Saturday, July 30, 2011
As the sun was making its appearance on the horizon, Erin and I were already cruising along the autobahn towards the Rhine River valley for a day of exploration. The region is celebrated for some of the loveliest villages in Germany, breathtaking scenery, and fertile soil that produces world renowned wines. Winter days in Europe are often gloomy with frigid temperatures, heavy snowfall, and limited sunlight but on this day of fun and adventure the weather gods would show mercy and bless us with ideal conditions. Lying down in the back seat Erin springs to life as the car slows down on entry into a rest stop; we're the only brave souls up at this time of the day or maybe everyone else was smart enough to remain asleep but nevertheless we had this oasis to ourselves. There's no restrooms or vending machines hawking food just a spectacular view of the valley to admire and that's exactly what I did while my travel companion wandered off to do what dogs do. I beckoned Erin for a photo op with the valley as a backdrop but suddenly her progress is halted as she sinks in snow up to her belly thus I'm given the "Woe is me" look; as fate would have it I would later sink to my knees in a snowbank; misery loves company.
The narrow winding roads lining both sides of the river provided access to imposing castles atop steep cliffs, marvelous bridges and charming towns that magically appear out of nowhere but it's the vineyards that would hold the most appeal. Erin's head is permanently affixed out the rear window as we trudge along; her broad smile and happy disposition reveals she is impervious to the cold biting blast of air unlike myself who has the heater and seat warmer on. The quaint town of Bingen calls our name so we wander the streets as nomads until a cafe with outdoor seating is located; I get my daily allowance of caffeine while my shadow greets the local population with a wag of the tail then we're on the road again. At a leisurely pace we continue northwest with the Rhine River guiding the way; vineyards stretched as far as the eye could see and instinctively I knew this would be a special place for Erin.
The car is parked near a spot where a quick getaway can occur if needed and anxiously the area is scanned for an irate landowner with a gun meanwhile a liver/white dog is heading uphill without me.
"Erin Erin get over here!!" Due to my sense of urgency she returns with her head down, tail tucked under and a submissive demeanor but quickly she's reassured that everything is okay thus the toothy grin reappears. Together we cautiously strolled uphill and when it became apparent that neither one of us was going to get shot she was allowed to run like the wind. She scampers off then suddenly veers in another direction then another as instincts dictate; without warning she stops to sniff a random grape vine rising upward and there were many to select from. Rows upon rows of grape vines rose out of the thick layer of snow and extend up towards heaven: these dormant upshoots provided the perfect winter playground. Vehicles occasionally used vineyard access roads but no one gave us a second glance while dogs with their owners were spotted and likewise they continued on without concern.
Her name is repeatedly called thus she looks back but doesn't spot me as an impromptu game of hide and seek is underway. Remaining motionless several rows over I see Erin scanning the area for any sign of movement then moving downhill with a purpose towards the spot where she believes I'm hiding but I'm nowhere to be found. Unable to locate me an expression of worry is displayed upon her face so a familiar whistle goes out to comfort her while providing a clue as to where I'm at and promptly she heads in my direction where I'm seen crouching down. "You found daddy. You found me. Good girl" and she leans against my legs as I kiss her head while hugging her tightly then she's urged back uphill with me closely behind. After awhile Erin lets her guard down so another round of hide and seek begins with similar results and again I smother her with love for a valiant effort. The lack of cloud cover and relentless sun make the early January day feel more like springtime and as noontime approached we were both ready for a break and something to eat so northward along the Rhine we continued.
A butcher shop and bakery are found in the next town so before long we're munching on salami, ham, cheese and bread in the car; she stares me down from the backseat as I eat a sandwich and when the mood strikes I toss a slice of goodness in her direction. Erin is fanatical about meats and cheese as are most dogs and her portions are quickly devoured then she goes back to staring me down and licking her lips but the remainder is saved for later. We visit another vineyard further north and head uphill as before though this one was more challenging as it extended much further and had a steeper incline. I do my best to keep up with Erin as her enthusiasm and youth serve her well, she reaches the summit while I'm not far behind then it was time to relax for a spell. My jacket is removed from the backpack I'm lugging around and used as a makeshift blanket; she lays next to me on that snow covered hill and we look out upon the beauty of the world. The remainder of lunch is consumed with canine eagerness then we lazily stroll downhill before heading home. It was a simple day but so special as were many days spent together and it brought much happiness to her so I'll always cherish our time roaming the vineyards along the Rhine. RIP Erin!!
