Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
– Desmond Tutu
“Open the door and let it come in. It will fill your mind and dance with your heart.”
― Debasish Mridha
It is amazing how elastic the heart is. When we put Alja to sleep for the last time (all the euphemism for killing a dog are somehow terrible), I thought I would shatter. She had been very sick but we were hopeful that she could get better and then suddenly she was gone. For weeks, I couldn’t think of anything else. Even now, months later, things happen and I think how she would react and how she was. My Sweet Pea. I miss you.
But there has been a dog in our house for more than 17 years and eventually even in the pain I felt, I needed to hear the click of claws on the floor and feel warm fur under my hand. We wanted a Kuvasz because once you are experienced the strength, intelligence and loving openness of these dogs paired with an exceptional beauty, you want more of it. All of the breeders within reasonable travel distance weren’t expecting puppies for up to a year and somehow I didn’t want to wait that long. So we started looking for Kuvaszes to rescue and found German clubs that support Hungarian Shelters to place dogs. They had several Kuvaszes to adopt and we decided on Aranyosh. There were two cute videos of her and she looked so sweet. We also asked an animal communicator to talk to her to see if she would like to come. With everything seemingly ok, two weeks later I drove down to the parking lot in southern Germany where the Shelter brought several dogs to their new owners and was given a dirty, scarred, battered and terrified creature you almost couldn’t call a dog.
During the drive home, after a hefty struggle to shove her into the car, I was shell shocked. She didn’t look like a Kuvasz to me, and she was so scared, I thought we would never be able to deal with her. I called my husband still on the road and told him I still wanted to get a puppy because Aranyosh wasn’t what I had been expecting or wanting. When I finally got home, he carried her into the house because she wouldn’t come in on her own. She was trembling and laid herself right in front of the door and wouldn’t take another step into the house. It was nearly midnight so we just went to bed. The next morning, we thought about giving her back but I felt like we had made a commitment and that we couldn’t give back such a traumatized animal. It just wouldn’t be right. We would just have to figure out how to help her to trust us and find a home with us.
Fast forward 6 weeks. We are still struggling with some issues – parts of the house are still too scary to explore – but the change in her is amazing. A couple of baths (one wasn’t enough) and brushings and the magic of baloney (her favorite inducement to try something new) and you wouldn’t recognize her as that terrorized heap that I picked up in August. She is half the size of Alja so most of the neighbors have decided they like her better (I guess she isn’t so scary to them but they never really knew Alja). And also because she doesn’t bark quite as much but that is also changing as she more and more accepts that this is her house and her yard. And she loves to cuddle! She is still trying to train us to let her be outside 24/7 but baloney helps and when I sit on the couch to watch TV and knit, she is usually laying on her bed behind my shoulder, grunting every once in a while to let me know she is there. We have decided not to get a puppy at the moment. It seems like too much and we are afraid it would make her nervous again. But we are enjoying long walks with her through the woods and learning about who she is. We call her Yoshi. She can twist herself in amazing directions in her attempt to make you think she isn’t dangerous. So I had a Bunny Dog (Weia), a Monkey Dog (Alja) and now I have a Wormy Dog and my heart is learning to love again.
Time has ceased
But cherished memories still linger
This is the way of life and all things
We shall meet again
You are only sleeping.
―José N. Harris, Mi Vida
Last weekend, we put our sweet dog, Alja, to sleep forever. The one I always called Monkey Dog because she was always jumping and playing and doing something silly, who was so alive and conscious. She heard planes go overhead and would watch them go. You could see her nose follow the path. She greeted everyone like they were her best friend that she hadn’t seen them for years, even if she had never met them. She was smart. She understood “squirrel” and “fox” just by the tone of our voices. Spelling didn’t work. She would jump up at the first “S”.
When we picked her out at the breeders, she was so small you could have held her in one hand. The breeder wanted us to get to know her while she was still in her family but I couldn’t go at the time, so Wolfgang would go alone and she would stumble over to him and fall asleep between his feet, full of trust and love. When we brought her home, she fit on a quarter of the blanket we had bought. When she was full grown, she was too big for the blanket.
When we were renovating this house, I was here alone with her and wanted to go back to Frankfurt after having done some work and she sat at the top of the stairs to the door and wouldn’t come. She had decided that this was home. She will always be a part of this house to me.
When we went hiking in the mountains, she was always climbing up high rocks and trying to pull ahead. Her joy and excitement were catching. It made the hard work less hard. Walking in the woods here near the house with her was one of the joys of my life. She seemed so alert and engaged. It was having a real companion on the way.
