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adventures of Manni the wonderdog

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The Ghost of Christmas Past

I now only ever seem to write on December 10 and that makes it three years now. Three years or a lifetime. I feel like a completely different person with a whole other life – but then again the world around me has changed just as much.

I sometimes feel older than my years and when I imagine you, Manni, it feels like I am looking out of my Granny armchair, with a checkered woolen blanket over my knees, remembering the way the world was then, in Technicolor almost. That’s because it does not feel like the two of us together would ever fit into the world right now so it’s more like revelling in the memories of my youth.

Today, I look out from my armchair and in my mind’s eye I see the first gently falling snow of three years ago, I hear in my mind your quiet whimper early in the morning telling me that the pain is getting too much even for you to bear, I see the painful way I try to make smalltalk with the vet through my held-back tears, I see you hopping into your yard to feel the first snow and I see you, or what once was you, lying peacefully, head slightly sideways on your one front paw, having taken with you everything that defined me.

I let my mind wander back another two years, the two years that broke so much of me and all of you. I see you being taken in for an MRI, after a horrible night of morphine, to find out what was wrong with you and thinking that maybe you just had a thorn in your paw, like the little lion that you were. Two years back to when I had to make the decision in 15 minutes of whether or not to take the leg of an animal that was born to run;  to the nail-biting five days you spent at the clinic with me wondering how in the world I was to know what the right decision was for you and not for me. Getting you back in the sterile surroundings, out of your head on meds and missing a leg. Hearing you scream, loudly, for the first time when I try to get you in the car and then crying my eyes out.

My younger self is shaking a little, eyes getting moist. I tell my mind’s eye to get back to the present and shake off lingering ghosts and horrors. I open my eyes and I see Thilo, in whose eyes I can do no wrong and I am glad he doesn’t know. I see the latest addition to the household, little Erna, who is just so ridiculously cute that it’s almost absurd. I see our new house and am briefly reminded that I purposely left your dissolvable urn in the old yard because it was your yard, really, and you would have wanted to stay.

Scrooge slowly turned into a better person by being visited by his ghosts. What made me a better person, Manni, was you – whatever that makes me now.  And so I once more welcome both your front paws on my knees with the checkered blanket. I hold your head and bury my nose into the silken fur behind your ears and take in your scent. And then I let you go. Again.

Until next year, Baby,

Ich lieb’ dich.

everywhere you go.


A letter to The Void

Do you start a letter like that with “Dear Void”? Obviously, Void, while you may be a part of me you will never be dear to me, ever. I hate almost all that you stand for so let’s just skip the “dear”.

Two years to the day is how long Manni has been gone. Two years to the day is also how long Manni was around after the day of his diagnosis and amputation. Two years that feel forever and yet feel like a heartbeat.

Void, I called you, didn’t I? Around six months ago I was reading one of my many books and in the story, someone said it was unfair to the ones we lost to keep hanging on to their memory, to want to make them stick around somehow and not leave them be. I don’t know why that resonated with my agnostic little mind but here we are, you and I.

For a year and a half, I almost marinated myself in memories of Manni, to keep him remembered but also to fall deeper into the hole of the day. And then I quit, cold turkey almost, and called upon you, Void, to take his place. We’ve worked out well, the two of us together, haven’t we? I give you space to be, and you return the favor and act as a little safety bubble between me and the hole of the day. I think of Manni daily, daily, but I let my thoughts bounce off that bubble and not let them drag me into the hole. So it’s been a decent deal I suppose. If it hasn’t worked out to perfection in the last couple of days you are not to blame, Void, I realize that.

Some things just made their way into my mind these last couple of days, but I firmly believe that they will leave again soon. -Did you know that my calling Manni “Baby” all the time wasn’t because I ever felt he was my surrogate child but rather originated from his very first months with us, when I would call him “baby-dog” because that’s what he was, a puppy, really? I mean, I never wanted children, I only ever wanted animals. After a couple of months during which Manni thought his name was “No!” “Baby” was one of the many names he responded to – not that I would have ever yelled that across a field, that’s what “Manfred” was for.

