Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Joy of a Ball

If the information provided to Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue is correct, then my boy Bradum is now over ten-years-old.  For a Rottweiler this is very old.  Yet, looking at him, you would hardly know it.  Besides some grey around the muzzle, an arthritic limp when he walks, and a slower pace than he once had, he appears as fit and vibrant as a dog half his age, especially when there is a tug rope or a big rubber ball involved. 

Every day after I get home from work, Bradum and Carly excitedly ask to be let into the backyard and, no, not to relieve themselves. They are hell-bent on one thing and that is a big rubber ball with a rope attached to it.  Carly will grab the ball while Bradum latches onto the rope and the show begins.  Growls and prancing are all part of the spectacle as they show off their skills of tug.  This lasts for ten to fifteen minutes before they either tire or Carly’s stomach reminds her that it is dinner time.  Either way, for those few minutes, Bradum acts nothing like his age should imply. 
The daily ritual of full contact tug with my crew
 The other day was no exception.  Both dogs were engaged in full contact tug when Bradum broke away to run to me for some affection.  This wasn’t because he loves me, well, perhaps a little.  Rather, this is a common trick he uses, as he knows Carly is a very jealous creature.  Sure enough, Carly saw me giving Bradum attention and left the ball to sprint over and push herself between Bradum and me.  This is exactly what Bradum was hoping for.  Like a rocket, he fired off toward the ball as fast as his one hundred and twenty pounds could accelerate.  As he got to the ball he tried to stop and grab it with his mouth, only to go tumbling past it.  I watched in horror as he hit the ground with his side and rolled completely over.  To my relief, Bradum didn’t even miss a beat as he rolled back up to his feet and snatched the ball in joy, triumphantly sprinting past Carly and me.  Carly, accepting the challenge, darted after him to reengage the tug-of-war.  I shook my head in disbelief and knew I would need to give Bradum his anti-inflammatory medicine after he ate -- he would surely feel his tumble later.  Sure enough, when we took our final walk of the evening, my big old dog could barely keep up, his joy at getting the ball having come with a price after all.

In reality, I wonder if Bradum, or any old dog, knows that there will be painful consequences from playing so hard, and if they do, if they even care.  That potential ignorance is something I admire in dogs at times: ignorance of consequences to life’s pleasures, ignorance of the limitations of age, and ignorance of mortality.  As humans we are not so fortunate to be oblivious during our limited time here.  We are all-too-familiar with the harsh reality that death will come to us all.  Oh to be a dog, to just be aware of the moment, the simple pleasures of a meal, the chase of a rabbit, quiet time with someone you love, or an old chewed up rubber ball. This lesson, that we should, at times, be like dogs and just enjoy the simple things in life was first taught to me by a Rottweiler named Chaos, and later on by her owner, Nancy. 

I met my friend Nancy a few years after I started Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue.  Both being Rottweiler owners, we became fast friends, and she soon volunteered at the shelter I worked with, going almost every day for many years, before she moved to Spokane with her husband and Chaos.  Chaos, her Rottweiler, lived up to her name. Full of energy and excitement, she was a real joy to know.  One of her favorite toys was a big red ball.  Ever the puppy, even at eleven-years-old and sore from the final stages of bone cancer, she would still play with her red ball.  If she didn’t have the energy to play, she would just lay in the grass with her ball, happy, content, and seemingly unaware of her fate to come.  Nancy though, was all-too-aware.  She, herself, was suffering from liver cancer.  When Chaos finally passed, Nancy sent me a picture of the dog with her ball to put on the memorial section of BSRR’s website.  With it, she included these words about her faithful companion:

“…She lived for the moment and didn't worry about whether playing was going to cause stiffness and pain later. Her sheer joy at finding that silly red ball was a sight to see. ...She taught me a lot with that red ball.”
Chaos and her red ball
For several years after Chaos’ death, Nancy fought her own cancer.  Each time I saw her, she had a smile even though I knew she was struggling.  Even with the pain and knowledge of what was to come, Nancy tried to focus on the simple pleasures of life.  For her, one of her favorites was volunteering at the local animal shelter. She told me that the animals just seemed to know that she wasn’t well.  The dogs that would normally drag the staff and other volunteers would walk calmly next to her, as though aware of the fact that she didn’t have the strength to hold them back. The times she didn’t have the energy to walk them, she would simply enter their kennels and sit on the floor.  The dogs would come and lay their heads on her lap and let her pet them, giving back the comfort and love that she had given to so many of the animals during her lifetime.  To some, this simple task is meaningless in the big picture of life, but to Nancy it was a true pleasure, and she kept doing it as long as her body allowed.

On March 14, 2013, at fifty-two-years of age, Nancy W. Freeman met the end that we all must face.  I still think of her smile and our political disagreements, but most dear to my heart is my memory of her love of animals, especially a Rottweiler named Chaos who enjoyed the joy of a simple red ball.
My friend Nancy, her dog Copper, and I in 2012
Watching my boy Bradum get older, I know that the time is drawing near when I will have to say goodbye to him like I have with so many other dogs in my life, and many friends.  What I wouldn’t give to be spared of the knowledge and foreboding of things to come. How wonderful it would be to live like a dog, unaware of life’s finite length.  Then again, are they unaware?  Upon the passing of dogs in my home, I’ve seen the remaining dogs act somber and even respectful of the one that has died, grieving as though they knew full-well what had happened.  Perhaps they are not as unaware as they seem.  Perhaps, just perhaps, they know more about dying that we do, and conversely, about living.  The Bible teaches that all creation longs in expectation to be made new by its Creator.  Perhaps that is why dogs do not fret about the end, and they, instead, enjoy the time their Creator has blessed them with, even if that is as simple a thing as playing with a big rubber ball.

Bradum and his ball
Nancy’s dedication and love for animals was part of the inspiration for the character of Abby in my novel, Stranger’s Dance.  To order a copy, click here or go to my website at

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