All About Hagen
For me, it was always all about Hagen.
I’d never had a dog. I’m not sure I ever particularly wanted a dog. I liked dogs, but never felt like having one was something that really mattered to me.
Then, in my 40’s, an old friend got a dog...a gorgeous Bernese Mountain Dog that was given to her. He needed a home and an attentive, loving owner – and that’s what he got. He was more than just an absolutely gorgeous dog; he was a loving, cuddly guy with tons of personality. I adored him, and the breed as well. His name was Gannett and he was practically the definition of “man’s best friend”. t didn’t matter that the time wasn’t ‘right’; my housing circumstances didn’t allow for a dog, and I wasn’t in a position to change that. That was disappointing...but it didn’t change the feeling.
It was some years later that my circumstances changed – I got a new job that took me to another state, and fortuitously, came with housing that DID allow for a dog. It didn’t take me long to decide that the time had come.
I did a lot of reading, a lot of research: different breeds; their characteristics & temperament; their needs and benefits. I wanted to choose a dog that suited me as best as possible. There were quite a few that sounded pretty good...but I’d really fallen for Gannett and the Bernese breed.
I decided that I would reach out to the breeder that Gannet had come from; they had quite a few dogs and they seemed to be healthy, happy, and good-looking...and their health history seemed pretty good – an important factor in this breed!
After some discussions with the breeder about the dogs they had, I made my choice of which ones I felt I liked the best, and told her that if those two expected puppies, I’d be ready to have one. Sure enough, barely 2 months later, those two were to be parents! I told her that I wanted one of the litter, and arranged to have “first pick”.
The puppies were born November 5th, 2008; a litter of 3 boys and 2 girls. Sadly, one of the girls was quite tiny and not healthy, and didn’t make it. I’d decided I wanted a boy; of the three boys, one had very odd markings and didn’t appeal to me. The other two had very distinct personalities: one was the rambunctious one, climbing all over everyone and tussling at every chance...the other was very calm, relaxed, and serene. I knew that HE was the one I wanted – I’d wanted a dog that would be a loving companion, and he was very good-looking as well. He was my choice. And he just got better-looking as the weeks went by!
I was just ecstatic at the prospect of having this little beauty come home and be my baby...so the following months were all about getting ready. Of course I got all the things I’d need: dishes, toys, beds, collars & leashes, dog crate, and all sorts of other things. But more importantly, I got books and read all about puppies and training and how to integrate a new puppy into your life, and give them what they need. I wanted to be as ready as I could, and give him the best home possible.
An interesting episode came up when I was trying to decide on a name.
I’d been doing the “name list” thing – you write down a list of all the names you like; then gradually cross them off until you pick one.
I was down to just a handful – 4 or 5 – and I liked them all. I couldn’t decide; and as the weeks passed, I started to think that he might come home without a name, and name himself – the way dogs often do, by something they do or some other characteristic. Then...that week I watched a favorite movie, “Gladiator”, starring Russell Crowe. In this movie, there’s a character by the name of “Hagen” that reminded me of a Bernese – German (though Bernese are actually Swiss), big & strong; a loyal friend. That name was on my list; I decided that was a great name and I called the breeder to suggest it. I asked her to say the name to him and see if he responded...and the first time she said it to him, his little ears perked up and he got the same expression he’d get for the rest of his life, whenever I’d say his name to him. And so he was named!
He came home January 10th, 2009. The breeder was in Thayer, Missouri – right down by the Arkansas line – and he was to come home via a 4-hour flight from Memphis, Tennessee to Denver, Colorado. The breeder got up a 3AM; fed and walked the puppies; then made the approximately 3-hour drive to Memphis. They got walked again before they got on their planes; then a 4-hour flight to Denver, where I was to pick him up at the cargo terminal.
I’d gotten a friend who wanted to spend the weekend in the Denver area to drive down with me; we met up the morning I was to pick Hagen up at the airport. I was as nervous as could be...the thought of my little baby puppy riding in a dog-crate for hours, then going through the experience of being unloaded, moved to the cargo terminal, and waiting for me...
