Gretchen, Gretchen

Posted: 04/08/2019 in dogs, Hunting, Photography
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I haven’t posted anything since October: mainly because I really haven’t had anything to post.  My work schedule is now Saturday, Sunday, Monday, 7am-7pm, and all of the 3D shoots are, of course, on the weekend.

But this isn’t about my schedule or lack of writing: this is about Gretchen. Gretchen is, technically, not our dog, she’s our oldest dog’s dog.


In 2006, my father drove down from Ohio to bring my daughter for her Spring Break. He also brought us one of his German Shorthaired Pointers, whom we named Cinders. (Technically Cinders von Uberwold, Cinders from the book White Plume Mountain, von Uberwold from Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld books.) Cinders, to put simply, was a brat from the beginning.  He had been in and out of my father’s house with my then- 8 year old daughter, but mostly lived outside, with his brothers and sisters, mother and the other GSP dogs my dad raised at the time.  But from day one, he ‘owned’ our house, and didn’t understand why we left him alone, except for the one older cat we had, who wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Cinders escaped every time we tried to put him in an outdoor kennel, would throw a fit and defecate all over a crate when we tried to crate train him, and would always, always destroy one thing in the house while we were gone, even if we were only gone for an hour.

About five months later, I accepted a job in Afghanistan, and Cinders threw a fit when my wife came back from the airport without me.

While I was overseas, the wife and I would discuss over instant messenger what to do about Cinder’s separation anxiety, and we really thought the best thing was to get another dog. This was the first time in his life that he wasn’t in the company of over ten dogs at once, so that made sense.

Ten weeks later, I had to fly home for my mother’s funeral.  While back in the states, I decided to get a new dishwasher, and after arranging for the delivery and installation, I drove over to the pet store my wife worked at to tell her the news.

There was a dog rescue group holding an adoption in front of the store.  Dogs of all colors, three legged dogs, sad dogs, hyper dogs, the usual collection that tugs on the heart strings from their kennels.  Except, next to the store entrance, there was a baby crib instead of a kennel.  Staring up at me from pink-and-blue baby blankets, with a baby-rattle dog toy, was very clearly a Blue Tick Coon Hound.  This was only the second one I’d ever seen in person, the first one being my best friend Kerrick’s Blue Tick, Squinty, up in Ohio. Squinty was a character and a half, and very sweet, so I sighed, and took care of the paperwork right then and there, then told the nice lady at the adoption desk that I’d be back out in a bit with supplies for the puppy.

I found my wife working in one of the store aisles, and said “Hey, did you see your new dog outside?”  She thought I was making a joke about the puppy right off the bat, and gave a happy laugh about how cute the dog was, with her huge ears and big eyes. “No, I’m serious, I already did the paperwork and paid the adoption fee, help me get the stuff  we need.”

So, I drove home, with a sadly howling little puppy in the seat of the car next to me. My sister-in-law, Kelly, was living with us at the time, and was on her cell phone when I walked up to the back porch, puppy tucked in my left arm so she couldn’t see it. I knocked on the sliding glass door to get Kelly’s attention, since I didn’t have a hand free, and she slid the door open, at which point I promptly handed her the puppy, which gave her many kisses.

My wife and I are both avid readers and movie buffs: pretty much everything in the house is named for some character from a book, movie, or game, possibly with the exception of Mayhem the Cat. Trust me, that name fit that kitten.  Gretchen was named after a character from Eric Flint’s book 1632, a very brave, strong character.


That was the beginning: Cinders, I kid you not, grew up in ten minutes. He trained Gretchen how to go outside, and what it meant when I said “House!”  She was his dog, and he was her entertainment.

A few days later, I flew back to Kabul, and didn’t come back for ten months. Gretchen grew up in that time, ate holes in the carpet when nobody was looking, ate one of the legs off of an old wooden chair, I’m guessing there was some T-Rex in her ancestry at one point, because if she could chew it when nobody was looking, it got chewed.  Unlike Cinders, she would look at the computer when I was messaging my wife, and cock those huge ears, as if to say ‘Why are you flat?’

The following November, I was home for good. Cinders was overjoyed, because his tennis-ball throwing buddy was back, and that’s when I discovered that Gretchen didn’t consider the ball or Frisbee to be fun.  All Gretchen wanted to do was tackle Cinders each way, every time.  It was their favorite game, we’d throw the ball, or the Frisbee, or even a stick, and Cinders would dodge, jump over, or duck under the linebacker named Gretchen each way.


One of the many odd things about Gretchen was her child-like personality.  Many times, you could not get her attention by saying “Gretchen,” or even by shouting it.  You had to repeat it in different tones of voice. “Gretchen, GRETCHEN, Gretchen!”  This happened so often that we started calling her ‘Gretchen-Gretchen’ all the time.  Another thing that, to this day, I’ve never seen with any other canine, is that everything that happened behind her ears, she acted like it happened to another dog.  Walking along, suddenly *POOF* the other dog has to do it’s business in the yard. Gretchen would look around at her own backside like ‘Why didn’t  you tell me?’

