Big Dumb Blond

ChiquiStPatrickWe have been blessed with a gentle giant for almost 10 years.

She was a small fluff ball when she joined our family, in the shape of a small St Bernard, and Beethoven era was upon us.  It was like a Gremlin hairy ball, who grew fast.

One important piece of advise, never go see St Bernard puppies with your kids!  That’s how we ended up with three dogs simultaneously; labrador, Bernese Mountain Dog and St Bernard.  Each dog become a bigger breed.

Nevertheless, we loved the dogs and they became part of our family.  Kids rode them like ponies, ran with them in the snow and cried as the parted us, walking across the Rainbow Bridge.

Chiquita (named after the banana for no apparent reason) was the last of the trio.  She was a gentle clumsy giant, who loved everyone she met.  Yes, she wasn’t the brightest bulb in the lamp shop, but that didn’t bother her or us.  It was the sheer love she gave us, in particular the kids.

It was a moving carpet and when she slept the neighbours could hear her snoring.  It resonated throughout the house.  At times I woke up in the middle of the night to move her, which only lasted a few minutes.  We had many fun filled moments with her … or at least on her account 🙂

  • If she was in the garden, and I would call, she would look the opposite direction.  Not to piss me off, but simply because she had no clue where my voice came from.  EVEN, if I would stand 10 yards from her.
  • When shaking her head, we would have slobber streaks on walls and ceiling, as well as furniture, windows, TV, furniture – that’s just part of having a large breed.
  • A few times she was running towards me, only to trip over her front legs, almost crash into the ground, but magically recover the fall gracefully.
  • We would throw her treats, almost hitting her head.  She either couldn’t see the treat or had not idea what to do when we threw them.  She just continued to stare at whoever was throwing it.
  • She had the ability to dig out treats hidden in her dry-food, and lick off all gravy, and still leave all the dry-food behind.  She was a picky eater.  In fact, she would only eat meats and treats while in heat.

You can imagine the sadness that fell upon the family, when we found her lifeless in the living room the other morning.  She had slept in during the early morning.  I gently petted her head and body, said a few loving words, and then woke up my wife with the sad news.

The girls woke up and broke into tears.  They knew she was old, but that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.  They hugged the fluffy giant while she slept, and my wife cancelled school that day.  It was simply too much for the girls.

keyringst_bernardLater that day, we carried her (not easy to carry 140lbs) to the car and I drove her to the vet.  One final visit and final goodbyes.  The girls had joined me, but couldn’t hold back the tears as they drove her away.  My oldest ran over to stretcher and gave her a strong loving hug, while tears were rolling down her face.  Then she came to me and needed a big hug.

Now the third dog has crossed the rainbow bridge, waiting for us to one day come across to play with them again.

Werewolf in the making

werewolAmidst a busy schedule with Eucharist, new school, moving house and work, we also welcomed Coco to our family – a little fiery chocolate Labrador.  She’s a little devil in disguise, but you cannot but help love her.  However, recent incidents have left me no way out but to put my creative mind thinking.

It’s not easy for three kids under the age of 11 to accept that a puppy this cute cannot play with them, without biting / scratching them with her small razor-sharp teeth.  As a result, we are now stockpiling bandages to cover finger and lower leg scratches.

Please understand, we are not condoning the dog biting the kids, but in the heat of the moment the dog may mistake a finger for ball, or attempt to tackle the kids from behind by attacking their legs.  It’s in her nature to hunt 🙂

Yesterday my 5-year-old asked why the puppy is constantly attacking her, attempting to annihilate her stuffed animals and decapitate her dolls!

I was at first a little speechless.  I wasn’t ready to have this conversation.  Nevertheless, I owed an explanation to my little girl, since I was the one who brought this tiny monster into our loving home.

Probably a big parental fail, and something that I might pay for later when she attends shrink sessions to repair what I caused.  But, I decided to tell her that our cute little Labrador was in fact half a werewolf.

The horror on her faces was priceless, and as I started to elaborate about my werewolf theory, she did show early signs of fear or perhaps just utter disbelief.

I went on to explain that the scratch marks in her kennel are in fact from her transformation, and not Wolverine visiting.  Her ways of swallowing her food within seconds is a typical trademark of werewolves as they eat quickly not to get caught.

Another giveaway is the way she hunts down stuffed animals and dolls, practicing the early kill, and her tackling my daughter is to perfect her skill of bringing down running prey.

I honestly thought it was a good explanation, and went on to explain that the dog was cheaper than her siblings because she was half werewolf.

Needless to say, my daughter was terrified for a few seconds, until the little adorable chocolate Labrador laid down by her feet, looking to be scratched on her stomach.  And, I did allude to the fact that werewolves don’t harm family, and she’s family so will protect us from the evil monsters lurking in the night.

