… on a princess at thirteen

We’ve been here before.

Not with this beloved dog but, you know, here.

Living with, and loving, an old dog.

We’ve had four-point-five German shepHerds* in our lives. Apparently we are big on ‘point fives’… 4.5 shepHerds, 3.5 kids.

ShepHerds are phenomenal dogs (in my, and many others’ opinions). They are intelligent and devoted. But they are also working dogs, and come with the challenges associated with that instinct. As Elizabeth Gilbert (in Big Magic) said about another working breed, you either give them a job or they eat the couch. That’s fair.

Luckily, our family being our family, we need a lot of shepHerding.

And, while all of our German shepHerds have been special in their own ways (I’m looking up (down?) at you, Marshal Dillon Dingle), two have been exceptional – truly exceptional – family dogs.

The first was Ripley.

She was my girl.

Mac was almost eight years old when she came to us. Sam was six, Gabe two.

She was their protector, my nanny dog (paid in kibble and the occasional, much coveted, scrambled egg or bite of steak).

That dog would gently herd the kids away from the driveway (or back toward the house). She was the checkpoint for any of their friends who came over for play dates, taking in their scents and then adding them to her long list of responsibilities. She hated, absolutely hated when any of her charges would dive into the pool and/or swim underwater. She’d make them crazy, racing around the pool, barking in alarm, until they resurfaced. She checked on each kid, after we tucked them in, at least three times: To say goodnight herself, to ensure they were still in their beds an hour later, and before she retired for the night.

When she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, at the age of ten, we explored all the options – from medications to radiation to… I can’t even describe all that was available to try to keep her with us a little bit longer. We decided, with guidance from her much loved vet, that palliative care was the way to go. That dog had all the eggs and steak she wanted, and lived six months longer than the experts thought she would.

Of course she did.

She was Ripley.

Ripley, the action hero, named after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the movie Aliens. Why? Because six year-old Sam’s original name choice – Arnold Schwartzenegger – wouldn’t work for a ‘girl dog’ (a fact that he shared through tears and great gulps of air). So, we urged him to think of his favorite ‘girl hero’ and Ripley it was.

What can I say, kid had some strict name rules.

Now – and for the past thirteen years – there’s Blaze.

Blaze, the puppy chosen by Gabe from one of a talented friend’s most prized litters. Blaze was Gabe’s present for his thirteenth birthday.

She came home to us as a tiny, twelve week-old puppy. Her first collar was, appropriately, a very royal purple.

From day one, she took over the household – including two dogs, one of which was a sometimes-grouchy, 132 pound Bernese Mountain Dog (and puppy Blaze was basically the size of a cat).

At about 18 months old, Blaze expanded her job responsibilities to bringing up one Marshal Dillon Dingle (and all that he entailed).

She did such things, and anything else asked of her, all the while ensuring her entire kingdom ran like clockwork (well, as close to clockwork as Dingles do). This included, of course, Gabe (‘Her Boy’).

Blaze (far right) at about 18 months. Her subjects Marshal Dillon Dingle, Fred, and Monty (right to left) awaiting her permission to move (she took her cues from us, and they from her).

Between JoHn’s childhood dog, Misty (who I met when she was about five years old and knew for the rest of her life), Ripley, and now Blaze, we’ve talked a lot over the years about how amazing female German shepHerds can be.

Sure, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but I’m just such a fan.

Lately, as I watch Blaze sleep, or scan the yard from a sitting position, or stutter the occasional step, I know…

I don’t want to let this one go.

I want to do anything else.

Kick and scream.


Silent treatment.

Shake my fists.

Turn away.



All the things.

I see all the signs in our beautiful girl…

From that crusty nose to those super tough ‘toenails’.

The grey-white muzzle and eyebrows.

The shedding – oh the shedding. German shepHerds have a double coat, and shed like crazy at least once (mine have always blown their coats twice) each year. As they age? Well, there are hairs all over the place, and all over them, all the dang time.

She is slower now, too. Our ‘family walks’ (me, John, Belle, and Blaze) are mostly ‘sniffy’ walks – slow walks up and down our street, checking all the smells (reading the pee-mail).

For a couple of years now, she has needed a ‘tush-push’ to get into the back of my truck (Gronk). Now she has trouble getting her two front paws onto the tailgate, so John got her a ramp and taught her how to use it (under supervision of course).

She now spends most of her time dozing on the very nice ottoman-turned-princesses-throne by the window. When Belle ‘steals’ it, Blaze no longer threatens her existence, but comes to get me (so that I can threaten her existence).

And, the other night, JoHn had to use a towel as a sling to help Blaze upstairs for the first time.

It’s here.

It is a bargain not made with the devil, but with the angels (including the better angels within us).

We are gifted these beings who bring so much to our lives. We are entrusted with their care and, hopefully, we are the better for it. And then…

Well… and then.

Eventually we are there for their twilight years and weeks… then days and hours and minutes and seconds… as easy and loving as we can… before gently handing them back.


At the tender age of 12 weeks – Blaze traded her devotion, her expertise, and her love for the two best – and easiest – gifts we could ever offer a German shepHerd dog…

A family who would love her – will love her – for the rest of her life. And one that would, individually and collectively, make enough ‘bad’ choices, ‘odd’ decisions, and generally do enough ‘wrong’ (and constantly) to ensure she had gainful employment for all of her years.

Love and work.

It’s all she’s ever asked of us.

And she never once even nibbled the couch.

Thanks for readin’.

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*While I capitalize the occasional ‘H’ in words due to the exaggeration of pronunciation in words like ‘wHipped’… and I also add an ‘H’ to the word ‘wHeird’ (just because)… I capitalize the ‘H’ in German shepHerd because a dear friend’s head explodes when anyone spells it ‘sheperd’, ‘shepperd’ or anything other than ‘shepherd’ because it is a ‘H’erding dog and she just can’t take it. And I find this hysterical. So it is an ode to my friend (whose name is ‘Karen’ but she is the least ‘Karen-y Karen’ you could know (obsession with people spelling ‘shepHerd’ correctly aside)).


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