Remembering a Dog Who Helped Me Forget: Yeager the Weimaraner

Wise in a way that never ceased to fascinate me, Yeager the Weimaraner who died two years ago on June 3.

Wise in a way that never ceased to fascinate me, Yeager the Weimaraner who died two years ago on June 3. 

June 3, is what I only half-jokingly call Yeager Memorial Day. Two years ago today, my great canine companion, 90-pound 16-year old Yeager the Weimaraner died. Despite the fact that the absence of his large presence still lingers as a factor in my life, the almost magical details of our final farewell never fails to remind me of how exceedingly lucky we both were in those fleeting moments. Not only did he never live with pain or lose interest in food or action, he died naturally, in my arms on his favorite old chair. 

Every day, he had a mission which drove him on, to his last day.

Yeager lived each day with a strong sense of purpose, a mission to accomplish, and it drove him on until his last day.

I’ve nearly completed the first-draft of what I intend as my next published book, Very Old Dog: How Helping Yeager Live Happily Ever After Changed Me.

The book is about the period between October 2010 and June of 2011, the final eight months of his life as he transformed from an “old dog” to a “very old dog.”

It was a poignant process which proved how even a far-fetched hope can be achieved if one surrenders everything to absolutely commit to “the cause,” that, regardless of age or species, all living beings are in a simultaneous process of living and dying, and finally, that not even the power of love can trump the will of Nature. 

This excerpt is about a February 2011 day, some three and a half months before he died, when I took my only hike in Runyon Canyon without him in those last eight months. It focuses, however, on my memory of an important day there eight years earlier.

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“…I sensed that I’d have neither the luxury of time nor the inclination to return to Runyon Canyon anytime soon, certainly not in Yeager’s lifetime.

Yeager during one of his Runyon Canyon hikes.

Yeager during one of his Runyon Canyon hikes.

Hiking up there without him, however, while watching so many dogs and their companion humans being up there together, however, left me feeling like I was committing some sort of doggie adultery.

The value of making that hike alone, however, just to focus my own thoughts proved incalculable in time ahead….Just before exiting…I saw the water spigot and battered aluminum dog bowl chained beneath it, there for all dogs to hydrate before or after their hikes.

Pausing to just stare at it, I found myself able to not just remember but relive the precise sensations I’d experience one important day in June of 2003, when I had also paused right there to watch Yeager drink some water.

It had been the first day Yeager had been able to return there again to hike, a great triumph for us, coming as it did just two months after our worst trauma.

Yeager always rode in the passenger seat beside me, secured with a restraint. I never took any casual risks. I'd seen an unleashed dog dash onto Melrose Avenue once - and suffer the consequence of his human companion's hubris that it safe to do so.

Yeager always rode in the passenger seat beside me, secured with a restraint. I never took any casual risks. I’d seen an unleashed dog dash onto Melrose Avenue once – and suffer the consequence of his human companion’s hubris that it safe to do so.

…I know many people believe they “know” their dog companion so well that they feel no need to use a leash them while walking outside along the sidewalks…

I never dared take such a risk but even that precaution didn’t spare us during a routine walk to the grocer’s one April afternoon, down Melrose Avenue. At some street corners there were lights, at others there were stop signs.

I brought Yeager around town but he led me everywhere. At the canyon, 2005.

I brought Yeager around town but he led me everywhere. At the canyon, 2005.

We were one block from the store and began walking across it, at a stop sign, staying within the crosswalk. We took about two steps, about a quarter of the way along the crosswalk when what felt like a silver flashing bolt from hell stopped us.

A pregnant woman, cellphone at her ear, cigarette in her fingers, barreled a massive SUV at a reckless speed, her wheels already into a turn to take a sharp right. These sorts can  be ubiquitous in Lost Angeles.

…The front right side of her vehicle grazed my right arm but its front right wheel crushed Yeager’s front right paw. Honestly, when I look back at the incidents of my life, no moment equaled this one. All my senses were overridden by the panicked fear that Yeager’s body had also been struck and that he might die from internal injuries. Presuming this worst case scenario was undoubtedly provoked by the most disturbingly sad sound I have ever heard. To hear any dog’s howl of pain will stop your heart but when it’s the one you share your life with, it can blow your mind.

