Pyrrha, in Memoriam

Pyrrha Louise Pratt
May 2011–December 2021

You were not a brave dog. You carried your trauma with you all your life. We rescued you from an abusive situation in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and in retrospect, we should have chosen an easier dog. You needed so much.

When the foster dropped you off, you were terrified and drugged. You had just been spayed, and you looked out of your mind. You were so afraid. I gated off our tiny kitchen and sat on the dirty linoleum floor next to you for several hours, speaking quietly to you while you came out of your narcotized state. You trembled with fear when I touched you and could not look me in the eye.

 

Pyrrha and me, a few days after we adopted her (May 18, 2012).

I walked out of the room for a few moments. When I returned to the kitchen, I was astonished to see you standing on top of the kitchen table. Somehow, noiselessly, you had leapt up there to look out the window. Like a cat, you didn’t knock over the chairs or any of the glasses on the table. I shrieked: It is a surprising thing to see a full-grown German shepherd standing on your kitchen table. This terrified you further, and you jumped off the table and clattered to the floor, running back into a corner where I could not reach you, more scared of me than ever.

I started to wonder if we had made a grave mistake. This was not the faithful, friendly companion Guion and I had dreamed of. This was a damaged dog. But I wasn’t willing to admit I’d made a hasty mistake. I was committed to your success—and to not looking like an idiot, after pining for years for a dog of my very own.

 

 

Summer 2012.

I devoted myself to turning you into a semi-normal dog. I continued to read dog behavior books voraciously. I took you to three different obedience school classes. I chose a vet far from our house because they were known for their gentle, compassionate care for nervous rescue dogs. I organized carefully choreographed dog play-dates. I walked you every morning for an hour before work while we worked on your leash reactivity. I decided we would take in a rotating door of foster dogs, because other dogs were the only thing that made you happy and relaxed.

After half a year of this routine, I came home from work one evening and you wagged your tail when you saw me—the first time you’d ever wagged your tail. I saw the first glimmer of promise.

Guion supported me in these endeavors wholeheartedly and was nothing but gentle to you for a decade. You responded, however, by avoiding him at all costs. He was a prime suspect in the household. I was regarded as your guardian angel. You wouldn’t eat if I left the room and Guion was still in the kitchen. He could barely pet you.

The two of you developed a truce around food, however, and one of our trainers said you could be allowed to beg from the table, but only from Guion, so that your bond could strengthen. This just turned into you being very bold about demanding snacks during dinner and staying dangerously underfoot whenever he was cooking bacon. He did not love you, but he did tolerate you with admirable patience for a very long time.

. . .

You adored other dogs. Some of the happiest years of your life were the years we had foster dogs in the house.

Brando and Pyrrha (March 2013).

Brando was your particular favorite: a huge, hulking black German shepherd who was as gentle as a lamb. You followed him around like a love-struck teen.

After Brando came six more shepherds, including a feisty puppy, Laszlo, and an incredibly gentle shepherd, Draco, rescued from a hoarding situation in West Virginia, where an insane woman had 41 dogs in her home.

Our riskiest foster was a dodgy reddish male we called Rainer. He was a stray with serious dog aggression issues but thankfully saw you as a friend. You and Rainer scuffled a few times, but nothing serious.

Pyrrha and Rainer

Even though you were still touchy and anxious, we began to see glimmers of improvement.

. . .

And then there was Eden, our final foster.

She’d come from a family in Northern Virginia who had underestimated her charisma and surrendered her to the rescue. She landed on our doorstep after failing the K-9 evaluation exam given by a Virginia police force, being considered “too excitable” for police work. Again, this should have been a red flag. But we fell in love with her and decided to keep her.

Pyrrha and Eden (January 2014).

I thought that adopting another dog would help you chill out, but Eden was definitely not the right kind of dog. Eden’s particular brand of crazy only made you more anxious. Your leash reactivity got worse. You got jumpier around strangers. You started barking all the time in the yard. It took me a while to recognize and admit this. You two were cute but absolutely terrible together.

Eden lived with us for four years, and we failed her too, as we also “underestimated her charisma.” We loved her, and she wore us out. She worshiped Guion and became a gifted Frisbee dog. You loved to play “murder” in the backyard every afternoon, a game that consisted of growling at each other and tearing at one another’s throats in mock rage. But before we got pregnant, Eden found a new home.

