Billie (February 26, 2001-June 4, 2013)

Billie B&WThe bad stuff: Billie had been having real problems getting around the last week and a half.  I thought it was a reaction to the antibiotics she’d been on for a UTI but when I came home on Tuesday she was lethargic, not really unconscious, but not able to rouse and her rear legs were cold.  Called the vet, they said bring her in.  There was a mass, which, on ultrasound looked like it was not on her spleen, but was, nevertheless, clearly Not Right, her liver didn’t look good, she still wouldn’t really rouse up, and her front feet as well as her rear were now cold.

She was twelve.  She had a lot of issues.  I opted not to do exploratory surgery and let her go.

Billie rachel VIThe slightly less bad stuff: I asked them to do an autopsy and they found that the mass was indeed on the spleen, just oddly positioned and her liver was, to quote her vet, a mess.  There wasn’t one nodule that wasn’t compromised in some way. Some sort of fast developing cancer, possibly hemangiosarcoma.  I feel lucky, in a way, that she was as good as she was for as long as she was, that I did the right thing for her, that I got to say goodbye and all those things you hope you get to do.  She was an awesome dog and I had her a long time and I miss her.

The good stuff:  I lost Riley (my very first Rottweiler) in August, 1999 and for awhile there was just me and John Henry, but I knew I wanted another dog eventually and when Ruth Vogel told me she was planning a litter, I knew I wanted one of those puppies.  There were nine puppies in the litter and I remember that I kept looking for a puppy that would be just like Riley until I realized that there would never be a puppy just like Riley, so I let Ruth pick my puppy.  And I didn’t know for sure until the day before I picked her up that Billie (who, of course, didn’t have a name yet though we called her ‘Dot’ or ‘the dotted ribbon girl’ because of the dotted ribbon around her neck to tell her from the other puppies) would be my girl.

the I litter


This was the ‘I’ litter and Billie’s full registered name is Vogelhaus I’m A Charmer or Charming Billie or Billie.  And she was, always, a charmer (at least in my opinion).  She and John Henry got along well in that loud way that Rottweilers get along.

Billie and John Henry


She was little by Rottweiler standards and would always be little.

Billie yard Billie yard III






But mighty.






At least in her own mind.



Billie TD



She had one of the best noses of any of my dogs, but also one of the most difficult to read so that when she finally got her TD in Omaha, it was a BIG deal.




She had idiopathic seizures from the time she was four and a half and for seven and a half years she was on phenobarb and potassium bromide.  These drugs helped but in the beginning she had a pattern of being fairly well controlled and then having breakthrough seizures that got closer and closer together until we upped the dosage and would go through it again.  I was terribly afraid we’d reach a point where we couldn’t increase the dosage any more and there would be nothing to be done.  Fortunately, before that point we tried acupuncture, which helped tremendously.

A little over six years ago, the Ames hospital started a pet therapy program so Billie got her TDI and we started visiting and kept visiting nearly every week right up until two weeks ago.  She was especially fond of depressed teenaged girls, but, really, I’m pretty sure she believed that people came to the hospital not because they were sick, but to see her.

Billie sad photoShe was an incredibly hard dog to take a picture of.  This is a typical sad Billie picture full of sadness because the world is sad and why are you taking my picture.



Billie rachel III Billie rachel IV



Luckily for me, Rachel Ritland managed to take some lovely pictures of Billie back in 2010 and I’m grateful that I have them to remember her by.billie

I’m also tremendously grateful to Dr. Safris and Dr. Paulin and their staff at Westfield Veterinary and to Dr. Farr at Natural Solutions.  And, finally, thank you to Ruth for giving me this wonderful girl.  I couldn’t have asked for a better companion.

Sunday At The Dog Park

Blue and I went to the dog park this morning.

It was pretty empty.

Blue at the parkDog park

But not as muddy as it could have been. Blue did some running.

Blue running20130505_091852

Then he found a hole.  There could be something down there!

A hole Blue digs

Dig, Blue, dig!  But alas, it’s just a hole.

more Blue and holejust a hole


We visited the memorials.

dog memorial

And looked at the graveyard (Note: not a graveyard for dogs).


