I had to let go of a great friend yesterday – it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. My dear Blitzen’s body was failing him and he was in pain. I was with him, his head in my hands with his trusting eyes gazing into mine, as he drifted away into his comfortable eternal sleep. Rest in peace old friend.
I thought that would be the most difficult day, but I was wrong. The silence in the house is deafening. I still hear him snoring, barking, shaking his head and rattling the tags on his collar. As I type, the familiar warmth of my companion at my feet is absent.
But his downturn in health came after a long and healthy life. He would have celebrated his 13th birthday November 1st. Fortunately, at the end, this downturn was fairly sudden, so we can remember and cherish the happy and healthy times we had with our “Pups”, “Ol’ Boy”, “Blitzburg”, “Handsome”, “Ol Grey Face”, “Frosty Paws”, "Ol Nessie", "Sweetie" or as my Mom called him “Ol’ Black Joe”. He’ll always be “Pups” to me even though he answered to just about anything.
He was a striking dog - a Weimaraner Blue, having a dark grey coat and amber eyes. Most don’t realize that Blitzen was a rescue, while not through a normal Weimaraner rescue channel, but through a friend of a friend. He was being cared for by a nurse who also had a silver-colored Weim named Gretchen. We arrived and learned about Blitzen’s hard life – even though he had it good at the time by comparison to his earlier months. The nurse caring for Blitzen left him and Gretchen caged for 14 hours at a time – that in itself got Blitzen a free ride at our house – no crate for him, we gave him run of the house. Caryn and I were fortunate that we discovered Blitzen when we did. His caregiver had plans to take him to a shelter if she couldn’t find someone to take him in. We adopted Blitzen in June of 1996, making him 8 months old based on his November 1st Birthday. We discovered that we were his 4th owner in this time period – we were determined to make sure we were his last stop. Many have asked over the years why we named him Blitzen – truth of the matter is that he came with the name. But it was a great name for him and he wore it well.
I’ll never forget when Caryn and I first met him. He was a very exuberant pup – as Caryn knelt down to greet him, he proceeded to tackle her and give her the biggest, wettest tongue bath she’d ever had. She was hooked! Who would have known that seeing a Volkswagon ad on TV featuring Weimaraners would have led to this? Our boy was an excellent kisser as my kids could attest. By going to him and giving him the kiss-kiss sound, a lick from Blitzen wasn’t far behind. He was such a gentle sweetheart.
Since he was just a pup when we got him, he did puppy things. He was a chewer – shoes, books, pencils (a favorite), pens, crayons, sunglasses – the list goes on. It didn’t last forever and we got through it. There was one scare we had with him though. As a counter surfer, he grabbed some hay fever medicine from the vanity in the bathroom and proceeded to get past the childproof lid and eat the contents. We came home to find him out of it, so we rushed him to the emergency vet hospital about 30 minutes away. They flushed him with charcoal and kept him overnight. Being the vocal boy that Blitzen was, when he was well enough to stand, he was well enough to bark. I guess the incessant barking was too much for the hospital, so they called me to pick him up saying that he was ready. Well, as Blitzen was brought out to me, his excitement got the better of him and he had a seizure and peed on the floor. It was obvious that he wasn’t stable enough yet, but those fools at the hospital were more concerned about getting him out than making sure he was well enough. He never had a health issue his entire life.
Blitzen was our first baby. He was treated like a king and shared our bed. He was the sole reason that we opted for a king size bed eventually. The funny thing was that he wasn’t content laying the same direction has Caryn and me – he insisted on being the middle of a capital “H”, making sure Caryn and I kept our distance from each other. While I travelled for work, Blitzen was the man of the house. A duty he didn’t take lightly. Who can forget arriving home and seeing Blitzen “smile”. Those who didn’t know him thought he was angry as he bared his teeth, but it was a real smile – learned from us I suspect since we were always smiling at him. Even in later years when he no longer smiled baring his teeth, he still would have an upturned mouth, still a smile - accompanied by a wag of course.
We found it funny that he always had to be touching someone as he rested – he was the ultimate people magnet. Our old boy ruled the roost, as we let him have free reign of the house and furniture. Who could forget how he would squeeze his way onto an already crowded sofa and wedge himself behind one of us and the back cushion. Or if we were lying on the sofa, how he’d come up to spoon with us. He’d flip over on his back between us and the sofa back, all four feet in the air, to quickly dose off and treat us to a snoring serenade. Of course there was always the wager of who would get his head and who would get "the business end". We agreed that there was no rhyme or reason to who got which end. One of his favorite spots was coiled up in a ball at one end of the sofa, tucked into the back of my legs, surrounding him like a nest. Occasionally he’d perch his head on my leg to survey the goings on, but usually he’d bury his head into the warmth he had created – how did he breathe like that anyway? And who could forget how he would circle almost endlessly as he made his nest on the sofa or on his bed – he was almost singing in delight. Then a big sigh before he fell asleep in his quest to get his requisite twenty hours of sleep per day.
