Dogs, Hungary, and a forgotten bomb
June 2003

 
One of the hardest things I have ever done was decide to get another dog. There is a part of me that felt so tremendously guilty for wanting another dog with Wiley gone only two months. I also could not imagine loving another dog. I shared that feeling with a friend whose beloved Fat Cat had died earlier. He wrote me back:
"Wiley just whispered to Fat Cat that you're an idiot... they seem to be chasing each other around some portion of the Other Other Land."

After Wiley left us, Buster seemed confused, then lonely, and then... well, kind of bored. He was still happy -- Buster is pretty much always happy. But there was something missing. Wiley was missing. Every day I went to work, I almost cried at having to leave Buster alone. And he was so pokey when we walked, even more pokey than usual -- stopping a million times, and not bouncing as fast or as long when he was walking.

I agonized over what to do. Buster would probably be fine without another sibling until I had to go on a trip. And I do travel more than most people. The only way traveling so much has been possible for me is having more than one pet, knowing they had each other.

So I decided it was time to visit the local animal shelter to see how I would react to seeing dogs needing homes. Stefan insisted on going with me -- he wanted to make this a joint adoption experience, should I decide that's the route I wanted to take. The Albert Schweitzer Tierheim in Bonn is underneath highway 565 and the U-Bahn, a place where the sounds of barking dogs would probably not bother anyone. It is like Pet Club Med: most dogs are kept in twos and threes in spacious grass-covered kennels, with a children's plastic swimming pool full of water and plenty of shelter and shade. Dogs who are kept in single kennels have a lot of space to run back and forth from outside to inside. The profiles of the dogs are posted on the kennels and the Internet. Dogs are taken out once a day by volunteers, and walked along with other dogs from the shelter or the pets of the volunteers. There's a huge shelter house for oh-so-many unwanted bunnies, and large areas full of toys for all of the many, many cats. It was all clean, spacious, and run by staff and volunteers obviously dedicated to animals' welfare. Ofcourse it's a no-kill shelter.

To say I was impressed would a huge understatement. Unlike shelters in the U.S., these dogs all continue to be socialized, and I would bet that most leave in much better shape than when they came in. Apparently, this is how most shelters in Germany are run. And here's the kicker -- while they are over-run with rabbits and cats (oh-so-many cute cats), there aren't enough discarded dogs to fill the kennels. So they have agreements with shelters throughout Germany and even with other countries, to bring adoptable dogs to the Tierheim. A community and culture that has this kind of devotion and compassion deserves a great deal of respect and admiration.

The first dog I had a good look at was Ben. You can see a picture of him on the Tierheim web site. He's 10 years old, and he's been there for a very long time -- a volunteer told us he's been there the second longest amount of time. The description of him said he was an obedient, sensitive dog, that he's not immediately friendly, but grows fond of familiar people. Somehow, I could see that sensitivity. He wouldn't come over to the fence to meet us -- just watched us in a lazy manner. Later, when a volunteer approached he knew well, he was all warmth and love. But Ben is a big, big dog, one that I could not handle if he decided he wanted to take off, or that I could pick up and carry even a short distance. We found out on our second visit that he does not like children, and we saw him go ballistic when an older boy walked by the fence -- the boy had made no sudden or suspicious movements, just walked by. Poor Ben. I know he's very well taken care of the Tierheim, but I also know he would make someone a very loyal friend.

There were other dogs that caught our eye -- like two that were desperate for us to pet them through the fence and were just all love and affection. Their picture wasn't on the web site -- turns out they were temporary guests, as their owner was in prison. Yikes.

