We are watching one of those inspiring if bitter-sweet dramas played out this fall  here in our little Tidewater Virginia household. Akemi, named after the legendary Japanese beauty, our six-year old Airedale was diagnosed with cancer about two months ago.
Akemi is a hillbilly, from the southern Appalachian southwest corner of Virginia. When we followed up on an advertisement and made the long journey to the kennel that raised her, she was a four=month old affectionate little puppy. But she had one floppy ear, the result the breeder told us, of an accident when her mom was whelping her, licking the newborn puppies, but accidentally biting the ear. Of course, that was all it took for Aki, my lifelong friend, to decide she had to join our household. The ride home was a hoot and a constant howl. Akemi had usurped the seat of Ni’shiki,[“an accoutrement which enhances all around it”], her bridegroom. But although he serenaded her with a constant bark, it was love at first sight.
Recently, we had noticed a large lump growing on her left front leg. I feel guilty that we hadn’t caught it earlier, but with her quite nice “feathers”, and a nasty set of sores she seems to have become infected with from her recently deceased mate. We also had been preoccupied with a new puppy [not yet a year], Mi-nie, Girl of the Golden West, imported from Kansas as the intended bride of Yama Nobori. Akemi’s daughter-in-law to be she is a little terror even by Airedale standards. [Nobori, “mountain guide”, the bridgegroom, gets his name from the fact that he could and often did climb in and out of the pen in our living room with his 11 siblings from three weeks!]
Alas! when we got to the vet for the surgery, our very good doctor did an x-ray and found the cancer had already metastasized and reached her lungs. Surgery would be a useless effort to stop the illness she told us. Furthermore, she described it as being “very aggressive”.
But contrary to her prediction, Akemi is in remission now for several weeks. She has a healthy appetite for the chicken, cow’s liver and homemade whole-wheat bread we feed her. She has lost a good deal of weight. But the wretched sores are better. And although she becomes exhausted quickly, she races down the five back steps into the garden against the puppy and Nobori. She still polices the front door, and when she is out is there barking at other dogs walking along her otherwise quiet street. A couple of days ago she was chasing one of the rabbits that occasionally turn into semi-rural backyard.
We carefully watch for pain. But thus far have seen known. She does gag occasionally. And she makes more noises lying in my bed at night than even I [although I am told my snoring is almost under control with the new Breathe right band aid over my nose!]
What a glorious conquest of Airedale spirit over adversity! I have seen it before, but not in such dramatic form. As my own growing list of geriatric ailments close in, I take inspiration from Akemi for the few days she will still have with us.
Our new puppy, Minnie, Girl of the Golden West [Puccini: La fanciulla del West , that’s Itai so MEAN-knee, she is from Kansas] is marvelous! ]. Her antics, her incredible joie de vivre, almost restores one’s faith in humans!
Yeah! Yeah! I know you are supposed to dig up the bulks, separate them, and dry them out and then replant them. Wanna come and do it for me? .
But lo and behold! this morning [mid-May], I see a row of marvelous blooms, as deep and lovely almost black “murasaki” as those at the Meijijinju, growing in water, in Tokyo.
When out late highly lamented friend, Nish’ki, used to do his pooperoo in the backyard at dawn and I painfully stooped to pick it up in our special, cheap Sam’s plastic bags, for the garbaage, started toward the end of his life doing it in what we called the lilly bed — really a collection of the lilly blades, weeds, some grass, and some of the pesky wild grape that dogs this property and which is so very sneaky and difficult to control. [I wonder if I could splice a real grape, a wine grape, off them?]
We are very careful about the poop, because with our former three big Airedales, it could mount up, with the stench and underfoot in the summer, nearby neighbors, and all that. [Why can’t dogpoop be used in the compost? I thought poop was poop. After all human poop was — and still is — used all over Asia. It is an academic question; Aki says no compost bin on our little part of the universe because of the flies, other insects, etc.]
Picking up Nish’ki’s poop in “the lilly patch” was just too difficult, so it was allowed to settle in, out of sight, with an occasional wetting down with a hose when it got too stinky or too obvious.
I can’t but believe those beautiful purple blooms this morning are anything but another last gift from the king of dogs, the ohy’bun, we loved so well, and whom we all miss months after he slipped away.
Publication in worldtribune.com Monday,. April 15, 2013
Nish’ki slipped away from us Friday morning. Even the attempts of one of his offspring to call him back as he lay dying on the kitchen floor didn’t help. He would have been 12 come April 21. His braveheart, apparently couldn’t keep up any more, even though only a few days earlier he was still friskying around his mate who would have none of it since she has been spayed.
Among all our Airedales going back over half a century, Nish’ki was exceptional. He had incredible intelligence, a sense of order, and his own view of everything that often led him to be less than obedient, even by the relatively low standard for discipline among the King of the Terriers. His bright little eyes were always aware of everything – if something was moved in a room in the house, he noticed it and would stare at the new situation for some time, often barking to let us know something had changed. Outside there wasn’t a sparrow that didn’t catch his attention.