If he was awake, he was by my side. If he were laying down and I got up to go to another room, he was quick to follow. It was a familiar position having Blitzen on my hip, watching my every move. If I could get a jump on him while leaving a room, I'd hide around the corner from him and when he entered I'd jump out and say "Gotcha!" This almost always resulted in him trying to jump on me and have a wrestling match. If I laid on the floor hiding my head and calliing his name, he'd go crazy tryiing to get that big wet nose iin to give me a kiss. He loved to scratch his back on the carpet, all four legs flailing, grunts and groans filling the room. When he was on his back with his front legs folded and his ears on the floor, he looked like a big grey bunny.
When he wasn’t sleeping or being out and about, he was eating. Boy did he love to eat. Most dogs like to eat, but Blitzen took it to an art form – he got to a portly 90 pounds at one point - although we suspect that this may have been sympathy weight for each of my wife’s three pregnancies, or from stealing the kid’s food when they were babies. Their highchair was the perfect height for him to help himself. He was able to get his big head into the tall kitchen garbage can lid – usually knocking it over, but he also could be stealthy and snag some items from the top, through the rotating lid. Every time he walked by, he would poke his head in there to see what was on the menu. Every time we left the house, the garbage can went up on the kitchen counter.
He was a true counter surfer too – nothing was safe. We had to be sure not to leave anything edible lying around. It was a familiar sight to find empty wrappers on the floor upon returning home - we were good about it most of the time. If we forgot, we found out as soon as we walked in the door. He was a carb hound for sure, helping himself to pizza, boxes of cereal, bagels, entire loaves of bread (one time he ate a loaf that was frozen), but this was balanced with being by my side when I carved chicken, beef, pork or chicken sausages (he loved the ends). He didn’t care for seafood much – unless it was breaded (kind of like the kids). But he liked vegetables and some fruit – he loved celery, mushrooms, broccoli and green peppers – but he hated zucchini (like me). He loved grapes and strawberries, especially on a hot day. Like me, he also loved cheese – almost any type. When he saw me get the cheese knife, he was by my side for a sampling of the latest hunk of Jarlsberg. What can I say, the boy had taste! When one of us was in the kitchen, he was sitting by our side, outstretched nose straining to sniff out what was on the counter - sitting patiently waiting for something to drop to the floor, or impatiently nudging us on the hip with his nose reminding us that he was always ready to sample whatever was being prepared.
There was no 5 second rule in our house – if Blitzen was on his game, you’d be lucky if it was 1 second before he gobbled something up from the floor. While our kids were babies, Blitzen was an attentive vacuum cleaner. He’d sit there and patiently watch them eat, hoping for something to get dropped – and something usually did. He ate his share of table scraps from the kids, with the exception being oatmeal – he didn’t like that at all. He was also the designated dish pre-washer and especially liked Chinese take-out containers and fortune cookies. It didn't matter if there wasn't any food left on the plate, he just wanted to lick it off to get a taste of "people food" any chance he could. The nice long strings of drool pouring from his mouth as you finished you meal meant he was ready to go. Slipppery stuff that dog drool!
With Blitzen being our first “kid”, he got his share of presents. He loved to open gifts and was very good at it. Must have been all that practice with food wrappers while counter surfing. I guess the smell of biscuits or rawhide chews made him extra enthusiastic in his gift opening. He was very determined and fun to watch. Since we kept his rawhides in a cabinet and his biscuits in a jar in plain sight, he wasn’t bashful about letting us know what he wanted. After a trip outside to go potty, he’d sit on the floor in the kitchen and wait – if asked what he wanted, he’d glance over at his biscuits, almost saying “you know what I want, quit messing with me!”. He'd sit there squirming and singing a little until his demands were met. He drove a hard bargain. When my Mom came over, he knew extra biscuits were coming his way. She was forever referred to as "the easy mark", since Blitzen had her wrapped around his paw.
When we had our first child, we were cautioned by the nurses that we needed to take home an article of clothing from the infant in advance. This was so the dog wouldn’t hurt the baby. While this might be true of more aggressive dogs, there was never a doubt that Blitzen would welcome them as we did him. He was so gentle, never running around by them, nor knocking them down. Mostly curious and nurturing, checking on them and making sure everything was alright. He was forever tolerant of the boys climbing all over him – he relished the extra attention. When Max was learning to walk, he would hold onto his collar and Blitzen would walk slowly so Max’s wobbly little legs could keep up. The boys loved taking Blitzen’s warm spot on the sofa when he’d get up and were constantly laying with him and on him. I’m sure as the boys got to school age that Blitzen was a little sad that they were no longer home all day to play with him. Max was always the early riser and spent a lot of one on one time with Blitzen during the early hours of the morning, letting him out and giving him some treats.
