Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Frolic in the Park

Children come racing downhill on wooden sleds of all varieties then the youngsters drag the sleds by a rope back up to the crest of the snow covered hill. Over and over this winter ritual is repeated while Erin watches everything unfold from a not too distance location; jubilant rides and unexpected tumbles are all viewed with a sense of wonderment. Lying in the densely packed snow she's unaffected by nature's effect on her beautiful flowing coat which is now matted and is every bit soaked as the youngster's hands through their mittens. Given permission she sure-footedly climbs the slope to join the sledders while awkwardly I attempt to follow her upward route. Reaching the launch point she's engaged in a round of socialization with the children who are awaiting their turn to glide downhill, huddled around they stroke her head and offer "Gute Hund" a phrase that was often lavished upon her in Germany. Erin loved everything this winter wonderland offered; canine shenanigans, rolling in loose powder, or chasing a hare that ventured out for a peek around....the smile remained affixed.

This wide open expanse in the heart of Mannheim is a popular destination year round due to its many attractions and this includes those of us who enjoy spending time with their dogs in an outdoor setting. Conveniently located a mere ten minutes drive from our apartment Luisenpark was visited several times a week regardless of the weather conditions thus Erin was one happy girl. The outer perimeter is paved with a wide avenue for those wishing to walk, jog, or rollerblade around the massive park while the scenic Neckar River lies adjacent to the northern boundary line. An abundance of trees and shrubs line these perimeters while the middle had huge plots of tree-free territory; perfect for a pack of dogs to play chase, fetch balls, and just hang out with each other. Often lurking amid the greenery were hares and squirrels both of which loved to taunt Erin thus she enjoyed pursuing them until they fled away like cowards :)  With her head on a swivel and eyes peering intently, she broke into a gallop at any sign of movement meanwhile I watched her closely as she neared my boundary for safety; rarely did she cross that line but admittedly she veered into the path of a jogger or two.

Warm weather brought out visitors to the park in droves; they came to picnic, play soccer, enjoy a book or appreciate nature's beauty and who could blame them but these interlopers forced us to abandon our usual area for other locales. Wandering the footpaths while scanning the foliage for prey to stalk, Erin takes time to greet those who show the slightest interest in her, the rapidly moving tail is a sign that human interaction is always welcome. Folks assume we're from Germany so they ramble on in their native tongue; looking directly into Erin's eyes they speak German to her and she pretends to understand as I do all so often. Kiosks hawking food are a doggie magnet and bratwursts or currywursts with fries never fail to satisfy our craving; though it's doubtful the vendors had enough sausages to please my girl's voracious appetite. Strolling onward we discover nooks and crannies that are suitable for dogs to roam off-leash so she is given freedom to explore as desired, returning to my side she joins me on a metallic bench deep in the shadows of the park. Often it seemed as if we are all alone in this city center oasis, so close to the masses but isolated by a wall of trees.

Impromptu walks along the river occasionally took place as weather conditions improved and several dogs with owners could be seen spread out across the wide bank; these strolls could continue for hours and well into the evening hours. Erin enjoyed spending time with her European cohorts, most dogs were well-behaved and roamed freely while staying relatively close to their human counterparts. Water fowl scattered as the pack ventured near the waters edge, birds provided little interest to my fur friend but not to offend she rushed down the uneven embankment with the others; looking back she glowed with pride. These river strolls were loads of fun and they provided us an opportunity to bond with our park friends but all good things must end and the pack dissipated as darkness engulfed everything in its path. Returning to the park, the scene was one of eerie silence except for the clanging bells of passing trams, the beehive buzz of activity was gone and 100 plus acres now belonged to Erin and myself.  We were alone but not truly alone as we always had each other and we wouldn't have it any other way...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Newspaper Tribute to Erin

The following is a feature story on Erin that ran in the Savannah Morning News one month after her passing. The article was reprinted a few weeks later so I was doubly thrilled as it's very unusual for an story to be printed twice by the same publication. Erin's story was cast wide via the internet and Bark Magazine contacted me about penning an extended version of her tale, the finished work was featured in their digital magazine and can be found online. This was written with much sorrow and pain but these words are the beginning of my path to healing.


