Newsletter 7
A Dachshund Tale
May 4, 2010

Hi Everyone,

Recently, we had a Dachshund visitor to my garden and that has inspired this Dachshund Tale. To be honest, these days, I live the life of a hermit. Now that my son has gone away to college and I'm not jockeying him around to school events, I rarely get beyond the confines of my own property. And, now that I am listing the collection on ebay, I'm virtually chained to the computer. Oh, Cocoa and I do get out for walks but, by then, most people in the neighborhood have headed off to work for the day.

Last week was an exception, though. While I was hauling out a load of pruned rose canes to the trash pile, a woman came down the street with a Dachshund puppy. It was the roses that started the conversation. She had just become interested in old timey roses and so I invited her into the backyard to see my rose garden, which is just starting to burst into bloom.

Much to Cocoa's displeasure, the Dachshund came with her. The little dog wagged his approval at being taken off the leash. Under Cocoa's scowling eye, the little busybody poked his nose under bushes, ran down to check out the creek and, generally, had a heck of a time. Cocoa tried to herd him, but he paid her no mind.

Watching that dog dredged up memories of the only Dachshund I have ever owned. For a time, Harve and I ran a boarding kennel. We first met Gretchen when her owner brought her to stay with us while she went on vacation. It sounds ridiculous to say that a seven-pound Miniature Dachshund was too big a dog for her owner to handle, but it's true. Gretchen was Assertive with a capital A. She was definitely an alpha dog and she never let anyone forget it. Her owner had previously had Cocker Spaniels and Poodles and she wasn't prepared for a dog like Gretchen. The little dog had become a tyrant, managing to get whatever she wanted and even snapping at her owner when they disagreed about a command. I could tell that the woman was relieved when she bid Gretchen goodbye.


Since I'd been apprised of Gretchen's problems, I thought I'd see if I could do something about them. I knew darn well that I'd never let the dog get away with snapping at me. So, for the next week, Gretchen and I sparred over who would be dominant. I began basic obedience training with her and quickly learned that she was extremely intelligent. Like most of the other German breeds (with the exception of the German Shepherd), she had a stubborn streak a mile wide, but I was used to that from my experience with the Weimaraners. After a couple of days, she was looking forward to our obedience sessions and, when it was something she liked, Gretchen would focus in with laser-like intensity. When she'd had enough, she'd plant her butt on the ground and it would take a tank to move her. (I admit, that's a little over the top. You'd just have to physically pick her up.) I came to admire the little dog...her spunk...her enthusiasm...the way she seemed to attack life with a ferocious joy.

We did finally have a dominance showdown. It came over food. While I went to feed the dogs in the kennel, I left Gretchen loose in the house. I returned when I'd finished, my arms full of dirty food bowls. I called out to Gretchen. No answer. I called again and then began searching the house. I looked behind couches and chairs, under the desk: No Dog. I checked the front door, made sure all the gates were locked and tried to figure out where she could possibly have gone. Then, I saw a movement and noticed that the food bag was lying on its side on the floor. As I pondered this, I saw a slight ripple. The little brat was in the dog food bag munching to her heart's content and ignoring me. I hauled her out, with her growling all the way, and when I removed her this overstuffed sausage snapped at me. In seconds, I had her in the air and was giving her a good shake. She looked absolutely stunned, but she never growled or snapped at me, or anyone else, again.

By the end of the week, I'd fallen for this little smooth coated beauty. I was heartbroken when her owner came to pick her up. Coward that I was, I insisted that Harve handle the departure, but her owner, so pleased at the way that the dog was acting, wanted to thank me personally. Gretchen and I demonstrated the obedience lessons she'd learned and I gave pointers to her owner. I gushed over what a wonderful dog Gretchen was and how lucky the woman was to have her and then stifled tears as they drove away.

A week later I got a call. Gretchen is miserable, her owner said. The little Dachshund knew where she wanted to live and, as always, she was determined to get what she wanted. She refused to eat. She sulked. She wouldn't chase the neighborhood cats. She ignored her favorite ball when it was thrown. The only way to get her to go out was to carry her and then, after she relieved herself, she lay down on the ground as though she was dying. She was taken to the vet who examined her carefully and could find nothing wrong.


The owner, who only a week ago, had been praising me, demanded to know what I'd done to her dog. The woman sounded so upset that I began to wonder if something serious was wrong with Gretchen. Bring her over, I said, and let me take a look at her. (Okay, I know you're thinking that this was a sneaky ploy to allow me to see the dog again, aren't you? You might be right, but hey, in this age of spin, I'm sticking to my story that it was purely altruistic on my part.)

The minute the woman walked in the door, Gretchen wiggled out of her arms, flew across the floor and into my lap. She covered my face with kisses and snuggled into the crook of my arm. She stared at her owner and gave one of those weird toothy doggy smiles.

