She lifted her head and barked out that ferocious alarm that let anyone who came near, especially those in brown UPS trucks, not to mess with her or her people within. And within two hours, she was gone.
The ad on Craig’s List was for a free German shepherd dog. My husband said that German shepherds were a great breed for a pet dog but I was a little skeptical. Maybe afraid is a better word. I had witnessed the torture of a German shepherd and was further traumatized by the behavior of one in heat when I was still a kid. Flash forward to bites by a Rottweiler and an Akita as an adult, the latter sending me to the Emergency Room for a tetanus shot, and you could say I wasn’t a big fan of big dogs. I still always loved dogs. The gerbils that me and my brothers had as kids didn’t satisfy my longing for a real furry friend. That’s all you get when your Mom is a single parent and I do understand. Flash forward over 4 decades and off to a town an hour’s drive south of us Steve and I went to pick up Elle. What a great decision!
Elle was timid and small, tied to a tree when we arrived to the address out in the country. “Are you sure she is going to be o.k.?” I asked Steve as the owner pointed to her and simply said, “Take her.” “She’ll be fine,” reassured Steve and he was right. Within about the first 20 minutes of the drive home, the approximately 5-month old German shepherd puppy went from scared to picking her head up and exploring the new life ahead of her. The first few days are a blur to me now. She was born outside so gratefully we never had to house-train her. What a bonus! We got her checked out then spayed according to the guidance of our new Vet. I remember fondly cuddling Elle’s neck in her slumbered state from the pain medication after the procedure. That posture of her tucking her head down to receive my affection close-in would be our special thingy throughout her life. What a special bond we had!
A couple of moments stand out to me the most over the course of the next 13 years or so. The first was when we learned a little more about who our dog really was. Steve and I were hiking at a local Acres Land Trust park when he decided to let Elle off her leash for a bit. Before long Elle was racing from point to point between us along the trail, leaping over downed logs and sliding many feet in the leaves covering the path as she zoomed one way then back the other. If you’ve ever heard of large canines getting a case of the ZOOMIES then this is exactly what happened. We laughed so hard! It might have been on this same outing that we learned something unique about German shepherds. We were walking along the trail when a couple of deer crossed our paths, up along a ridge about 100 feet ahead of us. As soon as Elle saw them, her pace slowed as she put herself between us facing the “threat.” Well we didn’t know that the deer were a threat but to Elle they must have been so! We stopped in amazement to watch both the deer scamper away and our dog keep a close eye on them until they were out of sight. Some very detailed sniffs followed by our fuzzy protector when we got up to the line where the deer had crossed our path. Good dog!
There was the time when we tried to get Elle to ride in our Hobie Oasis kayak to no avail. She preferred swimming in the water, any water, alongside our outrigger canoe and especially when there was a tennis ball to chase from the ball chucker! Retrieving the ball launched to the end of our property was her favorite thing, over and over and over again! Or maybe it was chasing after the radio-controlled car or airplane? She raced around the courtyard in front of our home, hoping to get a bite of the rubber tires of the RC car Steve had bought to enjoy with his son, Daniel. The trick was to grab the car before Elle pounced on it as if it was some kind of live prey to be devoured! Noooooo! The same was true with the RC airplane my husband expertly flew in the open and pond areas behind our home. Even though the plane was at least 50 feet up in the air, Elle ran and ran and ran after it, nearly crushing it when the battery wore out and the foam glider touched down for a landing. The race was on to see who could get to it first with our Pup racing in for the kill on the grass strip of our backyard! As Elle got older, her chasing of the plane was interrupted by stopping to take a dump or a swim, or a sniff, or otherwise rest, before charging off again with her nose in the air tracking the plane. We loved every minute of it and so did she!
Then there were the tragic days that I spent battling my serious illness while Elle slept softly on the floor across from the bed, in front of the tub in the Master bathroom. She wasn’t what you would call an affectionate dog yet one who would definitely seek out hefty scratches around the ears when we came home. When one of us came home from an errand or work, the other would send Elle out to the car to be the first greeting. She learned quickly not to jump up, instead how to nuzzle her way past the open car door to the driver’s seat to welcome either of us home. I loved that. But it was a different story when I was sick in bed. Was she just watching and waiting to make sure I was o.k.? Or frightened by the screams of pain and seizing that erupted virtually every single night as I writhed in the bed in front of her?
For years the convulsive episodes met me every morning for about 30 minutes as I awakened. I had to lie in bed like a victim succumbing to a beating before I became functional enough to attempt to use the bathroom. One particular day, early in the afternoon, I simply could not get out of bed. My head pounded from the daily headache, body hurt so badly, ears were ringing, and I simply could not think straight enough to get things to be any different. Trying to drink some water or even the breakfast that I had prepared and placed bedside the night before was beyond my ability to accomplish. Those times were especially sorrowful. So I called over to Elle. She seemed very confused when I invited her up onto the bed, next to me. She wasn’t allowed on the bed nor on any furniture. “What is this?” she must have wondered. It took a few tries and some coaxing at a time when she clearly was able to jump up into the back of a truck and onto most furniture. I guided her to lie down next to me and there we stayed for a long time. Her warmth comforted me in a way that nothing else could possibly have come close. I needed my Puppers and she was there for me.
As the years went by, Steve and I got to take our Elle along as we traveled to many different places. She’s was an excellent traveler and went west with us a few years back, to many United States Canoe Association events to cheer Steve at his paddling races, and to Florida about ten times. She just hunkered down behind the passenger seat and off we went on one adventure or another. She never had an accident unless very sick. Her loyalty to us, to the way things should be, to her role as protector, a lover of most kids (unless you were a rascally boy big or small) was precious. She was my Elle-Beast, Puppers, Pups, and Elle: all names to which she would respond as quickly as Steve’s clap of his hands. He was her Alpha dog; she did put up with me and was obedient most of the time with a little extra encouragment . . . And treats of course!
I really wouldn’t have had it any other way. At least today. Today I’ll say that she was a perfect dog, a perfect pet. They all are after they are gone. So go squeeze your furry friend for me today, Gentle Reader. I’m sure I would love your pet as much as our Elle. It’s just the way it should be. Unless you are a UPS driver, of course! Then y’all better watch out! JJ