His sense of order meant that come 7:30am, I had to get out of bed. He needn’t go outside for his adulations, necessarily, at least not right away. But I had to get up, dress, and go into the kitchen or he would keep barking, fiercely, eventually pawing the bed and me. When mealtime came, although he got his bowl filled on the floor first as Oyabun, head of his little clan, he would not start eating until the others began – for whatever reason that was his routine and nothing was to disturb it.
His favorite place, on a towel at the door to the bathroom was sacrosanct – he nor any of our others ever took to an expensive dog bed. If someone else took it, we heard about it until it was vacated for him for his nightly watch. Sometimes he did do me the honor of climbing into a corner of my bed.
He wasn’t a great one for petting: occasionally, for whatever reason, he would wander over for a few strokes at his time and choosing. Only a few moments before he died, he stood for twenty minutes or so with his head in Aki’s lap, apparently anticipating the inevitable, while they had a conversation. But usually he liked to be left to his own although always within sight or sound of one of the household humans. His language abilities were remarkable: only a few days before his death, when his name was mentioned in an ongoing human conversation about something else and he had seemed to be dozing nearby, he picked up on it, barked and waged his tail.
He came from Florida royalty, show dogs. One of a dozen, first litter, puppies, he apparently had that gene, for when he and Ahkemi had their only litter, it too was 12 wonderful little creatures, not a runt in the litter. His mate is a hunting dog, a peasant from southwest Virginia, and their partnership was love at first sight. From the time she jostled him out of his favorite seat in the car when we went to pick her up, he was a dedicated lover. Even her snippy “nos” after she was desexed never quite convinced him.
He had a long and adventurous life, from the time as a few weeks old puppy he carried palm fronds a dozen times longer dancing around our Boca Raton garden, to his adventures in a dog park in Arlington. He always rolled with the punches. Once when a huge, nasty German Police – as we used to call them – went after him aggressively in the park, he backed off, then came back and stood his ground a few feet away, barking, saying for all to hear, what the hell is the matter with you, I just want to be friends. Another time I had to dive in with bloody hands and separate him from the throat of a sneaky little Spitz who had attacked him on the pathway for no reason neither he nor I could discern. In Newport News, with a big backyard, he was something of a poor little rich boy, until we found him a mate.
It’s tough around here right now: I almost fried three eggs this morning instead of the two we need now for the mutts. There’s stillness around the house; Nish’ki was a talker. There is a good deal of introspection about life and death; how suddenly a whole world of an animal – be it dog or man – is suddenly gone. I suppose only dogowners/lovers will accept the argument that there is something unique about the relationship between man and dog. No other animal – perhaps barring horses, I have never ridden – establishes the kind of bond of intimacy with man that a dog does. It’s trite but it is true: Nish’ki sometimes seemed to know what you were thinking, what you would do next, before you did it. That personal loyalty and introspection that dogs have for an owner/friend is rarely present in relationships among humans, alas! even among the most intimate, for unlike human relationships, it is totally undemanding. We had it from Nish’ki.
Nishiki, appropriately enough, is a Japanese word for something that enhances the beauty and the benefice of other objects around it..
Posted on October 16, 2011 by
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I am looking pretty glum here. not my usual happy demeanor. My minder [that’s Ye Olde Crabb himself] finally got around to taking my anniversary portrait. I was 10 in April, you know, not exactly decrepit but getting on for us Airedales.
I am not usually this quiet. But it’s been a rough week — the parrot is sick, my woman since her “operaton” isn’t all that friendly, and our offspring, is a big lout, about a half again my size and when he runs into you when we scramble, you know what hit you.
But then that’s the way it is with oyabun, you got to run the mob wherever it takes you.
I will get that guy to take a better picture and we will show you the family, too, next time.
Until then, happy birthday to me — and peace.
Nishi’ki, the laird at Gloucester Courthouse, Tidewater Virginia
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Happy Jewish New Year from three [yep! 3] Airedales? You may well ask
—– Original Message —–From:Subject: Re: Happy New YearThanx, but THREE Airedales?In a message dated 9/26/2011 10:38:38 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:To my family, my friends and my colleagues, and anyone else who needs encouragement in a time of troubles–!שנה טובה ומבורכתHappy Jewish New Year!from Ye Olde Crabb, Aki and The Three Airedales
Canine vocabularies we have known
Nish’ki, the old man, is miffed again. He has read the results of a “scientific inquiry” reporting the average dog has a vocabulary of only 167 words. The Old Boy says not only does he have a much larger call on sound, but he is trilingual — he speaks English, Japanese, and Aire. [The latter is an Anglo-Saxon dialect from his native Yorkshire, known only to his intimates, Ahkhemi, his spouse, and YamaNoburi, his hefty male offspring. It is very poetic and like its literary cousin, Old English. for example, used in such epics as Beowulf; it has a lot of hefty aspirate sounds like “wuff!wuff!] Furthermore, as we who know him are aware, he is a polymath, with, for example, an incredible GPS. [He found a hidden first cucumber in our vegetable patch this week, which along with a couple of tomatoes, also the first, and a newly arrived Japanese egg plant made a wonderful ratatouille, the first of the season!]
The luckiest dog in the world
Not only did he survive three weeks floating on a piece of roof debris, rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard, but his owner was a tsunami survivor and came to reclaim him.