Remembering the charmed life of Erin, the Springer spaniel


Erin entered a man's life, then conquered Savannah ... and the world

Posted: September 15, 2010  

David Michael Smith's Springer Spaniel, Erin.

David Michael Smith didn't know much about raising a puppy, but he knew he was ready to learn. He wanted to raise a true companion, and to give the pup all the experiences the world had to offer. He wanted a dog who could go everywhere he would go, and he knew that was going to take some work.
But first he had to find just the right dog.

When he went to look at a litter of Springer spaniel puppies, Erin cried out to him. All of the puppies were yelping and yearning for his attention, but he kept noticing in particular one little bundle of liver and white fur. He took her home that day, and what a match it proved to be.

The first three years of Erin's life was typical of any dog's life, playing fetch, wrestling with canine pals, lounging in the sun and, of course, chasing squirrels. What wasn't quite typical, however, was Erin's extraordinarily calm center.

David was offered a job in Germany and found a way to bring Erin along. For 18 months David took Erin everywhere he went, and she sniffed her way across a dozen countries. She took an Amsterdam canal boat tour, frolicked in the Swiss Alps, walked in the footsteps of Alexander the Great in Pella, Greece, strolled the Heidelberg Christmas market, and wandered the World War I battlefields of Verdun, France.

When David's job ended, so did Erin's adventures in Western Europe. But that turned out to be just fine, because the best was yet to come.

Erin was 5 years old when David realized she would be a wonderful therapy dog. Obedient and possessed of an extraordinarily even temperament, friendly demeanor and a loving, comforting nature, She had all the traits of a successful service animal,  the certification tests posed little challenge and Erin's stint as a therapy dog was under way.

Hospice work was Erin's first job. She visited the terminally ill, adults and children alike.

Erin had an uncanny ability to disarm most people who encountered her. Gazing into her soulful, gentle eyes, even people who might not be that comfortable with dogs fell in love.

Among those she converted included the congregation of a major Savannah church, who permitted Erin to join the congregation for the morning service. She laid on the floor beside David's feet, and often took a nap. The folks who went to church with Erin didn't mind.

Erin's church duties expanded; she became a door greeter, and she even had a short stint working with the children's worship program.

David was approached with the idea of letting her appear on stage in a production of "The Miracle Worker." The drama department heard about Erin through the grapevine, contacted David and arranged an audition. She won the role of "Belle," the Keller family dog.

After each performance, when the cast lined up to greet the audience, Erin was right there alongside her co-stars. Hundreds of people filed by to pet her or pay a compliment.

On Aug. 16, David lost his companion Erin, who passed away from complications of diabetes. His friends and family gathered around him, and his Facebook page was covered with wishes for comfort.

David is still struggling to come to terms with Erin being gone, but he says, "I'm so proud of Erin's achievements - world traveler, therapy dog, church attendee and stage performer - but I take the most pride in what kind of dog she was inside. It's hard to imagine a living creature with more affection, loyalty, and passion for life than Erin."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mountain Road

The Bergstrasse is a scenic stretch of road that lies deep in a German valley and is surrounded by gentle slopes everywhere one glances while ruined castles, vineyards and old town centers beckon all for a visit. Running North to South this route is visually pleasing as it winds pass elevated picturesque towns, these establishments were built amongst the forests with very few cleared areas around them, and it’s obvious why the name Bergstrasse translates to "Mountain Road." Partially hidden amid the dense foliage are entire towns, fruit orchards, and sheep farms often oblivious to those driving past; that is unless you own a dog that loves to run and frolic in nature :) Turning towards Weinheim, the narrow road snaking uphill dictated the drive be deliberate thus Erin's head remained outside the vehicle where she observed the ongoings with great interest, her broad smile and rapid tail wag told me all I needed to know.