Pyrrha and Eden (July 2015).

We thought you would be sad when Eden left, that you’d look around the house for her forlornly, like she did when Brando was adopted. But no. You have always been concerned for your own welfare first. Callously, you just stretched out on the back deck and acted like nothing had changed, like you hadn’t just lost your sister of several years.

. . .

When I got pregnant, you were my constant walking companion. Our movement-minded doula insisted that I walk at least three to five miles every day, and so I did, with you at my side. We’d take long, silent walks all over town, through most of the city parks and in and out of almost every downtown neighborhood. Late in the pregnancy, I took you on some trails at Pen Park and had to pee every hour. There were no bathrooms in sight, so I’d squat in the brush and tell you to stand guard. You did, coming up to sniff me at first and then you’d wait patiently until I finished.

You were always my favorite creature to walk with. You never pulled on the leash. You always strolled at the perfect pace (even if you stopped a little too often to smell every tuft of grass or every fallen branch). You were calm and gentle and just the right level of energy on an hour-long walk. In your prime years, you were happiest out on a very long stroll with me.

. . .

You were attached to me in a crippling way. You couldn’t relax if I wasn’t around. You never fully trusted other people. Guion said you sometimes wouldn’t eat when I was out of town. At home, I couldn’t so much as shift in my chair or exhale deeply without you coming over to stare at me. It sounds charming, to have an animal so devoted to you, but it’s easy to recognize it as a handicap. I was never sure how to teach you to care about me less.

. . .

When our first baby was born, you were distressed. You’d been separated from me for two days, and our baby was born at home, which meant you’d been confined to the basement for a day and a half, with your least-favorite person, Guion, coming down to feed you and let you out. I was not accessible and was suddenly attached to a strange, mewling creature.

In those dramatic first weeks, I thought we would have to surrender you. You could not relax when the baby was in the room. We’d let you sniff him, but then you’d continue whining and pacing, circling him with rising anxiety. I felt incredibly nervous and upset whenever you and the baby were in the same room, and I’m sure you sensed it. We were trapped in a negative feedback loop.

Pyrrha and Moses (November 2019).

But in time, slowly, you adapted. For all of your deep-seated anxieties, you’ve always been an incredibly gentle dog. I’ve known so many anxious dogs who resorted to aggression, but you never did.

You’ve even had a few Lassie-like moments. On one occasion, I was vacuuming and Moses was down the hall, crying in his room after a nap. I couldn’t hear him. But you went down the hall, nosed the doorknob, and then came back to me and stared at me pointedly, and then walked back to his door, as if to say, Lady, do something. That creature needs you.

Because we respected you, we were always very careful to give you space from the children, and you took it when you needed it. But more often than not, you chose to be very close to the babies, especially during meal time. I’m not sure you ever loved them, but you were unfailingly gentle. You’d greet them every morning, often with a quick lick to the head or hand, and then go curl up on your rug in the hall and sigh and watch the family chaos unfold.

You became a third-class citizen when the kids arrived, and yet you never complained. You accepted your lowly status gracefully. You were the easiest dog in the world, and even still, you didn’t get as much attention as you deserved. The walks grew less frequent. The individual attention nearly vanished. And yet you remained as sweet and calm as ever.

. . .

You were always a beautiful dog. I always felt like I could take credit for it, as if my genes somehow played a role in your attractiveness. People often commented on your beauty when we walked. You were always slinking around like a panther. You looked scared most of the time, but regal. Like a queen who had lost her bearing through some unspeakable tragedy.

Your coloring is the classic shepherd black and tan, but you grew lighter with age—and not just at your muzzle. Your entire coat has lightened; the black saddle was flecked with gray, the tan on your legs was nearly white. It’s as if you were fading slowly, making yourself softer.

[german shepherd in morning]
Pyrrha on our last walk together.

Pyrrha, you were not the easygoing, faithful companion my husband wanted. You were not the bold obedience star I had hoped for. You were not the fun-loving family dog ready for rough-housing.

But you were better than we deserved. You will always be in our hearts, and in mine especially.

Good girl, rest in peace.

With light from the sunken day

It’s hard to believe that it’s July, that we’re already in the final month of our sweet summer sojourn in London. This month, we have particularly enjoyed a bit less international travel and a bit more local travel: getting to see more London museums, parks, and neighborhoods. Despite my true nature as a small-town-loving woman, I have developed quite a fondness for this sprawling city. Some recent photos follow.

