That’s what a friend told me about Rottweilers. “They’re the best.”
Skeptical, my mind stuffed with prejudicial misinformation, I’d never considered owning a Rottweiler. Media stories of a vicious and terrorizing breed navigated my mind. These were lone dogs best kept tethered on a short leash, beasts unfit for civilized people.
But then I heard of a strong, loving Rottweiler needing rescued- literally rescued. A salivating, affectionate creature, that would reciprocate unwavering loyalty, at a cost of only a bowl or two of food each day. But there was a catch. I’d be forced to select her… or not select her… in the shadows of the night, at a moment’s notice. Time for just one look into her eyes, an opportunity to understand her character in only a glimpse, as if comprehending the entire significance of the universe with one glance through a telescope.
My first introduction to Hollie came during a clandestine, midnight raid. Creeping closer, the rotation of the Earth might have slowed, as if I had taken an unexpected path that may ultimately define parts of myself and my life.
But this was hard for me to comprehend initially. Like a television cliché, she was roped to a crude shelter, tossed scrapings of food a couple times a day. Cold. Alone. Instead of a monster, I saw a sweet middle-aged creature, banned from the indoors and nearly forgotten. A slow life spent on a lonely street. Yet she was smart enough to flip the light switch when nightfall arrived and tough enough to keep away predators lurking nearby in the dark.
That night during a midnight raid, a friend and I dismissed Hollie of her maltreated existence by severing her shackles, the three of us speeding out of town in a cloud of dust, destined for someplace different. Someplace better. As we vanished into the darkness, my friend and I swore never to reveal our secret theft.
Filled with the amateur rush of a synthetic military op, I lobbed Hollie cheeseburgers, as careful with my fingers as if handling hand grenades. But as the night went on, clearly my friend had been right. This was not a killer breed but the most loving, loyal and uncomplaining dog I’d known. She was a living work of art, exquisitely designed by nature: a true beauty on four paws.
Hollie and I traversed three states the next day. Fearless, she initiated the journey in the bed of my pickup, barking and leaping at every overpass we drove under. Certain she’d spring from the vehicle at highway speeds, I relocated her inside my truck. Doing so, my new upholstery quickly became a second consideration as we forged a friendship. This was not a human connection but a bond I’d not known, something incorruptible, as no human soul (especially my own) could be.
During our trip home, I most remember her ability to devour cheeseburgers… oh, and her continued obsession to bark at every overpass. Eventually, we arrived to a place where, prior to Hollie’s arrival, I too led a slow life, spent on a lonely street. Hollie’s addition to my life changed this feeling, always giving me someone to come home to, a special friend greeting me as if I were royalty.
Hollie and I became close. After intense days of work, I’ve never known a better dog to relax with. We ate more cheeseburgers. We went for walks, not the pulling-me-around-the-neighborhood-like-a-half-bred-jackass type of walk, but rather side by side… in our eyes, equals. Compliments were regularly offered by a legion of admirers, not to me, but to a powerful, silent dog, who through mutual good fortune, became my most loyal compatriot.
She was tough as hell, too. The time came to have her spayed. (Sorry Hollie, this had to be done.) I expected her to endure the surgery, take it like a champ and we’d get back to living life. Isn’t that how it usually goes?
So in anticipation of the vet calling to tell me the big girl had made it through surgery without issue, I was instead told that she fought off the sedation, woke up during surgery and shredded the vet and vet technician while they struggled to resedate her. When I arrived, they were both bandaged on much of their hands and arms, as if they’d been to war. Then they told me Hollie had been pregnant. I wish she could have been a mother and I’m sure when she woke up, she knew the vet was taking her puppies. Secret: I’m kinda glad she gave them a few scars to remember her by.
I was just happy that Hollie survived. Although she remained unconscious, the vet was immediately ready to part ways. I remember picking her up on a stretcher and resting her on my truck seat. Thoughts of my new truck’s interior no longer a consideration, she’d now been overdosed with anesthetic, down but not out. I didn’t immediately have anyone to help carry the stretcher inside my house. Nor did I want to take a chance on ripping her stitches, so we waited in my truck for several hours until a friend arrived to help move her. She didn’t wake up that day, but the next morning- yes. There was a look of appreciation in her eyes, a combination of unblemished innocence and unending loyalty. I think she knew then that we’d remain side by side until the end.
We went on trips where she ran free through many acres of forest, prairies and lakes. She always stayed in sight though, maybe for her protection… or maybe for my own. She loved these expeditions, no leash, no boundaries. We were the same like that. But deeper inside, I think she wanted only to accompany me, guard me from danger, fight my enemies if necessary. We were two solitary souls who’d found each other.
One day a man beat on our front door, repeatedly with increasing hostility, like is done directly before a home invasion robbery. I assure you this wasn’t an overeager salesman, but rather a would-be robber. Hollie let out one solid, earth rattling bark, displaying her (usually silent) strength. She wouldn’t tolerate aggression towards us, of any sort. Just her bark was enough to send the would-be invader on his way. She saved a life that day- his.
That night we ate cheeseburgers.
Many months after growing to love Hollie, I met the love of my life, a woman whom I remain married to ‘til this day. Hollie’s life changed a lot then. But instead of becoming a cast-aside dog, playing second chair to my wife and new living arrangements, Hollie's life improved. My wife, whom I affectionately call "the dog lawyer", insisted Hollie be allowed on the furniture, giving her free reign around the house. Hollie was never second to anyone, yet loved and adored by each member of her growing family. Damn, she was a great dog.
My wife and I were married on January 30. We have several pictures taken on this day of us with Hollie. It was a celebratory occasion with no signs that Hollie was distressed.
Though three days later, without previous complaining or any outward symptoms, Hollie walked outside and dug a hole. She lay down in the recess and short of breath, planned to die there. So I scooped her up, took her to the vet and prepared my pocketbook to render this wonderful creature full again, no matter the cost.
But I was to learn a hard lesson that day about the fragility of life and of fond memories seared into my soul, a life ended early by an untimely death. Though Hollie had developed lung cancer, she’d not complained once. Now imminently terminal, ending her life became a merciful act.
Her expression suggested she knew this was the end, yet she remained as composed as ever. I think one of the greatest gifts she gave me was evoking a tenderness within that I’d not known existed. Both myself and my wife held her, stroking her head, as pentobarbital filled her veins and her soul escaped her body. Just like that, she was gone forever, where she remains buried in our hearts and of those who knew her.
This was many years ago and as time has gone by, I've discovered in my grief, depths of emotion I’d never realized lie within. I now understand in my deep affection for her, I did not possess her love but was instead possessed by it, and her loss was overwhelming.
I prefer to think I’ll walk alongside her again sometime. When my time comes, have I enough notice to pack a ruck, I will certainly lug a 100lb pack of cheeseburgers to wherever she awaits. From McDonald’s mind you… she liked them the most.
I think there are few prouder moments in life than walking alongside those whom you love.
So now when February calls and Groundhogs Day comes about, some people watch a slob swing around a groundhog, looking closely for signs that Spring may come early. But instead of looking ahead a few weeks, I reminisce back on a beautiful Rottie, the first one I lost, and the reason that I will always walk alongside a remarkable member of this breed.
Farewell Hollie. Your life was no smaller than my own. You were a great companion.