The amount of times he stole a pound of butter from the cupboard of my mother’s neighbors without once ending up with diarrhea, the countersurfing that no amount of training ever got under control (you just learn to move things behind cupboard doors), the ferocity with which he took on every job he could get his paws on, the cans that we put on top of the trashcan lid at the old office so he would get a scare if they tumbled off it when he was trying to dive into the bin (he didn’t scare, of course, but at least we were alerted to the fact…), all these memories try to worm their way back into my life, Void, but I am putting them away again right now. Behind a door in my mind so they don’t disappear but so that they also don’t make me want to visit them all the time.

By swapping them for you, the Void, I unknowingly opened up a door for Thilo. While there will always be room in my heart for all dogs I didn’t know that there are apparently also separate corners there full of love for the individual still. Thilo has turned into the most perfect little dog and best companion I could wish for and I have grown to love him so much. It is so ironic and somewhat typical, I guess, that I now end up with the absolute beginners’ dog that loves me unconditionally after having had the complete opposite before.  When Thilo’s little body gently presses against mine, I sometimes briefly think how different everything is now. For his sake I will not dwell on which life is better or worse than the other. It just is.

Until Manni was diagnosed I never knew to be thankful for him, but I learned. Today, I recognize that I must be thankful for Thilo and I tell him often, Manni taught me that.

So, Void, I guess it’s like the idea of marriage: it is now until death do us part that you will stay with me, through the good and the bad. Thank you for giving Manni’s memory a chance to roam free somewhere else and keeping me off of that hole. I will never thank you again because I really despise you but honesty goes a long way.



And since this is the one day of the year I will let myself do this:

Ich lieb’ dich, Baby, mehr als alles auf der Welt.


December is when winter came to stay.

It’s winter once more and I have always, passionately, hated this season. Nothing good has ever come of it and I don’t think I’m made for it at all.

But here I am. 12 months on. I guess it’s one of those dates where I should write something, right?

  • Three years ago today I made the decision to take one of my dog’s legs.
  • Two years ago today I desperately celebrated that said dog was still with me and not in too much pain.
  • One year ago today we got the first snow of the season and as happens in winter things died.

Manni died, big parts of me died, all the flowers in my yard died, happiness died, empathy died, light died. I kept feeding the birds in my yard so they wouldn’t die on me too.

The birds survived and their offspring brought sound back to my garden, my flowers came back eventually, too -spring does that, I heard.

Happiness and empathy pop in occasionally to see how I’ve been but they don’t usually stay for coffee. I should probably tend to them more.

Little rays of sunshine try to bring a little light, one of them has a name and has warmed me up some.

Manni is still dead though and that’s a part of myself that I will never get back.  He was an asshole, up there with the best of them. He was independent, opinionated, pig-headed, very physical and a danger to himself and others, a show-off and a loudmouth. He would do anything to have his way.

Which means he was exactly like me. I saw myself in him all the time and even when I was at my wit’s end with him again and in absolute exasperation once more I was smiling on the inside because I knew exactly what he was doing because I would have done the same thing.

Manni would also have gone to the death for his friends, he was extremely quick-witted and clever and all the smart-ass thinking-games we got him only kept him occupied for a while. He was an over-achiever in all dog classes we ever took and people would comment on how extremely well-behaved he was -until the class let out, I opened the door and the dog took off not to be seen again for 20 minutes. Manni could have given lessons on exuberance -not that he would have wanted to. He knew of the importance of physical and mental exertion and he didn’t handle being bored well. In the last six months of his life it became so hard on both of us to fulfil these needs but sometimes it’s enough to bring your noses to the same level and literally smell the roses together.

During his last months Manni became more dependent, he didn’t just tolerate physical contact more he initiated it and had to be touching me most of the time.  He also came to me for protection. While before I would always say that his ego was five times the size of his body and I never had to be scared anywhere, even in the dark, it was now I that protected both of us and Manni came to seek shelter between my legs. Even before the last diagnosis this should have given me pause because it was so unlike him. Looking back today there are many things I wish I had done differently. Not everything, because I do think I did a pretty good job of researching, trying, not outwardly giving up, and also of trying to make every day an adventure for my adventurous soul. I know that guilt is part of the grief process I only  thought I’d be over that after 12 months. However, I am still hoping I didn’t put him through too much, didn’t let the pain go on for too long, didn’t make that original decision for my own sake.