The pregnant woman driving the car lumbered out, scowling. That she was carrying another life within her had zero affect on her grasp that she’d come close to killing two other beings whose lives were just as intrinsically important as her own and the one she carried.

The trauma of the accident never affected Yeager's love of constantly walking,

The trauma of the accident never affected Yeager’s love of constantly walking,

It was her ruthless arrogance, however, which made me berserk for a moment. She sighed and huffed – as if we had inconvenienced her and, in fact, that’s what she suggested when she yelled out bitterly at me, “Oh God! Why now! I’m already late!” was all I had to hear. Had she not been pregnant and had my focus not been on tending to Yeager, I might well have choked her neck with my hands.

By a beneficent stroke of fate, two factors eased my mind if not my heart within one minute of the accident.

She had a calm brother riding in the car with her who was focused on helping Yeager.

And strangely enough, the office of Yeager’s vet, Dr. Quiet was literally on the opposite corner we’d just passed, the entrance less than 100 yards away.

The brother helped me carry Yeager in. I had no mind in that moment to demand to see her license and record her informational identity. It was a quick-thinking veterinary aide at the front desk who ensured an exchange of our numbers at the least.

Yeager was always a stoic when it came to examinations or getting his shots, so his fearful crying made clear his pain. As I held him closely, put my face on his head and held it and his back, which I patted, the cries began to lower into whimpering.

Yeager was always a skeptical stoic at the vet.

Yeager was always a skeptical stoic at the vet.

And then, he moved his head, struggling to release my hold.

Nobody yet knows just how dogs perceive their own communication to humans, but with his head free of my arm, he turned his clear but confused and frightened eyes and held them steady, looking into my own.

I could do nothing in those moments about his pain but, beyond my firm embrace around his back, I tried to convey in the way our species does my reciprocity of the committed loyalty he showed me: “It’s okay, I’m with you. You’ll never be alone. I’ll always be here for you. Always here Yeager. It’s okay.”

I thought about all of this again, standing there just inside the Runyon Canyon gates eight years after it occurred.

It dawned on me how that crisis had influenced the conduct of his care during the intervening years and had led to the circumstances of this period now.

While my mind roiled with rage at the woman who caused the accident, old Yeager just pushed himself to get over the accident.

While my mind roiled with rage at the woman who caused the accident, old Yeager just pushed himself to get over the accident.

My words may not have translated as an affirmation for a being who might not comprehend the meaning of them, but as I braced him against me while lying on the cold floor of the veterinary exam room in those frightening moments before surgery on his paw began, I know now that my vow to care for him was eternal.

I think I also recognized, more obliquely, that I could never live for even an hour of knowing that Yeager was suffering in any way.

As the days of his being a very old dog continued on through the spring of 2011, the echo of his crying that April afternoon did not so much as haunt me as it did to remind me that I knew that, if need be, I could summon the integrity to end any suffering. I would never permit it.

Mentally retracing those moments of the accident and in the vet’s office the sickly sensations I’d felt now flooded back into me as if it had all just happened that morning, but as I stood there in Runyon Canyon, it was all swamped and washed away by moving my mind back to that spigot and bowl in the present moment.

It had been right here where the triumphant finale of the broken paw had taken place.

Yeager's bandaged paw during his recovery period after surgery.

Yeager’s bandaged paw during his recovery period after surgery.

Two days after the long hours of surgery which it took Dr. Quiet to repair the crushed bones of Yeager’s paw, the old boy came home.

He limped into the house, clumsily on three feet, while holding high his paw wrapped in a massive bandage….Through all the weeks of his recovery at home, as he slowly began to heal and gently place his injured paw on the floor, I had a daily dose of promise.

Yeager was pining for his old stomping grounds at Runyon.

Yeager was pining for his old stomping grounds at Runyon.

The hope that continued to grow within me for him, however, was severely mitigated by a frustrated rage I’d never know.

The pregnant woman who had hit him had never bothered to call. I finally called her but fought my impulse to express my simmering outrage.

