[Advisory: Long Read]
Written: November 2014
Our Champion Eva
It’s taken me awhile to write this; I had to mull it over a bit and sort things out after the recent loss of my long-time best friend Bonnie. Bonnie was a German Shorthaired Pointer that had been literally at my side for nearly 18 years. Losing her was like losing my shadow, and both my wife and I were absolutely devastated. In truth, the pain of losing Bonnie was just too much. We were both inconsolable and we struggled to cope with the emptiness left in her absence.
“Raiderland’s Sonic Bonnie” at 1 year old.
She had been with me since she was 6 weeks old; this is her on the first day we brought her home.
Bonnie at 17 ½ years old, just before her death.
In over 17 years, Bonnie had never once done a single thing wrong in her entire life. I never had to train Bonnie to do anything; she was a complete natural from the very start and was very easy to work with in any situation. She loved to hunt and never failed to find, point, and retrieve a single bird.
The truth is, she taught me more about life and myself than any University ever could have.
Shortly after the devastating tornado that hit Moore, OK. in 1999, my son and I had the great good fortune of visiting the home of Nationally renowned Professional Bird Dog Trainer and Field Trial Hall of Fame Member (Delmar Smith) of Edmond, Oklahoma. During our short visit, I remember Delmar telling us;
“Son, if you want to train like a Pro, ya gotta think like a dog. Everything I know about dogs, a horse taught me.”
It took me nearly 30 years to figure out what he really meant by that.
” I was truly privileged to have Bonnie in my life for so many precious years. She is deeply missed every day, and she will never be forgotten. Bonnie was loved and admired by all who knew her.”
After such a difficult and painful loss, I knew what we really needed to do. But I was hesitant to jump in so quickly. If you had known Bonnie, even for a few minutes, you would know what I mean. There was only one way that I was aware of to help us begin to relieve our misery, we needed a new pup. But opening up our hearts so soon after tragedy is a daunting and difficult task; it was not an easy choice to make. Nothing could ever replace Bonnie, we knew that, but we hoped to find a dog that was meant to be ours.
Ultimately, I spent quite a bit of time and effort trying to find a good pup. I even tried to find another GSP pup out of the same blood as Bonnie, but it wasn’t possible for one reason or another. The main reason I was willing to do this, buy a new pup so soon after a devastating loss, was to help my wife recover from what was for her, the first time she had ever lost a devoted friend. That, and I wanted a protection dog that would always be at her side. After much discussion and consideration, we finally decided on a German Sheperd Dog. I have raised German Sheperds since I was a kid, I’ve always been partial to the German breeds so I have a lot of experience with GSD’s and knew it would be a good fit for our purposes. Having been away from the breed for quite a while, I basically had to start from scratch when we started looking for our new pup. I focused on Texas breeders and I tried nearly every GSD kennel in Texas but no one had a 6 – 8 week old pup available at the time, at least not one that costs under $2500.00 which was well beyond our budget.
Through the process of elimination, we finally ended up talking to a kennel outside of Dallas that is supposed to be the “#1 German Sheperd Breeder in America for over 50 years”. And he had a very long list of International Schutzhund Champions to prove it. In German, Schutzhund translates to “Protection Dog”. Schutzhund training originated in Germany in the early 1900’s as a breed suitability test for German Sheperd dogs. Schutzhund competitions are still primarily a German dog sport, but international competitions are conducted worldwide now. These are the kind of dogs that are the first choice for Military, Police and Service Duty.
The following video’s are examples of Schutzhund Training and Competition.
7 year old Samantha Jimenez During 2010 Schutzhund Competition “Obedience”
Part II. “Protection”.
I knew that good genetics was the key to finding a truly good dog, so I was trying to get the best blood I could without breaking the bank. We wanted a female with strong instincts and a large frame, but we were not worried about any show-standard flaws she might have as we wanted her only as a companion dog. Because we could not afford the $2500.00 – $10,000.00 price-tag attached to all of the 6 – 8 week old puppies this kennel had available, I asked if he might have a pup that didn’t quite meet his breeding standards that we might buy at a more reasonable price. As it turned out he says he has just the “bargain priced” female we are looking for. I was about to be reminded of the ugly commercial side of dog breeding.