"I guess she's decided she wants to live with you," the woman said. I was at a loss for words, but secretly I was turning back flips. Yea, Gretchen, way to go, girl! The owner went home, got Gretchen's papers and returned to sign her over to me. And so begins the real tale of one of the most delightful dogs I have ever owned.

Gretch was the first really small dog I had owned. True, I had a couple of aging Pugs, but there's that whole "multum in parvo" (lot of dog in a small space) thing and lugging a 14-18 pound dog around just didn't compare. Even my smallest Beagles tipped the scales at around 20 pounds and, besides, none of these little hounds wanted anything to do with being carried around. But seven pound Gretchen was happy whether she was in our arms or running around as fast as her little legs could go.

Soon, I was taking her everywhere with me. She guarded the car while I grocery shopped. I took her to some meetings with me and she sat quietly in my lap or under the chair. She won hearts wherever she went, except among my other doggy friends. For some reason, none of them seemed too fond of Dachshunds and they'd shake their heads and ask if I was crazy. No, I explained, this dog is just fun to be around.

And she was such fun! She could be attentive and serious one minute and, in the next, erupt in bursts of pure joy. She loved playing the clown and kept us constantly in stitches.

Part of Gretch's charm was that she never thought of herself as a little dog. I am sure, in her mind's eye, that she saw herself as a Saint Bernard or an Irish Wolfhound. I once took her to a friend's house who owned two Great Danes and a Pekingese. (See, I'm not the only person who's weird!) Since the big dogs were used to being around a toy breed, I felt secure in bringing Gretch along. Within a few minutes she had taken charge of the household. She ran between those Dane legs and jumped into the lap of their owner, giving the giant dogs a stare that warned them to stay away. When one of the Danes tried to take her normal place on the couch, Gretch barked until she climbed down.

One weekend we took her along when we hit the road to go to a pair of dog shows. In our never-ending quest to save money, we'd hit on the idea of camping out. After show #1, we pitched our tent at a KOA campground and got the dogs settled in. We took Gretch for a strole around a lake and ran smack dab into a very large flock of honking, aggressive geese. They descended on us in hopes of getting treats, but backed off when our feisty little dog turned into a menacing terror, straining at the lead and warning them to stay back. En masse, they took to the water.

I took her along once when we were introducing a couple of our Weimaraners to field work. I quickly realized that she had a very good nose. After an hour or so, one of our Weimaraners was tired and failed to bring in the scented dummy I'd thrown out. I can still recall the comical sight of Gretch emerging from a knee-high field of grass dragging a dummy that was as big as she was.

We took her along, too, when we ran some Beagle pups with more experienced hounds in a prime rabbit area. She chased that cottontail right along with them, giving tongue all the way, even though she couldn't keep up. Her little voice was discordant among the musical Beagle bays. When the bunny finally took refuge in a thick pile of brush, Gretch proved her worth. She squeezed her lithe body in and sprang that rabbit from its hiding place so the race could begin again.

In fact, she turned out to be a darn fine hound. At various times, she treed both a possum and a raccoon. These were the days when my friend Pat Lent was just organizing the American Working Terrier Association and calling for earthdog tests for terriers. I'm sure that Gretchen would have loved such endeavors. Once, on one of our Beagle field days, she disappeared down a hole. We yelled for her to come out, but heard only frantic barking. And then, from another hole, a red fox emerged on the run with Gretch in pursuit.


Gretchen taught me a valuable lesson: When it comes to dogs, you have to have a sense of humor. You must keep things in perspective. Dogs are not automatons or robots and there are just times when you have to be humble and laugh when everything goes wrong.

Gretch taught me all these lessons on the one occasion I was foolish enough to enter her in an obedience match. We had been doing so well with her training that I thought it was the perfect time to see how she would perform in public. And, perform she did. All went well until we came to the off-leash portion of the test. I unclipped the leash and it was like a light went off in Gretchen's little head. I gave the heel command and soon realized that I was heeling solo. My dog had sauntered over to the judge and was sitting on her haunches, in begging mode, waving her little front feet in the air. We've probably all seen our small dogs do this, but with their architecture it's more comical with Dachshunds. The crowd laughed. Big mistake.

The scowling judge reached down to grab the dog's collar. Gretch evaded her and ran to the far end of the ring, sat down and barked delightedly. The crowd laughed again. The judge walked over to where she sat and tried to pick her up. Her tail wagging furiously, Gretch barked and hightailed it to the other end of the rubber mat. The steward stepped in to help and, for a time, they looked like baseball players trying for a forced out with Gretch running back and forth between them. The crowd was howling. It looked as if the steward had caught her but, at the last moment, Gretch evaded her, dashed under the judge's table, jumped into the judge's large open handbag and emerged with a packet of liver treats. These she brought back to the judge, sitting up again on her haunches.