In a foul-mouthed malicious tone, she screamed into the phone that I was bothering her about a “stupid dog” and that she had a child coming and couldn’t afford to pay for the accident she caused – and then hung up. I called a week later. She said my calls were stressing her out and endangering her child, then warned me never to call, and hung up again. I didn’t have a chance to offer my advice that she might stop smoking during her pregnancy.

By then, Yeager’s bandage had been removed but still there was no resolution. I waited another week and called a third time.

Most of us speak in human words to dogs - but they communicate in more subtle ways, even with the way they watch us as we speak. How much they know ( or don't want to let on that they know?) is still a mystery.

Most of us speak in human words to dogs – but they communicate in more subtle ways, even with the way they watch us as we speak. How much they know ( or don’t want to let on that they know?) is still a mystery.

This time, there proved to be no point to centering myself into a civil state of mind. The next voice I heard was that of her boyfriend, who identified himself as an ex-cop. “We know where you live and I’ve got friends on the force who’ll make sure you’ll never sleep peacefully at night. And you can’t do one fucking thing about it.”

I didn’t know how to react to what was the first time in life I’d ever dealt with what sure seemed to me to be genuinely evil people. I talked to a lawyer who handled animal-related cases. I filed a police report. I stopped – thinking it was futile. I had dreams of strangling her and her boyfriend and resumed my effort. I was on the phone trying to locate the woman’s address to send her a letter when, glancing into the living room, I noticed that Yeager was walking on all four paws. I got off the phone.

Yeager’s paw seemed to have entirely healed.

The next day, he was bouncing around the walls of “Charlie,” a 1989 Volvo.

Even though Charlie was the “safer” car because unlike the convertible, I could limit Yeager’s excitement by the scents he smelled by keeping the windows closed. Still, he immediately sensed where we were going. He kept swiveling his head, from touching his nose against the closed window to using it to gently poke my chest and get me to open the window, so he could stick his head out.

We were going back to Runyon Canyon, his first time since the accident.

Yeager takes in the canyon, from the summit.

Yeager takes in the canyon, from the summit.

As always, he remained on leash until we got to the gates, walking slowly as we ascended the steep incline leading to the entrance. Once inside the park, I removed his leash.

And then, Yeager simply trotted off, focused on again sniffing the wildflowers, and turning over the fallen branches to explore beneath them. He’d been the one hurt and damaged by the crushed paw. Yet that was three months before. Now was now. He got on with it.

If Yeager could forgive and forget, so to speak, I forced myself to realize I could too. I never bothered calling back those rotten people. I stopped my effort to locate them. I called off the lawyer.

If a dog could demonstrate for me how the pleasure of a day was all that was necessary to simply drop a traumatic experience from the recent past and not let it get in the way of enjoying the present, I would too.

Yeager pushes on, hiking into the sunset.

Yeager pushes on, hiking into the sunset.

Back in the reality of February 2011, I made my way down through the entrance gates towards the car. As I descended the steep rise to the park, I enjoyed clarity previously unknown to me about Yeager’s state of being a very old dog. By the time I was in the car and driving home, I also felt an iron resolve.

It was that vow I made to Yeager eight years earlier in the vet’s exam room. Nobody else knew the promise I’d spoken to him and even if they had – and didn’t think I was nuts – they couldn’t hold me to such a promise made in a traumatic situation. I knew, however, that I had promised. And somehow, I believe that Yeager sensed this as well, in the different but no less truthful way dogs perceive their interactions with fellow living beings.

I might not always keep my promise to eat kale daily but, as time would prove, I never once broke my promise to always be with Yeager. And it never ceased to pay off.

My uniquely individual situation allowed me to care for Yeager the way I did but not even those who’d like to do the same for their dogs are able to arrange this. Yeager was adopted from the southern California Weimaraner Rescue Friends for Pets, which provides a lifetime of care and safety to Weims and other dogs who have been abandoned, surrendered or abused. Many who live at the no-kill shelter there will never be adopted because they are older or have a disability. In an attempt to ensure that they are afforded something of the care Yeager received individually, we’ve established The Yeager Fund at Friends for Pets. I’m pretty bad at passing the tin cup, but if this story or your care for dogs in this situation so move you, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution by clicking this link at the Yeager Fund.

Yeager lived in not just a practical but determined way; sometimes he reacted more intelligently to incidents than I did, making me sometimes wonder if he was an alien. He sure often looked like one to me.

