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adventures of Manni the wonderdog

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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.

Almost an 11th birthday. Almost.

The last ever picture we took, half an hour before he left us forever, 6 weeks ago.

This last Sunday would have been Manni’s eleventh (guesstimate) birthday.  When we got the devastating diagnosis of yet another osteosarcoma in the summer I knew then that he wouldn’t live to see this day.

But then he hung around longer than anyone ever expected and a sliver of hope crept into my stupid head, as hope tends to do. Hope is not my friend. I’d rather be positively surprised after the fact than devastated because I had hope. Not that this birthday really meant anything, least of all to Manni.

I promised then that I would invite (and pay for plane tickets) every Tripawds member that wanted to make the long trip over here to have the biggest -and most unlikely- birthday bash ever. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Sorry folks. Instead I spent last Sunday volunteering at our local shelter. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t pleasant work. It was lots of physical labor like cleaning kennels, but I was busy. I was also not tempted to take one of the dogs home with me. I guess I kept comparing and, sorry to say, nothing compares to Manni. Not for me, anyway. I went back to the shelter today and will continue doing so but at least I found that I don’t feel the need to rescue every poor soul out there. -That is a good thing, in my book.

On that Sunday I went from the shelter to my yoga class and didn’t get home until later that evening, completely beat. For once, sleep came easy and the Sunday was over fast. Thank Goodness.

I miss him so much. Every minute of every day. My life is so different now and it’s not better. Even I myself was better with him. I miss the little bump on his nose, his freckles. I miss burying my nose in his oh so soft fur right behind his ears, I miss his scent, so much. I miss his unbelievably reckless, independent spirit, his wise eyes, his exasperation with me. I miss my purpose,

I miss Manni.

These below are videos of better times. They make me cry but they also make me happy for a few seconds. Enjoy and please remember him for a little while. Thank you.

 

 

 

Alone at last.

Thank you everybody for the numerous comments, condolences and your kindness. I can’t even begin to express how much it means.

A new year has begun and right now I don’t even care what it brings.

Manni made it to exactly two years after his amputation. Maybe one day I will be able to celebrate this huge achievement of having shown both cancer and statistics my middle fingers but right now I just can’t.

Manni was my constant companion. And I mean that very literally. If at all possible I took him along. During his life he was in different countries (he had his own pet passport), used all methods of transportation you can imagine (boats, public transport, cars, trains, RVs, elevators, ferries…), he was an office dog, he went to all restaurants with me, he was at Christmas markets, in hotels, in vacation rentals, at all my friends’ houses, in barns, on horse pastures, he played with goats and cats, he went to nose-work classes (lost people searches) and excelled in them and he even participated whole-heartedly in the dog-Paralympixx. You name it, he was there.

In short: wherever I went, he did. He was never afraid of anything, he took everything in stride even though some of the things I made him do must have been a challenge.

The problem with having your dog with you everywhere is that once your dog is gone there is not a single place you can go where you don’t miss your dog. That’s where I’m at now. I feel like I am the one missing a limb now. All my friends would always say that Manni and I were so symbiotic it was unreal. Now, this is exactly what’s come back to haunt me. Now, I am alone at last, as I expected to be for exactly the last two years.

Manni was not a perfect dog, in fact he was very far from being a perfect dog. He chased after every moving object if you weren’t careful, he didn’t like strangers, he didn’t like cuddles, he counter-surfed no matter where we were, he stole food off colleagues’ desks, he got stuck in a waste basket once trying to reach food, and he was the most strong-willed creature you could find. I can’t even count the number of times he left me absolutely exasperated and at my wit’s end. My mother would always say: well, you get what you deserve…

However, let me show you what it meant to me to have him around. Look at my face. Can you see the absolute bliss?

 

Time is my friend, they tell me. I’m sure they’re right. We’ll see.

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