If you can’t stand another sentimental dog story, stop reading now. However, if you’re in search of ways to adjust and thrive in an ever-changing world, a good dog can provide a numinous example.
Kathleen Fisher, or “Catfish” for short, must be the best vet on the entire planet. She came over Friday to join Sherry and me in celebrating the life of our wonderful German Shepherd, Zackery Adams. The three of us let Zack choose the spot he wanted to spend his final hour. Of course, it was under his favorite sycamore tree, which had spent many years growing up with him.
Zack had bravely endured a great amount of pain in his last few months. Getting up was a challenge and walking uphill was a tremendously courageous act. Zack’s eyes asked for help. His whine was not for attention but need. We decided it was time. As Zack accepted the anesthetic from Catfish, the tense pain left his face and he was free to wander through the many memories of an abundant life.
He came to us as a bundle of white fur with dark, penetrating eyes. As a pup, Zack snuggled up to Sherry each night on the kitchen floor while our three large dogs waited outside for the newest member to join the pack.
Zack grew so big so fast that we passed him over to Billy Bragg, Larry Redbone and Wyatt Blue a good month before he was emotionally ready to join the pack. Like any little brother, he received the brunt of the adventures of the day, getting tumbled and nipped in the rambunctious actions of dogs at play. Zack was a sensitive, overgrown pup, unable to defend his turf in the fashion we had come to expect from our former puppies. He developed so many personality oddities that we affectionately called him our “DSM-IV Dog,” after the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition. Zack could have kept a dog psychologist busy for an entire career.
His feelings were easily hurt. He was less quick to forgive. He developed a demanding, baritone bark that echoed throughout Washoe Valley. If his food wasn’t served up right, he wouldn’t eat. If you petted the other dogs before him, he would sulk. At times he was aloof, at other times, needy. He only came to you when he was good and ready and, when he did arrive, he might plow through your waiting arms with a blend of playfulness and force.
In time, Zack became good pals with our then Alpha dog, Billy Bragg. They had great battles, chasing one another into the creek, up the mountainside and through the sagebrush and manzanita bushes. At 125 pounds, Zack was a sleek athlete who could give as good as he got. Neighbors probably thought they were at war, but Zack and Billy were in fact cementing the bonds of brotherly love.
And Zack became the big brother to the Rivers twins, Mike and Buddy, two Shepherd puppies who received the same treatment from Zack that he remembered receiving from his older brothers in those early years. Our DSM-IV Dog had found his own form of play therapy.
Zack Adams was our grandsons’ favorite dog. He made sure they could go anywhere and return safely. The crown of his head was always within finger-reach, his eyes always fixed on the road ahead. The unbridled joy between little boys and big dogs is hard to match and Zack became both playmate and protector to children too young to know fear.
When Catfish finally administered the lethal injection, we were ready, each of us on our stomachs with our hands reaching out to touch our beloved friend. His eyes closed and we wept, part in joy and part in knowing we were losing the affection of a good dog.
Our DSM-IV Dog had fully recovered, evolving from a scared pup into a trusted member of the pack.
And isn’t that what we’re all shooting for?
About the author
Since founding The Change Companies® in 1988, Don has worked with approximately 150 agencies and corporations, tailoring Interactive Journals to serve those working and participating in the caring professions. His collaborative efforts in substance use, justice services, impaired driving, healthcare and education have consistently focused on helping individuals explore the process of positive personal change.
Earlier in his career, Don worked in many industries, including hotel management, publishing, higher education administration and healthcare business development. Along the way, he created numerous companies, experiencing both successes and failures. Many of these life lessons and joyous observations found their way into Don’s recent book, The Adventures of Binder-Man.
Don is most proud and appreciative of the outstanding employees who have shaped The Change Companies® for over two decades.
Word of the Week
In Greek, the verb neuein meant “to nod.” This simple function of the body moved through Latin, where it picked up its more ethereal and aesthetic qualities. The Latin word numen was used to describe a moment of divine approval or action, often signified by a nodding of the head. Today, “numinous” can refer to anything deeply spiritual or significant.