Fritzi - Portrait of a Little Princess

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 instantly.

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 since.

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 altogether.

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 therapeutic.

Settling back 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 especially excited.

Bringing in the groceries just isn't the same any more.

Good-bye Fritzi. We miss you.

© 2000 Kelly Cheek