Near the back of the Tierheim, there were two dogs in a kennel together, a Pit Bull and a German Sheperd mix. The German Sheperd mix was sleeping in the grass, her head facing away from us. The sign said her name was Albi. I called her name, and she raised her head and looked back at us. I said it again, and she came over, giving our fists a lick through the fence and then looking at us with such a sweet face. When she realized we weren't going to take her out, she wandered back over to her spot in the grass and laid back down. Her profile said she was born in 1997, and that she had been at the shelter since December 23, 2002. The volunteer we worked with said Albi was brought in by a volunteer who makes regular trips to an animal shelter in Pecs, in the South of Hungary to bring dogs back to Germany for adoption (they have a better chance here). Her profile said that she was fine with "quiet children" or a companion dog. It also said

Albi comes out of a Hungarian animal home to us. She appeared originally very anxiously and intimidated. She later adjusted and now is happy about to be in an open, cheerful and sporting dog home. She enjoys people and her daily walks, including walks with other dogs.

Her home should have no stairways, as she has problems with her hip.

Who can be charmed of Albi's charm?

So, the next weekend, my neighbor Barb joined Stefan and myself to bring Buster to the shelter to meet Albi. I was incredibly nervous, as it was apparent from our first visit that the Tierheim does not give up dogs easily -- they are incredibly strict about adoptions, to the point that I'm betting most people who come for dogs are turned away. Stefan commented that it seemed like you had to be a wealthy unemployed person who never traveled in order to be worthy of a dog from the shelter. He's not too far off on that policy... On my first visit, I'd given Julia my card and written the address for my Camping With Your Dogs page. On this second visit, Julia told me that she visited the page, and clicked on the link to the page about Wiley, and it had made her cry; she'd called the director of the dog shelter and said, "We have to give this person a dog."

We all went into a large pen together, and a volunteer brought Albi in. Buster was mildly interested, but for the most part, both dogs were more interested in exploring the huge pen than interacting with each other. Albi has her favorites among staff, and was very focused on them instead of me, Stefan, Barb, Buster or any other "stranger." I knew that, were I to take her, I would have to earn her affection and trust. Towards the end, she was becoming a little more interested in Buster. But there were just soooooo many distractions everywhere -- people, other dogs, the smell of so many other dogs in the pen -- that it was really hard for either dog to focus on the other. I bent down to get on her level and waited, and after a long time, Albi finally came over to check me out, and I gave her a good scratch behind the ear, getting lucky and finding her sweet spot. Then I started to notice that people standing outside the pen were making inquiries -- about BUSTER. He was merrily saying hello to everyone through the fence. 14 years old, and Buster is still the center of attention. I told him to quit trying to find a new owner, that he's stuck with me forever.

The volunteer who had been helping us primarily, Julia, told us that just recently, Albi had developed a very bad habit of attacking her pen mate if he got too close during meal time, and that I would need to watch out for that if I did decide to take her. She also said that her hip problems weren't so serious as to prevent Albi from going on long walks, only from going up and down steps a lot. We asked what our next step would be, if there was a way we could take Albi home the next weekend for a trial visit. Julia said we couldn't keep her overnight, but we could come around 8:30 a.m. and return her at around 5, then do the same the next day. I had already put in for a day off the following Friday, and I filled out the paper work for Albi to come home with me both Friday and Saturday.

We left the shelter and, this time, I didn't cry. I had cried the previous weekend, thinking how awful it would be to have to leave my dog in a shelter, even in one so nice as this, and I cried because I always worry what would happen to my dogs if I wasn't around to take care of them. This time, I felt good -- nervous, but good. Also, I got completely distracted because, as we were pulling out of the parking lot, there were two hookers picking up tricks right next to the Tierheim parking lot! "Stefan, remember how I was trying to explain to you what 'Skank' meant? Well..." They looked about as skanky as women can look. They put the "Skank" in "Skankola." Meth heads in leather would be my description. And every single guy in a car that was going by was slowing down for a look at these skanky gals. Bleh. I know I should have felt sorry for these obvious addicts -- who knows what habits and pimps they are supporting...