The twin castles of Weinheim Schlosspark dominated the skyline thus our destination was reached with relative ease and many visitors were enjoying the beautiful April weather upon our arrival. With Erin leashed at my side we set out to explore the botanical gardens town center, and anything else of interest, other dogs were spotted but they were not roaming freely and it quickly became apparent why as the castle grounds came into view. A well maintained lawn stretched for an eternity while blooming flowers of every color drew crowds of admirers, fountains spraying refreshing streams of water tempted children while statues added a sense of nobility to the entire scene; no one would ever permit their pets to deface such a magical place. Wide paved paths provided avenues to stroll around while wooden benches were situated throughout the arboretum if one wished to relax, Erin would nudge me onward if I became too comfortable in one location so our exploration continued at a steady pace.

Foliage from across the globe was flourishing inside greenhouses while protected frogs utilized a designated pond, Erin had an urge to enter the water to investigate but quickly became distracted by a hare sneaking around the outer perimeter wall. Under any other circumstances she would be off-leash acting upon her instincts but a more regal creature was required today thus he remained tethered to me despite the obvious angst. Locals with their dogs often said "Guten Tag" on our journey of discovery and while communication was an issue due to my lack of speaking German, Erin and her fellow canines had no such problems; tail wags and sniffing butts is a universal language across the globe :) Further ahead a mausoleum was discovered hidden amidst vast trees; too well hidden judging by the lack of visitors but that didn't stop us from admiring the ancient structure from a nearby bench. Detailed images of angels, owls, and bats were carved into support columns but unfortunately the entranceway was locked so a peek inside didn't occur.

A gate separated the castle park from a forest arboretum that contains a collection of trees from all over the world and here Erin was released free to run as she desired. Spotting or smelling something of interest produced a dash down a trail or into the underbrush where a minute later she appeared at my side with a toothy smile that declared "almost had it" and our trek continued with her out front. Furry inhabitants ensured her time in the preserve would not be boring, she scampered off after something unseen then repeated the process over and over. There was never any chance of Erin getting lost as she never dared to venture too far from me and I absolutely refused to allow her to that option; we both knew the limit of separation and anything beyond was uncomfortable. An impromptu game of hide and seek took place in that sacred locale, it's a game which we played many times over the years in numerous countries especially inside our home :) Concealed behind a tree a distinctive whistle was emitted in hopes of luring Erin towards my direction while she scanned the area for any subtle sign of movement, racing from tree to tree she attempted to locate my hiding spot. Peeking around the side of a broad tree, a huge smile was plastered upon my face as her tail wag is noticed, finally spotting me she rushes over where she's congratulated with a hug and kind words... “You found Daddy You found Daddy"

Eventually Weinheim's city center was reached but it was much too crowded and hectic for us to maneuver though, seems some type of festival with food, music, and merriment was ongoing so a leisurely stroll back to the castle park took place. Unexpectedly a bird sanctuary was discovered near one of the towers, colorful birds of all sizes were making a racket inside a fenced enclosure, they seemed oblivious to the interested crowd but Erin wasn't impressed so we wandered away from the squawking to find solace upon an isolated bench. All good things must end including this special day thus we headed home and exhaustion hit quickly as sleep overcame her within minutes of leaving the park so I knew she had a great time; sneaking peeks at her in the back seat I could imagine her chasing squirrels in her dream... RIP my Angel In Fur!!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Up Up and Away

Loading Erin into the belly of an airplane and flying to Europe remains one of the most stressful things I've ever done, the mind conjures up everything that can go wrong and for good reason as many pets do not survive the rigors of flying. Recently turned 3 she was in the prime of her life and more than capable of surviving this journey but whether I would endure was another story as I'd remain a nervous wreck until touching down in Frankfurt. Upon accepting employment in Germany the logistics of pet travel began; discussions with her veterinarian, airline representatives, and my new employer took place to ensure this would be as stressfree as possible. Initial itineraries were rejected by myself due to multiple layovers or excessive flight time but eventually a schedule was agreed upon, we would fly directly from Savannah to JFK with a brief layover and then nonstop to Frankfurt International Airport. Erin received the necessary examinations, vaccinations, and documents that would allow her to avoid quarantine and stroll out the door by my side but first we'd have to get there.