Yeager lived in not just a practical but determined way; sometimes he reacted more intelligently to incidents than I did, making me sometimes wonder if he was an alien. He sure often looked like one to me.



Categories: Dogs, Yeager the Weimaraner

20 replies »

  1. . I wandered across your blog while googling articles about Weimaraners and was looking at your background. I promise I am not trying to recruit you to work at Schwab…I am just another Weim owner who has a slight obsession with my dog to the point that I love to read what other people have to say about the breed! I just read your latest post about Baron and was laughing out loud at my desk. I have fostered several dogs as well and you never quite know what you’re getting into but the end result is always worth it when they find a new, fabulous home.

    I have a 6 year old female Weimaraner named Madison. I adopted her when she was just over 1 year old and she’s the love of my life. I love your stories so please keep writing them!

    Heather

    • heather – first of all, thank you for the effort you made in writing to me here on wordpress. And I appreciate the effort that you make to care for dogs in need. Fostercaring really does develop one’s ability to attach and then detach.Encouragement like your own is also important to me at certain points when I consider abandoning this website. One always hopes that the effort we expend will perhaps enlighten, inform, humor someone – or at the very least assure them that they’re not alone in the way they feel or think. Cheers.

  2. Carl, my thoughts are with you on this day. I understand that vow you made to your Yeager…as I have made to my Smokey. You write words I know and I feel…..and I and I know so many will learn more about ourselves and our beloved pups because of your upcoming book. I look forward to it very very much. Light and much love going up to your dear Yeager today.

    • Thank you Beth – especially knowing we share that sense of commitment. It’s interesting in that everything I felt towards Yeager when he was alive I really find is still there but now expended towards every dog I meet, be they dogs I know or those I simply meet on the street.

  3. I am utterly and literally speechless. Only two words: THANK YOU!

  4. I believe someday you will be reunited with Yeagar.:)

    Mark

  5. Dear Phil – That’s the fantastic kind of rare generosity which I think endears a human all the more to a person – the care and home offered by someone to an animal who is about to lose the security of companion and place that they’ve always known. There have been several books on presidential pets, though I’m not sure how long ago the most recent one was published. I’ve always thought that the greatest sentence for willfully malicious people was having to live in their own bile – but I think that some of them are immune to their own nastiness. Perhaps – until they need the help of someone else. Anyway, I greatly appreciate you writing.

  6. Oh Carl, Another bond between us.

    My Yeager was called Mike and he touched my life in a way I never knew possible. A sudden, ravaging, brutal illness took him from me when he was not quite 7, but the disease aged him too quickly and beyond his years. But his endless love, companionship and charming goofy-ness never, ever left him. Not even on that drive the last day when my former partner and I were heart-squeezingly “doing what was best for him.” Only when he was finally out of his pain, in my arms, did he physically leave. But his spirit, his energy, his love, his lessons, his “Mike-ness” remains with me, even today, 7 years laters. (Ironically for me, his last day was January 20th, a day I had previously associated with celebration.) And though even some sadness and grief are still with me, I welcome them because it keeps Mike very much with me. And while so many of your words and sentences and paragraphs and books through all these years have impressed me, informed me, entertained me, educated me and in many ways encouraged me, none have ever resonated or been so truthful as what you wrote above: “It’s interesting in that everything I felt towards Yeager when he was alive I really find is still there but now expended towards every dog I meet, be they dogs I know or those I simply meet on the street.”

    So very true.

    • First of all, thank you Nick for investing the time, thought and honesty into your response. You also illustrate for me the value of my responding to reader comments where so many other ideas not in an article find a berth for better expression. Increasingly, as I’ve gained confidence to publicly express my own respect for living beings who don’t happen to be members of that almighty species of human beings, I find more and more people who share my values wheen it comes to animals willing to come forward and detail their strong personal connection to animals without regard to ridicule from those who dont share our feeling yet feel compelled to deride us. You not only pay me a great compliment by commenting on my other work but encourage me to continue in focusing my writing on the most personally meaningful subject to me but to a growing and enlarging number of people who often refrain from giving voice to this. Thank you. Mike and Yeager remain not only personal but serve still as liaisons to others finding their way through the healthy process of grief and acceptance of loss.