Amazingly, she did not have nightmares, but respects the puppy’s teeth a little more now.

werewolf puppies

Rise of Coco

coco2I swore 2 years ago that, when our male Labrador passed over the rainbow bridge, we would not replace him and that we would not get any other dog when our St Bernard dies either.

It’s a lot of responsibility to have a dog(s), and you are bound to them all the time.  They depend on you.  This restricts you from doing stuff too spontaneously, as you have to plan ahead with a dog sitting and that’ll cost you extra.

Being the head of the family, I succumbed to my family’s constant pressure and we invested in a new dog.  It takes a big man to admit defeat and I’m not a big man 🙂  I’m under the thumb just like any other dad / husband in the World.

Here’s the insane bit, as if getting a new dog wasn’t crazy enough.  We drove 3 hours to see and pick the dog from the litter, then 3 hours back.  And, bring on asylum insane, we did the same trip two weeks later to pick up the puppy.

Drumroll …. and we love her 🙂

She was really well-behaved the first evening.  It took her a little time to sniff the house, considering she lived in a breeding box (4′ x 4′) before, and now she has 2700 sq. feet to cover.

We decided to place her in a dog kennel for the night, with blankets, and she was snoring away … at least until 2am.  At that point she woke up and realized she was in a strange place, with strange smells.

It was as if she screamed “Why am I in this prison?  I did not chew the shoe!  I need my mum!  I’m innocent of whatever crimes I’ve committed.  Why this cruelty?

I woke up to the intense winning and pushed my wife out of bed.  She had promised to look after the puppy, with our now 11-year-old daughter, and she stumbled down the stairs to be with the puppy.  I could get some more sleep 🙂

To my amazement, she’s actually well-behaved.  I have to say that as she’s our dog.  But, she eats well, sleeps better and is getting a lot of exercise from chasing the St Bernard.

The 9-year-old St Bernard is shell-shocked with the arrival of this little chocolate-colored labrador, who chases her tale and bites her paws.  She’s slightly apprehensive about letting the puppy cuddle up with her, and not too sure how to play with such a small thingy.

She has already bonded with the kids, especially my son, and is chewing their shirts and socks, much to the amusement of the kids.

It’ll be fine.  It’ll take some time for the family to adjust, but we love her already.

Just one minor problem – she has already attempted to steal my corner on the family sofa!

First Beethoven Encounter

There are a few rules that you need to remember when having kids of a certain age or if you consider buying a pet in general, especially a dog

  • Do not go window shopping!
  • Do not visit a kennel!
  • Do not visit a breeder!
  • Do not touch a puppy!
  • Do NOT bring your kids along to look at puppies

Breaking any of these perceived simple rules and you’ll end up with a cute little fluffy puppy – whether you want it or not.  And, that’s exactly what happened to us a few years ago.

We had always been big fans of St Bernard dog, but we already had two rather large dogs; a Labrador and a Bernese Mt dog. So, it wasn’t a priority or intention to get another (third) dog.

One day we broke the cardinal rules “do not visit a breeder”, “do not touch a puppy” and “do not bring your kids”.

I saw an ad in the local tabloid buy ‘n sell paper, where a family was looking to sell St Bernard puppies.  Surely we could just go check out these fluffy beasts?  We had willpower … or so we thought.

Now, most breeders of more exotic breeds like St Bernards are often eccentric or perhaps just a little strange.  They are mad into the breed of dogs and will do everything possible to convert you or suss you out to ensure that you will be a good dog owner.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s always something strange about fanatics.

The family that we visited were no exception to the rule and certainly fitted the strange bill.  The soundtrack from “The Lost Boys” should’ve been playing in the house we visited.

Furthermore, the place we were going to was about an hour drive from our house, so this was going to be a road-trip, which normally means a heavy reliance on the GPS lady.  The only challenge here is that American or Asian produced GPS ladies don’t know shit about the back roads of Ireland.

In the end, we found the place and knocked on the door.  Out came a hobbit sized man with a beer-belly the size of a basketball.  His hands were kids sized, so I gently squeezed it, afraid to break his bones.

Behind him was more hobbits – 6 to be exact – each of them slightly chubby and over-happy to have visitors.

We were invited in for cake ‘n coffee and even got a tour of the house.  They showed off family albums and shared some of their adventures.  The freaky bit was when they dragged in their 2nd youngest, to show off her little abnormal hands.  Well, if they were the size of her dad’s hands, then it’s a family thing, but this was a little more.  She had six (6) fingers on each hand.

Our actual puppy the day we brought her home!

