Tippy was twelve when she came with us to Germany. She left Texas an old dog but found her youth again in the cooler weather. That, plus the fact we could take her to so many places. At our favorite restaurant, the owner and waitress would scurry around looking for scraps for Tippy before taking our orders. We took her Volksmarching for two hours and she settled contentedly at our feet as we ate wurst and drank beer at the end. Only once did she show enough energy to fly suddenly into the air to take a bite out of a friend’s wurst.
She was not a pretty dog, half poodle, part terrier and God knows what else. She had a round body and stubby legs that descended from the edges of it, like a barrel with feet. “Ugliest dog in the world,” my brothers called her, but I always thought she had a pretty face, well, at least an interesting one.
When we moved into our apartment in Bruchmühlbach, we had two large floors with a balcony that led down to the enclosed back yard we shared with our landlords. Brigitte, who spoke beautiful English, warned us not to let Tippy in the backyard when their dog was out. Champ was a chow, a handsome guy with the purple tongue and bright gold fur. He also had most of the worst characteristics of the breed. He was aggressive and could be downright mean. He had even attacked their little girl.
“Why do you keep him?” I asked.
Brigitte looked at me as if I were insane. “He was a very expensive dog.” She went on, “He doesn’t like other dogs. You and Lynn might want to be careful too.”
Our balcony had a spiral staircase that went down to the back yard, but there was a gate at the top. We often sat out there our first few months, enjoying the pleasant spring and summer. Tippy would sit with us. At first when Champ was out, he would come below our balcony and growl at Tippy, maybe us too. He showed his teeth as if to warn what he would do if he got hold of her. After a couple of weeks, he just started barking at her. She was a quiet dog who seldom barked, so she would just look down at him as if he were a peculiar creature, not even a dog.
After a few weeks everything changed. He would come under the balcony and whine up at her. After awhile she began whining back. “Romeo and Juliet in the balcony scene,” Lynn and I joked. One day, I came home to find Lynn in the yard picking up—let’s just say dog detritus—and the two dogs playing in the yard. They were chasing each other. Tippy was doing as much chasing as Champ.
Lynn said, “I decided to try them out together. I carried Tippy down. She and Champ sniffed each other and then started running around together.”
They got tired then and lay down. Champ nuzzled the top of Tippy’s head. She smiled up at him. Brigitte came out, “I’ve never seen him like this. Come on, Champ. Time to come inside. Come. Come.” He growled at her. “Oh, all right. You can stay out longer.”
Eventually Lynn carried Tippy upstairs while Champ whined at her from below. He seemed to feel that Lynn was her father, and he had to show respect.
For four and a half years they were the best of dog friends. Champ was much younger than Tippy, but he obviously adored her. I joked sometimes that she was just using him—and perhaps I was right. One of their favorite activities was for Tippy to climb on top of the compost pile (Champ was too lumbering and heavy to do so) and throw goodies down for Champ to eat. Then she would clamber down, run to the back of the house where he would stand guard while she ate his food.
Then we were reassigned to a base two hours away. Champ had no way to know, but Tippy had moved eight times before. I don’t think she told Champ, though. Soon, very soon after our move, she died, almost seventeen. She had a good life for an old overweight little mutt, but if felt too soon for me, way too soon.
We went back to Bruchmühlbach two months later to visit Brigitte and her family. When we arrived, Champ came running out, his eyes glowing with excitement, his tail wagging madly, his whole body aquiver. He ran around us, looking everywhere, his tongue out and flapping. He came to Lynn and nudged his hand, as if he were hiding Tippy somewhere. I had to hold back tears—again. We walked into the house. It was a cold day in February, so we were relieved to find a fire burning in the fireplace. We sat down and began to chat.
At this point, Champ seemed to realize that he was living in a world without Tippy. He stood before us looking stunned, then lay down close to Lynn. He placed his head on his paws and stared into the fireplace. His eyes looked as if no light could get through them, but he continued to stare at a blank. This was his world now. His face expressed the sorrow of nothingness, no reason to live, no reason to do anything. He did not move the whole time we were there. After a couple of hours we left. Champ didn’t get up, didn’t even lick Lynn, just continued to stare.