Alex and Chief ... and Annie
Chief, my Best Friend and Constant Companion for almost twelve years, passed away on October 4, 2010. He would have been twelve years old on November 22. Twelve years is a big chunk out of my life. I grew older as Chief grew up, matured, and then got old, himself. It has taken me this long to really compose some of my thoughts about this. It's still really hard to talk about, and there's no way I can be objective about any of it.
Chief passed away from bone cancer, a disease that seems to be becoming more and more prevalent in Rottweilers. Chief's particular cancer was in his right shoulder.
It is extremely difficult to go from a constant presence in my life and home for almost twelve years, to the complete absence of that presence. When our dogs are young, we never think of a day when they will no longer be with us. As Chief aged and his activity level slowed, thoughts of that would sometimes come to my mind, but I'd always push them aside. We still went for our walks. He still played with new–puppy Annie. No matter that my head told me Chief was old, in my heart he was still a puppy. Denial, of course, but all people who live with dogs do that, don't they? It is always hard to accept the fact that our dogs will never live as long as we want and need them to live, isn't it?
Chief's full AKC name was Michael's Thief of Hearts. He lived up to that name by stealing the heart of everyone he came in contact with. Men, women, children...it made no difference to Chief. They were all his friends, and he was loved by all of them.
There were so many questions I wish he could have answered for me. What does that smell like to you? What do you see and hear that I cannot? How do you coordinate four legs and feet to carry you up a flight of stairs so effortlessly? What do you see when you look at me? An endless list of questions, and I'll never know the answers.
I won't go into a lot of detail about his last days. We did spend a final weekend together. We spent a lot of time laying outside in the cool green grass together, enjoying the cool fall breezes, watching the wind ruffle the leaves on the trees, feeling the warm sun. I talked to him a lot those last two days. If I could have one wish, it would be that he understood the things I told him.
I owed Chief a lot. He was with me through the roughest period of my life. He made me smile every day of every year he lived with me...something no human has ever done. I'm grateful for every day he was here, and I gave him the best life I could. I owed him a lot. I could never have repaid him, even if he had lived many more years. But in the end, I did the last best thing I could do for him.
I knew Chief's passing would affect me a lot, but not to the degree that it has. I sometimes don't feel like the same person I was. At times, this house no longer feels like the same house. Maybe those feelings will subside in a year or two, I don't know. I guess I'll just have to wait and see. I have Annie, of course, who is nine months old now...and a new male Rottweiler puppy named Beau, who is almost four months old now. They are a joy to me, and I know they will grow into great dogs and friends. Every dog is different, every dog brings his or her own personality and character traits into a human's life and home. Neither one will ever take Chief's place, but they will have their own place in my life and heart, and I am glad they are here.
It is impossible to sum up a dog's life in a few short paragraphs or a few pages. It simply can't be done. Chief's ashes are in an urn now, beside those of Mike, my first Rottweiler who passed away in 1998, and those of Alex, my beautiful old girl who passed away in 2006. So just as they are, he will always be with me.
My beautiful girl Alex passed away on July 20, 2006, after a long illness.
She had been born, appropriately enough, on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1994. She was old for a Rottweiler, and her muzzle was gray, and she had become hard of hearing. She had gone through a lot in her life.
In late 2002, she had surgery on both rear legs and had artificial ligaments "installed." They worked great for a couple of years, and then her body began to reject the ones in her right leg, so those were removed. All that held her right leg together was scar tissue and a bit of cartilege. But it didn't slow her down much...she was just more careful going down the back porch stairs into her back yard.
She'd endured a chronic ear infection since she was about two or maybe three years old. I spent thousands on medications for her to keep it in check. The infection was resistant to every antibiotic tried. I'd cleaned her ears at least twice a week for years and years. Chief cleaned her ears, too. She would let him lick her ears and moan with pleasure.
A tumor began growing in Alex's abdominal area on her left side in early 2006. At first, it seemed minimal, though I did get her checked out, but the tests were inconclusive. It continued to grow and was surgically removed approximately six weeks before she died. It almost immediately began growing again in the same place; it had been diagnosed as malignant. I knew she did not have too much longer and began making mental preparations, though I don't believe I'll ever be ready to make that sort of decision. But I never got the chance. I took her out in the front on the last day of her life, and she walked around the yard. She was growling, but there was nothing around for her to growl at, and she seemed to be looking off into the distance. I know it sounds stupid, but it was like she could see Death coming for her, and she was letting it be known that she was going to fight. She wasn't ready yet. I had a premonition, but I had to go to work, so she went back inside and got in her bed.
To this day, and for the rest of my life, I will believe she waited until I got home from work that evening before dying. To see me one last time. To say goodbye. I came in the front door, and could hear her labored breathing. I was crying, and holding her, and trying to call my vet, but I knew it wouldn't help. She opened her eyes and looked at me ... I mean deeply looked at me ... and her tail wagged, then she seemed to just sort of stretch one time, and then she just ... stopped. And she was gone. In a heartbeat.
I took her to the emergency vet clinic, and had her cremated. I have her ashes in an urn and she rests in a lighted section of one of my bookcases, right beside my first Rottweiler, Mike. Her collar, tags, and toys are there with her, just as they are with Mike. I still miss her, and contrary to popular belief, it still does not help to talk or write about it. She was so sweet.
I still have Chief (and he has me), my best friend and constant companion. He is almost 12 years old now, and has a little gray goatee (like me), and some gray on his muzzle ... but his eyes are still bright and clear. He's been holding pretty steady at about 109 pounds for the past couple of years, after blimping out a bit to almost 120 three years ago. He can still crank up the energy level when he wants to, but mostly he's content just being around me, watching whatever I'm doing, or just napping.
I had Chief neutered about two years ago. He was having some prostate problems, and that seemed to take care of that. His liver enzymes were also elevated to way above normal, but he's tested negative for Cushing's Disease for the past two years now. He's on medication to improve liver function, and the enzymes are down slightly from last year, but not significantly. He's undergone surgery to remove three cysts ... one on his back, a small one on the top of his muzzle, and a large one on the right side of his neck. The one on his neck came back "borderline malignant," but the lab says the malignant cells did not extend out to the margins of the area that Tom (Chief's vet) excised, so we're hopeful it's gone for good. It was a type of melanoma. He also had his teeth cleaned while he was asleep, and one tooth was extracted from way back in the back.
Annie is now three months old. She knows her name, has learned to sit on command (most of the time), and is learning to speak, though she seldom barks yet. We're also working on teaching her to "gimme five," and doing some leash training. Like all puppies, she does not like the leash. And like a lot of Rottweilers, she is a bit headstrong, but very intelligent. Anything that moves when she touches it is a toy. Matter of fact, anything that even looks like it might move is a potential toy: rocks, sticks, leaves, toes, the garden hose, you name it, Annie's played with it. In the two weeks she's been with Chief and me, she's learned a lot ... become more outgoing. She seldom lets Chief out of her sight. She follows me so closely that I've actually accidentally stepped on her toes a couple of times. So I walk around with my head down a lot, just to keep a lookout for her. Undoubtedly this is where the phrase "dogging your footsteps" originated.
Jim Adams is retired now. but used to donate his photography services to North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue in Harrisburg, North Carolina. They have almost fifty dogs there, including quite a few Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes. All are beautiful and gentle dogs, but have been abused, neglected, and/or abandoned. If you would like to view some of these dogs, click here.
Chief learning to fly.
Time to give up the Milk Bones.
Alex and Chief
The Chief-Monster cools off under his tree.
Chief and Annie