We were all starving, so we went to Burger King and sat outside, Buster drinking from the top of a plastic salad bowl top while Barb and I sang the old Burger King jingle for Stefan ("Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don't upset us, all we ask is that you let us serve it your way..."). And on the way home, we hit a massive traffic jam caused by people pouring into the park on the Rhein for a big music festival I have somehow missed every year I've lived here. As we waited on an exit, Barb read out of the Tierheimbonn magazine, which featured touching profiles on some of their dogs -- and I'm happy to say that the two that really got to us turned out to have already been adopted since the original publication of the magazine. One of the dogs had just three legs, and the article said they had had problems finding her a home because of that -- never mind that she could get around just find, loved to play, loved to socialize, etc. She was a cuuuutie in the photo, a little white poodle mix. The story also said that someone had come up while a volunteer was walking the dog and said, "you know, you really should put that dog to sleep." And I went off for about 10 minutes, because the same thing happened to me regarding Wiley, and I think it is absolutely the rudest thing anyone has EVER done to me. The other dog, a beautiful border collie, had had the same owner for 13 years, and the owner's children simply dropped the dog off on their way to putting the owner into an old people's home, even taking the dog bed with them (they said they had uses for it). We all went off for about 10 minutes on that. In case you are wondering (and I know most of you are, given how many of you wrote me after the infamous bee story), both dogs have long since found loving homes.

Stefan also took off the following Friday, and we arrived right on time at the Tierheim to pick up Miss Albi. She was surprisingly easy for me to lift up and put in the back of the car, and she road like a veteran of road trips. I took her to the park straight out of the car and Stefan went to my apartment and walked Buster over. They walked just fine together, and after a while, we went back to the apartment. She was pretty anxious, and walked around excitedly -- and pooped right in the middle of the floor. Ofcourse. She finally settled down and laid in front of the TV. The rest of the day was a dream. We'd walk them for a little while, and then come back to the apartment, and she'd settle right down. She would always come when called, and she would rush over to give Stefan a big kiss whenever he bent over to tie his shoe or pick something up. At one point, I let Buster sleep on the back porch, something he loves to do, and Albi joined him. We left a couple of times, once for an hour, and again later for three hours, and came back to find both dogs just fine. Barb came over and we all sat looking at Albi laying in the floor, relaxed as could be. Buster decided to lick her all over, which she seemed relatively content with for a while, but then she growled at him to stop. He didn't exactly get the message -- he just hesitated before continuing. I told him it was time to stop, and he did.

I announced I didn't want to take her back that night -- I wanted her to stay, forever. I just could not imagine any other scenario. I knew that there was going to be challenges ahead, I knew that I hadn't seen her bad habits, and that there would, ofcourse, be bad habits, but I couldn't spend the rest of the month checking her out every day and evaluating her like a car. I was bonding to her, and I wanted to start working on that bond and addressing whatever problems there were immediately. I was ready to commit, not just to have another dog, but to making it work.

We took Albi back that evening and, much to the surprise of the shelter staff, announced we wanted to keep her. Apparently this had never happened before, and they reminded us that our original plan was to bring her back that night and have another trial run the next day. As though I was going to say, "Oh, yeah, your right, that was my original plan, and it's so important to always adhere to your original plans." Stefan did all the negotiations and told me what to sign and where. Volunteers came up to pet Albi and congratulate me. "Albi ist Liebe!" one kept saying. I know.

I paid the fees, we loaded her back up in the car, we passed a skanky hooker and we went home for Albi's first night in her new home with what I hope is her last family.

She's sleeping on her dog bed as I write this, in her favorite position -- her head hanging off onto the floor. Buster is laying right by my chair. It's a terrifically hot day, but my apartment is relatively cool -- keeping the windows closed after three p.m. helps. Albi and Buster walk just fine together, both liking to stop and smell most everything along the way. Albi has quickly learned how I want her to walk on the leash, and already knows "sit", particularly just before coming back into the house and before eating. I feed her in the hallway, and Buster in the kitchen. She's fine if Stefan and I approach her when eating, but not Buster -- and he learned this early on. She likes other dogs very much, which is such a startling contrast to the last 10 years for me in terms of dog walking. She is not too crazy about strange men, and doesn't warm up to people immediately, but once she does, she's your friend forever. And she's in love with Stefan.