I was trying not to show my utter amazement for this Ripley’s exhibit, but I guess my jaw dropping on the coffee table was too obvious.  After that, they shared the next phase in the six-finger adventure and that they were going to have them surgically removed.

Then we met the mummy and daddy dogs and all the fabulous little fluffy puppies.  There were a lot “aahhh“, “iihhhh” and “oohhh” – and then the dreaded “can we keep one?”.

Two kids and my lovely wife were staring at me with begging eyes, and so was the hobbit family.  How could I be the mean man and deny my family this fluffy thingy?  So, we agreed and the six-fingered family broke out the cognac and cheered.

6 weeks later we were back in the hobbit hole to collect the fluff ball.  We named her Chiquita like the banana, not too sure what the resemblance was, but the name stuck.

We were greeted back with cookies, coffee and big family hug by the entire chubby clan.  They were overly happy to have us back, and even suggested that we buy the neighbouring house as it was for sale – they were VERY keen on having us as neighbours.

… and now!

Right, time to leave this place behind.  I had seen enough “Twilight Zone” to know when to call it a a day.  I was genuinely getting worried and was wondering if the dad would tie a chain to the car preventing us from leaving … which he thankfully hadn’t done.

Instead we left with a little bundle of fluffy joy.  I knew it wouldn’t last as these creatures grow fast and big.  But, that’s another post.

When to say goodbye

Pets are wonderful creatures to have around and they quickly become part of the family.

They participate in all activities, they go places and they are ecstatically over-hyper happy when we the owners return home – unless you of course own a pet snake, ant farm or bigfoot.  As soon as the door opens to the house all hell breaks loose.  They bark, meow, purr, bit jump, chirp, whistle … anything to get your attention, which may involve tripping you as you walk with a huge a mount of groceries.

We are a dog family and have had three dogs in recent years – all at the same time.  It becomes rather crowded when you have three kids like we do.  And, with three dogs you can knit an Aran sweater (traditional Irish sweater) during the heavy shedding season, which seems to be all year round.

The kids have gradually become really close to the dogs. I’m still amazed with the level of patience our dogs have displayed over the years.  I’m talking about the kids poking their eyes, picking their noses, pretending they are horses, pulling of ears (tail and hair) and generally exploring the dogs anatomy sometimes using toys and/or sticks.

Just as us, the dogs get older and move less.  It gets a little more difficult getting up, they sleep in most days and rarely run around the garden like puppies.  The kids can see the transformation, but have up until now been unaware or perhaps they don’t understand that animals all go to heaven at some point.

But, when do you start preparing yourself, your kids and dogs for the final goodbye?

Our first dog passed away in the beginning of 2011 after having suffered a few minor heart attacks and damaged some nerves in the lower back.  I couldn’t stand seeing her suffering and when she couldn’t move any longer I decided to go to the vet one final time.

Back then, the kids were a little upset, but I think we the parents were more affected by the loss.  These darn pets become such an important part and saying goodbye can break even the hardest person.  I’ve met many “strong” men who have broken down in tears when that day came.  I’m certain my dad (who I see as my hero) shed a little tear when he had to take the family dog to the vet a final time.

The dog will not exactly tell you “mate, please put me down!”. If they could choose they would stay as long as they could.  It’s the responsibility of us humans to determine when their life is no longer worth living, meaning that when the animal is in pain or discomfort, then we have to be humane and put it to sleep.

It sounds cruel and why not invest some money in getting the dog some treatment?

We do try to help the dog as much as we can, but at some point you are spending money on keeping the dog alive, despite it not being able to move or being in constant pain.

Some months ago the family lab, who has been getting slower/older, started to have health problems.  We visited the vet and spent a small fortune on some tests and some medication.  It helped him for some time, but he was still getting worse.

Lately he started to display pains when getting up and he was gaining weight + was breathing heavily and heaving.  Back to the vet!

After a few tries, we finally found a brilliant down-to-earth vet, who assessed our lab and gave us the verdict without huge fees.  His days were numbered and we had to prepare to put him down.  *slap* smack on the face.  How do you tell the kids?

This time, our oldest daughter knew fully what was going on. There were plenty of tears, screams, hugs and other emotional outlets.  She demanded that we keep him alive, but when we told her the costs of doing so (and his chances of surviving such procedures) she started to understand.  Through the wall of tears she did mutter that she wanted him in a box, if that would be alright.  At least she didn’t ask for him to be stuffed!

It pains me to even consider driving him to the vet, but deep inside I knew it was the right decision.  He was not enjoying life anymore and he was in pain.  He’d be much better off in heaven, playing with his “sister” and my dad.

In the end, we decided to keep him with us for some extra weeks, just to give us some more wonderful memories with him.