I received an email from Ray Shellhammer, the husband of breeder Gay Hillman of Windfall Bull Terriers in Arkansas. Ray said that he understood that I was in the grieving process, but when I was ready to consider another bull terrier, he had someone special for me.
Nathan had won his AKC championship and was slated to be Windfall’s prize stud dog. But each year they brought their dogs to Louisiana State University for a veterinary work-up. And there they found a heart murmur. While nothing in the rule book precludes such a dog from siring the next generation, dog-loving professionals that they were, Gay and Ray decided to retire Nathan. But now what?
Nathan was three years old and had never had his own human. He needed someone who understood the breed and had the patience to deal with this big guy who had spent his entire life in a kennel. (Albeit, an air-conditioned kennel attached to the house.) Hence the email from Ray. My first question was, “Besides the heart murmur, is there anything I should know about him?”
Ray paused and said, “He’s never pissed me off without making me laugh.”
I called the cardiologist at LSU and discussed Nathan’s heart murmur. Bottom line: While there are no guarantees, neither is there expectation that it will affect quality or length of life. I flew to Little Rock and drove about 100 miles west to Glendale. (Who knew there was anything west of Little Rock?) And then I spent the day with this big, shy champion. “Never had his own human” became apparent. He was a happy guy, but didn’t seem to know his place with people.
The next morning, I called my friend Mike Libman, a fellow dog-lover, and said, “He’s a beautiful, intelligent, sweet-natured dog, but he doesn’t have the sleek look I’ve always liked of a white bull terrier.”
In response, Mike posed a question I’ll never forget: “Do you want a companion or a blond with big boobs?”
Case closed. Done deal. Gay was planning to travel to Pennsylvania with a van full of bull terriers for some shows in a few weeks. We agreed to meet at a rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It looked like a drug deal going down. Gay was crying. Don’t ever say that breeders don’t care. Natey was her special boy (named for her father).
The entire drive back, perhaps 2½ hours, he was trembling, shaking uncontrollably. This was the first time in three years that he was away from his mommy. I gave serious consideration to calling to return him and cancel the deal. When we got to my office (my dogs were always 24/7, including work time) he was greeted by my secretary/assistant Roseanne, and seemed to relax a bit for the first time.
We finished the work day and drove the short distance to the house. In the front door and I showed him the slider to his new kingdom: a 1,700 square foot chain-link fenced back yard. With encouragement he ventured outside. I called out, “Good boy!” and he froze, looked up and came running back to say that if he was doing anything wrong he didn’t mean it. I nearly cried at his fragility.
And then. perhaps midnight, off to bed. He climbed the stairs at my prodding, and jumped up on the bed. I got in, under the covers, and coaxed him to join me. Every step was so tentative. But under the covers he was, and the light was turned out. I was still quite uncertain whether this relationship would work. And then — and then! About 03:00 AM I was awoken by the weird sensation of something gently gnawing on my elbow. Gnawing. It was he, telling me that I was accepted.
♦ ♦ ♦
And now, ten years later, his cardiac problem having caught up with him, I have had this sweet, delicious, beautiful boy euthanized. I will miss him so.