She's been beaten, that's clear. The first time she got on the bed and I told her, "Albi, NO!!" she must have thought she was going to get creamed -- she dropped down and cowered. Broke my heart. She ran out the back her first Sunday home, and Stefan started to chase her. I realized this was not the way to go, and told him to sweetly call her back, which he did, and she came right back. She will stop doing whatever it is you want her to stop doing immediately . She knows "Albi, come" when she's on leash or in the house -- I've only just started experimenting off-leash, because I'm so afraid of losing her if a rabbit runs by (and this is frequent during our early morning walks in Panorama Platz, the park here that overlooks the Rhein).

Our setback has been her relationship with Buster. He's scared of her when they are home together. I came home from work that first Tuesday she was here to find him cowering behind my computer table, dehydrated. He would not come out until I coaxed him, and he stared at her the whole time. He would not pass her unless I stood right next to her, and then he would cower as he past. He would not leave my side. The next morning, Buster would not come out of his crate; he kept looking past me to see if he could see Albi (she sleeps in the living room for some reason). I finally managed to get him out with massive bribes. Then I closed the bedroom door and they both followed me into the kitchen and drank water. When it was time to go outside, I had to put Buster's leash on while he was across the room and practically drag him to the door. Then I made Albi get all the way down and be totally submissive to me while I put on her leash and Buster was right next to me. After that, I made her wait for Buster to do everything: to go outside (he tried to come right back inside after we were all out) and to come back in again. I got very tough with her while walking, making her walk on a very short leash and never getting to walk ahead of me. And I would call her come over to me in the apartment, for no reason other than to ask her to sit, which she did. I kept this very strict behavior up for the rest of the week. I saw results right away -- they walked fine together, and when we got back to the apartment, they both came in the kitchen while I poured breakfast. They have continued to walk just fine together ever since, even bumping in to each other when they try to smell the same stuff. But in the house is a different matter.

I think she overwhelmed him the first two days alone, both with playing and with dominance. She's only once jumped on him for walking by her when I was here -- it was awful and brief, because I responded immediately, and per my response, she's never dared do it again when I'm here (no, I did not hit her -- I would never hit her. But I did correct her, per the Monks of New Skete recommendations, and she was mortified to have disappointed me). For her first three weeks here, we are continuing our work on Jayne Is The Queen Even When She Isn't Here training. I also have them both come to me while I pet them, and a couple of times, Buster has laid down next to her when I've done that, and stayed when I walked away -- but never for long. I think all of this is working: Buster is fine to be near her when treats are being handed out, or we're about to go outside, and always when we are walking. But we still have a long way to go. When I go into the bathroom, Buster lays in the bathroom with me, right by the bathtub the whole time (used to, when I took a bath, Buster stayed as far away as possible). If Buster finds himself in a position where Albi is between himself and where he wants to be, he barks a particular bark, the bark of Please-escort-me-past-Albi-to-my-preferred-destination, and I comply. He's walked past her on just a few ocassions when I've been here, and I praise them both heartily. I've got to get him over this she-terrifies-me thing. For now, while at work, I put them in separate rooms. If I leave for less than three hours, I leave them together.

But that aside, Albi is a darling. One morning I stayed home so some workman could paint my window frames, and they had to be half inside and half out of my apartment. Albi barked initially, but I told her to stop and made her lay by me as I sat typing on the computer and these two guys came in and out of the windows. She could not understand why I allowed it, but since I did, she tolerated it. Buster stared at them, longing to help paint... The workmen came back a week later to touch up, and she remembered what to do , coming over and laying right next to me in exactly the same place and same position while they worked. This week, she did, truly, try to eat my homework -- I laid a piece of paper down and she tried to snatch it away. The other night she wanted to pick up each and every piece of laundry I was pulling out of the hamper and take it to the other room. If I hand her a rolled up piece of newspaper, she will trot away happily to her bed and rip it to shreds. She has been caught with one of my slippers, for which she was reprimanded. She's soooooo playful, but she also really, really wants to please me.

She can be a little too playful -- I have a massive set of bruises on my left leg, including one that covers a huge knot, all the result of her excitement over meeting Benson for the first time, an old and very adorable golden retriever, and in her enthusiasm, running full throttle into my leg. But it's *such* a blessing at how much she loves other dogs. I'm so thrilled with that.