British Museum and nearby
Window boxes for the win.

British Museum and nearby
Decapitated beauties at the British Museum.

British Museum and nearby
The Molossian Hound at the British Museum.

9-mo.-old GSD in the neighborhood
A 9-month-old German shepherd in our neighborhood. Be still my heart.

High tea
Aunt Jane treated us (and Windy) to high tea at Brown’s Hotel.

Hammersmith
The Thames, in Hammersmith.

Hammersmith
Hammersmith.

Intellectual sloth

MontanaSam turns 30We went up in the mountains this weekend to celebrate non-brother-Sam’s birthday. A really lovely, much-needed time away with dear friends.

We also sit around and talk about Paris and Beirut and ISIS and the elections and fear and realize: We have no theoretical solutions. We are at a loss. (To solve the human condition?)

In light of this, Paul gave a helluva sermon yesterday, All Is Forgiven, which I recommend heartily. He speaks about the deeply, undeniably offensive nature of Christianity.

“Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.” — William F. Buckley

Waiting for @jacktarpey's visit... #pyrrhagramPyrrha doesn’t care about any of this. She just wants to know who put her on a diet.

And then there was one

Lounging
Content murderess.

I think I have always known that this would happen. Eventually. I had just hoped I was wrong. On Friday afternoon, Pyrrha killed Mayumi, one of our remaining hens.

Mayumi was our rebellious soul; she was the one who liked to escape the garden fence and fly into trees, and occasionally, into the backyard where the dogs run and reside. She was generally able to fly back over the fence into safety, but on Friday, she was too flustered to save herself. And I was not fast enough to intervene.

I had just come out onto the back deck, and I saw Eden chasing the hen at the end of the yard. Eden, unlike her elder sister, is a terrible hunter and seemed merely to want to pin her down. I started yelling and running down the stairs out to the yard, but I am not as fast as Pyrrha. Unfortunately. Before I could even get down the stairs, Pyrrha had Mayumi in her jaws and I watched her give the chicken a good, strong, murderous shake. I was still screaming at this point, and I grabbed Pyrrha so hard that she yelped and dropped the hen. I dragged both dogs indoors and then came out to assess the situation. It was too late for little Mayumi. But she met my gaze, which was horribly sad, as she slowly died, and I felt like a huge failure. I called Guion, breathless and trembling, and he came home from work. By that time, Mayumi had died, and he did the man’s work of confirming her state. We left her body in the alley, where the hawks and foxes roam, and something picked it up by early morning.

So, now we just have one, the long-suffering and surviving Fumiko. It is not good for chicken, like man, to be alone, so we are trying to rehome her. If you or anyone you know in the area would like to add a sweet Japanese bantam to his or her flock, please let me know.

Sigh. I think we will try chickens again next year, after we get back from London. And this time, we are going to target the big, fat breeds who can’t fly.

Thought in parables

Home and garden, May 2015

My front-yard landscape is filling out in a clumsy kind of way, but its advancements since last year are noteworthy. Almost everything survived the long winter, which made me supremely happy. And we harvested about five cherries from the cherry tree in front, which I also consider to be a success. The plants are happy and thus I am happy. It is a simple formula.

Home and garden, May 2015
Lamb’s ear gone wild.

One mistake was underestimating how crazy lamb’s ear is. It is taking over the tiny plot I naively stuck it in. It’s time to divide and conquer.

My generous, stylish friend Cate bought me this beautiful vintage pair of Italian loafers. She gave them to me as a surprise gift, wrapped up in brown paper, before we sat down to dinner with friends. I am totally in love with these shoes, even though they pinch my gangly toes. I wear them to work as often as I can, in the (vain) hope that they will stretch. They are so perfectly narrow and charming; they make my feet magically look like the feet of a Russian novel’s desirable heroine, who always has two sexy, sexy qualities: (1) “tiny feet” and (2) “a soft, downy upper lip.” Ladies with barely-there mustaches were Tolstoy and Dostoevsky’s jam. Mercifully, I haven’t achieved that yet. But the shoes, ah, the shoes, they are perfect.

We are going on a brief summer holiday to Iceland next week; photos to come!

Also, this dog wants you to come over and play with her.

Dog life in May 2015
Edith!

