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Ziggys face.JPG

Photo by Lowell Weber

     Our Ziggy is gone and with him, the training my wife and I received from him. Our dog trained us? Yes, he did. He was our peacemaker. Any sort of disagreement between my wife and I or raised voices would find Ziggy between us woofing in his unique style as if to say, “Knock it off, you two, you’re stressing me out.” Hard to stay mad when you’re giggling. He made our occasional peevishness seem silly. And he was right!

     Ziggy was a German Boxer Brindle who was one hundred pounds and ten years old when we put him to sleep. His hip had finally given out after two years of increasing discomfort. He was a pure bred and like a lot of such canines, he was born with problems that were not his fault.

     We managed his pain successfully for those two years with an expensive but effective pain reliever for dogs. We could not manage his longevity. In his final days, he was in a great deal of pain. At the vet’s he was sympathetically put beyond pain by people who loved dogs as much as we do. He offered no more fuss on this, his last occasion, than at any other time. He had always been a dog for peace, a gentler giant would be hard to find, so we won’t be looking. Ziggy would be a tough act to follow and we are at an age where we know any young dog would be seriously disappointed with us, with our ebbing energy.

     After some twenty years, my wife and I are without a dog of one kind or another. It is an odd, lonely feeling that something or someone is missing. A certain quality to our days is absent, one that makes every day special and some days exceptional. An energy, a “glad to see you hope you’re ready for the new day” has disappeared, an “oh boy, breakfast” excitement is gone. We are empty nesters.

     I lost a good friend, an active personality who required time, affection, food, medical care, and all the other things that those we care for receive. Ziggy was the runt of his litter. This particular runt ended up 20% larger and heavier than his brother who was kept by my wife’s sister. But he was the pick of the litter according to the recommendation of my brother-in-law, a vet himself. If you want a dog that will never bite people, get the runt. They are conditioned from birth not to be domineering and demanding. Ziggy could be both when he chose to be.

     He had a light brown coat accented with dark brown. A beautiful fellow even if he had a sad-looking “frowny” face that hid his joyful nature.

     Ziggy had personality. His first two years were difficult and when he came to us, he could smell a sweet deal. I left the gate open the same day he arrived and he went out. I was thinking he was on his way back to where he came from. He wasn’t just sniffing his new territory. He wasn’t going anywhere. And by the way, “When do we eat?”

     Ziggy was a foody from the get-go. He was raised with his parents and came to us half-starved and filthy. The neglect was obvious. He was also raised with five young children and came to us with a pin in his upper leg from being dropped. This was the beginning of the issue with his hip, the one that gave out in the end. No wonder he wanted to stay. Runt is a pejorative term that Ziggy made a superlative. He not only did not growl or threaten other people, he would even ignore other dogs whose ill-mannered rage made them look like naughty children in the presence of a mature adult. Faced with the noise and confrontational attitude of an enraged dog, he would frequently look up at us as if to say, “What’s his problem?”

     But no one messes with Ziggy’s people. He defended his pack when approached by aggressive males, human or canine. On only two occasions did he show this side of himself. The first time was when a strange man with evil intent that Ziggy could sense decided he was going to pet him without my wife’s permission. He bared his fangs, growled, and strained at his leash as if to dare the hostile idiot to get closer. My wife had a hard time holding him back. Another lady in the park with them had her phone out recording the scene. When the man finally caught a clue and left, he was our same peaceful, affectionate Ziggy again. He didn’t like being mad. He didn’t like anyone to be mad, including my wife and I with each other.

     The second time was out camping. Another camper was one of those people who would go from campsite to campsite being a pain, talking too long just to push the patience of his “victims.” Ziggy persuaded him to find someone else to bother. Other strangers, if they were clearly non-threatening, he let join us with barely a sniff. He could read people at a distance.

     Ziggy had moods and when he was tired of taking orders, he’d just plop down and look at us as if to say, “Make me.” He wasn’t needy, he would stop by to read your meter and then move on when he was satisfied you weren’t mad at him or the world. He was mildly territorial. If a stranger came to the house, a repairman or friend he didn’t know, he’d see we weren’t upset, and so he’d give the newcomer a sniff and go lay down. Few people took exception to that and if they did, they weren’t dog lovers and he’d want nothing more to do with them.

     He also made sure any green grass in the backyard was taught a lesson. It got his special attention as he chose a place to pee. By the end of the summer, all of the grass in the backyard was dead. Every spring I would reseed it. Trying to fence him off from the new grass just made it more attractive.

     He could be mischievous. The more comfortable he became with us, the more he’d try to push the limits. Just a little bit, just to see how we’d react. He was having fun.

     When I was out with him, he considered it his walk and stopped to sniff, mark, or poop as he pleased. I agreed, it was his walk. And especially as he aged, he would choose the direction and duration of our strolls through his world of scent and sound. When he’d gone far enough, he’d stop leading, meaning, “Okay, we can go home now” and “Yes, you can give me a treat.” You tell me I’m a good boy, so prove it.

     “When is supper?” was another questioning look he could give with his expressive brown eyes. If he didn’t get what he wanted from one of us, he’d go pester the other to make his point. He usually got what he wanted then; to be let out, to be given affection, to be offered food or treats. People weren’t difficult to control, at least his people.

     So our outsized, affectionate, willful, playful, and protective Ziggy has been laid to rest. I feel like we were at fault for both waiting too long as his pain became acute and that we did something faithless to a friend who loved and trusted us. It has been hard to cope. Like all dogs that are part of the family, he was a heartbreak waiting to happen.

     So, goodbye, for now, my friend. I’ll be along directly. Save me a spot. Because we, each of us, come and go, but the pack lives on.

Lowell Weber lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his patient and loving wife but without his other dearest friend, Ziggy

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