Growing up my immediate family raised German Shepherds. In fact, during my school years, I watched 17 litters of puppies come and go. We bred, reared, and sold them to families or we trained them and sold them to the local Sherriff’s department. I was known as and referred to as “the girl with all the dogs”, yet none of them were mine. That is until my step-dad brought home a dog that we didn’t breed.
She was the perfect dog in every way. She was a black and silver German Shepherd about 2 years old. From the moment my eyes locked with hers, I knew we were connected. She was well trained before she came to me, beyond obedient. Her name was Happy, and she always looked like she was smiling, yet I always felt she carried a heavy shattered heart, just like me.
I always loved how different each dog was. I loved them all, but I never bonded with another dog the way I bonded with her. Only now, have I realized that she probably saved my life. She slept next to my bed. She sat next to me where ever I sat (except at the kitchen table). She walked next to me but never once got underfoot. She responded to everyone but responded to me with an urgency and loyalty that I have never experienced before.
I remember Bob saying we got a good deal on her. Shepherd’s contained the vitality of his life’s commodities. We started going with him to his weekly training class, but I knew it was to train me rather than her. He tried to get me to show her, but my heart wasn’t really in it and it showed. She would perform all the right steps, but she didn’t want to either. I felt claustrophobic the times I did show her, and it was obviously awkward for us both.
I remember her hair was short and thick with a little touch of a wave that you could only see up close. Her eyes the color of rich amber. She was a medium size dog with a good lineage and her actual purchase had been with the intent to breed her with our stud, Dago, who had been imported from Germany as a puppy. The two were a good match and I watched with growing curiosity afterward, as her belly swelled until it was round and tight.
Over the years, I had been present for only a handful of actual live births by that point, usually, I chose to watch from a non-threatening distance. Some of the mothers were very territorial during and after giving birth. I had been growled at and nipped at enough to know where my place in the process was. I had a deep respect for what these mothers had to do, and I mourned with them when they lost one of their babies.
This was Happy’s first litter and she grew wearier as the birthing day approached. She seemed confused as to what was going on and often watched her own stomach move as the puppies wormed around inside her. As it happens, I was alone with her when she went into labor, with no back up arriving for hours. I had already staged the birthing area weeks prior, just in case.
The containment was a custom wood box Bob had made to keep the puppies enclosed until they were bigger and had been used by a handful of mothers before her. My job was always to cover the floor of the box with a thick layer of newspapers. Then making a nest of old blankets for the first few days in one corner. She looked worried as I ushered her into the box. I rubbed her stomach gently and gave her a lick at the water bowl when she looked like she needed it. We were both scared.
When the first sack came out it was unbroken. Happy and I both just looked at it. A little moving sausage with puppy ears smashed against the clear encasement. I moved cautiously towards the sack, seeing her trust and bewilderment, I poked a finger through the sack at an open spot between limbs and fluid spilled out onto the blankets. The pup moved wildly now, it’s head still stuck in the deepest part of the sack. She heard the peep it made and went to work bringing her first pup into the world, fully wet and shivering. After that, each new pup came out and was cleaned up without my assistance and by the fifth one, she was a pro.
In the end, she finished with four survivors. All beautiful and strong like their mother.
She was a natural in the weeks to come. You could tell she wasn’t one of those mother’s that just want to get away from the little parasites that draw their teats down into a funnel-shaped cone. Instead, she showed her offspring the same loyalty and dedication that she showed me. She cleaned them often and kept them close, concerned about the slightest peep, circling them when they played in the yard.
1983 ended up being one of the worst years of my childhood. There’s nothing like coming home from school only to have your parents tell you that they sold your dog. They gave me no warning as if it was a band-aid being ripped off a painful wound. That was a pain that I never really recovered from. I never forgave them for it and went into a pre-teen depression that matched my gloomy devastation. I was truly lost without my best friend.
I don’t currently have any animals. I’ve had cats over the years, mostly because they are easy and so independent. I’ve thought many times about getting a dog, especially a Shepherd, but I doubt that any dog will ever compare to her. She is long gone by now, no doubt. I still think of her and her non-offensive dog breath and wonder how many puppies wander the earth with a piece of her smile or her huge heart.