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One of my aunts passed away last week. She was 96 years old, and had outlived both her husband and her two sons by many years, so it was definitely her time.

I'd like to post this tribute to her, as she and her husband were responsible for starting my love affair with the German shepherd dog.

They were dairy farmers, and their lives very much reflected the Protestant work ethic. When their dairy operation was in full swing, they were milking 80 cows twice a day. When I came to their farm, I'd do my best to be of some use: feeding calves, stacking hay bales, lugging milk pails to the cooler. Sometimes it was the only way to have a conversation with them, as the chores always had to be done. The weather was also a worry, especially during the harvest. I remember once frantically helping them stack hay bales to get them safely under cover before a rainstorm ruined them.

They lived near the end of a road that abutted on a swamp. For some reason, people would often dump their unwanted pets there. My aunt and uncle often adopted these unwanted animals, or found new homes for them, so I was not terribly surprised to find a new dog lying underneath their kitchen table when I arrived for a visit one day. She was extremely skinny, an absolutely pathetic looking bag of bones.

"Do you want a dog, Jane?" my aunt asked me.

"I live in an apartment, Aunt Betty. I'm not supposed to have a pet." I replied. "Where'd she come from?"

"She belonged to our neighbour, Joe. He had to go into the Manor (long term care home) and we promised we'd look after her for him. But she's not a good farm dog. She's scared of the cows, and we couldn't even get her to kill a ground hog."

"We had this beggar come by the other day, and we put her outside, hoping she'd chase him away," my uncle added. "When I next peeked outside, he was sitting in one of our lawn chairs, and she had her head in his lap!"

"How come she's so skinny?" I asked.

"We can't get her to eat," my aunt said. "I think she's missing Joe."

I'd always loved animals, but had never been able to have a dog or a cat, because of my brother's allergies. But now, I was living on my own, so the allergies weren't a problem. And to be offered what was obviously a pure bred dog for free...oh, was that tempting! During the next week, I talked it over with a friend of mine, who lived in a high rise, and had a male German shepherd.

"I'd give it a go, if I were you," he said. "They can't really do anything unless the dog is being a nuisance, or bites someone.

The next weekend was our annual family reunion. I approached my aunt and uncle as they were about to go home to start their chores, and asked if I could drop by, as there was something I wanted to talk to them about.

"Is it about the dog?" my aunt asked.

I nodded and smiled.

"Good," my aunt said, grinning. "I know she'll have a good home with you!"

Lili Marlene, as I'd decided to name the dog, after the old World War II song, came home with me that day. She made a total of two mistakes in my apartment before she was completely housebroken to this new way of living. The next morning, as I took her outside for her morning pee, I bumped into my superintendent in the elevator. He muttered something about "you're not supposed to have a dog in the apartment", then he let her sniff his hand, and he petted her. Once he was convinced she was friendly, I never heard another word of complaint from him. His wife, who did the cleaning of the hallways, even remarked on what a good dog she was. She never barked when she was vacuuming, or even when she wiped down the apartment doors and mail slots.

Of course, one of the first things I did was make an appointment with the vet, as I was sure this dog wasn't up to date on vaccinations or worming. She also had a dirty brown film in her eyes that was partially blocking the pupil, and affecting her vision, so I needed to get him to take a look at that, too.

The vet shook his head as he weighed her: she was 5 years old, 26" tall, and weighed only 35 lbs!

"I can't tell you for sure this dog is going, to live," he said. "I think she might have pancreatic insufficiency, or some other sort of incurable disease that's keeping her skinny."

"Her poops are fine," I said. "My aunt said they were having trouble getting her to eat, but the dog food they gave me to take home was full of worms (moth larvae)! Let me get some good food into her, and see how it goes."

"Okay," said the vet, "as for her eyes, she's got degenerative pannus. It's very common in German shepherds. I'll give you a referral to the veterinary eye specialist, and he can begin treatment for it. She'll need eyedrops for the rest of her life, though."

"That's not a problem," I said, glad to know the condition was treatable.

I gave Lili a week or two to adjust to her new life. She settled in nicely, and began to gain weight, once she knew someone loved her and cared for her. My apartment was right across the road from a hydro right-of-way, and I was able to walk her there, and even let her off leash so she could chase a ball.

Once I was convinced the vet was wrong, and that she wasn't going to die on me right away, I called the eye specialist and made an appointment. He examined her, then gave her a steroid injection directly into the eye. She took it like a trooper, while I held her head.

That injection worked like magic. Within 48 hours that dirty brown film had receded below her pupil, and she could see normally again. I rejoiced as she chase a dirty gray tennis ball in the fading light of an early fall evening.

A week later, we returned to the specialist for a recheck. She walked right into the exam room without a second's hesitation. Dr. Goldstein bent down and made a fuss over her, and she licked his face. He looked at me and smiled. "You know, this is probably the only breed smart enough to understand that we're trying to help them when we do horrible things to them like sticking needles into their eyes!"

I nodded in agreement.

After a couple of weeks, I decided to take her back to visit my aunt and uncle. We had a cup of tea together, but before too long my uncle had to head to the barn to start the milking. I decided to go with him to help out. My aunt remained behind in the house to finish some chores there. Lili followed me part way to the barn, but refused to go inside. Since she was used to the farm, I just let her be.

My aunt came into the barn a short time later. "Jane," she said, "you'd better go get your dog. She's headed back home to Joe's place!"

I hurried out of the barn to search for her. I couldn't see her anywhere. I ran down the lane way, and looked down the road. No sign of her. I ran to the lane that went out to the fields, and looked across to Joe's farm. No dog visible anywhere. Finally, I decided I'd better get in my car, and drive over to his farm.

As I approached the car, I realized I'd left the driver's side window most of the way down. Not a good thing to do, I thought. The car was probably full of flies now.

I glanced through the window. There was my dog, curled up in the back seat.

It was at that moment I knew for sure this dog was mine, now and for the rest of her life.
 

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That is a great story and very sweet tribute to both your aunt and your first German shepherd. I'm so sorry for your loss.
 

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My aunt would clip things out of the newspaper and put them in photo albums. A lot of these clippings related to farm life, and her love of animals. Since she had no immediate family left, we were allowed to go through these albums and take whatever we wanted. I save these two poems about dogs. The first one nearly brought tears to my eyes. How many times had she seen or rescued an abandoned dog that someone had dumped near their farm? How many times had she maybe found the dog or puppy too late to save it? :crying:
 

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