Tuesday, December 26,
1995, my wife, Denise, and I were walking among
the pens in the Denver Municipal Animal Shelter when we came upon the
most adorable long-haired dachshund mix. She was long, of course, and
had the sturdy dachshund legs, but her face was rounder, more like a
spaniel or a retriever. She came up to the gate of the pen and sat
down, patiently waiting for us to reach in and pet her. We fell in love
She was not available for adoption until Wednesday, and we were told
that the smaller dogs go quickly, so I arranged to be there Wednesday
morning. I was there when they opened the doors and the process went
off without a hitch. The paperwork was started and she was on her way
to getting spayed. They estimated that she was about two years old.
We brought Fritzi home on Friday evening, December 29. She was groggy
from the anesthesia and stayed in her bed (or our arms) for most of the
evening. But in the days that followed, she displayed that she was a
fun-loving dog who loved to run and bounce around. The bond between us
deepened with each day.
She quickly became spoiled, and loved to be with us. When she ate her
dog food, she would gather up a mouthful and come running out of the
kitchen to wherever we were, deposit the food on the floor and start
eating the nuggets one by one. Denise and I could predict when to
expect her, because we could hear the food being pushed around her bowl
as she gathered up the pieces in her mouth.
Other routines developed over time. Every morning when I went into the
bathroom to start my shower, Fritzi would meander in and lie down for
me to pet her as I adjusted the water. Later, as I headed back to my
studio/office, Fritzi was there, following at my heels or, more often,
leading the way with an occasional glance over her shoulder to be sure
I was coming. She would lie down in the bed we put back there for her.
(She had a total of 4)
Whenever Denise or I would start changing our clothes, or when Denise
started putting on her makeup, Fritzi knew we were going to be leaving.
At this time, she would lie down to pout as she watched the
proceedings. She stubbornly refused to get interested in playing if
either one of us tried to do that. Or at least she tried to refuse, but
she couldn't resist for long. When the shoes started going on, she knew
it was getting close and she would sit down directly in front of me,
looking at me with her mournful brown eyes, as if to say, "How can you
possibly leave me?" Sometimes we wondered that ourselves.
Not long after we got her, Fritzi's back problem presented itself. When
I came home on a Monday evening, she was not acting right. She stuck
very close to me and whenever she moved, she would sit back down
nervously, as if it hurt to stand. The condition worsened quickly and
within an hour or two, her walking was very unsteady. We took her to a
veterinary emergency room where they did X-rays and examined her. She
had a disk that was bulging and pressing against her spinal chord. In
the short time we were there, she became completely paralysed in her
back end. She could no longer walk.
We could not afford the surgery they were talking about and in a while,
Denise and I reluctantly started considering the possibility of putting
her to sleep. The depression that came with this was almost unbearable,
and shortly after this, we were told of a chiropractor who, in addition
to his human patients, also works on dogs. We called him and he said to
bring Fritzi in. This was on Wednesday.
Dr. Wiggins didn't hold out a lot of hope, but he examined Fritzi and
did some adjustments. I took her home and decided to see how she held
herself. I put her down on the floor and she walked. She was a bit
unsteady at first, but that one adjustment did the trick. We took
Fritzi to see Dr. Wiggins every month for a maintenance adjustment, and
Dr. Wiggins quickly grew to love Fritzi too. With this maintenance
schedule, Fritzi did very well. Nobody who saw her would have realised
that she had any kind of physical infirmity.
Gradually our house became "decorated" specifically with Fritzi in
mind. For instance, when Denise and I played vigourously with her,
Fritzi would get so excited that she just had to run - she couldn't sit
still. She would take off running the length of the house and back. And
when she got back to the living room, she would hurl herself sideways
into the front of the couch to stop herself, sometimes freezing there
momentarily to look at us as if to ask, "Did you see that?!" before
beginning her next lap. Immediately after the first time she did this,
we placed pillows along the front of the couch and kept them there ever
She loved to look outside, but the living room window was a little too
high for her to do that comfortably, and when Denise and I were gone,
Fritzi would jump up onto the couch. She would curl up on the wide back
of the couch, which then required that she jump down when we came home.
So I built a platform for her with steps up to another one of her beds,
between the window and the couch, so that she could keep an eye on
things without injuring her back any more.
