One of the most energetic breeds, the German Shorthaired Pointer is a hunting dog by nature. When they lack in exercise they can become high strung, and frustrated. The GSP will not listen if they sense that they are stronger minded than their owner, however they will also not respond well to harsh discipline.
When we first moved into our home in July of 2000, we didn't have a dog.
Because it simply wasn’t prudent.
We had just moved to a new city, had a 2 year old, five cats (post-vet clinic/shelter job reverb), and I was 5 months pregnant. There was a lot going on.
I had learned on moving day, for instance, that just because there is a thermostat with a “Cool” setting attached to your living room wall, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have air conditioning. Because there was no air conditioning. It was a 100 year old house, and had no knowledge of such inventions; at 100 years old, it knew about swamp coolers, and cast iron pipes, and cloth wiring. And dust.
But J. wanted a dog.
Still, I knew that I’d be the one caring for a dog. Because I was the boots on the ground in our relationship. When J. would leave on his frequent business trips, I was the one who stayed home and made sure the household didn’t implode. While he faced four star hotel rooms and business lunches at Hooters, I was the one who unpacked moving boxes and entertained two year olds with sleep issues. While he got to eat in nice restaurants in France and Korea and Germany, I got to take crabby kids grocery-shopping and phone the insurance company regarding the raw sewage coming out of the downstairs bathroom.
Plus, J. had a pattern of falling quickly in and out of love with whatever his current desire was, and I had just spent the last several weeks unpacking--into a much smaller home--each and every token of these brief love affairs.
No; getting a dog simply wasn’t prudent.
But J. wanted a dog. He saw our neighbor’s German Shorthair Pointer, and persisted. Because their dog sat on their porch, docile and well-mannered. Kinda like a butler. And if there’s one thing J. respects, it’s obedience and servitude.
But still I said “No.”
But J. wanted a dog.
And “No” to J. always translated into a kind of personal insult. Like a miscarriage of justice. As if he was shocked and totally offended that I had gotten so far off-topic.
Six months later—with J. out of town, and the two year old covering her ears to keep out the baby's hysterical sobs--I found myself trying to soothe my colicky infant with a puppy glommed onto my pajamas. Teeth clamped onto my knee-length nightgown—holding on for dear life--her back legs walking along as her front legs dangled.
This puppy was nothing like a butler. Strong-willed, hyperactive, and unfazed by reprimands, it was just easier to let her hang on. And “easy” was like bourbon.
So she hung on--and--with every step--the thin white fabric of the nightgown gave way under the pull of her body until eventually her front paws were touching the carpet. And she finally let go.
J.’s love affair with Maddie came to an end late one night. She was about 11 months old.
Obedience school was behind them, and he seemed pleased with her progress so far and was keeping his promise to me to be a good pet owner.
Until that night.
I was already in bed, but could hear them through the heating ducts.
“Maddie! No!” I could hear his office chair creak as he quickly got out of it. And heard Maddie’s faux-“I want to rumble” growl/bark, the one we usually got during tug-of-war. I envisioned that she had picked up his slipper and wouldn’t give it back.
That was one of her things. Picking up stuff we wanted—pillows, Easter candy, pacifiers, Barbies, dinner--and then running off in an attempt to get us to chase her. Sometimes—like if what she took made the girls really upset--she knew she had gone too far, and would stop running and drop it. Because she loved us, and didn’t really want to upset us; she just was really hyper and wanted to play.
One time, it was quite a funny scene because Maddie had run off with one of the kids sandbox buckets, but—in her haste--had gripped it in her mouth by the lower edge of the bucket rim so that her nose was inside the bucket and her eyes were completely covered. It was like chasing a sight-impaired criminal, as she gingerly—and sightlessly—tried to run away from us, dancing and sidestepping through the backyard with the delicateness of an Arabian horse.
But there was no laughter from the heating vent; because there was no room for humor in this pride-filled fight for dominance.
“Maddie!!!! No, goddamit!!! No!!!!!” The breathless exasperation hinted at incredulity and betrayal.
It might have been coincidence—that it was just time for him to lose interest in this new “hobby”—but, after that, he acted pissed at her all the time, and didn’t walk her, or talk about her, and told her to go away when she came up wagging her tail. (He still does this). And she quickly became my dog.
Many years later--after our divorce--J. and S. bought an expensive puppy together--the newest dog of J.’s dreams—a month after he moved to Virginia with her. And it made me even more loyal to Maddie; that J. had now replaced us both. But that ended up being just one more sad animal story too because when J. and S. eventually broke up, Lillybelle—the English Mastiff they’d had for a year—became collateral damage, and they had to give her to a rescue.
It probably won’t surprise those who know me that J. even asked me if I would take Lillybelle.
Guiltlessly--thinking of Maddie--I asked, “Are you freaking kidding me?!”
The first neighbor to visit us when we moved here came by on moving day--July 19--while I was frantically trying to figure out how to get the nonexistent air conditioner to work. Moving day, pregnant, and caring for a 2 year old, and still this neighbor chatted like we were drinking lemonade on the beach.
Julia peeked out from behind some boxes.
“Oh, is that your daughter? Hi, sweetie! I see you hiding behind that box!...” Cooing inanity to get Julia to come out. And when she didn’t come out, the neighbor laughed condescendingly, and asked, “What’s wrong with her?”
I immediately gave myself permission to hate her.
Four months later, she’d knock again, hand me our first Book of Mormon and—“the best book [she’s] ever read”—the Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley. Her visits now like root canals. Hours later--by dinner time--both books had been eviscerated, with pages scattered on the sun room floor, down the stairs, next to the doggie door, and in big piles in our back yard. Maddie had never before--and would never again--chew up another book, but made an exception in this case. Getting revenge--for me--on this neighbor, in an act that I simply can't believe was a coincidence.
I remember thinking about that time that two years old was my pencil-in date for when Maddie would be calming down. Then it became three years old. Then four.
That magic age ended up being 12.
She is now in declining health because of her age and multiple “death-by-chocolate” suicide attempts. With the closest attempt being the time she ate a giant bag of chocolate chips. The vomit was in three piles--in mammoth 2 feet diameters—on the brand new downstairs carpeting. “It’s the bile from the vomit”—the carpet cleaning guy told me—"and not the chocolate" that permanently stains the carpet. Which I found very unhelpful.
Maddie is now covered in fatty tumors. And can barely get up the stairs. And on days when she has found some contraband to eat (from cabinets left open, backpacks on the floor, the counter tops, or trashcans), pants unnaturally. When I talk to her now, I hold her face in my hands, and look her in the eyes, as if for the last time. Because you just never know.
Maddie has zest for life, and has loved us with equivalent passion. She is guiltless, and shameless, and sweet and bossy. She lives in the moment, and doesn’t give one shit what anybody else thinks of her. We should all—at times—give ourselves permission to have such bold, wreckless nerve.
I hadn’t wanted her. But it seems like the best lessons in life often arrive from unwanted sources.
And when she’s gone, I will grieve like she was my child. Before I bounce back--like she would do—grab onto something, and hold on for dear life.