Working through the loss...
The sorrow of losing a pet is like no other. And when the soul that is leaving is one that was loving, goofy, loyal and protective it is a complex loss.
He chose us. Or should I say, he chose Neil.
We were on a family trip to meet another dog, and were introduced to several that didn’t click, had Koko’s hackles up, or were otherwise just not suitable for us to adopt. Timber was brought to us as an after thought. He was a possible, but unlikely match. Unlikely because his history as a police dog washout brought with it some male aggression issues. We were wary, but we are shepherd people, we understand the breed and we felt ready to accept a training challenge if it was needed. So, we decided to meet him. The moment he was walked into the room he wagged his tail and whined a bit. Koko wagged her tail, and Timber (then Hauser) immediately took off running, pulled the lead he was on hard enough to get away and purposefully jumped up on Neil with every pound of fur and muscle and proceeded to slobber him with wet, messy kisses. It was like watching two old friends meeting again after years of being apart. The deal was done. He would be part of our family.
Because of his police training background, Timber had some interesting traits. He was trained in eye signals. He would silently eye something and with a quick left - right look at the “thing” and us, let us know what he wanted without a sound. He was so obedient, that he would not “get” the thing on his own, if it was in a new or different place. This did not always work to his advantage because of Koko his big sister, a mutt with a penchant for mischief. She would steal his toys and leave them on our bed… and he would see the toy up there, and wait next to the bed until one of his humans came near and then give the eye signal… as if to say… “hey can I have my toy now”. And on a command of "go get it”, he would jump up and grab it and settle down, happy with his toy.
Squeaker toys were one of his favorites but they lasted about 5 minutes before the squeakers were destroyed… only to leave him sad and sorrowful that he “killed” it. But we kept buying them because they made him happy. After spending the equivalent of a year of college room and board on them, we moved on to more indestructible toys. For the record, the Kong brand was his favorite and he had a strong enough jaw to chew the black ones… the indestructible ones, like gum. So yeah, I felt pretty safe figuring that a burglar’s calf muscle was not nearly as tough as a Kong.
Like most shepherds he had an agile, quick, very smart mind, one that often seemed to predict our actions before we knew we were going to make them. He was big and thought big. A twig was not enough during playtime, a tree trunk would suit if he could grab it. His love of playing fetch with sticks became the obvious reason to call him our “Branch Manager”. For a branch the largest he could fetch brought him amazing joy.
In my adulthood, as a woman living with anxiety, I can count on one hand the nights that I have slept in my home without a German Shepherd at my side. Their willingness to give everything of themselves for the love of their family, is beyond self-less. It is something else entirely, that I can’t explain. I assure you that I will not sleep as soundly without his presence. I enjoyed hearing his soft snore, his quiet rustling, knowing that he could sleep like a log, and still at the slightest sense of action, he could shoot up like a rocket and see what the issue was and take care of it with a very deep and intimidating bark.
If you have lost a dog, you know that there is no way their goodness can be replaced. They are so much better than people in that way. They may be mischievous but are never bad. They may have lived through trauma, but so many can forget their past for the love of the now. They may get scared but a kind word, a soft pet, and a voice of reassurance that you, their deepest love are there for them, is all they usually need to hear.
All they need is you. All they need is to be loved. And in the case of a German Shepherd, be given a job to do… sometimes that job is being chief couch potato and master kiss giver. Other times the challenges are more complex… but no matter what you ask of them, if you ask it with kindness they will literally give you their everything.
There is no deeper love then a dog has for their people. And on this day I can say that I have never seen a dog have a deeper love for anyone, than Timber had for my husband. He looked at him with his brown eyes full of wonder and the deepest connection that I have ever witnessed between two species. Being on the other side of a door from his main person, would bring on heart wrenching whines of sorrow… even when – maybe especially when - Neil was right in sight on the other side.
Perhaps soldiers who have bonded with their fellow brave hearts have this kind of loyalty, but in a dog, there is yet... something else. Something other worldly about their ability to intuit, emote, and communicate perfectly, speaking a completely foreign tongue.
His big sister Koko, was with us when he passed, and she and he were completely bonded in the way of siblings. They stole each other’s toys, and they had their arguments. Koko was a bit of a pest to him at times, but they loved to roughhouse, and chase each other through the snow, or mud. Seeing their happiness together – two rescue dogs who never would have met had they not become our family members was deeply moving. In his last days she would perch nearby and make sure he was in her sight. Keeping her eye on him… she knew he was not “ok”. And I think she knew more than that, for longer than we did. Her sniffs of him got more intense over the last several weeks. She knew.
She seems ok today, but Timber has only been gone about 24 hours. She knows he is gone, but she hurts for the loss as we do. She has searched for him even still.
This smelly, goofy, loving, extra special dog will not soon leave my mind or my heart. I struggled with each of the pet deaths that I have endured. The sense of loss in each case has been almost unbearable. This loss is somehow is more tragic, more painful, just… more.
Timber was more than a good dog. He was the epitome of DOG. He gave every moment of his life to us, to be the best he could be for us always. He listened, he understood things intuitively and his amazing, deep head tilt and clear, intelligent eyes gave away his smarts to even the most casual of observers.
We gave him everything we could, everything he needed, gave him all of our love. All of our hearts. All of our world.
I hope that I have the honor of meeting that sweet soul again down a woodsy path someday, where there are many sticks and plenty of mud puddles for wallowing on a hot day.
We miss you. Our hearts are hollow. It will take a great deal of time to fill that hole back up as it heals.