Albi, Our Hungarian Princess

Albi the dog passed away peacefully in the evening on April 22, 2014, laying on her bed in our kitchen. She was more than 17 years old. The two people that loved her more than their own souls were with her, holding her and petting her. Songs meant to keep her calm and comforted were played - and the dish washer was run earlier, to equal effect.

In June 2003, while living in Germany, and after mourning the loss of my beloved Wiley and watching my beloved Buster mope around at being alone, I decided that I would adopt another dog much sooner than I had intended. Stefan, my then EX boyfriend (yes, you read that right), insisted on joining me in visit the Albert Schweitzer Tierheim in Bonn, the local animal shelter. Near the back of the Tierheim, there were two dogs in a kennel together, a Pit Bull and a German Shepherd mix. The German Shepherd mix was sleeping in the grass, her head facing away from us. She looked like a bottle of ink poured out in a perfect line onto green paper. The sign on the fence said her name was Albi. I called her name, and she raised her head and looked back at us. I said it again, and she got up and came over, giving our fists a lick through the fence and then looking at us with such a sweet face. When she realized we weren't going to take her out, she wandered back over to her spot in the grass and laid back down.

Her profile said she was born in 1997, and that she had been at the shelter since December 23, 2002. Her first shelter was in Pecs, Hungary and, at least at the time, maintained by the Hungarian animal protection society, Misina. At the time of Albi's adoption, according to what I read on the Internet, Tina and Jürgen Bolz would drive from Germany to Hungary to help the animal shelter in Pecs, going every 14 days to bring animals back to Germany. Any dog not adopted after two weeks at the Hungarian shelter was killed. So Tina and Jürgen saved Albi. I've never met them, but I will always be grateful to these two people, as well as to everyone at the Bonn shelter (the Pecs shelter is now supported by this German organization).

Albi's profile also said that she was fine with "quiet children" or a companion dog. It also said:

Albi comes out of a Hungarian animal home to us. She appeared originally very anxious and intimidated. She later adjusted and now is happy to be in an open, cheerful and sporting dog home. She enjoys people and her daily walks, including walks with other dogs. Her home should have no stairways, as she has problems with her hip.

Who can be charmed of Albi's charm?

I won't repeat the story of how we adopted Albi - but it's a good one, I promise. And once we adopted Albi, Stefan was my boyfriend again. She would have already been special to us just for being her, but that's always made her extra special. 

We saw no problems with Albi's hips at all, not then, and not for probably 5 years. No, the problem wasn't her hips; the problem was she bullied Buster when I wasn't home, even drawing blood at least once. I was furious. Buster was the joy of my life, my rock, my best friend, and as much as I loved Albi, even after a just few weeks, I was realizing I might have to take her back to the shelter, something I had vowed I would NEVER do EVER in my entire life. I embarked on an Internet search and came up with with what I like to call the Jayne is the Queen, not Albi, who is just a princess strategy (it's actually a strategy that has an official name: earned affection). I also put Buster in my bedroom with the door closed whenever I left. Albi learned quickly that there was no lovin' for her unless Buster was getting lovin' too. She wanted desperately to please me, and that meant NOT attacking Buster. I wrote at length about all of the things I did so she would not just tolerate Buster in our house, but like him. And it was working. At left is a photo of me trying to tell Albi, telepathically, to please, please stop attacking Buster.

And then, in late August, Albi went into heat. I hadn't gotten her fixed because my vet had all but refused - as she was 6 1/2 when I adopted her, he felt she was too old for such major surgery, and that she was too old to get any cancer-prevention benefits from such. I am Ms. Get Your Pets Fixed, so it was a hard decision to make not to have her fixed then - but, wow, her going into heat was the end of Buster not liking Albi, and vice versa. Yes, Buster was fixed. Yes, he was 14. But neither of those conditions stopped him from being completely attentive to Albi, long after she was out of heat and for the rest of his life. Dog hormones. Geesh. Although, with that said, we still had to keep them separate when we weren't home - she was still a bully when unsupervised.

In that first year, she would sit next to me after our morning walk and breakfast, and stare at me while I typed at the computer, waiting patiently to be petted. She LOVED to be cuddled, and to stick her head into my belly when I knelt beside her, as though she was trying to hide. In the one year she was allowed in the bed with me, she would curl up underneath my arm and lay her head on my chest, sometimes looking up at me as if to say, "Is this for real?!?" She also liked to try to pick up anything I set down -- my shoe, my homework, a shopping list, a sock... she jumped for joy when I came home from work, and again when we are about to go for a walk. I first saw her in snow in January 2004 and Albi went berserk running around in it - she had every one in Panoramaplatz, the park next to our home in Bad Godesberg, laughing. 

