Fourteen years ago, my husband and I brought home a fluffy, bundle of joy, with large floppy ears and paws that seemed way too big for his little body. We took much pleasure in welcoming our first pet into our home, long before we became parents and we called our 6 week old German Shepherd pup, Jack. He had a dark coat, was the picture of health, was like a round ball of fluff and was very cute. My husband had never had a pet before, but I have always had German Shepherds since I was a young girl and I fell in love with this breed at an early age and would never own another. He was absolutely adorable, a pure bred dog, from a reputable breeder with an impressive blood line. But all of that was secondary to us because we now had a new puppy and for me it was like Christmas. We immediately adored him and fussed over him like there was no tomorrow.
We kept Jack outside and he would play by himself. I worked full time back in those days and I would often worry about him being at home by himself during the day while we were at work and was concerned that he would get lonely. So we went back to the breeder who still had one pup left from the litter, a black and tan female. It didn't take me long to tell the breeder that I wanted her too and I thought that if I had a male and female, brother and sister, from the same litter, that they would make great friends for each other and keep each other company when we were not home. So that was how we came to have 2 Shepherds, Jack and Kimba, who we loved and cared for, as members of our family, until the very end.
I spayed Kimba as early as possible as it was not my intention at all that my dogs breed. I most certainly only wanted to have 2 of my most favourite kind of puppies, that I could raise into majestic, noble, fit and healthy dogs to share my life, home and family with. Jack and Kimba soon grew into strong, adult dogs, did a little bit of discipline training at Puppy School, but mainly just enjoyed being 'naughty and cheeky' family pets. It wasn't long before they also established a 'pack' with it's own pecking order, that included David, myself and them. They knew instinctively that we were a family and they would guard and protect us and each other, with their lives.
When they were puppies, they would take much pleasure and delight in digging up every single plant that I put in the garden and trying to establish a lawn in the back yard was close to impossible. Eventually, I had to dedicate a section of the back yard to them and fence them off when we were not home so that I could grow a garden. They were so placid and gentle, so loving and affectionate, such beautiful animals and in all their lives, never harmed a fly. They were a true credit to their breed, responding only to love and kindness and were nothing like the vicious guard dogs that some people think German Shepherds are.
Kimba was the big 'smoocher' and Jack was the big 'boof'. Kimba would literally try to climb up onto my lap for a cuddle and would always lick the children from head to toe, while they pulled her ears and pulled her tail and she adored every minute of it. She had much more patience than Jack, who was the big, burly boy who didn't know his own strength and he would get out of the kids' way when he heard them coming because he didn't understand children like Kimba did. They would love their walks and look forward all week to the left over chicken bones on a Sunday morning from our roast dinner the night before. They also loved my pasta and my husband often tells me that they lived such a long and happy life because they had plenty of my cooking! LOL
Time soon passed and they were starting to get old. Kimba deteriorated quicker than Jack and her nervous system failed her in the end. In her last days, she would walk with her head tilted and this was as a result of nerve damage. She became very slow and lethargic and in January 2013, she passed away, next to her kennel, at the age of 13. This was a shock and saddened me enormously, but then we still had Jack, who seemed like he had plenty of life left in him and we carried on. Soon after Kimba died, he would often howl early in the morning, he would cry a sad call to his friend who he was missing very much. I would go to Jack and talk to him and he would stop trying to call Kimba back to the pack and he would be OK again.
Over the last few months in particular, Jack was not looking too good. He became very weak on his back legs, could not maintain any weight and developed a bad skin irritation on his lower back. He lost his hearing and his eye sight was failing. But he would keep on going, always eating everything and anything that I gave him with much enthusiasm, kept showing an interest and awareness in what we were doing, so I tried to convince myself that I would continue to look after him for as long as I could. But today when I washed him, I could see that he was skin and bones and had developed large lumps on his back legs, he was old and tired and I just knew that the time had come. I took him to the Vet and she could not believe how long Jack had lived. She said that his age was truly 'remarkable' as the average age for a German Shepherd is 9. She told me that the lumps on his legs were pressure points where the skin was protecting the bone. She said that he had deterioration of the spine and that his weight loss was a sure sign of a more complex, underlyng problem. So I said goodbye, goodbye to my friend for the last time.
This afternoon I have been trying to analyse my thoughts and feelings as I was so stunned at the major impact that all of this has had one me because, after all, we are talking about dogs, not people. But as you know, that doesn't seem to matter because life is life and family is family and you can't love a living being for over 14 years and not experience a powerful sense of loss when they are gone. For our pets have personalities, they have feelings, emotions, expressions and they give you the most underestimated, unconditional love. They are yours forever, until the day they die and today I know that so clearly in my heart.