The famous Dog-Whisperer Cesar Milan would’ve been appalled by how Yeager the Weimaraner led me down the path we shared, rather than me guiding him. I simply maintained a pledge to respect his wishes, as best as I could determine them, and to also return with equal vigilance and measure, the absolutism of trust and devotion he gave me the first day we met until our last day together, literally.
At about two on November 27, 2001, I drove to the shelter of Friends for Pets, a Weimaraner rescue in the Sun Valley section of Los Angeles. I went to spend a day with one of their dogs available for adoption. A week earlier, FFP had brought several Weims to a meet-and-greet for potential human companions and I hoped to take Baxter, who I had briefly walked and liked.
FFP’s founder and director Diane Monahan was waiting for me in the main room, standing in front of a desk, Competing for a stranger’s attention, dozens of Weims began a barking frenzy as I approached, making it impossible to hear what she was trying to tell me. Realizing by my application that most of my life as a working writer was solitary, she had a Weim other than Baxter in mind as my potential companion. Within seconds this explanation proved unnecessary.
A rush of air rose at my back and I felt the light touch of two paws on my shoulders.
I pivoted in time to see a six-and-a-half year old, 90-pound Weim behind me, descending back into a seated position with graceful self-discipline. Diane took the leash from an aide who had brought this dog out, handed it to me and yelled loud enough for me to hear, “This is Yeager!”
With hunting dog scent acuity, Yeager led me directly to my parked car, and then sat firmly beside it, proving his obedience skill. His unblinking eyes searched mine in wonder. I’d never had a dog. I didn’t know how they typically behaved, but this seemed an incredibly thoughtful gesture, without regard to species. Compelled to prove I was capable of returning the respect, I immediately let him in the back, asking if it was too hot. He opened his mouth and panted, then closed his mouth, never breaking eye contact. I took that as a yes, and opened the windows.
As we drove away, I was flattered by his excitement, and concerned about what I detected was his emotional vulnerability. He broke his gaze at me in the rear-view mirror only to stretch his neck to rest on my right shoulder, and press the left side of his face against the right side of mine. It was our first day.
At about seven on June 3, 2011, Yeager whimpered, to call me over. He breathed a quick pattern without gasping. I offered him water. He turned to politely try one sip. His head drooped. He gently raised it, only to stare into me with a startled expression. He’d not eaten regularly in the last week. I knew what this meant but tried to stay grateful that he felt no pain. I positioned his head across my lap. He scuffled in an effort to rise independently. This signaled his intention to forage “Snackhouse,” the front garden of a nearby home where a neighbor placed bits of bread for him to hunt out. Six months ago, when his back legs greatly weakened, an Eddie’s Wheels cart let him keep his daily “Snackhouse” schedule Two months ago, front wheels for his weakening front legs only made him more determined to keep marching over there before another dog got to his bread bits.
He would not make it to Snackhouse this day, however. I didn’t want him to die in his cart on the sidewalk. I told him it was alright to leave his life. He stared at me, appalled, and then smacked his head against mine. Among the lessons Yeager taught me: Willfulness may crush rationality.
This time, however, it didn’t. His eyes searched mine for an answer I didn’t have, but I didn’t look away. I put my arm around his back, touching his shoulders with my hands. Yeager raised his neck to extend his head upward. He pressed the left side of his face against the right side of mine. It was our last day.
Please consider a donation to The Yeager Fund at Friends For Pets for the care of unadopted, elderly and disabled dogs. Go to http://www.friendsforpets.org/monetarydonations.php