Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.
― Milan Kundera
When I was a kid we had a German Schauzer named “Whiskers” and if you know the breed and you know how they are clipped you’ll know why. He was a little dog but he was full of spunk and stronger than an ox. He used to drag us all down the street. He was really my mom’s dog, although she wasn’t particularly fond of dogs in the first place. But we all loved him and cried when he died.
For a long time, I couldn’t have a dog. Too busy, too much moving, living in an apartment, never at home. But when my husband and I moved into a house in the country together, suddenly my desire to have a dog got really strong. I talked to Wolfgang about it and he said, “It will cost too much”, and I said, “If it’s too expensive, I will pay for everything”. He said, “We don’t have time, we’ll be tied down…” and my response was to cry and that did the trick!
I wanted to rescue a dog and so we went to animal shelters in the area. This was shortly after the law in Germany changed and you had to pay more tax to own a pitbull – yes in Germany you pay taxes on owning a dog although not on cats – and the shelter mostly had pitbulls and that kind of breed. I have nothing against terriers, etc. but I prefer long-haired dogs. There was one cute German Shepherd mix but the woman in the shelter said that we couldn’t possibly let him from the leash and that was something Wolfgang was determined to be able to do with his dog.
So we went to another animal shelter and there they didn’t seem to want to get rid of any dogs. With every dog that we named to the woman in charge, she came up with some reason why that dog couldn’t be placed. With one dog, she said it was sick and when we asked if they would call us when they knew that is was going to be ok, she said no. And when we asked if we could call to find out, she said no. We decided to try another place.
At the third shelter, they were very strict about people getting near the dogs so we had to be led around the place in a group of 6 to look at the dogs. When we finally got to the cages holding the dogs, there was one large, shining, white dog who seemed to be looking directly at us and calling to us. We weren’t allowed to get next to the cages so we could only stand several feet away and look at this beautiful creature from a distance. At the end of the tour, we were asked if we had an interest in any dog and we said we would be interested in the white one. Suddenly it was ok to get really close. Wolfgang left his ID and we took the dog for a walk.
She was big and had unbelievably soft curly fur. Her name was “Halina” at the time, a Polish name. She was so incredibly sweet, she came when we called and we fell in love immediately. We went back to the shelter and it turned out that we couldn’t take her with. I had assumed we would just pay the money and get to take her home. They told us that they would need to check our living situation before they could give her to us, which actually seemed very responsible especially because she had been returned twice already. We asked how long it would take to get an appointment and they said two weeks. I was shocked. We begged them to come earlier and they finally gave in and made an appointment within the week. That appointment only lasted 5 minutes and the next day we picked her up. We changed her name to “Weia” (pronounced like Vaya) because I was singing the Ring at the time and the song of the Rhein maidens “Weialaia, laia la laia” was ringing in my ears. It didn’t really matter, she didn’t listen to her name anyway.
She became Wolfgang’s dog. After all my drama about wanting a dog, she was much more attached to him than to me. It turned out that she was already four years old and a pure bread Kuvasz, a Hungarian herd protection dog. Her instincts told her to protect us, protect the house from any danger. We lived where sheep grazed in the field and her instincts told her that those sheep were meant to be kept in a group and so she would run towards the sheep, not realizing that they were protected by an electric fence. One time she misjudged her speed and touched her nose on the fence by accident. It took us weeks to convince her to walk that way again. She thought it was too dangerous!
She was herself somewhat dangerous. After paying a few Vet bills, we decided that we couldn’t allow her from the leash except when we were absolutely sure there was no other dogs around. She also had a knack for catching hedge hogs, grabbing them on the neck, shaking them and throwing them away. Her mouth would be full of spines but she wouldn’t stop. We tried to keep her from it but she would always find them before we saw them. Unfortunately, hedge hogs are a protected species in Germany and we had to cover up her killing as best we could.She was unbelievable sweet with people though. Everybody loved Weia and she went everywhere with us. She radiated a kind of peace and love that drew people to her. Everywhere we went, people wanted to take a picture of our dog. She was always the star. Once we left her with a colleague outside of Notre Dame in Paris so we could go inside. When we came out, he was furious because more people seemed to want to take a picture of our dog than of Notre Dame. When I taught, she lay under the table in my studio all day long. I think she must have been a little deaf. When a tenor friend came to coach with Wolfgang – she especially loved men – she rolled herself around his feet and stared up at him most of the time he was singing. We used to joke that the only reason a Polish orchestra hired Wolfgang to conduct was because they all loved the dog so much. When we were there, she had free reign of all the orchestra offices backstage.
She lived till she was over 14, a “Methuselah” age for a large dog according to our Vet. In the end she had cancer in a front leg which couldn’t be operated because her back legs were weak from a nerve problem in her back. The doctor convinced us to “put her down”, something I regret doing. At the time, it seemed like what we had to do. The Vet was kind enough to come to our house, which is not usual in Germany . I asked him to because she had always been so petrified of the Vet’s office and I didn’t want her to be afraid at the end. We both held her as she drew her last breath.
I was devastated. I thought I didn’t want a dog again for a really long time. But the heart is unbelievably elastic. After only a couple months I was looking in the internet for dogs. But that is another story.