Arriving at Savannah's Airport, I was immediately informed dogs are required to be crated at all times but I felt it was important that Erin got one last potty break so we wandered down to a small grassy area where I lovingly assured her everything would be okay; on reflection I was trying to soothe my own tattered nerves. Into the large crate she went prior to the skycap wheeling her to the check-in counter where all travel documents were verified and then off to the loading area but not before I opened the door for one final kiss and hug. Standing at the terminal window I anxiously observed hundreds of bags being loaded onto the airplane but no animal crate was ever spotted before the boarding process began. From the assigned window seat I strained to catch a glimpse of her being lifted onboard but the effort was futile so a flight attendant was flagged down where I insisted she confirm the presence of Erin down below; in several minutes she returned to inform me that the pilot personally went below to say "hello" and he thought she was very cute. That was comforting as my worst nightmare was her being loaded onto the wrong plane or left behind in the loading area while I'm on my way to our new home.

Into the air we soared toward JFK where upon landing she was promptly whisked to the international terminal along with my luggage thus I never laid eyes upon her in New York. Inquiries into whether I could see her were flatly rejected due to strict security concerns and that was understandable as 9/11 had occurred only two months prior thus somewhere in the bowels of JFK she waited alone. As before I informed a passing flight attendant of Erin thus she scampered off only to return with news that she is content down below and will not be making the long flight alone; several other dogs were in the climate controlled hold beside her. The plane landed in heavy snowfall where it seemed the aircraft moved towards the terminal much too slowly, I was simultaneously cursing the pilot for taking his sweet time and praying for Erin's well-being. My patience was severely tested that day as everyone seemed to impede my path to passport control, clearing customs, baggage claim, and reuniting with my beloved friend; to me it was irrelevant that Frankfurt International Airport is one of the busiest hubs on Earth.

Our personal belongings were collected, stacked high upon a dolly thus the wait for Erin to appear began. The baggage carousel crowd thinned out considerably leaving me with mostly clear views of the doorways so I anxiously scanned them all in hopes of seeing a gray crate marked with "Erin Smith" being rolled out. Before long, a set of double doors swung outward to reveal an animal crate atop a rolling handcart while a liver/white face was seen peering through the metal grating and I dashed over to welcome my beloved friend. To my knees I fell, flung the door open and the most joyous of reunions took place until a customs agent interrupted our moment; the dog was to be left in place while I followed him to complete the necessary claim paperwork.

Latching the door, I spun to walk away but took only a few steps before Erin unleashed a series of barks that rang out across the baggage area, afraid of being left again she implored me to not leave thus loving words were heaped upon her. While the agent scanned the thick folder pertaining to Erin, I maintained eye contact with her across the divide; "Daddy is here Daddy is here" "I promise to not leave you" were shouted in her direction as arriving passengers streamed by. That moment is very significant in our relationship as it was the only unprovoked bark directed towards me in nearly 12 years, at no other time did she attempt to gain my attention via a bark so that remains clearly etched in my memory; guessing being apart for the first time and 10 hours on an airplane was enough for her.

And together we strolled out into the swirling snow where a new chapter was awaiting us....

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In Search of Monsters

The infamous Frankenstein Castle outside Darmstadt Germany was the destination of a day trip with Erin and another opportunity to spend quality time with each other. Pleasantly the road leading up to the summit wound through a nature reserve that surrounded the castle, the lush green foliage was thick and appeared impenetrable to those driving upwards. The canopy was so dense in places that it was difficult to see the sky overhead; the late-April weather was ideal in every aspect and perfect for a day of outdoors fun. The wind raced through Erin's fur as she scoped out the passing scenery from the back seat, whenever a form of wildlife was spotted her excitement level went up a notch or two and that stub of a tail became a blinding blur. Upon arrival, she leaped out ready for another European adventure, the parking lot was empty and as the only visitors in sight we had the entire grounds to explore at leisure.