At this point, I really thought I had done my homework. I checked references, talked to a few Veterinarians, even talked to other breeders but there were no bad reports. I figured 50 years in business kinda speaks for itself so I felt fairly confident about our choice of kennels. But I still had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind from the start. We drove 4 hours one way to pick up not a 6 week old pup, but instead a 14 month old female with a slightly deformed ear that disqualifies her from competition. She was prominently featured on the kennels website with pictures and details about her “Super Elite V/VA Grade” sire and dame who are both International Schutzhund Champions themselves and have sired multiple World Champions since. Even if she wasn’t the 6 week old puppy we originally thought we wanted, I was thrilled to be getting such high quality at a “bargain price” simply because she had one imperfect ear!
“Hanka-Tyson” “Exceptional Female-Super Elite V/VA Grade”.
(As advertised on breeder’s website)
After 2 weeks of browsing and searching all of the dogs and pups this kennel had displayed online, my wife was already pretty much attached to this dog and had made her mind up that she was “The One”. The breeder tells us he flew this pup’s dame to Germany where she was bred by a German Standard (different from American Standard) male champion and then flew her back to Texas where she later littered. The litter had 7 pups, and all but 2 of her littermates (both females) had previously been sold for $3500.00 to $7500.00 each. So it seemed that we are really getting a lot of top quality dog for a lot less than that. One floppy ear doesn’t bother us one bit, I’m much more interested in what’s inside the dog.
Upon our arrival at the kennel, we were asked to wait at the front of the house while the breeder went to retrieve our new prospect from a vast expanse of kennels that extended well behind the house. This seemed a little “shady” to me, as if he didn’t want us to see the kennels. He claimed to have between 2 and 3 hundred dogs on hand at any given time, all of which are supposed to be world class, but I suspect there were more like 1500+ dogs in those kennels.
We were both excited to meet our new friend but I was unprepared for what we were about to see. When they finally appear she looks great, at first. She has classic German Standard lines, deep chested, squared features, and large for a female. Perfect standards for a well-bred GSD.
But as she approaches closer, I can immediately see that she has some very serious problems. From 10 ft. away I can smell her, she’s urine drenched and apparently has been since birth. Her eyes are bright and she’s very well mannered, handles very well on the leash, obeys basic commands, and she’s obviously very intelligent. But the first time she turns broadside, I can see that her condition is much worse than I thought. Hip Dysplasia. And worse than that, her lower hind legs are literally “curled” and bent from being kept in a tiny cement floored kennel for what I presume was her entire life! She walks slowly as if to take each step carefully but shows no outright signs of pain. Despite the suffering she must have endured, she is calm and shows no signs of having been otherwise abused or beaten. She does not flinch at sudden movements and seems well socialized. She is eager to please and keeps her eyes focused on my wife’s eyes at all times.
I knew right then what kind of “man” I was dealing with; and I knew what kind of dog we had in front of us.
Taken during our first meeting with Eva.
I was boiling mad at first, mad at myself, and mad at the way this guy operates. But I gathered myself and tried to remain calm as I waited to see how he would present this pathetic dog to what he thought was an unaware and inexperienced couple. True, he had told us she was not up to his standards, she was being sold to us as less than “perfect” with a limited registration, (meaning we can’t register any pups she may have under her pedigree. I wouldn’t breed her anyway), but that was supposed to be based only on her defective ear. Other than that he claimed she was healthy and sound. Even when I directly asked him about dysplasia he claimed it can’t even be verified until age 2 and therefore there is no way to know without an exam at age 2”. At this point I can see that he thinks I’m a complete fool and cannot see the obvious truth right in front of me, and I allowed him to keep thinking that right up to the time we drove out his gate.
You see, this isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with this kind of treachery, I’ve seen all kinds of breeders and trainers over the years. I was lucky enough to meet and learn from some of the best, and I’ve met some that should never be allowed near a dog of any kind! But I had already made my mind up about how I was going to handle this situation the very second that I realized who and what I was dealing with. This dog would not be returning to the hellish life she had come from, and I was going to make sure of it.