Gretchen was a lot more food-focused than Cinders was, which caused a few problems over the years.  One time, though, she was put in her place.  Brody, a rescued German Shorthaired Pointer I wrote about when he passed, had only been with us for three or four days at this point, and was still nothing but skin and bones, when I was handing out dog treats. I gave one to Cinders, who took it and walked away, then I gave one to Gretchen, who promptly spit it out between her front paws and stuck her face back up as if to say “Give me a treat, because I don’t have one!”  Brody, being both the new dog and having been neglected severely before we rescued him, gently bent down to eat the treat on the floor.  Gretchen snarled at him, and half-way through the snarl, was flattened by one of Brody’s paws.  And until he was weakened by illness towards the end of his life, Gretchen never, ever messed with him again.  He didn’t even show his teeth, he just knocked her down with one paw.

If Gretchen could see or hear something from her yard, it meant it was IN her yard, and she would give it what we called a “War Woo!”  Other than the day I brought her home, she only ever howled once, when the wife and I were intentionally ignoring her to see what she would do.

After we rescued a German Shepherd that was obsessed with going in her kennel at 9pm exactly, Gretchen picked up that habit, and would argue with my wife about it, because Gretchen really didn’t have the sense of time that the Shepherd did. So Gretchen would start making ‘arar grahr’ sounds, louder and louder, starting around 7:45pm.  She never did that to me or my daughter, just the wife.  It took years for us to convince Gretchen that she didn’t have to go in her kennel anymore.

Ah, yes. The kennels.  These are the biggest dog crates that we could buy, with the sliding tray underneath in case of accidents. Originally, we had Cinders and Gretchen in the same one, then one for each of them. Then we rescued Brody and we had three in the basement.  Brody loved his, and would lay in it half the day with the door open.  Gretchen was fine with hers as well, but when we got the fourth dog, the Shepherd, we moved all of that out into our attached garage. We just didn’t have the space for that many kennels in the basement. A year or two later, Gretchen started getting aggressive towards the other dogs if they even went near the door to the garage, and she insisted on being the first through the door every time.  She would even guard the garage door during the day if she didn’t have anything else to do.

My wife went into the garage to get something one day, and Gretchen dashed out and right into her kennel.  My wife, curious, paid attention, and heard a very soft ‘squeak, squeak, squeak!’ from the bed. There was a large pile of blankets in it, because Gretchen would destroy normal dog beds out of boredom, but loved blankets.  Buried in the blankets were a couple of dog toys.  Up to this point, Gretchen had never really paid any attention to squeaky toys, but now she was obsessed.  She would take a toy in the bed, sometimes dashing back into the house to get a new one, or throwing one that she had out of the bed.  And she would always, always, carefully cover them up with the blankets.

Gretchen, while in almost every way daft, was at times brilliant.  Once, she was dashing to the back door, then into the living room, and back to the door again. We thought she had to go out, and opened the door. Nope, she just Sat.  Yes, with a capital ‘S.’  Sat. *BOOM* butt to floor, big eyes staring. Puzzled, we sat back down. Gretchen made her ‘arar grah wral’ sound, stood on her back legs, and poked the hiking collars and leashes on the peg next to the door with her nose, then Sat again. Gretchen wanted to go for a hike, and that’s how she was telling us about it.

Hiking with Gretchen was great. She was perfectly happy to be right next to us, walking a trail, and loved it whenever we found a puddle or a stream that she could splash in, even if it was below freezing outside, thought the ‘other dog’ clearly thought that puddle was too cold.

Gretchen was very, very protective of my wife and daughter too.  One time, when I was setting an archery range up for a weekend shoot, my wife brought Gretchen over so she could see something new.  The two of them, walking around the course Bradly and I had set up, rounded a corner in the trail and saw a black bear.  It’s a 3D archery course, so that was a McKenzie target, but Gretchen didn’t know that, and didn’t care. She charged it, gave a War Woo and tried to take it down by the throat.

Gretchen also would not permit Sandhill Cranes to be ‘in her yard.’  Huge flocks of the birds would migrate over this area every year, hundreds of feet in the air, and their calls would echo all around us.  Gretchen would War-Woo and stiff-legged charge back and forth through the yard until she ‘won’ and the birds left.

Gretchen has terminal cancer.

She had a small lump on her back that grew large enough to be removed over the end of last year.  After it was removed, she kept fussing with the scar even after it was healed. The vet thought it was either an infection, or a reaction to the suture material, and gave us some antibiotics. Then the lump came back, and several others grew with it. In the last three weeks alone the largest of these grew from grape-sized, to grapefruit sized. The vet recommended an oncologist, one that it turns out was on vacation, so we found another clinic that could look at Gretchen in two days instead of two weeks. They took samples and gave us some medication for Gretchen, but the sample came back as carcinoma.

Gretchen can barely walk now. She can barely stand up. She doesn’t understand why the other dog isn’t helping her. She doesn’t understand why the other dog is causing her pain.

Gretchen’s last day with us was 4/12/2019. Lisa and I were with her to the last breath and told her we love her.

For the rest of my life, when I hear a Sandhill Crane, I’ll hear Gretchen.

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