The encouraging part was that the breeder had selected a special flight – a plane that had a designated pet-transport compartment that was separate from the human-passenger area, but still in the pressurized part of the plane (thus temperature- and atmosphere- controlled!). And – I was at the cargo terminal, standing at the counter, waiting...when the plane had barely even arrived, let alone been unloaded!
After much waiting – with the anticipation escalating by the minute – they brought him out to me. I was so relieved – I was sure he’d be scared, hungry & thirsty, need to “go”, all kinds of things. All I wanted was to get him out of the crate and feeling safe again. They put his crate on the counter, and I quickly signed for his acceptance. And – to my absolute surprise – he was sitting in his crate, calm as a pond at daybreak; looking stoically out of the grate as if he were watching a toothpaste commercial!
I immediately took him outside and opened his crate and picked him up. He was incredibly calm! I cuddled him and welcomed him to my life – what a joyous moment. (photos omitted)
After giving him some treats & water and a chance to “go”, we got into the car and headed for home – what would be a 7+ hour drive. My friend had agreed to drive the whole way home, so that I might hold my boy and bond with him, comforting him as we made the long drive home. He lay peacefully in my arms as we drove, happy as could be.
We stopped a couple of times so that he might have a moment to “go” and explore a bit of the outside world. One of them was the first time he’d seen snow, and it was a predictably adorable moment! (photos omitted)
We got to Telluride well into the evening; I dropped my driver friend off and went home, just a few miles away. I’d made everything ready – I had food, toys, dishes, crate ready – everything. We did one more potty outside, and inside to bed we went. It’d been a long day for everyone!
Of course, he cried a bit about being in the crate, those first few nights. I had the crate right next to my bed so he could hear me and smell me; I talked to him a bit, and was sure to get up a couple of times to take him out, so he wouldn’t be uncomfortable. But he got used to the crate quickly, and was sleeping comfortably in no time. It wasn’t more than a month or two before he slept through the night.
I also put him in his crate in the daytime; my job basically entailed working in/around home, so I’d put him in the crate and have him stay by himself for a bit – starting at a half-hour or so, working up to a couple or three hours. This was really just to get him used to being by himself, and to learn that when I left, I’d always come back. It worked great – he never once in his life showed any signs of separation anxiety, or acted out in any way. It was the first of many times I was just dumbstruck at how incredibly well behaved he was.
It was January; I’d flattened out a large area in the (VERY deep) snow around my house to be able to take him outside and teach him that it was the right place to potty. Not surprisingly, there was a few episodes where he’d march into the middle of a room and ‘go’ right there...but I’d prepared for his training (including his housebreaking-training) very well, and taught him that it was outside where he was supposed to go. He ‘went’ inside just a handful of times before he “got it”, and it never happened again.
Meanwhile – I was exhilarated to have this adorable creature in my life. We played all the time and of course I took numberless photos of him.
I reveled in how fast he learned, how well behaved he was; he never once chewed a wire or a rug or a shoe or a chair leg. He was attentive and playful and OH so soulful – from the very first, he displayed so much personality, such affection, and perhaps even a sense of humor.
There was a period in his early months – perhaps 4 months old to about 7 or 8 months – where he had what I called a “soft stomach” – it seemed that he’d often have indigestion or even diarrhea. Although I learned later that this isn’t uncommon, I was very concerned – he was a growing puppy, skinny legs and all, and I wanted to be certain that he was getting good nutrition and growing healthily.
At first, I consulted the breeder – a LOT. Lots of emails, quite a few phone calls, expressing my concerns. Enough that the breeder became frustrated, even annoyed, at my persistent inquiries. So much so that she actually proposed that I RETURN Hagen to her! That was actually a pretty traumatic time – she tried to convince me that I should give him up for HIS own good. After much confusing soul-searching, I decided that I couldn’t possibly give him up...a decision for which I was thankful for every day for many years to come!
In the small town where I lived, there was just one single veterinary clinic. I took him there, and very quickly became disillusioned with their treatment of him – their approach was all about controlling symptoms with medication. I never cared for this approach, even in human health; so naturally, I objected to them treating my puppy in this manner. I stopped going there in just a couple of months.
