N-Echo in the Wynd
March 13, 1990 - November 3, 2000
What words can mark the passing of the sweetest dog in the world?
It's a cliché to say that she cannot be replaced, that the space she leaves in our hearts can never be filled, but for all that it is no less true.
Echo came into our lives when we weren't looking for another dog; we already had two. And as my red Doberman, Mako, had recently made it clear that the obedience ring wasn't for her, I was already mentally making space for another competition prospect and, not incidentally, having a little trouble convincing Marty that we could live with three dogs.
After all, you know what they say...
You got 1 dog, you got a dog.
You got 2 dogs, you got half a dog.
You got three dogs, you got no dog.
So when this well-bred three year old bitch came in need of foster care, my intentions were never to keep her. She was beautiful, sweet and well-behaved but a past accident had left her permanently disabled and her limp barred her from competition. If I convinced Marty to keep her, there would be no new obedience prospect for perhaps ten years.
Due to a dispute between her former owners and her breeder, Echo's stay with us lengthened and we began to feel some affection for her. And it wasn't just we humans who fell for her...
Two year old Mako washed out as a competition dog because she suffers from genetic shyness - the kind that can lead to fear-biting. Her problem manifests as an impaired ability to judge the intentions of strangers: she reads threat where there is none which may produce inappropriately defensive behavior. In her training she learned to substitute my judgement for her own, and so the condition was managed, but not cured. I finally came to believe it was unrealistic to subject her to the stays required in obedience competition without this support system.
And Mako remained reserved around other dogs, even to being unable to let herself play with our Rottweiler, Boomer. Boomer was a gentleman around bitches and never bullied or punished Mako, but still she could not trust him entirely - whatever friendly advances he made.
So imagine our complete surprise when after being here just a few weeks, Echo not only succeeded in playing with Mako, but brokered a new relationship between Mako and Boomer, drawing them repeatedly into rambunctious three-way play sessions.
Still, I was a rock; I couldn't waste my third dog spot on a non-starter.
He'll deny it to this day, but Marty was the first to crack. While we watched the dogs play one afternoon, he remarked "I guess four dogs isn't so many."
And so Echo became ours. Her relationship with Mako deepened over the years and I can honestly describe them as friends.
Konrad Lorenz wrote in Man Meets Dog:
I do not like sentimental anthropomorphization of animals. It makes me slightly sick when, in some magazine published by an animal defence society, I read the caption 'Good Friends' or something of the kind under a picture which portrays a cat, a dachshund and a robin all eating out of the same dish, or worse, as I recently saw, a Siamese cat and a little alligator sitting like two complete strangers next to each other.
Although Lorenz referred, in this instance, to 'friendships' between different species, I share his suspicion of whatever impulse humans have for claiming friendship wherever the protagonists decline to do one another damage.
Mako and Echo were not merely occasional playmates who ran into one another around the house and yard, however. They came and went together, and Echo indulged Mako's enormous passion for digging. She might spend hours patiently waiting while Mako was face down in a gopher hole. Periodically, Echo dug as well, but she never shared the obsession; she was a social digger at most.
And their bond extended beyond home. Touchingly, Mako relied upon Echo's social judgement in a way that made her trust in me pale by comparison. I recall a trip to the Renaissance Festival, in particular, where this became obvious. I had grown accustomed to protecting Mako from the advances of friendly strangers who inevitably fail to understand the difficulties shy dogs have and who persist, whatever they're told, in forcing their affection on it. Children, in particular, unnerved Mako and had to be steered to other dogs.
But not this time. Echo took the lead and greeted each new person first, allowing Mako to worm her way forward as if by accident and share in the petting, even to the point of allowing one little boy to kneel down and give her a bear-hug. It is hard enough for a shy dog to bear the touch of a stranger, let alone to be grabbed in such a fashion. In a million years I could never have brought Mako to that point, but Echo managed it.
Over the years, I never saw Echo misjudge or mistreat another dog. She played no-nonsense mama to various feisty pups, mentor and guide to Mako and kicking-ass, taking-names bitch to any horndogs that needed the lesson. No dog ever questioned her authority yet she never once harmed a hair on any of them. She had a weakness for stalking cats, but it never amounted to anything, she had utter respect for any parrot that might wander too close and without a word from me, she instantly understood that horses were to be unmolested and given their space.
The accident that crippled her, thus ending her career as showdog and brood bitch, happened before we owned her and is somewhat shrouded in mystery. Apparently she was released to play with the pack as usual one morning but failed to return when called. She was found, in a field, with two broken legs: the left fore and the right hind. There were no roads or machines anywhere close. Her owners surmised that she must have been at the center of a Doberman vortex and taken the kind of hit professional quarterbacks fear.
This unlikely disaster is less surprising to those who knew Echo. We always called her the pack dog because she really was happiest when surrounded by a jumble of rowdy dogs; I'm certain she initiated Mako into such play for completely selfish reasons! Another move that was "pure Echo" was how she spun in circles whenever she was excited, a trait I'm told she shared with her mother. So perhaps the two broken legs had something to do with this mad joyful spinning within the mob... we'll never know.
What we do know is that her elbow was shattered and needed to be pinned. The joint subsequently fused in a slightly bent position which left Echo with a permanent hopping gate. Although she was in no pain and actually ran easily on the leg, her limp provoked concern and pity whenever she ventured into public.
When the indominable American Staffordshire Terrier, Joxer, joined our family, true to form, Echo and he became fast friends. But try as she might, she could never get this puppy to accept her discipline as others before him had. He deferred, he apologized even, but still he persisted. She found it impossible to enforce her hitherto inflexible rules about personal space, finally relenting before his unflagging desire to "dog-pile" during naps. She wasn't losing it; this good-natured chutzpah is the key to his powers.
Echo was ten and a half years old when we had to say goodbye to her and I feel we didn't have half long enough. I've never met a wiser, kinder or more gentle soul and I do not expect to. She has left a hole in our home, our hearts and our family that we can only fill with memories of her. Even little Joxer feels it: the day after she went we found him napping alongside Echo's favorite spot in the hall which he'd thoughtfully left open in case his dog-piling pal should return.
Goodbye Echo-D-Decko; we miss you.