So here I stand. I have made the call to the vet, and I am keeping the fringes of my heart together, so that I can keep it together until his final day.
Even if you know that this is how life progresses, that final step is not directly in front of you. I rather like to think back to when he was an adorable pup, the perfect companion to our little growing family. Our oldest son had developed a fear of dogs — probably partially through my reaction when his grandmother’s dog would lick my son’s face. He would squeel with laughter, and I would scoop him up into my arms. I knew Pierre was a poop-eater, and he did so regularly because my mother-in-law did not walk him on a line and hardly corrected him. She loved Pierre and I loved my son. I did not want dog cooties all over his face. My poor son was the worse for it; he grew afraid of Pierre all the more once the dog would topple him over in his enthusiasm to greet him. For some reason, that dog really liked to lick my son’s face.
My son liked animals, but not particularly. After Pierre he wasn’t fond of petting dogs. On the other hand, my husband was very fond of dogs. He had wanted one since he was a kid, and so we started our search for the perfect dog to fit with our family, one who wouldn’t eat other dog’s shit, one I could train and would help our son conquer his fear, slowly and without knowing he was doing that.
We discussed the dog’s height, fur, disposition, and name. How did Gnof find his name? We had the name before he arrived in our lives. When the children were young, I would take them to the zoo. I guess liking animals runs in the family, and even if the situation of being locked up in a certain area did not stop me from going and enjoying the space, I realize now that a zoo is less than a desirable situation for the animals. But our children were young, the zoo was big and gorgeous in Arnhem, and we went at least once a week to walk around and check out their favorites. My husband would have to work, so he didn’t accompany us every time. The time Gnof got his name, Marco did. and all of us were enjoying a gorgeous spring day. Holland has great days when the sun shines, and this was a wonderful day. At the zoo, there is a section where you walk up a wooden ramp, to admire the more dangerous animals from above. The zoo had created a savannah with proper bush and few trees to our left. Our youngest was still in a stroller, and after looking at the sign naming the different animals, I walked to the edge to look out with both our children. Marco stayed behind to read more about them. I had noticed that someone had scraped one of the letters on the wooden sign but did not pay attention to it. Marco, however, was deep in thought. At last he turned around and said to me, a few meters away, “Hey Jone, did you know that there are Gnoffen here?” I simply stared at him in the beginning. Then I started to laugh, and then I couldn’t stop laughing. In Dutch, a gnu is called a gnoe so that the same phonetic sound is made for this animal. In caps you spell it GNOE. But remember I said someone had scratched on the wooden sign? They had removed the lower part of the E making it an F: GNOF. My husband’s pluralization of gnus into Gnoffen absolutely tickled my whole being, because Marco is a very intelligent man with specialized knowledge. Obviously, he had never learned about gnus in school or the university. Our dear dog’s name was born.
A Gnof is not just any dog, it feels in Dutch like a specific dog. It is definitely a boy’s name, so that part was decided. Now to find the type of dog. My husband wanted a Great Dane, of course, whereas I wanted a butterfly-type of dog, fluffy and cute but not suitable for the Gnof name. We started by talking to friends, and we visited a labrador kennel. The labs were too much for me, their tails swishing all over the place and I certainly wasn’t going to be able to stop a dog from wagging his tail. So, no labs. Then one day, we were driving to the north of the province of Gelderland to go for a short hike with the boys, and we passed a car from which there emerged these adorable, medium-sized, fluffy dogs. Not poodles, not Schaunzers, but something different. A reddish-brown color and similar to an Airdale, with whom I had grown up, but no black and a bit smaller. We immediately stopped and parked the car across the road, after looking at each other and realizing simultaneously that this was a perfect size. And super-adorable.
Hopped out and we walked over to the couple, who had about three dogs running around, sniffing the ground, each other, and doing their business. They were Irish terriers and at that moment we fell in love with this breed. Upon coming home, we started scouring the internet and asking friends if anyone knew of a good breeder who had these types of dogs. We found a family in Amersfoort who had a mam, about to deliver. Six weeks later we were told we could come by to visit. How exciting! Both our boys and Marco were telling each other how they were going to be taking care of this dog, how they were going to play with him and brush him and feed him. I should have known then, in my heart of hearts, that being the one who stays at home during the day, I would be his primary caregiver. I didn’t. I told them we were going to learn about how to take care of an animal, with duties for each of us. Our dog would go with us on vacation, visits to friends, and make us take walks through wind and rain. He would be part of the family.
We met the parents, wow, the daddy was bigger than the ones we had seen along the road, and lighter in color, but we didn’t need a show dog, we wanted a family dog. The oldest pup was designated as fitting the best with us by the breeder: take it or leave it. We took him. And when he was nine weeks old, we got to bring him home.
Our Gnof, our constant companion, our happy greeter when we came home, our exercise buddy, our great friend.
And now I listen to his labored breathing, his strange cough which has an almost puking edge to it, and occurs every 5 or ten minutes for short periods. I will miss him on many levels. I will have to go running alone. I will have to watch tv alone on the couch. I will have to hike without him. I won’t be greeted by his kind eyes and happy tail. I won’t see him showing his teeth when he had missed me more than usual, his way of smiling. Tomorrow he won’t be here anymore. Who am I to decide that?
This is life, with a beginning and an end. At least I can make sure he won’t suffer and have to live in constant pain. I will be with him until his end.