There was another veterinarian just under an hour away; I started taking him there. They weren’t much better. In fact, we were their patient up to the time he turned a year old and was ready to be fixed. When they did tests on him to ensure his health was OK for the surgery, they found a natural crystallization in his urine called struvites. They raised great alarm; prescribed all sorts of medications, and they wanted to put him on a brand of dog food that has many varieties that are formulated for various conditions – a brand known to be of utterly inferior food quality – and even suggested that he’d ALWAYS have to eat it. They had me bring him in twice monthly for some time, to test his urine for these struvite levels, and continued to give him medications. It cost an absolute FORTUNE over a few months, and it never changed. I was scared and frustrated.
It was about this time that a friends’ wife, who also had two young Bernese, referred me to the veterinarian she took her dogs to. The vet was nearly an hour and a half away, but she spoke glowingly about the vet and said she wouldn’t take them anywhere else.
To make a long story short – I went there and was delighted at the vet, her treatment philosophies, and her personal style. She was Hagen’s vet from that day on, for the rest of his life!
Hagen’s first year with me couldn’t have been easy. Or at least, not simple. I faced quite a few upheavals. I don’t think any of them necessarily affected him directly, but they certainly affected me. And while they all presented an ongoing string of challenges, it never once tainted my absolute devotion to Hagen. If anything, it was my adoring love for him that gave me something to focus on, rather than be consumed by the difficulties I was having.
The first thing that happened was ‘the concussion’.
I’d had a number of “small” concussions – perhaps four, spread over the previous 15 years or so – none of which were particularly grave. What I didn’t know is that concussions are cumulative in nature, with each one doing more damage by compounding the damage from before.
So, barely a week after Hagen came home, I slipped on a sheet-icy surface at home and hit my head on the stone wall of the house. I don’t mean hit - I mean SLAMMED. The impact was comparable to a full-windup swing of a baseball bat.
I didn’t even go to the hospital – there wasn’t much of a choice. I had an 11-week-old puppy to care for, and I didn’t know a soul that I could ask to cover for me. I’m lucky it wasn’t worse...so I gutted it out for a few days until the worst of it passed, never once failing to take him out, feed him, or anything else he needed.
The next thing was my dismissal.
In July of 2008, I’d relocated from Wyoming, where I’d held a long-term and very successful position, to Colorado, for a new job. The new job was NOT a success by any measure; while I was fully capable of mastering the job and put boundless effort into it, it was apparent within just a few months that my employer was not satisfied with me. The relationship and the work environment became incredibly stressful. Our mutual unhappiness grew until the spring of 2009, when he informed me that I was being dismissed and would be expected to vacate my home by the end of May.
This was a pretty devastating blow for me – besides experiencing a failure of sorts in a field that I dearly loved, was very good at, and had succeeded vastly in – it came at a time when the Great Recession had plunged the economy off a cliff. Where I was once a highly-sought professional with significant success under my belt, suddenly the landscape had changed, my field of work contracted drastically and even someone of my stature in the industry was cast aside.
I found myself facing a looming deadline where I’d be both unemployed and homeless. And I found a place to stay for the summer with just 2 days to go before I was to be out of my current home. So Hagen, at barely 6 months old, had to be uprooted from his comfortable and familiar home and moved to a new one.
Worse yet – at the end of that summer, we had to move AGAIN – and again, with nowhere to go. And again, at the last minute, I found a place where we’d be able to move in, renting a room from a homeowner. The catch was: we had our current place through the end of September – but couldn’t move into the new place until the middle of November!!!
It was during this time that he first was traumatized by a firecracker. We were in a town nearby, sitting at an outdoor café on a sunny fall day. A foolish teenager was walking by and tossed a lit firecracker into the little courtyard; it exploded and every dog there – 3 of them – absolutely hit the ceiling. And poor little Hagen was terrified! Sadly, it would not be the last episode like this...but it set him up for a lifetime of fear of sudden & unnatural noises.
