thanks Ralf for saving my Christmas

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Louis is not doing a yoga pose…NO, he’s not

Yesterday was Christmas Day, and all was going relatively well until my boy dog Louis decided to disappear. It was quite honestly the most terrifying half hour I could imagine, because he’s not one to wander off.

His sister Ella, on the other hand, regularly runs off when we’re hiking in the mountains, but she’s smart enough to come back. Eventually. As much as it scares me when she does it, she’s clever. She’s able to find her way back.

Her brother Louis? Is he clever like his female counterpart? Uh, well.

He’s got a great personality – he’s earnest and takes defending us quite seriously. I promise you he’s got his better qualities, but intelligence isn’t something he was blessed with. I’m not being cruel – he really is a bit dim.

So when I turned round and he’s gone, I wasn’t pleased. I was the opposite of pleased. Ella was concerned, but to be candid she takes everything a bit too seriously, so I assured her that her brother would be back soon enough. After a few minutes of whistling and hollering his name, I was no longer able to feign calmness.

She and I switched positions, and she began assuring me that he’d soon be found. Everything would be ok. Right?

I wasn’t quite sure.

Now, if I wanted to build suspense and make this a decent piece of writing, I might draw it out. I could go into excruciating detail and describe my emotional spiral in a blow by blow manner, but I simply can’t bring myself to do that. It’s not somewhere I’m prepared to go with this.

What I’d rather do is make yet another plea that you hold those you love closer to you during the holidays. If you come here regularly, you know it’s one of my regular themes. Savour what you’ve got while it’s there. Don’t wait till you lose someone or something to appreciate it. Really.

My family in America seems to be doing rather well. Every time I talk to my brother’s children, my heart hurts a little that I’m not there more often. They love their Uncle Ken, and I wish I could corrupt them in person and not just via Skype. At some point in the last month I realised that if I needed a character reference, my niece Amelia would be my best bet.

Go ahead, ask her. What does she think of her uncle? The one who lives in Germany and always brings her a Dirndl or a nice bit of Swiss chocolate? If only that reference could help me get a better job or help me find a flat…

But then I realise, when I have that kind of high quality character reference, what else do I need? If this particular eight-year-old is properly impressed, why am I worried about little things like a place to live or a more stable source of income? Her mom Sara told me while we were on the phone last night, ‘Well, you could always come live here.

With Ella and Louis and all the contents of my tea cupboard?

I don’t think Amelia would think I was so great if she had to live near me on a regular basis. All things in moderation – even moderation.

Hug your people. Tell them you love them.

Savour this life. It’s precious. It really is the only one you’ve got.

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Louis and his stare…where did you run off to sweet boy dog?

Did his sister and I eventually find the ridiculous boy dog? Yes, of course we did. He was being cared for by a very kind family that had dogs of their own. Ralf was the guy’s name, and he and his family had him in the boot of their car. They were patiently waiting for Louis‘ people to come wandering along, and eventually we did.

Wish I could say I didn’t get emotional and cry a little, but I’d be lying if I tried to appear more strong and/or silent. There were tears, and maybe a bit of hugging. I’m not sure if the family knew what they were getting into when they decided to take care of Louis, and after my blubbering display I’m not sure they’d do it again.

Wherever Ralf is, I hope he knows he saved our Christmas.

Ella and Louis are now sleeping peacefully and all is right with the world. It really is going to be ok.

my rays of sunshine

Before there was even the thought of Ella and Louis – the Magyar Vizsla brother and sister that I talk and write about a great deal – before them there was a dog who came walking up to our car on a little road in southwestern South Dakota on the way from Sturgis down to Colorado. There was no intention of taking this dog. None. She was a mop of very dirty black hair, and looked painfully hungry. After giving her a bit of food, she jumped into the car and insisted that she was coming with us. Clearly of her own volition.

Lyle in snowy Colorado

Her name was Lyle, and there was something about her that I’d never experienced as a dog lover. See when I was a child, we always had dogs. My brother Michael had an incredibly strong connection to each one, but the very first dog, Dandelion, lived an astoundingly long time and he was especially fond of her. So much so that when she died, he was unconsolable. From my perspective, this was preposterous. ‘What’s wrong with you?‘ I wanted to ask him. ‘The old dog’s gone, which means we get a brand new dog. Maybe even a puppy.‘ He only wanted Dandelion. Once again, this made no sense to me.

So, back to Lyle. Brought her to Germany, and she was my only responsibility in the early days when I was still polishing my German. She’d run alongside my bicycle as I went to get papers from the main train station. She’d watch German television with me and offer sympathy when I insisted that I’d never get this language.

She was the perfect café dog. For hours, she’d sit next to me as I nursed my tea (sometimes even a coffee) and read book after book in my native tongue and sometimes even struggled through the daily papers in the adopted one. She was simply happy to be alongside me.

You see where this is going, right?

Lyle and me

In late January 2005, Lyle was healthy one day & violently ill the next. Before I could even consider taking her to the vet, she was up through the night unable to sleep. Took her out to the street in the middle of the night and she desperately wanted to go deep in the snowy bushes and be left alone. I held her the rest of the night and sometime around dawn she died in my arms.

I was suddenly my brother who I’d ridiculed. For months, I cried everyday. She had been my companion in such dark, frustrating moments. I didn’t want a shiny new puppy. I wanted Lyle.

Still brings tears to my eyes when I think about her.

Sometimes you really need more time to grieve the passing of a pet. And anyone who says they need more time…

I completely understand that. Without reservation.

But in this case, the only way to still the waves of inconsolable emotions was to get a new dog. Or in this case two new dogs. Then there it was written in the local Munich paper:  ‘Hamburg family has Magyar Vizsla puppies‘. Went to get them at Easter time. In the photos, they were still tiny. They were anything but small when I first saw them. The thing that sealed the deal for me was Ella laying next to me on the bench at the family’s house in Hamburg, and she began to purr. Just like a cat. She still does it to this day. It’s easily the most adorable thing she does, which says a lot. Louis was very standoffish. Over the years, he’s grown to become anything but that.

Here they were when they were still quite small:

Louis (on the left) and Ella as puppies

And if you know me at all, you know that my day revolves around these two. Happily. I’m sure I’d go outside if I didn’t have them begging to be taken, but I wouldn’t go as often. Or for as long.

I literally have hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of them. I’m loathe to include too many, but here are some of my favourite:

earnestness
Ella listing to the port side
in the autumn leaves
Going up Wendelstein-one of our favourite hikes
serious glove tug
goodnight happy dogs

Happy Birthday my rays of sunshine. You give so much more than you take. Thanks to all of you reading for loving them too.