I installed a pet door for her in our back door, so that she could have
the run of the backyard as well as the house. On sunny days, we could
look out the kitchen window and see Fritzi's glossy little body as she
sat on the back porch, sunning herself and watching the goings on in
our backyard. Eventually I built a ramp for our back porch, to save
Fritzi's back from the jarring impact of going up and down steps, and I
was in the process of designing a new platform with a ramp for the
living room window.
In April, 2000, only 4 years and 4 months after we got her, Fritzi's
back problem resurfaced. Within a two week period, Fritzi had 4
chiropractic adjustments, but they just were not holding. On Friday,
May 5, the paralysis set in again.
We took her to the vet and they decided to keep her over the weekend,
to give her large doses of steroids and anti-inflammatories, to try to
get her irritated disk under control. Surgery was suggested again, and
at the cost of $4000 - $6000, it was out of our reach. We spent the
weekend agonising over what we should do, and doing research on the
internet, looking into K-9 Carts, reading about people who care for
paralysed dachshunds, even looking up dachshund rescue organisations in
the thought that, if we can't take care of her, at least she could
still live and be cared for, even if by someone else. These
organisations, though, were already pretty full and it was doubtful
that they could even afford to provide the care that she needed.
In reading about many of the people who kept their dachshunds in K-9
Carts, diapers, etc., while we admired their efforts and their desire
to keep the dogs happy and comfortable, we wondered about the motives.
Many of the comments sounded as if it was being done for the owners
rather than for the dogs. We knew that dogs are resilient and can adapt
to many different circumstances. But keeping Fritzi penned up in a
little kennel to keep her immobile all day long while Denise and I were
gone, only to have a little time in the mornings and evenings when she
might be able to move about in a cart, seemed like too much to ask her
to adapt to. She would only be happy when she could be out with us, and
that was just too little.
Dr. Wiggins paid another visit, at the animal hospital, on Sunday
morning, to give one more attempt at adjusting her back. There was no
change. By Monday morning, Fritzi had developed bloody diarrhea,
apparently from ulcerations in her intestinal tract from the steroids.
Denise and I visited her and spoke with the vet. While we already
pretty much knew what we had to do, neither of us wanted to say it.
When we finally did speak our thoughts, the vet concurred that if
Fritzi was kept alive, her quality of life would be greatly diminished.
We spoke our decision to have her put to sleep.
We wanted to be with her when it was done. Not that we wanted to watch
her die, but we wanted her to see, hear and feel us as she drifted to
sleep. We had hoped that the end would be peaceful. Unfortunately, the
shunt in her leg that had been used all weekend to administer the
drugs had apparently shifted somehow. When the syringe was attached to
it and the injection began, the shunt leaked a bit and the drug
stung Fritzi and she started yelping and screaming, trying to wiggle
away. The nurse, as quickly as possible, got the shunt closed and
the syringe removed, and took Fritzi back to insert a new one.
Denise and I were agitated beyond description as our little friend was
carried away after that outburst. By the time the nurse brought her
back, what little drug had been injected had already started
circulating and Fritzi was half dead. The injection was completed and
within just a few seconds, at about 2:00 p.m., Fritzi stopped breathing
That afternoon of Monday, May 8 was the most painful and lonely time
that my wife and I had ever spent together. After the worst of the
crying stopped, we decided that we had to gather up all of Fritzi's
things and put them away. It was too hard seeing her beds, her toys,
her unfinished chewsticks.
The following days, though not as sharply painful, were even more
difficult in a way, as we tried to get back into our usual routines,
but doing so without Fritzi. We hadn't realised before how deeply
Fritzi was involved in our lives. She was everywhere. Virtually
everything we did had at least one memory of Fritzi, and usually more.
I started working on a tribute picture
of her, mainly for myself. I
felt compelled to do it, and while it was hard at times, it was
into regular, everyday life is hard when I remember things she used to
do in response. For instance, it was always part of my morning routine
to open up the shutters we have on our living room window. The moment
Fritzi heard the latch, from wherever she was in the house, she would
come running into the living room and up onto her platform to get her
first glimpse of the front yard.
Carrying the groceries in from the car was always exciting for Fritzi,
because she could go out on the front porch. She never left the porch
but would wait as I carried them up, then take off running for the
kitchen to wait for me to get there and set them down. Then she would
follow me back for the next load, sometimes grabbing a toy if she was
Bringing in the groceries just isn't the same any more.
Good-bye Fritzi. We miss you.
© 2000 Kelly Cheek