A year ago an enormously huge heart stopped beating. It was tired. It wanted to go to sleep after 11,5 years of hard beating for everything she loved. There was so much room in that heart it needed an enormous chest to beat in. That chest needed strong legs. And thus our German Shepherd was big, bigger than normal.When she came into the House of Chaos as a pup the promise was already there: on huge paws stumbling, staggering, lurching all over the place, knocking over chairs and tables, cupboards and simians foolish enough to remain in her intended path. She didn’t do it on purpose, she just couldn’t help it because she had such huge paws there was a constant conflict with gravity. But she was so adorable about it, that furry little face was so terribly cute, everyone forgave her and was then rewarded with a torrent of licks. Her heart was that big already then.
She hadn’t started out well though, that blundering puppy. The poor thing had first been adopted by people who were trying to save their marriage. It didn’t work out. If you can’t save your marriage by simply talking to each other why resort to props ? Especially props that have feelings and can be hurt ? When the nice people of the Animal Ambulance of Erebodegem-Aalst (Belgium) came to rescue her the lady of the house was being carried off in a big white long-sleeved jacket by burly white-clad gentle men and the master of the house had already left before that. What they left behind them was a hungry pup of 3 months old, who didn’t even had a name yet, but a broken heart.
The nice Ambulance people brought her to the House of Chaos for adoption. They wanted to be sure that the little nameless puppy would get a good gotcha!-home this time so they came in person and inspected us thoroughly. The Mistress and the Strong Woman Of Flanders immediately set off to fatten her up good and well and glue the pieces of her heart back together. Offal was bought and cooked in a big pot, with carrots and rice and other goodies to make little puppies grow strong and big. Toys were acquired and given, playtime was initiated and it never ended really, until that last day. Many cuddles and snuggles happened. It was a happy puppy now.
She was given the name of “Critter”, because she was so ravenous and reminded the Mistress of a movie she had seen shortly before then, about little furry aliens from space that were all mouth and appetite. Critter would never lose that appetite and even became renown for it, amazing friends and strangers alike. She would eat just about anything ! And in any quantity. She grew and grew and grew, until she was 67 centimeters high and weighed 45 kilos. The Mistress, SWOF and SWOF’s Husband (who was still alive then) would take her for regular long walkies… 5 kilometers, then 10, then 20. This expanded her chest to huge proportions but that was al right, her heart had more room now. Critter adored the walkies. She also loved to go to school, where she would meet with friends and other simians and have a lot of fun doing all kinds of things. But the Mistress had to be careful with her. Because Critter would be very very afraid if you raised your hand as if to strike her. Be too stern and she would yelp in fear and fright. Snag too hard at the leash and she would cower and whimper. She hadn’t forgotten what was done to her by her first owners, especially the man. She never would. And so she learned the commands by endless patient repetition, to the great frustration of the teachers. Who, sadly, wouldn’t understand how traumatized that sweet doggie was. And they were men, big men. Critter had not forgotten her past and who had mistreated her the worst. They could not work with her, only women could. But we were such a great team, by the time we stopped with the competitions we ended up second for the National Cup in our league.
Critter grew strong and guarded the Mistress and her House faithfully. In the street she became known as “La Guardienne”, the she-guard, because she would stand at the window and bark if you rang the doorbell and she would walk next to me on the street and keep an eye on all and everything. But her greatest joy was meeting children. She absolutely adored the little ones, just as she adored the cats the Mistress brought into the House in order to keep the dog company when she went out working. Critter was so good with children that one day, when we met a child that was afraid of dogs, she lied down all by herself and sweetly begged for tickles – making herself as little and not-menacing as possible. The little girl overcame her fear and caressed that big big dog. Maybe they felt they were kindred spirits: the dog who was afraid of big men and the child who was afraid of big dogs.
Then Grumpy Man met the Mistress and they both saw It Was Good. He moved into the House of Chaos and into Critter’s life. Grumpy Man wasn’t very familiar with dogs but he opened his heart to her and got Eternal Friendship in return. Even though she would still be afraid at times, when he played too roughly with her, she knew this was one male simian that would never -ever!- hurt her on purpose. A dog isn’t easy to live with when you are not accustomed to having hairs all over your clothes, to finding barf on the floor in the morning, or discovering a freshly (thus wet and smelly) chewed bone inside your bed. But Grumpy Man accepted it, albeit grumpily of course as is his wont, and all was well.
But Critter grew old. Gone were the days when she would happily trot for kilometers on end, she preferred to stay put and watch the world go by from there. Gone were the days when she would jump up and down and bark and yip when you picked up a toy, now she would wag her tail only. She preferred to snuggle close to the kitty-cats and snooze in the warm sun. Her appetite was still as good as ever but we had to keep an eye on the intake, lest corporal expansion would set in. And shortly after her 11th birthday her hind legs collapsed, due to a problem with her spine. But she would adapt and learned to drag herself around, up and down the stairs, everywhere. Her forelegs and chest grew more bulky because of that, but there was still ample space for her huge heart to beat in. Critter took her problems in stride and was the more admired for that.
Half a year later her energy suddenly ran out. We now know because she had an internal bleeding, but back then we only saw her exhausted without cause and were worried to no end. She became very very sick. Whatever left her body was dark brown and smelly. She spent most of her time in the Garden of Chaos, where the simians would not get upset when she had to let go of what had to come out. And then the unthinkable happened: she refused food. She knew it would only come out again, it would no longer nourish her. Dogs can be smart like that, although some say it’s simply instinct. And Zorro spend most of his time with her now, gently snuggling against her, or washing her face with infinite tenderness now she was too tired to do it herself. He adored her, but we never knew how much until those last hours. And afterwards, when his mourning devastated his body.
And finally we drove to the Man In White. Where she gently, gently, fell asleep in my arms for the very last time. A lick, a look with those big brown eyes, and then a sigh. We wrapped her in the blanket we carried her in with and left her there because there was nothing more we could do. The big heart had stopped beating, but the love… the love went with us.
That was on October 5th 2006.
We miss you Critter.
There are woofies and feline overlords on the Friday Ark. Bet they remember Critter…