After everything that had led us to this point, the loss of Bonnie, all the time and energy searching, all the other possible choices. By some twisted and miraculous turn of events…. It was clear to see, this dog belonged with us. The entire time, my wife was completely unaware that anything was wrong and I kept it that way until we left. She doesn’t yet have enough K9 experience to see what I saw; she only knew that she instantly loved the dog no matter what her condition. I paid the man, signed the papers, and loaded the newly christened “Eva Vom Fleischerheim” into the truck. (Heim translates to home in German and is preceded by the kennel name)
She wasn’t what we thought we wanted, she wasn’t even what we expected; but in that strange, unexpected and mysterious way that good things sometimes happen, she is exactly the dog that was meant for us. She will never suffer again as long as we both draw breath.
We took her to our Vet the next morning and he confirmed the inevitable, he strongly urged me to take her back and was very upset with me for even considering keeping her; And he was even more furious about the breeder she came from! I had held on to a sliver of hope that I might be wrong about her hips until he confirmed it, but I really already knew it was bad and was prepared to accept the responsibilities of a dog like Eva. He told us that she’d probably be completely broke down within 18 months and we would end up having to put her down. My wife instantly broke into tears and sobbed “again so soon?” My heart sank into the bottom of my boots. Just a few short weeks before, we had held Bonnie as she died in the room only a few feet from where we now stood. With the pain of that memory still very fresh in our hearts, I looked into my wife’s tear filled eyes, then into the eyes of Eva who was looking straight back at me almost as if she understood the gravity of the situation;
And for just a split second, I considered taking my Vets advice to spare us the heartbreak that was sure to come. As irony would have it, the very same heartbreak Eva was supposed to help heal. It seems the most important decisions in life are always the hardest to choose, but it only took me ½ of that split second to decide. Be it 18 months or 18 years, Eva will stay with us where she is meant to be.
The Vet put her on a series of 3 weekly injections combined with daily medication and an expensive Glucosamine/Chondroitin daily supplement which will have to be maintained throughout her life. Four weeks, 4 good grooming’s, and $2 G’s later, and much to everyone’s surprise (especially the Vet), Eva’s legs had straightened up by about 80% and she is greatly improved! Of course, she will never be 100% and her abilities are somewhat limited, but she is very active and mobile and I would not want to be the fool who doubted her ability to guard and protect. She is as smart as a whip and she never leaves my wife’s side.
Although much of what this breeder tried to tell me was total BS, as it turns out Eva’s bloodline and breeding are legitimate. She does in fact come from a very impressive line of German International Schutzhund Champions and she has all of the qualities and traits that are highly sought after in her breed. Eva is what is known as a “line-bred” dog. In simple terms, this basically means inbreeding only the best offspring back to the same bloodline in order to maintain specific traits. In this case, Eva was specifically bred for tracking, obedience and protection. Commercial breeders do this knowing in advance that a certain percentage of the pups produced will be rejects, but they are only interested in the few that retain the desired traits without defect. Eva was one of those rejects.
She has it all, everything you’d want in a world class Schutzhund. But as we would later learn, her dysplasia was not detected until she was well into her Schutzhund training when she began to show physical symptoms. Schutzhund pups begin their training at 6 weeks old and she was now 16 months old.
Of course, the breeder mentioned none of this to us. But we would soon learn by the way Eva acted when we brought her home that she had obviously been intensely trained before we got her. Some of the things she did made us think she may have been trained as a Seeing-eye Dog or some other special needs Service Dog. Her neck and jaw muscles were huge, an indication that she had been doing a lot of protection training (ie. attacking and biting) She had obviously been trained to respond in certain ways and to obey only certain commands. Naturally, we were curious and puzzled by her behavior. Hell, the poor dog didn’t even know what a ball was! It seemed she was pretty much unfamiliar with everything outside of her previous small world. It was both very sad, and very beautiful at the same time.
Not long after that while watching some German Sheperd videos on YouTube, we happened across some videos about “International Schutzund Competition”. As we watched the first Schutzhund video, THEN it became perfectly obvious to us what type of training Eva had actually received, and what kind of dog she really was! We were shocked to realize the truth, mainly because of how it affected Eva. No wonder she acted the way she did! Things started to make more sense now.
