Vale, Valley

Valley was my second German Shepherd.

For those who are into pedigrees, she was by the Champion sire Quincito Awol, a beautiful dog with great presence, a lovely head, beautifully proportioned and with that tireless, effortless gait that German Shepherd breeders love. Awol had a bad start in life, and was rescued by the well-known German Shepherd enthusiast, Tom Luxton, who rehabilitated him. There were snide remarks around the traps that Awol (or “Buddy” as he was known as to his friends) had a poor temperament, but Tom said that any problems were as a result of him being virtually locked up and isolated for two years, and it was a credit to him that he recovered a well as he did.

Tom Luxton put out a video showing Awol enthusiastically leaping into water and tirelessly fetching a huge stick, barking in what seemed to be a confident and courageous way and generally showing no signs of nervousness. He was chosen by German Shepherd judges to be one of the top three sires of his generation. Valley was very typical of her dad. Like him, she was large, long in the body, tall in the legs but perfectly in proportion. She was black and tan but with a reddish hue that was very attractive, she had big ears, a “Roman nose”, boundless enthusiasm and she was very vocal. She inherited Awol’s obsession with plunging into water and fetching big sticks. It’s interesting how such specific behaviours can be genetically determined. Valley’s mother, Narnia Key, was a large and striking dog, but without Awol’s presence and personaity. She also tended to be aggressive to other dogs. Valley took after her father more than her mother.

Valley was a very emotional dog, a complete contrast to my first German Shepherd, River, who was four years older and a thinker. She was the most intelligent dog I have ever had, and showed signs of being in the top few percent (at least) in the doggy population as regards intelligence, and she often seemed to demonstrate cognitive abilities that dogs were not supposed to have. Valley, on the other hand, ran on emotion and enthusiasm, but a cognitive thought never so much as crossed her mind. She was very conditionable and responsive to training, and always got it right when I asked her to do something, but I had the impression that her response was coming from somewhere below the brain stem.

Like Awol and all his progeny, she was very late-maturing, and it wasn’t until she was about five years old that I asked her to do something, and when she responded I had the odd, intangible impression that for the first time she actually knew what she was doing, rather than just doing it. River, by complete contrast, when she did something new, seemed to consciously understand and know what she was doing, and could therefore do it unerringly, with no need for “conditioning” or repetition. If given the same problem, River would think about it and work out the solution, while Valley would rush around in circles until she hit upon something at random.

One day Valley had been watching my puppy class, as River and Valley always did, usually disapprovingly. A puppy had been playing with a knotted tea towel as a tug toy. This was hard to Valley to bear. As soon as the class finished and I was saying goodbye to my client, she rushed forward and picked up the discarded tea towel and promptly swallowed it. She developed an obstruction, and got peritonitis. This happened twice in her life. It didn’t kill her, but her life hung in the balance as she underwent surgery, and had a long post-operative recovery period.

At the age of eleven and a half, Valley became unwell, seriously depressed. The vet wasn’t sure what the problem was but he thought it was a problem with some vital internal organ.

The pioneering American dog trainer and writer, former Monk of New Skete, Job Michael Evans, said that each dog should have their own special song that you sing to them every day, for a few minutes of special quality time. I had the privilege of meeting Job in 1993, when he was the keynote speaker at the inaugural conference of the APDT in Toronto, Canada, organised by Dr Ian Dunbar. Job had AIDS and sadly died a few months later.

River had her song. When Valley was sick, her song, which I played to comfort myself, was the hauntingly beautiful “Angels Guard Thee”, sung by Scottish tenor Kenneth McKellar.

“Awake not yet from thy repose
A faring spirit hovers near thee
Weaving a web of golden rose
Through dreamland’s happy isles to bear thee

Sweet love
It is not yet the dawn
Angels guard thee,
Sweet love, till morn”

The song was originally written as a poem, and I think it was about a parent watching over a sick child. Another line goes “thus may life be to thee a sweet existence charmed”. That summed up Valley.

Valley had an injection, anti-inflammatories I think, and bounced back suddenly. When I brought her home she sprang out of the car and leapt over the fence into my front yard. Sadly, this recovery was only short-lived. She declined again, and I took her back to the vet. She had to stay overnight. I got a phone call in the morning from the vet to say that he had found her dead in her cage when he came in that morning. I went in to see her body, and her ears were still soft.

I always felt bad that Valley had died alone. I felt I had let her down, although I realise that dogs supposedly prefer to go off by themselves to die. I swore I would never let it happen again. When my third German Shepherd, Elgar, had to stay at the vet clinic (also because of an obstruction) I asked the vet if I could stay with him. I slept (or rather, didn’t sleep) on the floor next to his cage – the same cage that Valley had died in. He survived, but also had the “eleven and a half gene”. He followed a similar pattern to Valley, in that he had a mysterious condition that caused a sudden decline. He also picked up, and came home for the weekend. On Monday night, I called him to come into the bedroom, where we slept. He came, obedient as ever, and collapsed at my feet, dead. However, Elgar is a whole ‘nother story. My father died the next day.

I told my psychiatrist, John Munro, that Valley had died. He was a dog lover, had met Valley and had a German Shepherd of his own. I told him about her song, and he thought it was a strange idea, and laughed. I got upset and accused him of disrespecting Valley. He said he didn’t mean to. The next week, to make a point, I brought in the Kenneth McKellar CD and played the song to John. To my surprise, he started crying. “Shit!” he said (psychiatrists don’t like crying in front of patients). He told me that he recognised the song. It had been played at the funeral of a close friend and neighbour who had died suddenly, not long before.

Vale, Valley
A sweet existence charmed

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  1. Thank you very much for your very generous comments, Buddy was a marvelous dog and I was very lucky to own him. Lou Donald talked me into buying him which will be ever thankful to him.

    • Hi Tom, good to hear from you. You wouldn’t know me, but I knew you (from afar) at the GSDCV. By co-incidence I was with Christine (Powell / Wall / Ross) tonight. She was Valley’s breeder, Narnia was her kennel prefix. She was interested to hear that you had made contact. A bitch puppy from Valley’s first litter was bought by Ted Bieneck and became the foundation bitch of his Kennel. She is in the pedigree of the lovely sire (kennel name escapes me) Elton John. I have a very special GSD in class now by that dog, bred by Dawn Howard. It’s nice to know that Valley “lived on” andcAwol as well, of course. Do you still have dogs? After my last GSD died I had to downsize. I now have a Smooth Collie. Still a working dog, but smaller and easier to manage. Christine has also downsized and breeds Hungarian Pulis, or Pulik, she would say to be correct. One more interesting thing. Chance, my last GSD, came to me via rescue, after being surrendered with papers to the RSPCA. To my amazement, her papers showed that she was Valley’s great grand daughter (I think), descended from Ted Bieneck’s bitch, Narnia Xenda. I remember that she was by Denargun Browned Off. Somehow I lost her papers, and I can find no record of this litter. Odd. Chance had Valley’s enthusiasm but was a tougher dog. Sadly, I lost her to hemangiosarcoma. Kind regards, Kaye


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