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
My grandmother affectionately called Nana by all family members was the matriarch of the family; she was loved and held in high esteem by all who met her and the closest thing to a living saint as one could ever hope to meet. She adored Erin from the very beginning and considered her another granddaughter albeit this one had a continuous shedding coat and a keen interest in her cats. They enjoyed spending time with each other and Erin especially liked the fact that Nana was very generous with whatever food was in the pantry. Growing up during the great depression Nana believed all food whether human or animal grade was not to be wasted but given to some deserving creature thus my girl reaped the rewards of many edible treats. The majority of visits to Nana's house resulted in Erin receiving some type of goodie and "Go see Nana" always elicited an enthusiastic rapid tail wag and a sprint to the car for a short ride.
We routinely visited Nana's house where Erin considered herself the boss despite being a mere adolescent and numerous cats roaming the premises. By nature she was very curious and loved to investigate every nook and cranny that was available in the aging structure and during these visits an occasional encounter with a feline would take place. Erin would corner the cats who didn't appreciate quality canine company and tried in vain to avoid the intruder but she never got the hint until a hiss and swipe of the paw across the snout shocked her. She would glance at me with an expression that said "I just want to play with them" then promptly she went back to wagging her tail and staring them down as if that would entice them into an impromptu game of chase but they never gave in to the tomfoolery and believe me...Nana never allowed Erin to harass her babies for very long!! When not cornering cats she loved to roam outdoors where Nana's many acres, blooming garden and thriving squirrel population provided an outlet to release pent-up energy; exhausted she would later sleep between us on the sofa.
Unfortunately Nana broke a hip and her health rapidly deteriorated to the point where she was admitted to a senior care facility to receive the medical care she desperately needed. Despite Nana being in a nursing home Erin was granted access to visit her without limitations, it was a good situation for everyone involved. Several times a week we loaded into the car for the commute across town to visit Nana whom was always expecting us to visit and before long "the hunting dog " was recognizable to members of the medical staff, many patients, and their family members. We shared a passion for reading so often I brought along some reading material to read aloud or snuck in a bag of her favorite candy while my girl waited patiently on the floor for her turn at some attention. Nana would dangle her hand over the edge of the bed for some quality petting or encourage Erin to stand upon her hind legs for eye to eye contact and more intimate bonding. Nana often wanted to hold the leather leash or stroke her head and there was never any protest from Erin who craved physical contact as much as one of those stashed cookies. If I visited alone, there were inquiries into the status of the “grand dog” and the latest doggie adventures had to be told while often a biscuit was stuck into my pocket for safe delivery.
Nana's love and adoration continued for Erin despite her living situation and declining health; food was often stashed from her dining room tray in the overflowing top drawer of her night stand. A peanut butter cookie, hamburger patty, or other delicacy could be found wrapped inside a napkin and stored for that special day when we visited; Erin devoured the food in record time and never was there enough to satisfy her craving. It was a testament to their friendship that Nana still felt the urge to spoil Erin when she herself was in a less than desirable position in life but that says so much about her as a person and their relationship. She was often urged to stop hiding food items but the pleas fell on deaf ears as she insisted on spoiling Erin so items designated for dog consumption continued for several more years. Being a devout animal lover Nana was always proud of my relationship with Erin and the life we shared; she thought it was the most amazing thing that a dog could live and travel across Europe. Nothing happens by accident as it was during this period of frequenting the nursing home that I became aware of the healing power of animals thus we became involved with a therapy dog group soon after Nana's passing; it was my honor to get Erin certified in tribute to Nana and to become an active therapy dog team in the community for 7 years.
It was a devastating loss when Nana suddenly passed away as I lost my best friend and I'll always remember coming home from the hospital bawling uncontrollably unaware of the world around me.
