Shotz: Living With a GIANT

Shortly before her first Christmas, Shotz developed a bad case of diarrhea. We racked our brains trying to think of what she had eaten. The following week the situation worsened. Nothing we tried worked. The condition continued, and her water consumption greatly increased. Now we were really concerned, so I had Dr. C, our vet, test a stool sample. It was negative. No parasites. No infections. Nothing. She prescribed metronidazole. It seemed to work, but the minute Shotz finished the prescription, the diarrhea returned.

When she didn’t improve, I was determined to resolve the problem, so I spent an entire day watching her. Around noon, while I was on the telephone, she slipped out of my study and disappeared into the kitchen. I followed but kept my distance. The door to our pantry had a single lever, not a knob. She leaned on the handle with her muzzle until the door popped open.

On the lower shelf, hidden behind a container, sat an open bag of chili-roasted nuts someone had given us as a gift. They were so hot, we couldn’t eat them, but evidently someone loved them. Shotz helped herself, backed out of the pantry, and nudged the door shut. Then she made a beeline for her water bowl. This is why she became known as The Trickster.

One Sunday we made a run to Home Depot to order blinds for our new house and took Shotz along for the outing. My husband was certain we had been neglecting her. I guess those ninety-minute morning walks and two-hour romps in the swimming pool, not to mention an hour of playing ball every day, didn’t count as paying attention to her.

As soon as we arrived at Home Depot, Shotz was surrounded by kids. She was good with them until one started to shriek at the top of his lungs. Then Shotz headed in the opposite direction, and I went with her.

In the hardware section, my husband deserted us and I headed for the window coverings department, where I tied Shotz to my chair with a long lead my husband had custom-made for her. I didn’t trust the leash because twice Shotz had managed to twist free of the clasp connected to her harness. Hubby had said when told this, “That’s impossible.”

While the saleswoman was typing up my order, I thought, “Gee, Shotz is being so quiet and good.” When I looked down to praise her, I saw her lead lying on the ground with no giant attached to the end. I jumped up and said loudly, “I have to leave.” The woman typing my order must’ve thought I was having a seizure of some kind. I could barely spit out that I had to go find my dog. Now.

As I ran through the store, I had visions of her slipping out the front door and a car hitting her in the parking lot. Frantic, I jogged down the center aisle of Home Depot shouting to everyone I saw, “Have you seen a big black dog?” No one said yes, so I raced to customer service and asked them to announce over the paging system that if anyone spotted a big black dog to grab her by her harness and hold onto her until I got there. The woman behind the counter looked at me in horror. “Grab her? A big black dog? Are you sure?”

“Yes. She’s friendly,” I insisted. Skeptical stares all around. “Okay, well, at least post a person at each door. If she gets out of the store, she might be killed. Please.” They posted a person at each exit.

By now, panic had set in. Then I heard marvelous words over the PA: “Big black dog on aisle five.” I bolted and skidded into aisle five, my eyes sweeping the passage. No black dog. My heart was pounding so hard, I barely heard it when someone bellowed over the address system, “Black dog seen in lumber. Moving fast.”

I sped down the hardware aisle toward lumber and zipped around the corner so fast, I almost tripped over my own feet. After my recent knee surgery, I had no idea I could move this fast, but I had the right incentive. I kept wondering why my husband hadn’t joined the chase, and until then, I hadn’t thought to call his cell. I just wanted to find Shotz—and quick. I made three trips through the aisles in lumber, but no Shotz. I finally flipped open my cell phone to call Dave.

A loud bark. My heart soared. I flew into the next aisle but still didn’t see her. I hurried past the stacks of fence slats, stopped in midstride, and backed up. A big black mass came into view, and that docked tail wagged back and forth so fast, it looked as if she were about to take flight. I climbed onto the pile of fencing, seized hold of her harness, and yanked her out.

The minute I set eyes on her, I burst out laughing. Her ears, muzzle, and beard were covered in dust and cobwebs. What a sight. I started to pick the spiderwebs off her, then reached under her beard to brush off some dust. Something warm and soft touched my hand. I pulled back, wondering what was wiggling in her mouth.

“Okay, drop it.” Shotz looked up at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, “Ah, Mom, can’t I keep it?” Before I repeated the command, she shook her head from side to side, dropped the rat on the floor, and pranced off, obviously proud of herself. I sprinted after her and quickly leashed her, just as my husband came around the bend and asked, “Hey, where have you two been? I’ve been looking for you.” He unplugged himself from his MP3 player and never plugged in again, at Home Depot, or in public period.

All giant owners (all dog owners, for that matter) are fortunate to have a wealth of interesting stories to share, laugh about, and sometimes cry about. We are fortunate, for even when our dogs leave us we have fond memories to draw upon despite how painful it is to see them go. They change our lives forever and always for the better.


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Shotz: Our New Giant Puppy

I could say I knew exactly what I was in for when we brought Shotz home, but that would be a lie. I had no idea that seventeen pounds of puppy could get into so much mischief in such a short period of time. Not only was I not prepared for her energy, but I had no concept of how smart and persistent she would be when she wanted something.

Day One with my puppy: I leashed her for a short walk, but nothing too ambitious. After all, she was only three months old. Less than a block from the house, she sat down and refused to budge one more step, so I had to carry her home. Back at the house, I opened our side gate and placed her in the backyard in case she had business to do before I brought her indoors. Before I could close the gate, she bolted into the front yard and ran down the steps toward the street. This was the first of many prison breaks to come. It’s remarkable how fast a puppy can run.