As any one who know Weimaraners can tell you, they are an energetic breed and need a lot of exercise. Blitzen has always kept us hopping. One of the reasons Caryn and I chose to live where we do was for the sidewalks in our community. Nearly all of his life, Blitzen tested the arm strength of anyone taking him for a walk. He was a lot of strength in a small package. He was roughly 70 pounds when we got him, but he used all of it. Eventually through training him, he wouldn’t pull so hard and would automatically sit at intersections – OK, sometimes it was more of a crouch than a sit, but his intentions were good. He chased nearly all the squirrel population up trees at one time or another, standing on his hind legs wondering why he couldn’t continue the chase up the tree.
We kept his leash in a cabinet above the sink. If he saw you grabbing his leash he went bananas - he also picked up on that putting a grocery bag in your pocket meant a walk too. You never had to ask him if he wanted a walk – speaking the magic word “walk” would most certainly make him lose his mind. Simply standing in the kitchen and looking at the cabinet where his leash was stored was usually enough to make him starting dancing around the kitchen with joy.
Walks on the leash are one thing, being free to run is quite another. We are fortunate that we have a wooded area with walking trails a short ride away. Of course, going for a ride usually meant a run in the woods, so keeping Blitzen calm for the short drive was generally a lost cause. He could see where we were going and more importantly smell the smells that only the woods could offer. We live about 10 blocks from the woods – he would start whimpering about 9 blocks away, escalating into a full bark as we approached the park entrance. The woods had everything to offer – trails, water, hills, logs to jump over, and squirrels to chase – everything a dog loves. He always kept on eye on us – if he got far ahead, we’d stop and he would look back, see us, and come flying back to us. He was one fast guy! After a romp in the woods, on the drive home, a tired out Blitzen would stick his head out the window, tongue slapping the glass as he surveyed the surroundings for the next time.
As Blitzen got up there in years, he began enjoying the simple pleasure of lying in the sun in the yard, on his side, or flat on his back with his legs in the air – he’d lie out there for a long time, until his dark coat made him too hot, then he’d want to come inside to cool off. I’d offer him an ice cube or two which he promptly chomped up. He’d then sprawl out on the living room floor, enjoying the air conditioning.
At Blitzen’s last check up, the vet informed us that he had suffered some nerve damage in his back legs and was beginning to feel the effects of arthritis. He had started medication for this, taking a ½ a tablet twice per day. He was great about taking it – I’d tell him it was time for his medicine and he was at the ready to eat it. I'm sure it eased the pain in his hips and legs, so he knew that some relief was possible. This past weekend, his bladder and kidneys were giving out and when he awoke from naps, he was disoriented and had a hard time walking without falling down. He slept a lot, but as I laid with him, I felt him shudder a little as he exhaled – I stayed awake and by his side for the better part of the last three days he was with us – remembering all the times we’d been sick and he’d done the same for us.
On Saturday, he had all but stopped eating. His normal vigor for his favorite food gone. I even tried to bribe him with a bunch of biscuits in with his food, but he didn't want them. He slept a lot - even more than usual. We had our oldest son's 10th birthday party on Sunday evening and there ended up being a bunch of leftover pizza I brought home. I was getting it out of the box to package for leftovers, when a familiar face appeared by my side. Blitzen had been known to steal the boys pizza if they got up and left their food unguarded. I can still hear the boys saying "watch my pizza" while they got up to get a drink. I'd have to say pizza might have been Blitzen's #1 favorite. I proceeded to offer my buddy some of the leftover pizza and he was loving it! I think he ate 5 pieces! Knowing that he had his favorite food for what ended up being his last meal makes me smile. He slept very soundly Sunday night, no doubt the belly full of pizza helped. I got one last night to "spoon" with him on the sofa, bringing back great memories.
On Monday, his last morning, the kids said their tearful goodbyes and I made an appointment for him. It was late morning, so I thought one more trip to his favorite woods was fitting – if for nothing else for him to enjoy the smells. This time, I placed a dog bed in the back of the car, carried him from the sofa in the house to the dog bed in the car and drove him up the hill. No jumping up and down, no pacing from one window to the next, no barking in excitement. He lay with his head down. As we neared the woods, I opened the windows and that sensitive nose knew right where we were going – he perked up a little, head up, sniffing the air.
Upon arrival, I picked him up and placed him on the ground where once he was leaping from the car and tearing off into the woods. He stumbled a little at first, but we took a few minutes as he walked a short distance on his favorite trail, nose to the ground taking it all in. As we walked back, his cheeks were pulled back as if he were smiling a little through the pain.
We went from there directly to the vet to finally ease his suffering. I went inside to make the arrangements, then went back out to the car where he lie in the back. I stroked him non-stop - his eyes closing in comfort and enjoyment until it was our turn. Knowing that he passed with some mud on his feet from his favorite play place seemed fitting. We will be spreading his ashes in the woods next week. I would think that’s something he would have wanted.
Rest in peace, good boy.
Consider rescueing a Weimaraner - contact the Tristate Weimaraner Rescue