Blue could not figure out what this crazy thing was.  Water came out!  A guy could get wet!

water fountain

And then it was time to go.  Good day at the dog park.

going home


BillieToday is Billie’s twelfth birthday.

I wrote a bit about her last year on her eleventh birthday.  She’s still doing pretty well.  She doesn’t hear all that well anymore and she’s a little more wobbly on her feet, but she can still jump up on the bed most days and she still likes to go to the hospital and visit patients.  And eat.  She likes to eat.

Happy Birthday, Billie!

It Is What It Is

It is what it is is something I learned from tracking.  I’ve talked about it online before, though I don’t think I’ve talked about it here.  In tracking, you train as much as you can, work with your dog until you both know what’s expected, plan for all the contingencies you can think of.  But then, the day of the test, maybe you get a downpour or it’s really hot or bone-chilling cold, maybe a hundred deer run across your track, maybe the judge makes a bad call or you make a bad decision or your dog just has a crappy day.

Yeah.  It is what it is.  You learn from it and move on.

When you write for publication there are some things that are under your control: how well you write, the story you choose to tell, how much effort you put into each draft.  But there are just as many things that are completely or mostly out of your control: what else is being published, your book’s cover, who your copyeditor is, the amount of publicity or the initial positioning or where your book goes on the shelves.  Big things and tiny things, fair reviews and unfair ones, whether anyone ever knows your book is out there or not.

It is what it is.  Other people get other things: a better cover, bigger advance, more visibility, just the right coattails, a particular, perfect moment in time.  You have no control over that either, though sometimes you desperately wish that you did.

The other night I found this passage at the end of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (a great book if, like me, you’re always looking for plotting and structure tips):

You must find a life within the confines of “It is what it is.”  This is where your skills as a bullhead will save both you and your sanity.  And while I’ve made fun of this trait throughout the book I do it as a means of challenging you to be more so: Whatever you do, don’t stop being a bullhead.  The powers-that-be can take away a lot of things.  They can buy your script and fire you, or rewrite it into oblivion, but they can’t take away your ability to get up and come back swinging–better and smarter than you were before.

Most of all, you must try to find the fun in everything you write.  Because having fun lets you know you’re on the right track.  So when you write those two dazzling words, FADE IN:, you’re as excited the hundredth time as you were the first.

It’s easy to get caught up in how your book is doing and which book is doing better or how much you wish this thing or that other thing had happened differently.  Or even: WHY CAN’T EVERYONE SEE MY VERY SPECIAL GENIUS RIGHT NOW!  But yeah, it is what it is.  The best thing you do is learn from it and move on.


Today, February 26, 2011, Billie, my Rottweiler turns 11.

I’m thrilled about this for so many reasons.

  • Because the average life of a Rottweiler is 9 to 10 years
  • Because she has seizures (reasonably well-controlled, but still)
  • Because her mother and her grandmother both died at 8
  • Because I love her and I’d like her to stay forever

Her registered name is Vogelhaus’ I’m a Charmer.  Sometimes I call her Charming Billie.  She’s from the ‘I’ litter and her parents were Ch. Vogelhaus’ Hot Rod Hummer and Ch. Wittz Orbit the Moon.

I first saw Billie when she was three, maybe four, weeks old.  She was from a litter of nine puppies.  The puppies all had ribbons around their necks to tell them apart.  There were four girls: the white girl, the yellow girl, the orange girl and the mauve girl.  Later, the yellow girl (or the orange girl, I forget) became the dotted ribbon girl.  That girl was Billie.  I let the breeder pick my puppy because good breeders know their puppies better than anyone and I was supposed to get the mauve girl.  But in the way of things, someone decided not to take a puppy and someone else decided to take one and the dotted ribbon girl came home with me.

I knew that the temperaments would be good because that was one of the reasons I wanted a puppy from this breeder and this litter.  She’s on the small side for a Rottweiler, around 75 pounds, but I think it’s stood her in good stead and though she’s eleven, she’s still easily able to go for walks and jump into the car and go tracking with me.