At last she quit dodging me and I scooped her up. I set her on the floor in the kitchen, toweled off the last drop of water from her beard, and turned to fill her food dish. She tore around the corner, headed for the utility room. I followed. Just as I entered, she came racing into the hallway dragging a laundry basket full of clean clothes along for the ride. She dumped the folded clothes on the floor and took off with the basket, stopping occasionally to attack it as if it were prey.

No sooner had I gathered up the laundry strewn across the family room than I heard a bang and then a second bang. I hurried into the kitchen in time to see her yank the trash can from under the sink. She overturned it, then ran off with it. She soon tired of assaulting the plastic container and left it on the white carpet in the dining room for me to retrieve, along with a nice pile of trash.

While I was cleaning up the mess in the dining room, I heard a crack, like wood splintering. The sound came from the guest room. I raced into the bedroom but didn’t see her until another cracking noise sounded. From the edge of the bathroom door protruded her back legs and her rump. I leaned into the room to see what she could possibly be up to now. She had her mouth wrapped around the metal doorstop. When she couldn’t pull it out of the baseboard, she rotated it until the baseboard cracked and the doorstop broke free. After three similar episodes, I unscrewed all of the doorstops and put them away. At age one, she lost interest in them, so we reinstalled the stops and repaired the baseboard.

After a tiring first day of keeping up with her, I decided on Day Two to grab a good book and sit outdoors while she played. Maybe she would do less damage in her own backyard.

Two paragraphs into Chapter One, I was stopped by the sound of gagging. I jumped off the patio chair and ran in the direction of the noise. I found Shotz sitting on the walkway with her eyes wide and her mouth agape, coughing and pawing at her muzzle. On the sidewalk lay the bloated carcass of a squirrel that had surfaced in the downspout of a gutter after a night of heavy rain. I pried open her mouth and immediately saw the jagged edges of a bone. I tried repeatedly to remove it but only succeeded in forcing it deeper into her throat. Panicking, I wrapped my arms around her lower abdomen and spun her in a circle while pulling up on her lower rib cage. The Heimlich appeared to work because out shot the bone. The maneuver took far less time to perform than it took for my heartbeat to return to normal.

Chapters Two and Three of the book passed without incident; Shotz was content to roam her yard and chase squirrels. Before I began the next chapter, I set my book aside to go in for some iced tea. I replaced the jug and was about to open the backdoor when a scratching noise drew my attention. I walked into my home office to see the screen lying on the front lawn and Shotz curled into a ball under my desk, her loud snores filling the room. The little devil must have dug out of the backyard. I stooped to pet her but left her alone to sleep. She looked so angelic. Now, I needed a nap to gear up for Day Three with my new giant puppy.


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My Love Affair with a GIANT


It’s with a heavy heart that I begin this stage of my memoir blog. I’m opening a box of memories (literally) and opening old wounds. If you’ve ever owned a giant schnauzer and lost him or her to the Rainbow Bridge, then you know exactly how I feel. I’ve always anticipated writing a book or publishing a picture book about Shotz, our first giant, but after losing her five years ago, I just haven’t been able to type the words or sort through photos of her. I’m still not ready, but I feel I owe this section of my memoir to her, since Shotz played such a major role in my life and does to this day—she was the impetus for Bullet in the Darcy McClain series.

When she passed away on June 16, 2009, I did not write a eulogy because I couldn’t stop crying long enough to see what I was typing. Writing about her was like rubbing salt into an open sore, and I’m sure this attempt will be no different, but here goes.

For my German audience, please forgive my bastardization of the German language. Although I am of German descent (one-quarter), and I married a man of German descent (one-half), we have lived in the US for many generations and speak little German. So please accept my apology in advance.

March 7, 1995, dawned cold and gray. By the time we arrived at the Delta freight terminal at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, it had begun to rain—a light rain, but still miserable weather. However, within the hour our new giant would arrive and brighten the dreary day. We named our first giant Mein Schatz (my darling), but my husband Americanized the name and shortened it to Schotze. In my estimation, Schotze sounded too sweet for our hell on wheels, so I dropped the “e” and the “c” and called her Shotz, which was her call name. Her AKC registered name was Skansen’s Southern Belle. Years later I wished I had named her Social Butterfly, for she loved everything and everyone, but not rodents, squirrels, and cats. And she was fearless, a trait that often got her into trouble.

A Delta freight agent showed us to a waiting area and told us to take a seat while he met the inbound flight from San Francisco, which had just landed. But we chose to stand, anxious to get Shotz and take her home. Not long after we arrived at the gate, two other couples joined us. They too had purchased dogs from Skansen Kennels (Sebastopol, California), but pepper-and-salt giants, not black. It felt as if we had waited an hour, but only twenty minutes had passed when all six of us started to pace the room and ask, “What’s going on? Why is this taking so long?”

We had all heard horror stories of dogs being left on the tarmac for hours or breaking free from their kennels and running loose on the runways never to be found, and we all shared our stories, making the wait more difficult. Fifteen minutes later a freight worker wheeled a flatbed cart into the waiting area and unloaded three crates. The first two we peeked into were pepper-and-salt giants, both males and both large, even at four months of age. Shotz was the youngest at three months and five days. The moment I held her in my arms, I knew life would never be the same!


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