Soon after I felt Erin's head nudging my hand repeatedly until I began to stroke her then she climbed onto the couch beside me to offer emotional support and while holding her tightly I buried my head in her flank to cry like a baby. It was a difficult period made easier by the presence of Erin whom I wonder if was aware of the death of her beloved friend and kindred spirit; they were both full of love, embraced life to its fullest, and never encountered a stranger. They both touched and impacted my life in ways that are immeasurable and I'll always cherish the memories forged during our years together. It's endearing as I recall them expressing their love for one another and something tells me Nana is still sneaking Erin yummy treats as they watch over me from above. RIP Nana and Erin!!
Saturday, July 23, 2011
In the still of the night she arrives leaving paw prints upon my heart and subconscious mind; while I sleep memories and wonderful scenes from our life together are implanted deep in the recesses. There's little doubt that Erin visits quite often to connect with me when the mind is free of the emotional baggage that too often weights down a person. With my mind free of clutter she's able to connect as needed to leave reminders that I'm not forgotten and that our love and special friendship will span any distance and realm. It's been rare that I'm able to recall what occurred in those hours of sleep but when it happens the most joyous wave washes over me and that scene is recalled over and over like a dvd on repeat. These dreams bridge the divide and for a short period reunite us in a way that no earthly device or method can achieve.
Several days ago I awoke with a huge smile as a familiar scene in our life came was acted out once again. Only a snippet was remembered but that's all it took as we were together again and every detail was so vividly clear, not sure why this specific scene was remembered but that's okay as any recalled memory is most welcome. Outside my parents front door as so many times before, the door bell was rung and the wait began in earnest. Erin was anxiously in the sit position waiting for the door to magically open to reveal Mom who always spoiled her "Granddog" with love and treats galore; sensing me glancing downward she lovingly gazes up to make eye contact while her familiar beaming smile and rapid tail wag are on full display. Her attention alternates between me and the door that is impeding her access to a world of pleasure, she scoots closer to the door as if that will help it suddenly spring open. "Where's Momma?" is used to stimulate her to a fever pitch then we hear the deadbolt slide, security chain rattle, and the inner door opens. Erin is so ready to exploit the smallest crack in the storm door and she's inside in a blink of the eye when Mom cracks open the door to greet us; Mom makes a fuss over Erin while we share smiles then reality hits me as I awake.
My fave dream sequence simply involved me holding Erin close and kissing her on the side of her mouth as I so often did. Displaying her relaxed smile and drooping tongue I plant a series of tiny rapid kisses on her as my grandmother did to me; using a arm to cradle her head the playful smooches are doled out then repeated over and over. Kiss kiss kiss kiss and then observe the broad smile, kiss kiss kiss and repeat as needed. She doesn't protest or attempt to get away but instead remains steadfast where I'm free to lavish as much attention as desired until real life interrupts this beautiful scene. It was an amazing feeling to be near her again, to touch her, and to connect in that magical way that made our relationship so special; happiness. giddiness and a few tears overcame me as I realized the vivid dream's are the closest thing to an actual reunion at this time.
Erin's sudden death left me searching for concrete answers as to why and how the unthinkable could happen and a clue came in the form of a dream. Beset with grief and unable to sleep for several days when exhaustion finally overtook me I was presented with a vision involving a sheet of paper with three letters scribbled upon it. The paper flashed in front of my eyes as it was handed from one person to another and though it made only one pass that was enough for me to view and remember what was written. There was little doubt those letters formed an abbreviation of a medical condition that led to my angel's demise so immediately upon awakening numerous veterinarian web sites were researched via the internet to locate that key piece of the puzzle and before long I discovered exactly what I was destined to find.
The most surreal part of the story involved a medical report from the emergency veterinarian clinic where Erin took her last breath and we spent our last moments together. When that report arrived at the house and was opened for examination the abbreviation listed for primary cause of death matched the three letters scribbled upon the paper in my dream; I had the strongest feeling that the abbreviation would be included in the vet report somewhere but it was pretty shocking to see it listed at the top of the first page in black and white. The three letters are permanently etched into my memory as they represent the end of her life as well as a beautiful relationship. I'll never fully understand the dream process but they're most certainly welcome as long as I'm reunited with Erin and while death could take her physically there is nothing that will prevent us from connecting on a higher level.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Spending the day wandering the historic World War 1 sites of Verdun France left Erin and I exhausted, hungry, and in need of a comfy plush bed to crawl into. From sunrise to late afternoon, we trekked upon sacred ground where over 700,000 French and German soldiers perished in the year of 1916; battlegrounds, forts, trenches, memorials, villages, cemeteries and elaborate bunker systems were explored at our leisure. Leaving the countryside behind and driving into the heart of Verdun it was my intent to take refuge at a dog-friendly establishment near the castle and river and that's exactly what occurred. A quaint hotel was spotted and while Erin remained in the car I dashed inside to see if there was room availability for a weary traveler and his dog; a jovial middle aged lady greeted me with much warmness and via broken English said dogs are most welcome. Returning to the car I leashed Erin while grabbing our bags for some doggie hospitality as only the French can do.
