Wednesday, July 04, 2012

He’s a Grand Old Dachs!

Today is the 17th birthday of my dachshund, Julian. While I don’t actually know the exact day he was born, his age from the time I got him in 1995 goes back to about this time. And Independence Day makes a convenient way to remember his birthday.

I got Julian my first week in Tallahassee just after I had arrived to work on my doctorate at FSU. I had left behind my beloved black dachshund mix, Juergensmeyer, in California and while I was enroute across the country with all my worldly goods, she had died. She was nearly 17 old years herself. I was heartbroken and nearly despondent the day I put Andy on the airplane back to California. I was alone.

My lease allowed me to have pets so I had gone to the local humane society to find a cat. I had picked out a beautiful golden calico and had come back two days later to adopt her only to find that the shelter began euthanizing early that day and I had missed her by 10 minutes. As I stood sobbing in the shelter, as much for the poor kitten I had just lost an opportunity to adopt as for all the losses I had just incurred in leaving my home and my partner in California, a little black and white tuxedo kitten reached out of the cage and began to paw at me for attention. By the end of the hour, I had been adopted by Simeon who would live with me the next 16 years.

I had arrived home from the humane (?) society and the subsequent trip to the vet’s office with Simeon in one hand and the day’s edition of the Tallahassee Democrat in the other.  It was late in the afternoon and I was just letting Simeon out to play in his new home when I saw the ad: black and tan mini-dachshund, 6 weeks, purebred, no papers. I know you always take a chance on these kinds of things but, figuring I had nothing to lose, I called the number.

It was my first real introduction to life in Tallahassee. The ad had been placed by a young good ole boy and his wife who bred mini-dachshunds. This one had been promised to someone who had changed their mind and they were trying to get rid of the last puppy to prepare for the next litter. They wanted $175. I thought, why not go look?

By this time it was almost 8 PM. I proposed I come the following night but the man insisted I come right away. “OK, so where are you?” I asked. “I’m the first trailer on the first dirt road off the first right turn off Wakulla Springs Road” was the answer.

Having been in Tallahassee all of three days, I had no idea where any of that was. It sounded a bit like another planet after four years in the Bay area of California I had just left. But my neighbor happened to be in the apartment at the time. He was working for UPS and knew the backwoods around Tallahassee well. “Oh, I know where that is,” he said and offered to go with me. So, off we went.

We arrived at the first trailer on the first dirt road off the first right turn off Wakulla Springs Road at about 8:30, not yet dark but definitely headed that way. Almost immediately, the mother dachshund came out from under the trailer with the puppy close behind. My heart absolutely leaped in my chest. He was absolutely beautiful and full of life. It took every bit of 10 minutes to make the transaction and then the three of us were enroute back to Tallahassee, Julian in the paste board box I had left over from my unpacking.

I named him Julian after a favorite professor at the University of Florida College of Law years ago, Julian Juergensmeyer, for whom my previous dachshund had also been named. And he along with Simeon became my constant companions for my two years of nearly monastic existence in Tallahassee. Indeed, I’m pretty clear I could not have made it without my two little black boys.

Indeed, they took immense joy in each other’s company, playing together as if they were litter mates. Julian has suffered from rejection from neighbor’s cats all of his life, presuming that all cats were like his buddy Simeon and anxious to play, a presumption that rarely proved on target. He and Simeon would come whirling across the apartment floor like a single ball of black fur, stopping only to catch their breath. I compared them to the Tasmanian Devil of the Looney Toons of my youth.

It has always been difficult to be angry at Julian even in his most trying times. Like his father, he hates cold weather and getting him to go out to pee in Tallahassee winters could try the patience of a saint. Dachshunds have short little legs whose feet can go all the way to connect to the core of the earth when they don’t want to move. And when they don’t want to eat something, no matter how much you’ve laid out for it or how good it is for them, you might as well forget any kind of coaxing or begging. Dachshunds are stubborn little German dogs (says the stubborn German daddy).

Of all of his tricks, one in particular stands in my mind. My second apartment in Tallahassee was a long shotgun style floor plan with the bedroom in the back, the living room in front and kitchen, closet and bathroom strung out along the hallway. I would often come home to greet my two little black boys at the door of the apartment only to quickly notice the garlands of toilet paper they had used to decorate the entire apartment. What that meant was that Julian had once more unrolled the toilet paper down the 30 feet of hallway from the bathroom to the front door. Nearly a whole roll was wasted. And yet, there they were, overjoyed to see their daddy, whirling and rolling in the Charmin. Who could get angry?

While Julian has been one of the most joyful parts of my life over these past 17 years, it has not been a pain free existence for him. He survived the hurricane that destroyed our home in 2004 holed up in the back of the house that fortunately was not damaged.  His Daddy was not with him, enroute home from having taken a colleague to Canada and watching the destruction on the Weather Channel in the Ruby Tuesdays in College Park, MD. I can only imagine how terrifying that night was for him.

Within six months of the three hurricanes which swept through Central Florida that summer, he developed near paralysis of his back legs from impacted discs to which dachshunds are prone. A round of surgery and a week of overnight stays in an animal hospital (and $3500 out of his daddy’s pocket) later, he finally came home, recovered almost full use of his back legs and returned to his joyful self.

I also know that in my many travels to Latin America over the past decade, he has missed me greatly. Andy would tell me how he was doing each day I called, often reporting he was OK but seemed depressed. When I’d arrive home each time, he would cry upon greeting me only to dissolve into a round of face licking. Last summer I promised him if he’d be there when I got back from Brasil and Argentina, I wouldn’t leave him again. And this summer I am keeping my promise.

This afternoon I gathered him up and brought him to bed with me for a nap. As usual, he crawled up under the covers to be right next to me, that cold nose periodically poking my leg to remind me he was there. He’s nearly completely blind and deaf, an aspect that is actually a plus on this night of fireworks and explosions. But that nose continues to work like a charm, a nuclear powered sniffer that can find unmentionable things in the yard to eat at 100 paces. Not surprisingly, his digestive track isn’t so hot these days but he still manages to eat his deli roast beef or roasted chicken or salmon out of the can each night and most mornings as well.

I am resigned to letting go of my little boy soon. His companion, Simeon, died two summers ago at 16 while I was enroute back from Cuba. And Magnificat, our mystical cat from the Rosicrucian neighborhood of San Jose, died at 17 last summer. Julian is the lone surviving dinosaur from his cohort.  A chapter of my life will end with him.

Frankly, I am a bit surprised he’s made it to 17. That is, after all, about 100 years in human terms and the average life span for dachshunds is listed at 12-15 years. Our vet once said when he died he wants to come back as an animal in our household since they all tend to live very long lives. Of course, that’s not much comfort when you’re at the end of your bargain with your animal companion and the grim reaper is coming to collect his due.

But for this day, I celebrate the long life of a wonderful best friend. And I pray that in my own life, I will show forth the joy of life, the devotion to my friends and family and the tenacity to face life’s hardships with cheer and courage that my sweet Julian has always shown. As I often have told him, “You are one of the best-est of G-d’s creations.” And I am grateful to a generous Creator G-d for the blessing of his company these 17 years.

Happy Birthday, Julian.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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