Out of the blue yesterday I thought about a dog named Helmut. This wasn’t some random dog name, or some random dog. Helmut was our dog from 1999 to 2009. We’d brought Helmut into our home in August of 1999, two years after my wife and I gotten our very first dog Dieter.
Dieter was our baby. He was the dog we needed in order to move to the next step of parent three years later. He was fun, loud, a baby, and could sleep as long as we could. My wife worked 2nd shift, so he’d sleep all morning with her till she got up. He was the typical miniature schnauzer, loyal to those he knew and a bearded blowhard with a short dog complex to those he didn’t. The three of us were inseparable, and we did everything together. Of course he slept in bed with us. He had his own, but it just wasn’t quite as comfortable as sleeping between my wife and I’s heads. As much as we complained, we really didn’t mind.
In May of 1998 we found out my wife was pregnant and we were thrilled. It seemed as if things were falling right into place for us. Build our house in 1996, get our first pooch in 1997, then get pregnant in 1998. Our baby would be arriving right before Christmas in December, my birthday month. Unfortunately around week 12 when the doc went to listen for a heart beat he couldn’t hear one. An ultrasound revealed that the baby never formed. They called it a blighted ovum. Basically the house had formed, but no one moved in. It was disappointing and sad and we took a week to process what we’d been dealt. Thank God for Dieter. He was there for us, whenever we needed it. Thank God for each other, too.
Of course you think you’re over something like that, but you never completely get over it. December of 1998 was particularly rough. By the summer of 1999 when we still hadn’t gotten pregnant again we’d considered maybe just getting more dogs. Those could be our kids. We could be the weird Miniature Schnauzer couple. Why not? Well somehow we’d heard about a couple just a couple miles away that had a litter of miniature schnauzers, so on a whim my mom, wife, and I went over to check them out. What we found was this husband and wife living in squalor and their home basically a giant hamster cage for their dogs to roam wherever they may. It was insanity, yet I couldn’t put down the runt of the litter. They’d affectionately named him Tiny. The biggest of the bunch was Giant. Well, by the end of that Saturday afternoon we wrote a check to this eccentric couple and Tiny came home with us and Giant went home with my mom and dad. Tiny became Helmut and Giant became Gunther.
Helmut was all black, where Dieter was salt and pepper. I think there’s a lot to be said for dogs growing up together from the get go because with Dieter two years old and Helmut a pup something just never clicked between them. There was never any fighting, but never any love either. I may be getting a little melodramatic, but I truly feel that Dieter became somewhat disconnected from us the day we brought Helmut home. Something changed in him, just slightly. He was never quite as loving. After a couple weeks he eventually acclimated to this new, dark thing quivering and shaking in the house. He even started getting up in bed with us again, but it was as if he was being put out to do so.
Then a couple weeks later we found out we were pregnant, and this time it took.
Like it or not, Dieter and Helmut were stuck together now. Dieter the confident pro in the house while Helmut was this skittish, nervous pooch that never seemed comfortable in his own skin. People would come over that he knew and they’d pet him and he would sit there and shake and growl. He’d never bite, but he’d just growl as if he was being pet by a ghost or someone in a giant cat costume. Quivering on the couch happy to let you pet him as long as you didn’t mind the shaking and the passive/aggressive growl.
This was how things would remain for years. In less than a year of coming home with us Helmut went from the baby of the house to not the baby of the house. In May of 2000 we brought home our oldest from the hospital. Dieter didn’t mind the kids, while Helmut I think was prematurely pushed from the baby spot. He was always good with the baby, then with next two babies that came in 2003 and 2005, but it always felt as if Helmut never got a chance to grow into being a dog from a pup. He always felt stunted and out of sorts, even with plenty of cuddle and play time. With little kids, we were home a lot so there were ample opportunities for sitting around on weekends and watching TV while babies napped. Helmut, despite his constant state of worry, loved my wife and I and loved being next to us.
Eventually Dieter and Helmut became a schnauzer duo. There was this Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Batman and Robin quality to them. Dieter was the veteran and showed Helmut the ropes. But in 2005 Dieter got extremely sick and after a couple weeks of the vet saying he’d get better he didn’t. In December of 2005 we had to put Dieter to sleep. It was a blow for my wife and I, and it was a blow for Helmut. Helmut always had that companionship and now he didn’t.
The years after Dieter weren’t easy for our Helmut. He never grew out of the nervousness. He was always in a state of worry. In 2008 he started peeing in the house. All the time. Peeing on my chair was a favorite thing for him to do. We started putting him in the bathroom when we’d leave. Then I started putting my son’s pull-ups on him, cutting a little hole in the back so Helmut’s nub of a tail would stick out. We took him to the vet and the vet said there was nothing wrong with him.
In 2009 Helmut started losing weight, and his stools were very loose. Once again the vet couldn’t find anything wrong with him but offered to ship him down to Purdue University for testing. I was paying our cell phone bill with a credit card, so the idea of turning Helmut into a guinea pig for veterinary students at university really seemed out of the question. We changed his diet to rice and proteins and he seemed to improve some. Then he had blood in his stool. He lost his appetite, lost more weight, and was literally a shell of the dog he was. He was never a jubilant personality to begin with, so seeing this poor dog shrivel was heartbreaking. He couldn’t jump up on our bed anymore, so we’d have to pick him up and place him up there. We knew the inevitable was coming, but didn’t want to face it.
One of the last weekends Helmut was with us, our middle child had had an asthma attack. Our oldest had a sleepover and one of her friends had a cat at home(which our middle child is deathly allergic to.) The cat hairs were on a sleeping bag that made its way to our basement. Back when our middle child was 3 to 6 years old even a single cat hair could set her off, and it did. She was in our bedroom with the nebulizer. Helmut was in the bedroom with her and must’ve known how bad she was. I’d gone to the kitchen to get a bottle of water for her and when I came back Helmut had jumped up on the bed with my daughter. One of the final days on this earth and he mustered all of his power so he could get up on that bed and lay next to my very ill kid. I came back to the bedroom, saw that, and started crying. I cried for fear of my daughter’s situation, and for that final act of kindness from a gravely ill, nervous little dog named Helmut.
Our nervous black miniature schnauzer was gone three days later.
Helmut always seemed to be struggling to find his place in the house. With Dieter he was trying to find a bit of respect from this silver-haired Hubner veteran. And just when he thought he had Dieter was gone. Then he was on his own in a house of increasingly loud and mobile children and two adults trying to keep everything afloat. I think back to Helmut and I get sad. He never really got a chance to grow up into the mature, lounging family dog that he should have. We gave him the most that we could, but I sometimes wonder if that was enough. His older brother Gunther lived to a spry old 13 years old. Not without health problems and anxieties of his own, but he seemed to fare better than his little brother.
I still miss Helmut, and sometimes wish I could’ve done better for him. I’m not the same person I was almost 10 years ago. My wife and I have figured things out. We’ve got better heads on our shoulders and are more responsible. I think we could do more for Helmut now than we could’ve then, at least before the illness. Fortunately we got a second chance with our miniature schnauzer Otto. He’s 8 years old; healthy, happy, and really the perfect pooch. He grew up with a brother and two sisters, those being our kids. As much as I loved Dieter, I think Otto would’ve been a much better older brother for Helmut.
Almost 10 years on, and that nervous little dog still comes to my mind.