Walking through the double set of doors was akin to entering a world where the dog is revered and put upon a pedestal for all to worship. The innkeeper Paulette bombarded her canine guest with attention from the moment their eyes met, adoration's in French flowed as our host dropped to her knees then onto her rear end for a face to face greeting unlike any other I'd seen. She fell in love with Erin immediately and was basically rolling on the floor smothering her with hugs and kisses. The lovefest continued with Paulette stroking the luxurious soft fur while the stubby brown tail moved in a rapid blur insync with the foreign words being spoken to her. Shortly hereafter Erin rolled onto her back in a gesture of total relaxedness while the pink tongue fell out the side of her mouth but the two new best friends continued oblivious to my presence. To witness this stranger plopped down near the entranceway loving upon my girl in this manner was a complete surprise and the entire scene was very surreal but Erin sure didn't mind.
This continued for what seemed an eternity then the innkeeper rose, hastily straightened her dress and apron and strolled to the check-in counter where she acted as if rolling on the floor with Erin was the most natural act. We were led to a cozy basic room on the third floor where a porter recommended dining in the hotel restaurant and it was stressed that dogs were always welcome. There were a few hours until dinner was to be served so we wandered aimlessly admiring the beauty of Verdun while greeting numerous dogs that crossed our path; funny how dogs all speak the same language. Returning to the hotel we headed straight to the restaurant for what I hoped would be some delicious French cuisine; the friendly waitress brought a menu and a bowl of water for Erin whom was sprawled near my feet. Paulette magically appeared to inquire if Erin would be interested in something to eat and a few minutes later a server arrived with a massive bowl of sliced beef strips; the mountain of food was no match for my girl's voracious appetite and the container was licked clean within minutes.
Returning to our room Erin laid upon the floor for some well-deserved sleep after a long hectic day that began with a drive from Germany in the wee hours of the morning. A series of raps on the door startled us both and reluctantly I opened the door to find our generous host holding another bowl of goodies from the kitchen then she politely pushed her way into the room where against my better judgement I allowed the second bowl of food to be served. Erin's snout was buried in the bowl before it hit the floor and as before she wasted little time in making this bowl full of meat and gravy vanish. My girl displayed a look of pure bliss on her face after feasting like a queen on two decadence meals but that look would soon disappear. Sleep was short-lived as Erin's overindulgence came back to haunt us when sickness got the best of her and portions of the rich French cuisine came back up. After her body functions returned to normal I placed her in bed next to me where we both fell into a deep sleep and that's where we remained until the alarm clock rang.
The next morning Paulette was repeatedly thanked for her hospitality and spoiling Erin beyond belief but not a word of the sickness from the excess of food was mentioned as I didn't want to offend our wonderful host or cause her to worry unnecessarily; I could imagine her frantically calling a veterinarian thus she was spared that tidbit of info. She only had the best interest of Erin at heart as exhibited by the nonstop attention and sweet gestures while her intention to spoil my fur-angel was achieved. Paulette lived up to the reputation of the French being the ultimate dog lovers and her kindness will always be remembered and much appreciated! We spent the remainder of the day strolling around Verdun like nomads often stopping to relax with the locals in cafes and parks before checking out of the hotel and while it was bittersweet saying goodbye I take great joy in knowing Erin got a glimmer of doggie heaven on earth while together we created many lasting memories. RIP Erin!!