In tracking, she has her TD (Tracking Dog) title.  We’re working on VST (Variable Surface Tracking).  She has an RA (Rally Advanced) and 2/3rds of an RE (Rally Excellent).  And she’s a Therapy Dog, which I suspect she likes above all else.

And today she is eleven.

Keeping Track

This is the thing I do with my dog–Tracking.

Tracking is a dog sport and though it uses some of the techniques and abilities that search and rescue dogs use, it’s not search and rescue.  I love tracking because it’s something to do with my dogs, something that we do as a team, and something that’s outside in all sorts of weather and in lots of different places.

What is tracking? In the kind of tracking I do, there are three levels or tests: TD–Tracking Dog, TDX–Tracking Dog Excellent, and VST–Variable Surface Tracking.  A dog that passes all three of these tests receives a CT in front of their name–Champion Tracker.

All of these levels involve a dog following a track (the scent of a person who’s walked a mapped path) and finding and identifying articles along the track.  A TD track is 450 to 500 yards long, 30 minutes to 2 hours old, and has a glove at the beginning and a glove at the end (test passing rate: 50%).  A TDX track is 800 to 1000 yards long, 3 to 5 hours old, has two obstacles, changes of cover, crosstracks and 4 articles (gloves, scarves, socks, shoes, etc) (test pass rate: 17%).  A VST track is 600 to 800 yards long, 1/3 to 1/2 non-vegetative (asphalt, concrete, gravel, etc.) and has 1 plastic, 1 cloth, 1 leather, and 1 metal article (test pass rate: 5%).

Blue's VST Track from a fall 2011 test

The thrill for me is learning to listen to my dog (they know how to track; I never will), watching them figure things out, and seeing what amazingly smart and difficult things they’re able to do.  The thrill for the dogs (I think) is doing something they love with someone they love and, for once, getting to be the boss of the team. Also, food.

I wrote a story about tracking once.  It’s called Articles of a Personal Nature and was originally published in SCIFICTION in 2004.  You can read it here.

About Those Dogs

I currently have two dogs.  I’ll give them each a separate post later, but for now, here’s a brief introduction.

Billie, as you can see from her picture, is a Rottweiler.  I’ve had her since she was a puppy, and she’s going to be 11 in February.  She is gentle and smart and generally happy.

Some people will tell you that Rottweilers are mean, that you can’t trust them.  Here’s what I know: Rottweilers are strong. They are physically strong and they are strong willed.  They’re a protective breed and they’re very aware of their surroundings and of potential threats.  They need knowledgeable breeders and competent owners.  They must, must, must have good training, socialization, and consistency.  Anything else is unfair to them and to anyone who has to live with or near them.  They are also extremely social, love people, and are some of the best dogs I’ve ever known.

Billie does obedience and tracking with me.  And she’s a Therapy Dog.  She visits patients in the local hospital with me every week.  I’m pretty sure she thinks that people’s primary purpose in going to the hospital is to see her.  She’s a charmer.

Dog number two is Blue. Or, Ch Nevars Java RN TDX as he is more formally known.  He is a German Pinscher.  I’ve been told that there are about 500 German Pinschers in the US.  Most people think he’s a stunted Doberman Pinscher.*

I’ve had Rottweilers for over twenty years.  But a few years ago I started thinking it might be nice to have a smaller breed, a dog I could pick up if necessary.  I love Rottweilers, I like working dogs and I like short-haired dogs.  German Pinschers are a nice, medium-sized, very short-haired dog.  And thus…Blue.  German Pinschers were originally farm dogs, bred to sound the alert and to take care of vermin.  Blue is excellent at both these tasks (…really excellent.  Especially with the vermin catching).  He’s also an excellent tracking dog and we’re working on obedience and agility.  Plus he’s fun and I like him.

*Occasionally I have this conversation with my neighbor (whom I have told a dozen times that Blue is a German Pinscher):

Neighbor: He’s so small for a Doberman!
Me: I know!  It’s a mystery!!

**Photos in this post were taken by Rachel Ritland