Buster was limping a little bit, so we went to see Dr. Hermann on a recent Saturday morning. It was a good opportunity for both Stefan and Albi to meet him for the first time. Dr. Hermann said that Buster, the "old grandfather," is fine -- just a little age thing, and that Buster could stand a bit more exercise, which I'm relieved to hear, since I have been wanting to walk him longer now that Albi's here. I told him where I got Albi and he said with awe, "How did you ever get a dog out of that place?" Genau!! (pronounced "Guh - now", and, roughly, it means, "Exactly!")

A Strange Sunday...

I get up every morning between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and walk the dogs for at least 30 minutes during the week and an hour on weekends. We usually go to a park just half a block from my apartment complex, walk through it and back, and then improvise from there on where we'll go next, depending on time and mood. Usually, there's only one other person and dog there -- sometimes, not even that.

One morning, there was a lone guy, walking around, looking for something, and looking kind of lost himself. When we got close to him, I heard him call softly, "Benson." I know Benson! (see earlier reference). Benson is owned by an American family, and they are gone for a few weeks and have friends taking care of him -- and this was one of those people. He'd let Benson off leash, Benson had gone into this huge jungle of bushes in the middle of the park, and disappeared.

Well, ofcourse I was distraught. I finished walking the dogs, and went back to the park, probably a half hour later. The guy was still there, but he was giving up and walking back to the house. I had stuck a piece of paper and pen in my pocket, and I called to him, and asked him to write his name and number down, in case I saw Benson. They guy just seemed really lost and confused -- I'm sure he felt like a jerk for losing someone else's dog. He didn't seem to know much about dogs either -- he called so softly, instead of yelling really loudly. I wrote down the name of the Tierheim for him, and told him he should call them later today and every day he can't find Benson, because if someone finds him, that's where he will probably end up. I guess by that point, Benson had been gone for two full hours.

I walked back home, and it was around 8 a.m. I was feeling sleepy, so I decided to lay down for a nap and start the day over later. I laid down and started thinking about Benson. Did I do all I could to help find him? Maybe I should be out walking around too. Wouldn't I want someone to do that for me too? Maybe Benson is already found. What would I do if Buster or Albi got out? That made me so sad to think about. I laid there and wanted to cry.

Then Albi got up, ran to the back door and started to bark. I told her to stop. She barked again. I heard something in the back yard and thought, oh, great, Albi got out. So I get up, grumpy, look out the back window -- and there is Benson!!. I swear to God, there he was, right in my back yard! How in the WORLD did he get here? He's never, ever been here before, not even to the area immediately around my apartment building. I think he lives in the opposite direction from the park.

I ran out, called to him as he proceeded into my neighbor's yard, and chased him down when he didn't turn around. He was a little freaked out, but being a golden retriever, he was happy to see me once he figured out I was calling his name. I kissed him and talked to him, almost started to cry, then lead him back and put him on the lead I keep in my back yard. Then I came in and frantically looked for where I'd put the paper with the guy's name on it. I found it and, as I was dialing, I thought, geesh, he's not going to believe this. It sounds like a scam. It just seemed too neat and clean for me, of all people, to have found Benson in my back yard, perfect as you please. So I lied and said that I'd seen Benson on a walkway that runs past my building. But I did give Albi credit for barking at him and alerting me to his presence. We were in the park not five minutes later, and he was so relieved. He asked if I wanted a reward and I just laughed and said this had been a really strange thing and I was just relieved it had worked out, period.

I'm still trying to figure out how Benson got there. All I can think is that he must have wandered down by the Rhine or some place where he picked up Albi and Buster's recent scent, and because he kind of knew them, he followed it. Either that, or there really, truly is a doggy deity.

Okay, enough about dogs...

I got to see a rather neat site recently one early morning in Panorama Platz: a hot-air balloon being unpacked and inflated this morning. It's still relatively cool enough for such things in the morning. I see balloons and para gliders frequently between here and Koblenz.