The imposing thick walls, looming towers and main courtyard had an eerie aura or maybe it was my imagination running wild, either way I saw why Mary Shelley gained inspiration to pen "Frankenstein" after visiting the castle. Off-leash I let Erin wander around the site as she saw fit, 750 years of scents and aromas were made available to her thus that active snout was pinned to the ground; one can only wonder what history unfolded before her. Every nook and cranny of the courtyard was being sniffed as a groundskeeper appeared out of nowhere like a ghost to startle me; no attention was paid to us as he strode pass with a purpose. Roaming about we discovered a chapel which was in much better condition than the castle itself, inside were tombs of several knights of the Frankenstein family along with the customary religious relics; while inside Erin remained patiently outside the doorway waiting for me to reappear.

There was open access to the castle, towers, walls, etc. and Erin was affixed at my side throughout it all; no one said dogs weren't permitted inside and as such she accompanied me on the self-guided tour. The stone structure was damp, cold, and condensation was glistening on the massive stones, the place must have been so miserable in the heart of winter as only a fireplace was spotted for heat and comfort. Up and down the stairs we trudged in the name of exploration and my legs were aching from fatigue but as a youthful dog Erin showed little effect of the physical toll so push on we did; glancing back at me she urged me to keep up the pace. Back down in the courtyard a group of visitors were seen milling about while several other cars could be seen pulling into the parking lot so our exit time was timed perfectly and from there we said farewell to Frankenstein Castle. There were no monsters lurking, sinister laboratories, or cadavers stacked up but it took little imagination to envision diabolical acts being performed many centuries ago; Erin certainly treated this outing as nothing but another day of frolic.

We strode around the forest outside the castle, it was very interesting and stimulating to the senses as the thick foliage was a beautiful shade of green while the landscape sloped in all directions. Well-worn paths provided a launching point for Erin to scurry off after squirrels, birds, and anything else that peaked her interest and there was always something to investigate in the shadow of Frankenstein's lair. There were interconnecting trails across the nature reserve, several of which were cut through embankments and we ventured on while trying to keep the towers in sight to avoid getting lost; "American and Dog Feared Lost" was not a newspaper heading I wanted printed across Germany so after hiking for an hour or so we headed back up towards the castle. A relaxing lunch in a restaurant on the premises followed by another impromptu trek into the woods concluded our trip back into literary lore; it was an interesting and fun-filled day especially for Erin who explored Frankenstein's domain and what dog wouldn't want that....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Words Cut like a Knife


It was quickly discovered in the days following Erin's passing that humans can be judgemental and instead of providing comfort they're capable of creating stress and additional pain. It's still very hurtful to reflect upon that period in my life and to remember friends questioning my method of grieving or to make insulting comments about my relationship with my beloved friend, those folks committed the ultimate act of betrayal and it's doubtful they will ever regain my complete trust. They certainly didn't grasp the dire situation, the vulnerable state I was in and their words pierced my heart as a knife would but survive I did and I learned to not leave myself wide open to attacks anymore. To be accused of contributing to Erin's death, downplaying her role in my life or to imply Erin's passing is insignificant in comparison to human deaths are examples of missteps by former friends and girlfriends alike.

This blog is probably the most open I come to revealing what lies in my heart, to read these posts is to see my bared soul and while I'm certainly capable of being hurt, up to this point I have received nothing but support and love for myself and Erin. Family members and friends who don't read these posts are fed fragments which I believe they can handle and while the truth is always spoken, it's not the entire picture as there is little doubt that my words and actions would be questioned. At this stage of my recovery I don't need someone undermining my emotional well-being with venomous words and while I'll admit to being overly sensitive I must do what it takes to preserve my existence. Those nearest us are often incapable of saying the right things, soothing the pain and they can make a situation worse with insensitive comments although I understand knowing what to say to the grieving can be a difficult task.

Amongst my greatest pillars of strength in wake of Erin's death were people whom I'd never met face to face only through social media platforms and these folks lifted me up at my lowest point. My facebook page was overwhelmed with condolences, offers of support and several sought me out in person to discuss the situation and just hang out; that is what one really wants in those times...to be near the living. Those closest to me sometimes felt they had the right to utter any statement without considering my feelings, it's my belief that our most intimate contacts feel invincible and they believe there are no consequences for their words but this time they were wrong. Life is a journey filled with lessons, some pleasant while some are painful but they all serve to educate.