By giving the little devil some liver treats, the judge finally managed to pick her up. And what, you may ask, was I doing while my dog was causing havoc in the ring? Why, standing there open-mouthed and red-faced like a dummy, of course.

"I'm afraid I'll have to disqualify her," the judge said to me. "You don't have to stay around for the long sits and downs."

"Oh, that's okay. She's really good at the sits and downs," I replied.


"No, you don't understand," the judge said. Please, don't bring her back." I thought I detected a pleading tone.

Well, Gretch was a hit, if not with the judge, with the crowd. I walked away dejectedly, but everyone else just wanted to pet my dog. Word of the episode spread and people came up to ask if this was the dog who had disrupted obedience judging. She even got some kisses. She was a star and, I swear, she glowed.

Gretchen wasn't perfect, but she was a nice specimen of the breed and I'd debated whether to show her. I'd nixed the idea after the obedience fiasco. True, she would have been on leash, but I didn't trust her. I was pretty sure she'd hatch some devious plan to get the better of all the humans. But then, in one of my other strokes of genius, I decided that it might be fun to breed her.

The hunt was on to find the perfect mate for my beloved dog. I poured over dog magazines and catalogs, studied pedigrees, got opinions and narrowed the field to two candidates. One lived in Florida's Panhandle and another in south Georgia. I wrote to both owners. We exchanged photos, pedigrees and pictures of dogs they had sired. I finally decided on the Florida dog. For the next several months, I stayed in touch with the owner. Finally, when Gretch came into season, I alerted her. We agreed to meet at a dog show in northern Florida where I'd pass Gretchen along to her and she would ship her home following mating. Off we went.

I can't remember when I've been more upset with someone. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but I was spitting nails. We got to the show and I watched the Dachshund judging. I liked the dog even more than I had in the photos. At the conclusion of judging, I introduced myself and then went to the van to fetch Gretchen. The woman petted Gretch, but when I tried to hand the dog off to her, she explained that there had been a change in plans. "We're off to the National Specialty," she excitedly told me, "so it's not possible for me to take her now."

What the heck was I supposed to do? She couldn't have made a phone call? That woman was just lucky that Harve wasn't there at the time. All those years of living in the South and acquiring our sensibility for hospitality and courteousness would have evaporated. The veneer would have been off and he would have instantly reverted to his New York persona and told her off good. I couldn't very well arrive unannounced at the Georgia breeder's door with my in season bitch in tow. So, Gretchen was never bred.


This wonderful, utterly charming Dachshund was with us for four too-short years. She died a quick, yet horrible, death that I can't to this day write about in detail. We left one weekend for shows, with the kennel in the care of a reliable, but not dog savvy person. He took Gretchen for a walk, she encountered a big dog and, in the wink of an eye, I lost my favorite buddy. I was wracked with recrimminations and guilt. That's all I can bring myself to say about her demise.

You know, when you are as old as I am, particularly when you have had a kennel, there are lots of dogs that have come and gone through your life. While you have loved them all, there are still a few that are standouts. These are not always your first dogs, the ones that were top winners or those that proved most accomplished. They are not even the ones that had the sweetest personalities or that were easiest to train. Once in a while, if you're lucky, a special dog comes along that just manages to wiggle into your heart. Gretchen was one of those dogs.

Perhaps it would have been better if I'd just gotten back on the bicycle and bought another Dachshund right away. But, I just couldn't. It was years before I could even look at one of the breed without breaking into tears. Ten years later, I passed up an opportunity to co-author a book on the breed. Writing a book, for me, is a very personal thing that requires total immersion and I knew that for the year that it would take, I'd be in a perpetual blue funk.

Last week, though, that little Dachshund puppy convinced me that I'm over my melancholy period with regard to the breed. It was with total joy and delight that I watched his antics and thought back fondly on my experiences with Gretchen. I reveled in my luck at owning her and realized that while she may have lived longer in her former home, she would never have been as appreciated as she was with me. So, this is my tribute to one great little dog. I hope all of you that you have a chance to have a "special" dog and that you appreciate the experience.

Happy collecting,

Cathy, Harvey & Cocoa

P.S. I know that I am always mentioning my gardens in these newsletters. I wrote this issue while sitting in my gazebo in the middle of my rose garden. It's really beautiful this time of year and I wish all of you could be here with me. Since that's not possible, I thought I would share some of the blooms with you. The varieties are, in order: 1. La Reine, 2. Buff Beauty, 3. Reine des Violettes, 4. Monseiur Tillier, 5. Yellow Lady Banks