Workmen found a 1.5-ton (1 782 Kilo) bomb ("englische Luftmine") from WW2 about three kilometers from my home, in a neighborhood called Muffendorf, a day after Stefan and I had been talking about how often such things happen in this area of Germany, usually during construction. It was removed safely, but it still freaks me out. When I look into the Rhein, particularly around Remagan and Koblenz, I often wonder just how many tanks, trucks, unexploded shells and other remnants of WWII are beneath those murky waters. Such discoveries aren't to be taken likely: a couple of weeks later, members of a specialist squad were killed defusing a similar discovery in Austria.

A Canadian guy I work with who is even more a child of 1980s pop culture than me decided to have a Toga party. Now, realize that most of the people I work with have never heard of a Toga party, and have no idea what the significance is to "Animal House." But cultural relevance never really stops Brian from trying anything. Here's the invitation (the phone number and address has been altered to protect Bri's privacy):

Citizens of the Bonn Empire: you are invited to attend the first annual Baccian toga party extravaganza. It will take place on Sat V (5th) at Brian's coliseum which is located in Altstadt on Uhlanderstr XII (12) in apartment XXII (22). 

All subjects are required to wear traditional Roman attire -- namely a toga and optionally, a laurel. It is also acceptable to come dressed as a stentorian. Citizens not complying with the dress code may be subject to crusification; a new career in the gladiator sector; or they may given the opportunity to learn about the culinary practices of lions.

Proper facilities will be available--vomitorium, feasting quarters, and disco lounge. Tribute, consisting of drinks or munchies (wine, olives, or grapes), are most welcomed.

Should you know any fellow citizens who have not received this official decree, please extend this invitation unto them. If you need to call, my home number is
V V V I V III III (555 1533)
or my cell,
nihl I VI nihl V V V V IV V II (0160 5555452).

For background on the Toga party tradition, visit:
www.romanempire.net/romepage/ArtGallery/TogaGroup.htm
or
www.partyschool.com/partythemes/themes/toga.html

Strength and honor,

Hail John Belushi,

Brian

Stefan and I bought sheets at Woolworth's, then went to Alexandra's first for fashion consulations from her mom. Mama Sol fixed us all up perfectly -- my hair was amazing, and I'm sorry to say I didn't bring my digital camera for you to see it... The party was a hit -- there was almost 100% fashion compliance. No one did the Gator though.

And last of all: I'm trying to work, go to school, take Spanish classes, care for a new dog, help Buster with the transition, and work on my relationship with Stefan. My respite these days? Why, the new Harry Potter book, ofcourse! That should last me all the way through our trip to Prague at the end of this month... seriously though, I think I've over-extended myself, particularly given that my unit is work has a supposedly-temporary 30% reduction in staff (but, ofcourse, not a 30% reduction in the amount of work we have to do).

As always, I'll end with fun and/or interesting links:

NOTE: I rarely correct URLs on my personal essays/blogs. If you click on a link and it no longer works, visit archive.org and you can probably find an archive of the site you are looking for.

I want to tango at a deserted BP station with Alan Rickman. Is that too friggin' much to ask?! Sigh... the woman in this video is the luckiest woman alive...

Spider Man is not gay. But watching him dance will make you that way.

Is President Bush Homosexual? Not that there's anything wrong with that... Although, it is true that on July 30th, The Shrub held his 9th formal news conference. Bill Clinton had held 33 formal news conferences at a comparable point in his administration; Bush's father had had 61.

In pursuing a regime change in the U.S., a great resource is E-Democracy.Org, a citizen-based, non-profit, non-partisan online political resource. It includes a US Election 2004 directory, a list of major media sites with dedicated campaign 2004 news, the best non-profit and government election-related resources, and a special section with Presidential campaign information.

You all know I'm supporting Howard Dean. Here's the real reason.

An online magazine explains how a faith-based prisoner program, praised by the Bush administration, altered its data to appear effective when in fact it fared worse than the control group. Hope you will consider becoming an online volunteer and providing your time and expertise to help organizations working in and for the developing world. This terrific free service is brought to you and the world by the United Nations, about which I have many feelings.

More soon...


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