Thanks to all who have supported me since Erin's passing and continue to read this blog dedicated to preserving her memory!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dog about Amsterdam- Part III

Bicycles are a primary means of travel in Amsterdam thus they dominate the roadways while the rider has no qualms about running over a pedestrian if one wanders into a designated bike path or lane. Walking Erin along busy avenues while keeping her from veering into the path of a speeding bike proved to be a challenge as dogs are curious creatures by nature. A chorus of clanging bells and honking horns ring out as the riders announce their position along the pathway's and respect was paid to these metal two-wheeled beasts that whizzed by. When no bikes were spotted I'd occasionally allow Erin to investigate her surroundings and then she'd be promptly retrieved as a bell was sounded, it worked well and all was good for awhile until lightening finally struck.

 A girl of college age was glimpsed racing up behind us thus I immediately pulled Erin in my direction but it was too late as the speeding bike was unable to slow down and it plowed into her chest. The collision produced a yelp as she landed upon her side but it caused no physical harm, mainly it startled her and those soulful eyes implored "What the heck just happened?" Immediately I offered reassurance to my girl while apologizing to the young lady for allowing this incident to happen but she believed it was her fault for not sounding the bell so she repeatedly expressed her apology. Either way it was an unfortunate event for all involved but we were both so relieved that Erin wasn't serious injured and needless to say I was much more cautious around bike paths and my travel companion was certainly thankful for that.

Kindness often comes from the most unlikely of sources and this was verified while watching the street performers entertain the crowd near the Royal Palace in Dam Square. Erin seemed to be lethargic during an afternoon trek and while I knew it wasn't a serious issue it was still concerning as her health is always of the utmost importance. We found some shade to escape the mid-summer heat and while she drank some water, a pair of grungy disheveled folks sat down near us to strike up a conversation. From their shoddy physical appearance I assumed they were pan handlers, scam artists or any other sort of riff raff that was best avoided so I tried to ignore their questions about our journey to Amsterdam. Dogs never prejudge as humans do hence Erin went over to make their acquaintance while I kept a close eye on her new-found friends; they heaped lots of attention upon her as the floodgate to friendship was opened. If anyone ever wanted to befriend me all they had to do was spoil Erin who seemed to make friends with everyone she encountered.

Turns out they were a married couple from America residing in Holland and they had no desire to ever return home, they loved the nomadic lifestyle and thrill of surviving on the streets of Amsterdam. My travels across Europe with a dog impressed them and our topic of conversation focused upon Erin, I was still concerned about her lack of energy and they showed much sympathy. The man disappeared then returned with some water in a plastic cup which she gulped down but no effect was had so I expressed a desire to see a veterinarian about her condition but the odds of me finding one were slim to none. Our new friends insisted I not worry as they left us in the shade for awhile, they returned to inform me a taxi van was coming to transport us to an awaiting animal clinic and this generous couple even offered to ride along for support if needed. Before departing in the taxi, I repaid them for their kindness with my sincere appreciation and some much needed money which they initially refused but I insisted they take it or risk offending me. The kindness of these strangers left a lasting impression on me, they were obviously downtrodden and saddled with burdens but that didn't prevent them from helping Erin. A valuable life lesson was learned that afternoon, it's impossible to judge a person's heart from their outer appearance...dogs really do know best. Btw, she was fine; I was an over-worried dad as usual.

We departed Amsterdam the following morning after four amazing days of fun and adventure. Canals, wooden shoes, tulips, Van Gogh, and pancakes became a part of Erin's life as she explored this urban doggie heaven, greeting another fur friend in the shadow of a towering windmill is beyond words.