It happened again when he was about 2-1/2 or 3; on a Christmas Eve in Telluride, walking home from work. It was dinnertime, but already fully dark out. A couple of drunken tourists were outside a local bar, ‘amusing’ themselves by tossing lit firecrackers at passersby and delighting in the terrified reactions of having an explosion happen at their feet. In our case, they tossed a firecracker that caught in Hagen’s fur and exploded. It scared him about to death – he probably thought he’d been shot or something! He wasn’t burned or otherwise injured, nor was his hearing damaged – but he was never the same after that.
Back to the job/housing circus:
The solution to the gap in housing was to put every last bit of my belongings – quite a lot at that time, as I’d been living a pretty “normal” life up to then – into storage, and hitting the road for an extended road trip of over six weeks. We traveled, we camped, and I ended up spending several weeks visiting a dear old friend and his wife in New York State. And all the time, Hagen was a trooper, going along with it all, every bizarre episode.
When we got back to Colorado, I started a peon-job I’d gotten for the winter, so I didn’t starve; but it meant that I had to leave him at home every day. By this time he wasn’t sleeping in his crate – he slept with me. So I’d get up in the morning, take him out & feed him, and go to work, leaving him home. I left his crate ready for him to hang out in; but he wasn’t really interested. He’d lie on my bed while I was at work. I’d rush home on my lunch break to take him out & spend a little time with him; go back to work; and then rush home again after work.
This went on for most of the next year – rushing home during breaks to tend to him. I hated not being with him and leaving him all day. And to top it all off, the next spring, there was ANOTHER move to a new place for him to adjust to!
By now, Hagen was about 1-1/2 and had been through quite a lot. But he was, as ever, an absolutely perfect little companion – he never seemed to ‘complain’ or be upset about his situation and was unfailing in his love for me. What a treasure!
It was about this time that I got a job that he could come to with me. This was a great blessing – at the time, I was working furiously to find a new position in my career field, and not succeeding – so in the absence of any progress there, all that mattered to me was him. He’d been a bottomless source of joy through some grueling times, which included ongoing housing problems, unemployment, and absolutely brutal post-concussion complications.
Another thing that was a treasured memory was Telluride’s 4th of July parade – a terrific annual event; at that time, it was a real-live old-fashioned small-town parade.
We took part in an annual tradition of entering the parade with a large number of owners of dogs of his breed – a real theme entry, complete with Swiss bells, authentic German dress, and the carts that Bernese are famed for pulling. Hagen was absolutely fantastic at the cart-pulling! Though he had a somewhat shy streak and was a bit jittery around large or noisy crowds, he was absolutely calm and focused when harnessed up and pulling the cart. I barely had to train him – he was an absolute natural!
Time went by – months, then years – of furiously trying to cull
job opportunities from a field of work that had all but
disappeared, at the same time it had become overrun with an
explosion of participants offering their services for next to
nothing, effectively reducing the field to volunteer work. It
became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to re-enter my chosen
field. I applied myself to my existing job, trying to count my blessings – after all, I got to spend every day with my beloved boy, which he was also clearly pleased by. Our bond was vastly deepened by the ability to be together so much.
He’d been an incredibly adorable puppy; and he’d grown into an equally gorgeous adult. He was not only stunning-looking; but he was so incredibly well-behaved that he attracted enormous attention at every moment, everywhere we went. I wished I got near as much attention!
In the years to come, he was the center of my world; there really wasn’t much else for me to care as much about. I used to say that if I ever met a woman who adored me even 5% as much as he did, I’d have married her that weekend!
There simply was nothing I wouldn’t do, or anything I wouldn’t sacrifice, for him and whatever was best for him. And I like to think that he knew how much I adored him. And
I was a better person as his doggy-daddy than I've been any other time in life. I was selfless and loving and open and trusting and giving.
There were so many things about him that were just priceless:
• He wasn’t territorial; didn’t bark at everything; didn’t chase; he wasn’t aggressive
with other dogs or people.
• He was faithful; obedient; attentive on me - so happy just to be my dog! He