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
It's difficult to let go of connections to the life I once shared with Erin! Since her death I've found it extremely hard to part ways with any object associated with her; thoughts of discarding these items fills me with dread, angst, and sadness. This subject has arisen as I prepare to part ways with a hand-me-down creaky old bed that has occupied a corner of my bedroom for nine years, it's not just a bed but a place where my beloved friend laid her head for nearly a decade thus this weekend will be bittersweet as a new bed is delivered. The old relic was the site of many bouts of wrestling and roughhousing, a favorite hide and seeks location, and lastly a place where seemingly I held her in my arms a million times while expressing my love. I hold fond memories of returning from work and telling Erin "pillow and cover" thus she bolted for the bed for a proper welcome home greeting and a round of energetic tomfoolery as only two best friends can do.
A distinct feature of this bed is there is no frame as only a mattress and box spring lay upon the floor and this was done solely for the benefit of Erin; she was diagnosed with a bulging disc several years ago so I took immediate steps to prevent it from getting worse and possibly requiring surgery. Never did I think twice about not having a bed of normal height as the low profile eliminated the need for her to leap up and whatever sacrifice I made in terms of inconvenience was well worth it to ensure Erin's health and well-being. After a romp with fur friends at the dog park or stalking squirrels in the brutal Georgia heat, a nap was often needed so comfort of the bed was sought out; deep sleep came fast on such days and was much welcomed. A slice of heaven was found as I laid next to my sleeping angel where her beautiful spirit came shining through; gazing upon Erin's blissful angelic face transported me to a special place indeed.
Often as she slept I remained ever attentive as if my presence could keep the world and its many dangers at bay; eventually she would sense me hovering nearby and a broad smile would creep across her face. As if returning the favor there would be times when I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to find Erin's snout inches away from my face; she possessed a look that said "I'm watching over you and protecting you." The bed is worthless in monetary terms but priceless as it represents the life of an extraordinary creature, her incredible journey and the love and friendship we shared. My mother said a new bed will do me wonders physically and that I've sacrificed long enough so Saturday evening when I retire it will be in a brand new bed with an intact frame complete with headboard...hoping my body can handle sleeping above one foot :)
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Her gentle nature with children, ability to ease their fears, and reputation of an angel made Erin an obvious choice to be involved with the church's children ministry program. Serving in the position of door greeter exposed her to the multitude of charming youngsters who streamed by on their way to the youth learning center; often these kids would stop to say hello and engage in a round of pleasantries with the only non-human. A casual conversation with a youth leader regarding the children and their relaxed demeanor around Erin led to a mutual decision to have her involved with the kids attending Sunday School; it was the staff's intention to have her enliven the setting which many kids found tedious and boring. A background check on myself was performed as close interaction with children would be required while Erin's therapy dog resume was suffice for her to enter the hallowed doors of the children ministry program.
The following Sunday we were not welcoming folks to church at the front door but upstairs in an area where dozens of kids from kindergarten through 5th grade would be gathered to hear the word of God in a kid friendly environment. Draped around her neck was her official greeter badge that simply read "Hi!" and that said it all as Erin was anxious to meet the youngsters who were dropped off by their parents at a security checkpoint then ushered inside while the adults went down stairs to hear the morning sermon. There were looks of excitement and surprise on the children's faces as the dog from outside was spotted hanging out and socializing with the staff. Some kids wandered over to say hello without the slightest hesitation while others bashfully kept their distance and a close eye on Erin; it was easy to see the wheels in their minds churning as they tried to figure out why a dog was in their Sunday school class. Some wise kids quickly discovered that sneaking her snacks such as animal crackers or pretzels would gain them bonus points and needless to say Erin didn't mind this one bit.
A pirate-themed lesson plan was part of an ongoing summer series that utilized pirate props and the scripture to make an impact upon the life's of the children. Erin and I were introduced to the group who welcomed us as only children can and then it was time for our indoctrination to unfold. Divided into separate groups based upon their age, the kids many wearing pirate hats, black eyepatches, and wielding plastic swords huddled around the instructors as the lesson began in earnest with the aid of visual and audio equipment. Erin quickly made herself at home as she laid down on the plush carpet amongst the group comprised of the oldest youngsters who welcomed her with open arms; hands thrust out in competition as several wanted to be the holder of the leash. She was in her element as much attention was directed her way; perfectly situated to receive loving from multiple kids she had a broad smile that exposed her pearly whites and drooping tongue to all. Jumping up she made a beeline towards the other side of the arc where her name was being repeatedly called from, plopping down she dished out as much attention as she received til her name rang out again. "Erin Erin come here" and she headed for the voice beckoning her from afar.