“Our world” and “her world” were completely different and neither of us had any experience in the opposite position. We didn’t know how to operate and maintain her training because we had no clue she was even trained and we knew nothing about Schutzhund. As a result, she didn’t recognize much of what we tried to communicate to her because she literally didn’t understand our commands. She had been trained entirely differently and “our world” was foreign and completely new to her. It all suddenly made sense, now we finally understood! With this new knowledge, everything changed for us all.
Eva learned to adapt very quickly and is now as good a dog as anyone could ever hope for. She has retained most of her original Schutzhund training, and has blended it well with her new home and surroundings. In the end, it was US whom needed training. We are so thankful for learning the truth.
Eva just got a bum deal when the hip dysplasia that is so common in the GSD’s became magnified in her due to line breeding. She was literally born, a crippled athlete.
One of Eva’s male littermates is now a SEAL Team Member.
Sadly, if the breeder had just been honest about Eva and presented her as what she was, we would have taken her anyway. As I’ve already said, with the odd way this all transpired, we believe she was meant to be with us. But he was not honest, and he tried to misrepresent the facts. Part of me wants to believe that he was actually trying to find Eva a good home and I just don’t know the whole story; he did seem genuinely affectionate towards her. Maybe he didn’t tell us about her training because he didn’t want her to be injured any further, but if he was so concerned about her, that’s no excuse for not telling us the truth. I have little doubt in my mind that we literally were Eva’s last chance. Had we not intervened exactly when we did, I’m sure she would have been killed in order to make room for another more “productive” dog. Commercial breeders don’t spend money on dogs that cannot produce.
As we drove away with Eva in the back seat, it felt almost like we had just broken her out of prison. I felt a great sense of relief and swore to myself that I would never allow her to be neglected or abused ever again. Issued a last minute reprieve, Eva was now a member of our small family.
In the following weeks and months, Eva has proven to be so much more than we had ever hoped for. She is as devoted and protective of my wife as I am, and she lives only to please us. Her condition continues to improve, we are maintaining a minimal medical routine, and we are very optimistic for her future. The love we give her is returned ten-fold and she has greatly lessened the pain of the loss of our dear Bonnie.
We needed Eva, and she needed us, the timing was miraculous.
She has already done far more for us than we could ever do for her.
She is our Champion.
And she is finally Home now….where she belongs.
A Tribute To The Military Working Dog (MWD)
“The Warrior Dog Foundation was established by Mike Ritland who fought as a Navy SEAL in Operation Iraqi Freedom and numerous other deployments”.
I highly recommend and strongly urge you to support
Here is another example of how profound the human/dog relationship really is, and how strong the bonds formed can be.
Published on May 20, 2014
“While serving in Afghanistan, U.S. military combat dog Layka was shot four times by the enemy at point-blank range. Despite her injuries, she still attacked and subdued the shooter, saving her handler and the other members of the team. Seven hours of surgery and the amputation of one leg saved her life. Her handler, Staff Sgt. Julian McDonald, fought hard to adopt her and she’s now become a part of his family”.
Read more about America’s military working dogs online in National Geographic magazine: “The Dogs of War”
If you find yourself even considering the adoption of a so-called “rescue pet”, why not “rescue” a dog that has truly earned their right to have a loving and secure home in a way that no other class ever could? Please support our K-9 Veterans with the same respect you would afford all other U.S Veterans.
Both Have Earned Their Right to a Safe and Free Home.
For more information on these great American Unsung Heroes and how you can help.
As a starting point, SaveAVet.org offers a very helpful and informative guide. To visit their website click the link below.
You can visit the 37th Training Wing directly by clicking the link below.
Currently, there is usually a long waiting list to adopt these dogs. First option to adopt is (now by law SEE: H.R.2847 ) and H.R. 5315 “Robby’s Law“ given to the handlers they served beside in combat and/or other members of the military with disabilities. But there are still many private sector adoptions and the need is growing. These dogs and programs are not for everyone, there is a certain level of commitment and effort involved that may not be required with other pets. But the many rewards provided far exceed the small efforts required to literally….
Save a Hero.