She was always my husband’s dog really. I took an “Animal Communicator” course just to see what might be possible and another participant in the course who tried to contact her said that she asked Alja who her favorite playmate was and she saw “some guy,” she said and seemed upset. She expected another dog. But I knew that Alja’s favorite playmate was my husband. He would lay on the floor and she would try to get the ball away from him. She never tired of that game.
But she and I had a special relationship. In the house, I always talked to her like she would understand. Somehow it felt like she did. People say that dogs don’t understand. That they just hear blah, blah, blah, treat! blah, blah, blah, walk! But that’s not how it felt to me with her. She seemed to know and sympathize.
Two and a half years ago she started to get sick and my life went on hold. The doctor had an idea what was making her sick but he wasn’t really sure so we tried lots of things. She would get better for awhile and then it would be worse again. So we would try something else. She lost muscle mass, she became incontinent. We tried something else. That really didn’t work either and she became blind. And the loss of muscle mass accelerated.
Three weeks ago, I stayed home with her while my husband went sailing to get his sailing certificate. We had planned to put her in a pension and I would go with him but she was just too fragile to give to anyone else. We had the feeling she wouldn’t live out the week. And I was tested for the first time in my life. My whole day was wrapped around her, getting her out to pee every two hours all through the day and night, getting her food, making sure she was ok. The bond between us deepened in a way I can’t really describe. And her condition improved at least some. We started to hope that she was getting better.
Then last Friday when I was already in bed, she started bleeding from the nose and it wouldn’t stop. She was hemorrhaging. We have a very kind vet who came over at midnight and he said he believed the bleeding would not stop. It was too thin, not showing any signs of clotting and that she would probably bleed to death. So we helped her go. We held her in our arms as she took her last breath.
My house is empty and my heart is broken.
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the center of the world. ―John Burroughs, Studies in Nature and Literature
I am feeling very grateful today that I grew up in the US, that there is the great college system and that my parents were able to finance my dream to study music. It was an amazing privilege that I didn’t recognize at the time but the contrast of how things work here in Germany is bringing into focus.
In Germany, most schooling is “free” including University. For college, you have to pay a nominal fee, somewhere around 500 Euro a year or semester but as a result the universities can be and are very choosy about who they take and who they don’t take. There is no such thing as elite university but there is a “numerus clausus”, which means you have to have a certain grade point average to study the most popular subjects. That is supposed to restrict the number of people who study subjects like law, medicine and psychology (which in some schools is a grade average actually higher than for medicine or law).
In the performing arts, there is an intense audition process where people get bounced out like at a Broadway Cattle Call. In music, you not only have to show your abilities in your instrument in an audition but also usually in piano and music theory. Regardless of how good your audition is, if your scores in the other tests are not high enough you are not considered. There are also very limited places available in each department because each teacher only has a few open spaces each year, especially since in Germany you can study as long as it takes. I met singers in my first summer in Germany who were in the mid-thirties and officially still considered university “students”, which means they were holding places in a teacher’s roster at a school although they were working professionally as singers. The best way – if not the only way – to get a place to study is to be studying with a teacher privately outside of the university so that they can fight for you with the audition committee.
As a result, only a chosen few are allowed to study music in Germany. That doesn’t mean that they are the best. A friend of mine was on a placement committee at her university and a singer made it into the school only because his teacher sat on the committee and insisted that he be taken although my friend thought he should take up plumbing. I taught a young singer with lots of promise and a great desire to be a singer, excellent piano skills and had been taking music theory classes for 3 years. We made a connection for her with the head of the voice department at the school where she wanted to study. She took a lesson with him. He promised he would fight for her. She didn’t get in. When she tried to contact him to find out what it was that she was missing – if for no other reason than to help her improve – he never responded to her inquiries. She was so devastated that she ended up choosing a totally different subject to study.
Another student of mine who was also promising left me to work privately with different teacher because that teacher as much as promised that she could get the student into the university where the teacher worked. That was important because this student didn’t have piano skills and had never had any music theory classes. I lost track of her and only recently found out that she didn’t get in to that school. According to social media, she doesn’t have a job, isn’t working on something else. Another sad case.
In the US, it is all about money – even more now than when I went to school -but at least there was a chance for someone coming from a middle class family and of course we took out loans. I don’t know if I would have been taken by an elite school like Julliard or Cincinnati but I never auditioned there because the tuition was way beyond my parent means. I had piano lesson but I wasn’t particularly good and the only music theory I had was in a self taught class in high school. But I skinned through the entrance exam and apparently showed enough promise at the audition to be accepted (funny enough I never considered any other possibility) and I was able to start the incredible journey that I have had. What a privilege. What would my life have been like if I had grown-up here? Amazing thought.