So many smiles, so many tail wags, and so many new friends....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dog about Amsterdam - Part II

To say Amsterdam has plenty of bridges is an understatement, it's nearly impossible to glance in any direction and not see one spanning a body of water. Erin and I spent lots of time treading upon those marvelous structures that seem to defy time, constant wave of people, and harsh weather conditions. The archways are as diverse and unique as the people residing in the city itself, we roamed freely in exploration of the canals often stopping to admire the scenic view of this magical place. Standing at the apex of a bridge Erin shoved her head through the metal slats to watch boats of all sizes pass below while a mother duck with young floated by oblivious to the hazel eyes peering down from above. Up and over we marched onward as the oppressive heat beat down upon the city, the soaring temperature forced me to take frequent rest breaks to allow Erin the opportunity to cool down with refreshing water and time in the shade. It was never difficult to locate an oasis in the desert as a cafe, tourist shop, or expanse of trees was usually nearby and they provided the perfect spot to recuperate before continuing.

The city took on a different aura after sunset, the bright white lights outlining the bridges reflected off the water below while houseboats and tour boats announced their position with multi-colored bulbs. The crowd thinned considerably as folks retreated indoors for the evening while I saw this as another chance to bond with Erin thus we strolled about without an itinerary, she led the way in sniffing out objects of interest and greeting neighborhood dogs. Stopping for a cappuccino or some tasty treat from the ever-present food kiosks we continued our assault on the city including the Red Light District which was illuminated in every color under the rainbow. This notorious well-known district was quickly toured with little fanfare and then we wandered into other areas more suitable for a guy and dog including Chinatown, boat harbor, and museum quarter. Back at the hotel with Erin lying next to me sleep came quickly as the accumulated miles began to take their toll but there would be little rest as tomorrow was another hectic day.

The Anne Frank house is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Amsterdam and the line that winds down the street is a testament to that fact. With Erin at my side we headed in that direction to take a look at the exterior of the famous building but not before stopping to admire the remarkable architecture of nearby gabled houses and historic churches. I expected a large crowd but the afternoon swarm exceeded my expectations but this served Erin's purpose as we meandered down the street to the delight of those who wanted to say "hello." Eagerly she welcomed attention from children and adults alike; strokes, hugs, and compliments were the order of the day as we hung near the Anne Frank statue and entranceway. Loitering became the theme as we socialized with tourists from across the globe while their reaction was always one of surprise or delight as they discovered my travel companion is a sightseeing dog from America. Eventually it was time to move on but not before I asked someone to snap a pic of us in front of Anne's door, that photo is memorable because Erin became distracted and spun around hence the rear end shot :)

To be continued...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dog about Amsterdam - Part 1

Making a friend in Amsterdam

Perched upon the seat beside me Erin viewed the scenic lovely city of Amsterdam from the advantage point of a tour boat. Cruising down the canals and waterways of this iconic European city is to step back in time, historic homes, churches, and bridges beckoned for our attention but it was the graceful beautiful swans that peaked her interest. The long-necked white creatures had an angelic look that impressed the hordes of tourists but Erin wasn't impressed, she stared them down in hopes of gaining their attention but they ignored her pleas for a game of “dog chase the swan." Her broad smile, excited demeanor, and tail wag told our fellow travel mates that she wanted a closer look and while they found it cute to see a dog interested in swans, I ensured them there would be no dog swimming after swans today :)

Earlier in the day I loaded up the car while Erin leaped into the backseat for another extended weekend excursion. Driving from our house in Germany we excitedly headed towards the city known for tulips, wooden shoes, art, canals, and Anne Frank, it would be my first time in Northern Holland and I was looking forward to sharing the experience with my best friend. Lodging was secured while a dapper-attired valet stashed the car for safe keeping then the city was ours to explore at leisure and with a dog's curiosity as a guide we ventured out to see the sights and make friends. Unbeknownst to me the world famous floating flower market was next to the hotel, fragrant blooms of every color imaginable were on display while racks of brightly painted wooden shoes captured the tourist’s eye. With Erin leading the way we boarded the barges for a closer look or in her case...a better sniff of the merchandise. Flowers, flowers, and more flowers were at her disposal as well as attention from dog lovers who crossed her path in the confined space and while this was fun for her it was time to move on.