  7. My own great pal and companion Bika went to sleep two years ago this August 15, so I read this post with really heartfelt sympathy for your loss and admiration for how you have dealt with it. These two past years, which sometimes seem like a mere moment and sometimes seem like forever, have taught me many things as I reflect on my friend. One is this: all through her relatively long life, I was acutely aware that I related to Bika on many different levels, only one of them being her physical presence. So, now that that is gone, I become increasingly and overwhelmingly aware that all the other ways in which I always related to her are very much intact, even deepened and strengthened, as I make my way into the future with the memory of her to light the way. I suppose it often seemed strange to others that a grown man would be so attached to a little person in such a small canine body, but I was hardly ever aware of such differences between us. Perhaps you can identify with this phenomenon. Thanks for your fine reflection on Yeager. I could particularly relate to the importance of the hikes in the canyon, and the various interconnected levels of memory and experience connected with them.

    • I very much remember reading your story about Bika – in fact, it is what led me to your website and really moved me, coming as it did so closely after I lost Yeager.

      I have taken a long time to respond to your comment because you touch on what are so many ineffable experiences – yet you manage to well capture them in words. The sense of time passing, both the experience and the memory of the experience of sensing a strong connection and understanding to our dog companions.

      I think it is strange when people do not become attached to a living being, regardless of their species, after having spent well over a decade in their daily presence and sensing

  8. Wow, what a wonderful memorial to probably your most loyal friend, Yeager. I have lost 3 best friends, 2 dogs, Ralph and Panda and Ming the cat. I will cherish their memories forever. I did not think I could take on another pet but Pola the cat came into my life and the rest is history, They can really keep us in touch with our humanity which is kind of ironic. Pola is too smart for her own good but she can’t help it..lol. Thank you for your heartfelt story about Yeager and the promise you made to him. That is one promise I have been able to keep with my pets too which is a very important promise to keep. The best to you. P.S. I enjoyed so much your talk on Ida Mckinley last night on CSPAN. Michael

    • Thank you very much Michael. I like what you said “they can really keep us in touch with our humanity.” That’s something I will be touching on in my next piece here on dogs. And I’m especially appreciative of you writing that you’ve also made that same promise – because so often it can feel to many of us do that alone – but in truth, we all share that same sense of commitment. I’ve not yet met my “Pola” but I’m not sure I’m ready – in the meanwhile, I am fostercaring dogs and watching those of my friends when they need some help. Anyway, I appreciate your taking the time to write. Cheers.

  9. Thinking of you this day, Carl…..and remembering Yeager. Through your beautiful and heartfelt writings of him…we became friends. I thank you for everything…..

    • Thank you Beth – not alone for becoming the friend you have but also for remembering this day. I plan to have an article up to mark the day within a few more days. I appreciate you not forgetting. I also know you are now marking a year that you lost Smokey.

      • Carl, I will always remember. I remembering now that first time I watched your video tribute of Yeager. Smokey was just starting to get weak in the legs. I was scared. But I knew I was always going to be there for him…yes, it was a promise I made to him many years ago. So with your wise and helpful words…..we both went on. Lot of mistakes I have made in my life but (I can say so strongly and thankfully) I was there fully, totally for Smokey. And you are one person who so understands that. Yeager, Smokey…they will always live on in your beautiful and touching words. I look forward now to this book ‘Very Old Dog: How Helping Yeager Live Happily Ever After Changed Me.’ All the other people…and their older dogs it will help…..

        • I admit to having halted the rewrite of the book – only because I’ve never written in the memoir genre and am not yet entirely at ease with it. I hope the new article I will be putting up soon will also show another way we can all continue to remember the dogs whose lives we shared in a very present manner, in the stream of our current lives. Thank you again. We are so similar on this issue: I have often said that caring for Yeager in the last eight months of his life when he was a “very old dog” was perhaps the best thing I’ve ever done and done well and with pride.

          • I know it is never easy to write about what is so deep in our hearts and souls….but know it will be a book that will mean and help so much…to so many people. Go back to it when you can. Yes, I look forward to your new article now about remembering the dogs whose lives we have shared in. Carl, thank you….for everything…

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