hardly hear anymore…yet he’s still happy to be around. He still barks at the kids’ every twitch. He still greets you at the door(when he can hear the door open), and he still eats like a horse. He’s still, to me, a reminder of a time before I was a parent. Before there were so many responsibilities. He’s a reminder of a month in my life before the moons aligned, stars shifted, and eggs were fertilized.
Looking at Gunther, petting his boney back and smelling his rank breath I got very emotional. Just for a moment. I know he’s not long for this earth. I started thinking about my parents and the fact that they’re not getting younger. Hell, neither am I. We don’t know how much time we have on this earth. We have only so much time to make our mark here. Only so much time to figure it out. But going inside and seeing my kids and wife playing Yahtzee with my niece, laughing and having a good time, I can’t really ask for more. What’s left to figure out when you’re in a house full of people that love each other. That love you. Gunther seemed pretty happy outside, limping and barking. Content to get his head scratched and belly rubbed. I don’t think he wants any pity from me.
Besides, 105 years is a hell of a good run. Anything past that is icing on the Milkbone.