And then we moved and got a dog

This weekend:

We moved. Guion’s generous and sweet parents came and helped us move, unpack, clean, and bid farewell to good Belmontonia.

We gardened. We planted a host of seedlings from our new landlords, mowed the (huge) lawn, tended our crops, and harvested snap peas and strawberries.

Mowing around the new garden.

We got a dog. (OMG WE GOT A DOG.) Meet Pyrrha (*pronounced “peer-ah”), who is on trial with us from the amazing people at Southeast German Shepherd Rescue. I’ll continue to write all about her on my dog blog. She is a totally sweet and shy little lady and we love her already. (The name comes from Greek mythology and from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which we recently read and loved.)

Pyrrha!

We ate out and relaxed. (Windy and Mike, below, at Blue Mountain Brewery.)

Our super-awesome moving team: Mike and Windy!

We looked at our sweet dog some more.

Pyrrha at Blue Mountain Brewery.

We unloaded more boxes.

We napped.

This past week, in four photos

Guion’s final poetry reading.

On Wednesday night, Guion–who is extremely sexy–gave his final poetry reading at UVA. It is hard to believe that we’ve been here two years and that he’s already finished his coursework for his MFA. He did a wonderful job, as always, and we had a beautiful evening in the gardens celebrating these five great poets:

The graduating poetry MFAs: Melissa, Guion, Marielle, Juliana, and Austin.

I am so very proud of him!

With my accomplished husband.

Saturday afternoon, we celebrated Leah’s 1st birthday at the park! Watching a baby have her first taste of chocolate is a glorious, intense experience.

The Montgomery family at Leah’s 1st birthday party.

More photos from the MFA readings and Leah’s birthday on my Flickr.

This is our last full week in our beloved Belmontonia, so I will be thoroughly consumed by the task of packing and preparing to move. My posting here will be a little more sparse than usual. But I still love you. If you’re looking for something sweet to read, you should check out Granddad’s memories of his mother’s German shepherd. OK. Talk to you again soon.

Modern tragedies

Source: Wit and Delight

  • Writers who don’t read.
  • Children who don’t play outside.
  • Reality TV.
  • Puppy mills.
  • Smart phone addictions.
  • People who keep writing German “shepards.”

OK, that’s all. I’m done being an old lady/curmudgeon for the day.

Monday Snax

Birthday lilies from my lover!

I just have to say, I had such a wonderful weekend. I spent most of Saturday with Anna. We met at the farmers’ market, which just opened for the season, and picked up food for brunch. The highlight of the market, though, was the farmer who had a truck bed full of 10 week-old shepherd mix puppies. SO wanted to take one home. Of course. But I resisted. After brunch, Anna and I picked up her family’s young German Shepherd, Heidi, and took her to the beautiful Pen Park, where we roamed with Heidi, who swam in the Rivanna River, chased some deer, and carried a huge log for about a mile (like this, except the log was even bigger). We also got caught in a freak hail storm in the middle of a giant field. It was exhilarating. I want to do it all again tomorrow.

Saturday night, Guion and I went to dinner at the lavish Tavola as a belated birthday event. So good. And then on Sunday, we got a great (albeit short) visit from Dad, Sam, and Sam’s hockey teammate. They passed through Charlottesville on their way home from a tournament in D.C. We had burgers outside on the downtown mall and reminisced about life back home. It was great to see them, even though Sam is HUGE. I am not used to that child being six feet tall.

Snaxy snax with snax sauce:

Myths: From the Rise of the “Model Minority” to the “American Decline.” A very thoughtful and insightful piece on the subtle racism and expectations that Asian Americans face today. (Serenastyle Blog)

The Allure of Rue Montorgueil. Let’s go to France. To this street. Tomorrow. (Lost In Cheeseland)

The Rough Guide to the Waste Land. A travel guide through Eliot’s epic. (McSweeney’s)

Map of the USA from a Californian’s Perspective. Haha. At least we get to be the “Fashion Bloggers” state! (Delphine Ephemera)

Drop-Your-Jaw Embroidery. This has been heavily circulated in the lady blogosphere already, but it’s still pretty amazing: embroidered classic book covers. I think Black Beauty is my favorite. (Little Is the New Big)

Three-Year-Old College Student Really Wants to be New Jersey’s Governor. OMG. I love children. (Daily Intel)

Solid Bond in Your  Heart. Japanese children kill me. This photo, too. Tears! (Hamada Hideaki)