Together we broke the barrier of the youngest age group as we worked to gain their trust; sitting on the floor beside them I handed her leash to an eager young boy who smilingly accepted it as he would an ice cream cone. Holding the rich brown leather leash made him feel so special as the other kids sneaked peeks in his direction and before long he had competition from other brazen youngsters who slid across the floor to be near Erin. She became an object of desire and control as they lunged for her leash while the teachers continued the video and audio presentation and then it was time for an pirate dance in sync with the actors onscreen. The kids jumped around in a frenzy at the teachers urging while I leaned against the wall and observed the action; Erin was in the center of it all with a dozen plus kiddies hopping up and down and while she had a smile on her face I noticed her anxiety level rising so I intervened to rescue her from the clutches of the evil pirate kids :)
As the weeks elapsed my role increased within the program while Erin spent her time keeping tabs on me and mingling amongst the different groups; she had free reign to roam but there was little chance of her venturing off since it was in her dna to remain relatively close to me. Erin's popularity was reaching new heights as the children gained confidence in their new fur friend but I sensed something was quite not right. She became a powerful magnet to the kids and most wanted to be near her, holding the leash or be the one petting her but it was obvious some children were overwhelming and stressing her with their unbridled enthusiasm while becoming easily distracted by her presence so Erin's stint with the children's program ended as quickly as it began. The staff was notified we wouldn't be returning due to fault of no one in particular and in the end we went back to greeting the congregation but it was a fun rewarding experience while it lasted. I look back fondly upon that period with pride and joy as Erin shared many smiles with some wonderful kids while helping make a positive impact upon their impressionable minds and as always I'm incredibly proud of her and our accomplishments together.
Friday, July 1, 2011
When the squirrels gathered enough courage and the intruder was deemed a non-threat, they would wander down from their position above to meander a few feet before being passionately chased back to where they belong. Safe from the reach of Erin below the irritated fur toys taunted her with continuous chirps and bushy tails that twitch in alarm, they often glare downward just out of her reach and the combatants stared each other down with neither side refusing to blink. Unbeknown to the squirrels was Erin's patience and dedication to the art of stalking; time and time again they would scurry down only to be pursued back up the tree in a seemingly endless game. She would scamper back to my side when called thus I stroked her and offered encouragement as her entire body would sometimes shake from anticipation of the impending chase. This game of pursuit would continue until the frustrated squirrel realized it had no chance at foraging without harassment thus it disappeared into the tree canopy or it would be spotted leaping to other trees in hopes of locating better feeding opportunities away from Erin.
This instinct passed down from many generations of Springer Spaniels pursuing game around the globe was impossible to contain and the thought never crossed my mind as Erin's passion and enthusiasm were on full display for all to see. A broad smile, rapidly wagging tail, and unbridled happiness were her trademarks of squirrel stalking and it brought me great joy to witness her interactions with nature; remembering those moments bring a smile to my face as they were special times indeed. Tourists often stopped in their tracks to observe Erin patrolling the squares, they found it so entertaining to watch the lovable dog sprint off in the direction of a squirrel, then promptly return when called. Many took photos as she assumed the poise of a statue, motionless she stood oblivious to the crowd gawking and rooting for her; everyone awaited the moment when she decided the squirrel was close enough to pursue and with the hopes of the onlookers she dashed off. The onlookers expressed wonderment at the chase as if they were witnessing a lion pursue a impala on the African plains; as a disclaimer no squirrel was ever harmed during the process of entertaining the tourists :)
Erin's toothy smile never disappeared even as the years rolled by and to watch a squirrel overhead remained a true passion until the very end of her life. We had so many joyful times amongst nature, just the two of us enjoying each others company while the world passed us by but that's the way we wanted it.. During our final moments together, tearfully I told her that she wasn't supposed to get sick as there were more squirrels for us to watch together; there was little Erin enjoyed more than being at my side gazing into the treetops and I'll always cherish those days spent together. I'm hoping Doggie Heaven has an endless amount of squirrels for her to chase and countless trees to lounge under as she awaits my arrival in that magical place. Together again we will lay in the lush grass of paradise where for an eternity we'll look upward as we did for so many days on earth and all will be heavenly...