On Tuesday we discovered that our beautiful German Shepherd, Chase, had an inoperable tumor on his spleen which had ruptured and spread to his liver. Within an hour of being diagnosed we had to put our lovely boy to sleep. Some of you reading this will have known him. He could be cuddly and loving and funny and sometimes scary. Here are a few memories of our beautiful, complicated boy. He was nearly 10.
We got him as a 1 year old rescue. After about a week of behaving perfectly he started to settle in and we realized we had a tough character on our hands. He was handsome, long-limbed and very strong but his back end was just bones with no muscle. If you gave him any attention he demanded more, grabbing at you when you tried to leave him calmly on his mat; he chased sunlight and shadows round the house, whining and obviously upset; he wound himself into a snapping, barking, unhappy frenzy when he saw children, strollers, bikes or other dogs; he didn’t use his nose – he just used his eyes and his huge ears; he didn’t know how to walk on a leash; but he was house trained and he was very polite around food.
Years of training followed. My walks with him were often a battle of wills and, too often, a battle of strength. He walked nicely for a while to put me at ease, then he would completely lose control when we saw someone running, kids playing, squirrels, rabbits, cats, dogs or if he heard a truck with a deep, throaty engine noise. We tried different leashes but he could pull me for a few strides while wearing any of them. To add insult to injury he would try to bite me whenever I tried to regain control of him. We fenced our yard and carried on training, introducing him slowly to other dogs, to lakes and woods and all kinds of other things. Slowly he gained muscle (there were days when I wasn’t sure this was a good thing).
As many of his ‘issues’ were resolved, we saw his loving, playful nature appear. When he got up to have a drink of water during the evening, my husband Nigel would sometimes go and sit on his mat. Chase would see him there and run over, lying down and snuggling up as close as he could. If we danced to music in the kitchen while making dinner, he would join in, twisting and turning, always wanting to be touched and involved. He didn’t like his ‘pack’ to be separated. He loved going in the car. He believed that if he barked and jumped enough, one day the squirrels in our yard would fall out of the trees (one did once, but he wasn’t looking). He destroyed things that could harm us, like those dangerous expanding hose pipes! He did little leaps of joy when he knew he was getting dinner. He loved to have his meals outdoors. He loved the snow and while we shoveled the driveway, he would dig in the snow piles, putting much of it back on the driveway for us.
He had his share of injuries. He caught the tip of one ear on a thorn bush while we were out on a walk and I saw him shaking his head a lot. We were a mile from home so I stopped at a house to ask for tissues, to see if I could stop the blood dripping down into his ear. A man answered the door and immediately stepped back in shock, but did bring me some tissues. Afterwards I realized his head-shaking had covered my face, hands and clothes with blood!
He got haematomas in both ears, one after the other, so they both had to be bandaged down to his head and we were afraid they wouldn’t stand upright again, but they did, although not quite straight. He chewed ferociously on bones and toys for years as a stress reliever, then his canines started breaking (the vet said his enamel was weak from chewing on the bars of a crate when he was a pup, before we had him). So he needed root canals on 3 of his broken teeth. Then, because he hates noisy delivery trucks, he tore both his dew claws while running along the fence line and they both had to be removed.
Despite vast improvements in discipline, and many miles walked on our treadmill, he retained 1 trigger – mail vans or any large, noisy truck of any kind. His ferocity towards them increased over the years, as if he needed to keep 1 vice intact as the others receded.
One memorable day, a mail van drove up a hill towards us. Chase’s amazing hearing had informed him of its presence some time before it turned onto the street, so he was already barking and had grown about a foot in height. I stepped into a driveway and of course the van stopped close to us. I had to move out of the driveway because at that moment the homeowner arrived home in her car. As I stepped onto the grass Chase lunged for the mail van, I slipped, and the next thing I knew I was being pulled across the grass on my stomach towards the van. Luckily the mail woman was still inside and I could clearly see her widening eyes and open mouth as I hurtled towards her while mouthing the words ‘sorry’. Another neighbor chose this precise moment to exit her front door to pick up the mail and stood, rooted to the spot, as Chase reached the front of the mail van, barking crazily and trying to bite bits off it. I picked myself up, smiled weakly at them all, and dragged my barking hound away as they gaped after me. Another day of Chase: 1 Ali: 0.
But this big bad dog was also highly suspicious of plastic bags and cardboard boxes and would refuse to walk past them. If anything fell over in the house he ran a mile. If a piece of paper fell off a table, he would leave the room. He was nervous of thunder, but only when he was indoors, if he was outdoors he just ignored it. When we were gardening, he thought it was the greatest game to steal an empty plastic flower pot and prance away with it as if it was the best thing he’d ever found. During the day he would come in the house and bounce up to us, ‘asking’ us to come play soccer with him outside.
One of the things that made me most happy was that he did learn to make friends with other dogs. Rocket was a crazy doodle who didn’t mind if Chase liked to pin him to the ground in play. Visiting Gordon, Maddison and Tiberius was always the highlight of his day and he used to smile all the way there! Ajax, Paddy & Archie popped over every now and then and although they mostly ignored each other, he loved the company. All these dogs were equally mystified when the appearance of a delivery truck turned their friend into a crazed barking monster.
Chase’s illness took him so fast we feel we didn’t get time to really say goodbye, that he isn’t really gone, that maybe he’s just going to walk back in anytime. We’ll miss his dark shape lying in a shady hole he dug under a bush. We’ll miss his constant presence at our garden gate, and his ears in the rear view mirror of the car. We’ll miss almost everything about him. He was a complicated boy but gave us a life rich with experiences, love and laughter. I’m glad we were able to keep him in a safe home for 9 years. Miss you, Chase!