My life has changed so much in the last 12 months that, when I pause to look around me, Manni wouldn’t fit in it anymore but maybe that is why I decided on this path: it gives me less time to look around. I sometimes sit on my windowsill, taking a drag on my cigarette and I feel my eyes fill up. I have come to realize that I use Manni as an excuse a lot to let myself fall into a little bout of deep sadness. What I mean is that something happens during the day that makes me unhappy and I use memories of Manni to let myself fall deeper into the hole of the day. I realize how unfair this is to him and I will try harder to stop doing that. Sometimes, however, I have been able to “conjure” him. When this happens he comes running toward me, on all four of course because that’s how he was always meant to be. He comes to say hi and then eventually he takes off running. When I am on the train now the rails take us through many a field and I always picture Manni in those open spaces – he would have loved that so much. That’s the one good thing about winter maybe: it’s always dark so I don’t have to look at those fields as much anymore.

I took the day off today although I am not really sure why. The better to stare at the patch of dirt that we put the urn into, wondering if it has dissolved yet and if his ashes are part of the ground now? None of it matters, really. I will just clamber on in my life, as we do, trying to make myself appreciate all the little rays of sunshine and striving to tend to happiness and empathy and sometimes to stop and smell the roses by myself. When I am not busy doing that I miss Manni.

Another Life

All the posts before this one just had a way of wanting to be written, of trying to find their way into words. This one, however, seems to be coy so you may have to bear with me a little while I struggle to pull it together.

I did not fall off the face of the earth although I do believe I saw the edge of it on occasion. I am sorry if I let some people down in the last few months, I promise to be in touch in a little while -you know who you are.

The picture you see here describes my life in a nutshell.

There is a big hole inside of me with Manni’s name still on it but a little soul is trying very hard to fill it. The little soul’s name is Thilo (pronounced Tee-low). He is from the streets, or rather, the woods of Portugal where he was caught by good folks who took care of his mange and his infected eyes.

To try and make a long story short: I ended up taking Thilo in as a temporary foster. After he had had been found climbing the 6-feet fence of the shelter they were looking for somebody to keep him for a week before he would go to his more permanent foster home and I felt it was a good opportunity for me to see how it would feel to have a different dog in Manni’s home. I figured it was really a win-win situation: if it hurt too much, a week was survivable, if it felt good, well, maybe he would get to stay.

I picked him up at the airport and when he came out of his box he was even smaller than he’d looked in the pictures. 14 pounds of crooked legs and a wiener back. Considering he’d been living in a forest, not knowing what a home was he did amazing: while he was scared of doors, had to learn how to handle stairs and how to eat out of a bowl, he apparently simply decided to look to me for guidance. The first walks I took him on he stayed close to my legs but never once did he refuse to go anywhere or even so much as tug his tail. He literally just followed my lead.

When you go out to take a walk around your house you are bound to end up on the same routes that you used to take. When I found myself on the paths I would always take Manni on I had all these pictures flooding my head. I cried. A lot. I wanted to rewind the clock, turn back time and bury my nose in Manni’s thick fur.

Instead I kept on walking. Now with a little lost soul to accompany mine.

I came to find out quickly that I am better with a dog. I am more with a dog. So now, I am a little more again because Thilo got to stay. I don’t think my goal was to replace Manni, since really nothing or no one can but I do believe that since I have the right circumstances to give another shelter dog a home I should.

I do compare Manni and Thilo in that I find them to be as different as night and day. Manni was always independent as can be, strong-willed as anything, his own personality dancing to his own tune and I was lucky to be able to share some of his time. Thilo is actually thankful and adoring. He thinks the world of me and he’s been trying his hardest to never let me down. His only issue really is a certain separation anxiety, apart from that he takes everything in stride and takes on each new challenge as long as I am by his side.