Amsterdam is a magical place that's best explored on foot thus Erin was very happy as we crisscrossed the city in search of beauty, adventure, fun and food. We strolled alongside the canals, admired the moored houseboats, marveled at the gabled structures, saw museums of every type, and ventured into an occasional tourist shop as I knowingly knew she would receive some doting by admirers. Numerous city parks and open areas receptive to dogs were located including Vondelpark which was perfect for relaxing, people watching, and allowing Erin to socialize with fur friends and humans alike. The Van Gogh museum has an impressive fountain that is popular with the locals and it was there that Erin had an impromptu meeting with a friend frolicking in the water; it was so endearing to watch them greet each other. The city as Europe in general was pet-friendly and there were no incidents of hostility or rudeness towards us, folks seemed to gravitate toward Erin to say hello thus this made her very happy.

It's a guarantee that Erin and I will consume delicious meals wherever we travel to and I try to sample the local cuisine whenever possible, there's nothing more insulting than tourists eating McDonald's in a foreign country. Turns out one of the local staples of Dutch cuisine is pancakes, not the bland creations of America but pancakes created with any type of meat or any variety of fruit and topped with powdered sugar and many other items of decadence. A stack of pancakes suitable for either human or dog consumption was ordered and we destroyed them like there was no tomorrow; walking nonstop from sunrise until sundown sure works up an appetite. Many other fine meals were eaten in the comfort of the hotel room or consumed at outdoor cafes that welcomed dogs; needless to say I generally refused to eat anywhere that refused service to Erin.

To be continued.......

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's the End of the World...

Most people are one phone call away from having their world shattered into a million pieces. The voice on the other end of the line is speaking but the words become jumbled after awhile, all you know is that your loved one has passed away or is near-death and nothing else in this world matters. When the emergency veterinarian called me to relay the news of Erin's impending death, the air was literally sucked out of my body and the world could have exploded around me, life couldn't get any worse at that moment. Nobody thought she was going to pass away, none of the vets treating her believed the condition was dire; they predicted several days of aggressive fluid treatment and then she would be released into my care for tlc at home. What a devastating shock to the system as the phone call informed me that Erin would not survive the evening, to expect life and receive death is the cruelest trick this world could ever spring upon me.

Normalcy in life is no longer an option at that point; one has to find any piece of driftwood in the ocean to cling and for me this means clinging to memories of a happier time, of a period when life was filled with bliss between Erin and myself. It's a very intricate and difficult situation as one must pick up the pieces of their shattered life and move forward with a suitcase full of emotions that run the gamut from depression to guilt to anger. Believe me, the void left behind will be nearly impossible to fill, so many years of personal interactions and daily rituals gone in the blink of an eye and the survivor is left wondering how to fill the recently created crater. Erin's absence has left a vacuum which will be difficult to fill even by the addition of another dog; I expect that for the remainder of my days there will exist a sense of dread as the best chapter of my life is past tense.

Eventually most folks will receive dreadful news of their beloved loved one's demise and no matter if it's a parent, child, friend or beloved pet, they will be forced to make difficult decisions regarding the future and how to manage life on a daily basis. Life will be turned upside down, trivial details are of little importance as trudging on is the only thing that matters; numbly surviving day by day until life becomes worth living again. Time without Erin is often unbearable and death is a welcome option for myself but survive I do if for no other reason than to not disappoint those around me; I continue to exist in this present-day world but yearn for days of yore or a future reunion with my most loyal friend. People clutch the past like a stuffed animal, afraid of letting go of the memories and emotions associated with that period; believe me it's terrifying to forge a new life without those loved one's who mean everything.

We all make someone or something the centerpiece of our attention, devote the lion's share of love to that being, and losing them is beyond words. Unless you've suffered a loss of the utmost degree then you probably have no idea the pain that resides in the heart and honestly I had no idea until this unfortunate event took place. Death alters the comfortable existence, rearranges the daily routine, and creates chaos out of calm and as humans that is something we all detest...Change. It really was the end of the world as I knew it when Erin passed away but life goes on....

 "I have a certainty about eternity that is a wonderful thing, and I thank God for giving me that certainty. I do not fear death. I may fear a little bit about the process, but not death itself, because I think the moment that my spirit leaves this body, I will be in the presence of the Lord." ~ BILLY GRAHAM