Field of Science

Goodbye dear friend

Cupid at Lake Itasca. Age 12.
Yesterday was a hard day, today hasn't been much better. Yesterday I had to say good-bye to an old friend. A friend, a family member, of over fourteen years. It is with great sorrow that I say good-bye to Cupid our dog, companion, quiet supporter after all these years.

It was an otherwise quiet Christmas morning that Cupid entered my life. I was a graduate student in Tucson living with my fiance who has a passion for German Shepherd dogs (all animals actually). Several months earlier we had flown to Reno to breed Viva with a big black gorgeous German Shepherd called Boss, we also used this time as a vacation to see some of Northern Cal including Sacramento, wine country, and San Francisco. That was the time we got through Donner Pass just before it was closed because of the weather.

Viva was now noticeably pregnant and due in the next day or so. She went into labor around 5:00 in the morning Christmas of 1997 and the first pup came shortly thereafter. We had already been through a litter or two and realized this one was not going according to plan. It was taking too long between pups. So shortly after the time most parents are finally rolling out of bed on Christmas, we packed up Viva and, I think, 2 pups and headed to the nearby vet. We spent probably the next 8 - 10 hours celebrating Christmas there with the arrival of an occasional pup, talk about a Christmas present. We weren't at the vet's long before I proposed that if there were 9 pups in the litter, they be named after Santa's reindeer. The general approach was to use a letter of the alphabet and name all the puppies using that letter. But it was Christmas! This suggestion was approved and needless to say Blitzen, Comet, Cupid, Donner (I know), Vixen, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Rudolph (the one nut wonder) arrived throughout the day. I could tell you stories about Blitzen and Vixen as puppies and young adults, but Cupid was the one who stayed in the family and stays in our hearts.

When Cupid was a young adult, I moved away to start a post-doc in New York. Because we had some dominant personality and older German Shepherds, Im looking at you Fia and Dancer (different litter), Cupid seemed kind of hidden in the background. When I was home, she didn't run around screaming 'look at me! look at me! see what I can do!' like the others. In the pack hierarchy she was low girl on the totem pole, but she didn't cower or hide. She just blended. Maybe this has more to do with the little time I got to spend with the dogs during this time because I was only back every few months.

I lived apart from my family for a couple of years and then landed a position in Minnesota. I moved my stuff there from New York and headed to Arizona to get the family. We had lost the other dogs and only had Cupid left to make the trip with us. So, a moving truck loaded up the household items and furniture  and we took Cupid in the minivan with us. Cupid got to see Northern Arizona (again), Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota (where she visited Mt. Rushmore and saw the 'wild' donkeys), and finally Minnesota. All this and only 4 years old.

We rented a townhome for the first year we were in the Twin Cities area out in the boonies. Cupid spent her days hanging out there, but got long walks in the wooded areas around us each morning and afternoon. There were some commercial-industrial places that had large grassy areas and ponds, not to mention Otter Lake, nearby wildlife center, and the wetland area right next door. During the winter, we often walked on 'Squirrel Trail' which was a short nearby trail that surprisingly enough housed many squirrels. There were geese in abundance most of the year, and goslings some of the year. There were also deer more often than not. We almost lost Cupid early on when she decided to chase a flock of geese that flew over the road near the townhomes. We also had turtles running, well not running, around. One afternoon a turtle was scratching at our sliding door, I guess it was too lazy to go around the townhomes and wanted to cut through our place. Anyway my now wife opened the door so Cupid could say hi. I saw the turtle and shouted "Get Cupid back from" and didn't bother finishing because Cupid had just yelped and jumped back about 10 feet with a gash on her nose from the snapping turtle she was checking out. She kept a small scar on her nose from that encounter.

Cupid moved into the house we bought later that year and truly enjoyed having a private grassy backyard and deck to take sunbaths in. She also enjoyed her new job of keeping rabbits and squirrels on their best behavior as well as making sure the neighborhood cats, whose owners cant bother to take care of them, do not spend any amount of time in the yard hunting birds. This explains why the cardinals and blue jays always seemed to appreciate her.

At this point Cupid entered he professional career. She tried her paw as a sheepherder but decided early on that if she couldn't actually catch them, what was the point. She then moved over to tracking and showed some real potential. I remember one time we had traveled to Wisconsin with the tracking club and my wife, 7 or 8 months pregnant at the time, had just finished a long track that Cupid did awesome at. As they were walking back across this large field that was filled with all these divots, my wife disappeared into the grass, bounced right back into view saying "Im alright," and instantaneously disappeared into the next divot with the timing perfect for a prime time comedy. (Neither mother nor child, AFAIK, were harmed in the two crashes.) When they got back to us, Cupid was quite proud of her accomplishment on the tracking course, although I think I detected some ridicule at all us two legged mammals that have intrinsic issues with gravity.

Cupid was 6 when our son was finally born. The first night after he was delivered, I went home to take care of her and brought a blanket my son had been swaddled in for her to get used to his scent. I honestly had some trepidation about how the new arrival would go over. However, Cupid had no problems acclimating to him. She was the perfect grandmother. I would say mother, but anyone who has had a litter knows the moms are perfectly happy to bite, albeit gently, the puppies little heads when they get annoying. She often slept next to his crib and always checked his baby swing in the morning which was where he often slept.

Things pretty much settled down after that. There were frequent walks in the wooded area next to our house. (Its somewhat ironic that that area is being ripped up and replaced with houses starting this summer.) There were also many walks to the nearby lake with swimming and around the wetland across the street. She took on the habit of waiting until you were doing dishes or looking for something in the refrigerator and then stopping right behind you to see if she could trip you (Im pretty sure that was her way of rubbing in our faces that two-legged animals are more easily toppled).

I think Cupid was 8 when we learned she had degenerative neuromyopathy. This is a neuromuscular disease that seems to affect German Shepherds more than other large breed dogs. It causes the slow loss in muscle tone and function. With age comes interesting new growths, loss of hearing, and eyesight problems. This is also true in dogs. But the old girl got around just fine. She had to stop going up and down the basement stairs and for awhile I carried her up and down them so she could hang out with Alpha. As time went on, we started covering the wood floors with carpets because her back legs would slip too easily. Finally, last summer I built a ramp from the deck to the lawn so she didn't have to even use those steps.

During all this time she was basically happy and enjoyed being with the family, going for rides in the car, sun baths. But this last week she finally started having leg pain that we couldn't remedy. This had become a more recent problem, but would generally clear up after a nights rest. This time was different. I could see it in her eyes that this wasn't resolving, that it wasn't fun anymore, that the time had come. The vet was great and Cupid got to stay in the car for her final goodnight, she never was a fan of a Vet's office.

I do not believe in heaven or the afterlife like most people do when they say these terms. But Cupid was an important part of my life for over 14 years. Because of her I am not the same person I would have been if I didn't have Cupid. So I can honestly say that Cupid lives on in me. I can also say that in a way, since  I affect others, Cupid is playing a part in those interactions and maybe that's what the afterlife is or at least that's all it needs to be to me. So as tears wet my cheeks again I just want to say goodbye dear friend, I miss you.
Cupid: 12/25/1997 - 6/8/2011


Mike Haubrich said...

I would love to have a dog like Cupid, and I am sorry for your loss.

Thiago M. Venancio said...

Sorry for your loss.

Coincidentally, I lost a 10-year old dog 10 days back and know how is the pain you feel now.

The Lorax said...

@Mike and Thiago. Thanks for you kind words. Best.

Debra McWilliam said...

Beautiful. Thank you.