That, however, is as far as I go in my comparisons. Thilo does not have to live up to any great expectations or fill Manni’s shoes. That would be utterly impossible and unfair so I don’t even think along those lines. I compartmentalize completely. I can cry for Manni on my walks and yet simultaneously enjoy Thilo’s adoration and exuberance. One has not a thing to do with the other.

You can call me a foster failure I suppose but my head had at least as much to do with the decision as my heart. I saw in Thilo early on that he had potential to do well in an office, maybe because of his age, and that he was still fit and agile enough -and brave enough- to keep up with my crazy life. I would never have kept either a puppy or a fearful dog.

However, Thilo is estimated to be around 10 – which leaves him only a few months younger than Manni was when I had to let him go. I did hesitate in my decision because of that factor but really only briefly: for one, I am hoping that such a small dog will be around for a few years more than a bigger one and also because Thilo deserves it, plain and simple. Every day he gets to have a home, a home with me, is one day more than he ever had so even if he ends up not getting all that many more days it will have been worth it. For both of us.

Apart from my life having been crazy for the last months, with new jobs, living in Berlin 4 out of 7 days a week and commuting with the dog by train twice a week, I still have a hard time coming here. I can’t explain it and I am trying to get over it because I want to and because I owe so many of you. Many of you spent most of the two hardest years of my life with me, celebrated Manni with me and grieved with me and I miss you guys. So I will try and get over this. Watch this space.

I’ll leave you with a few select pictures of Thilo (for the enlightened: I think Dobby would have been a good name, too…) and my promise to try harder.

Train(ed) dog

Missing a few of his teeth and some of his eyesight doesn’t stop him being cute



Dark matter

It’s been around three months, give or take a few days or weeks, that this place in the world went dark. I am not counting. There is no point in counting the eternity that Manni will be gone from me so I won’t even start.

It literally went dark here that month. It was the darkest December since the beginning of weather records apparently and it didn’t come as a surprise to me but I’m sure it wasn’t helpful either. I have been scrambling to get my bearings again. So much of myself was defined by Manni, was defined by the extended hospice care. Did you know that you can easily fill a whole day with the administration of medicine, trying to force your mind to make mental images that can last a lifetime, trying to make every day count, trying to create memories, planning field trips for your dog so he would have only good days, preparing for the worst day and yet not breaking outwardly at the pressure of knowing when it’s time? Did you know that this can not only fill a whole day but make a whole day not be enough?

I didn’t know, but I learned.

And then, despite of all your mental preparation, you are left with a big black hole. The kind that consists of dark matter and that just sucks you in, leaves you alone in the dark devoid of everything that defined you before.

After what felt like days, although it may have been weeks, I felt that people were trying to tell me I have to move on. I don’t blame them, I’m sure they were right, but they didn’t exactly tell me how to do that, either. I can handle that. I have a public face that I put on, I can laugh, I smile at the right times. What does really get me, though, is what has only been happening the last few weeks. It’s a thing I was expecting and yet a thing I was scared to death of: the loss of the crispness of the memories, the clarity of the pictures.

It all fades. What once used to be a high-definition laser-printed impression in your mind turns slowly but surely into a watercolor painting with blurry edges. It kills me that while I know Manni had the softest fur in the world I don’t actually recall the literal feel of it, that I just know that I always loved his unique scent but I don’t really remember what he would smell like when I pressed my nose into the soft fur just behind his ears. I have lost people in my life before so I knew this would happen but it still kills me. Every single day it does.

I have been going through all of the different media I have to find all pictures and videos that were ever taken of Manni. They have made me laugh, they have made me cry. They have confirmed what I already knew: my dog had a good life. I gave him a good life. I don’t doubt that, nor do I doubt my decision or the timing of letting him go forever. That is the one thing I am at peace with. If I only knew now that he is in a place filled with light I would be happy to stay in the dark.

Here’s a few of my latest findings from way back when



Manni has moved on and so does life. I suppose that is a good thing and I will update here in a few days. I did need to get this off my chest, however, and nothing has proved as cathartic as writing.

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