With other dogs, outside the house, including with Buster, Albi was sweet, playful, or gentle - whatever the situation called for. Because she looked like a full blooded German Shepherd, but was half the size, and because of her attitude, people back then thought she was 7 months old, not 7 YEARS old. After I'd had her a year, in 2004, I wrote this:

She is sooooo playful... She wants to play when I get up, when I get home, and about an hour before bed. I have been taking a ball with us on our walks after work, and she's so funny with it: she runs after the ball, runs past the ball, runs back to the ball, picks it up, shakes it like crazy to "kill" it, runs past me with the ball, and drops it several meters behind me and runs off. She loves to run, and loves all but three other dogs, and it's so nice to have a dog I can leave off leash when we are in a park. With other dogs, most of the time, she runs like crazy at the dog, scaring the dog to death, smells him or her, then runs like crazy back to me. The end. She's still so in love with Stefan. And with Mario, one of my dog sitters. Stefan and I took her walking up a small mountain/hill/whatever near my house, and she was an angel. I just cannot believe someone gave this dog up. She's so loving and sweet and well-behaved. I took her to the vet to get chipped, and when we were done... Dr. (Rainer) Hermann stared at her for a moment, and said, while looking at her with such affection, "She is smiling, I think. Yes, and, sometimes, she is even laughing." You have to hear that in his wonderful warm voice and German accent to really appreciate it. She's come a long way since I first got her.

A few months later, I wrote this:

Albi is laying underneath my desk, as I write this particular part, and she is in this perfect position to stare right up at me, right at my face. Her face is framed by my arms as I type. And I keep laughing, because I will glance down, and there she is, looking up earnestly at me, like the cat in Shrek 2. It's so funny. And Buster keeps rushing up out of no where to lick her frantically. And when she growls too much and I pull her away, he licks me frantically. Then he walks away and lays down.

I bet I said, "Who is the world gave this dog up?!" more than a thousand times in our more than a decade together.

She assumed all people liked her, and seemed particularly drawn to men, but she was never fond of teenage boys - she would immediately get behind me when we were walking and a group was approaching.

The dogs and I, and Stefan, all moved in together, in Sinzig, in Fall 2004, and Albi flourished. Our daily walk was down in a valley below our house - a road rarely used by cars, used mostly by hikers and bikers, that lead up to a prisoner of war cemetery created by the Allies for German soldiers that died in the notorious POW camp near Remagen. Our walk crossed the Ahr River twice, and it was idyllic.

After passing the cemetery and crossing the river again via a little wooden bridge, we would come to Schwanenteich Tiergarten for abandoned farm animals. They had a couple of horses, a donkey (that LOVED me), goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese and peacocks. Albi liked the ponies and the mule at the Tiergarten okay, but she HATED the goats and sheep. Albi LOVED running along the chicken cages, terrorizing the chickens. I let her, because the chickens would run frantically to the other side of the cage, then saunter calmly right back to the other side, forgetting that THERE'S A DOG THERE. But she always pretended she didn't' see the geese, and that makes me think she was a farm dog once upon a time.

Albi in the Spring 2005

She decided that hunting mice in the fields we walked through every morning was her official job, and there was something hilarious about her suddenly pouncing, landing with her nose to the ground and rear-end stuck up high in the air. She tried hundreds of times, and caught two... which she dropped when I told her to (in my oh-so-pleasant hysterical voice). Both, I'm sorry to say, did not survive their capture. And then there was the time she caught a wild rabbit. The rabbit screamed, I screamed, she dropped the rabbit (it ran away) and she just looked at me as if to say "WHAT?!?"

I cherish every one of those walks together in Sinzig. I can't put into words how special they were. No matter what problem I was facing, I could leave it behind on those walks. It was our moment of zen: just Albi, me, and fields all around us that were always beautiful, whether full of rapeseed or wheat or bare ground, freshly plowed. Were there a heaven, it would be that.

A couple of times, we passed people and dogs in a dog behavior class, and Albi walked right by my side, off leash, looking at the other dogs but not going over because I didn't tell her she could - and the dog owners in the class, their dogs straining at the end of their leashes, looked at me longingly... Someone else trained Albi. They trained her to sit, to stay and to come (unless there were rabbits around), and to walk on a leash. I don't know who that was, but I would love to thank them. She was unfazed by fire crackers - I've never seen a dog so unfazed by that sound. But she was NOT entirely happy about our ceiling fans. The first time I turned one on, she stared up at it for a long while, with a very serious expression. She also was terrified of marble floors (or anything like such), and seemed to have no idea what a street grate or man hole was, and would walk up and stare at such until we pulled her away. This lasted for at least the first three years we had her.

She was with us when I had to put my beloved Buster down, and mourned his loss for days. We didn't get another dog because she could be such a big bully in the house. I'll never forget her chasing Baal, my landlord's dog, twice her size, out of the apartment when she saw he'd come in. She missed Buster though, and was really happy when we dog sat a friend's miniature schnauzer. While she and Buster didn't interact much physically, I realized after he was gone that they spent so much of their time watching each other, even competing in small ways, and that anything they did -- eating, laying on a bed, going outside -- was done with a full consciousness of each other. Albi took so many cues from Buster -- for instance, it's how she learned dog treats were good things (she refused them for most of the first year we had her - and even after that, wouldn't take them from anyone but Stefan or me). I've said that, in some ways, Buster taught Albi to trust us.

Jayne und Albi und Schnee

One of our most cherished memories of Albi is taking her to snow near the Nürburgring - it hadn't snowed in ages, and Stefan had never seen Albi in snow. The place we went had snow higher than our knee caps. Albi jumped out of the back of the car and looked around with the biggest smile you have EVER seen - oh yes, dogs can smile - and then she bounded off into the highest drifts she could find, turning around as if to say, is this for me? Is this ALL for me? THANK YOU! By the end of our hike, she was so exhausted that she didn't chase a herd of deer running by - she just stared, wide-eyed. A year or two later, we had some very decent snows in Sinzig, which Albi (and Stefan) enjoyed VERY much.

I loved taking her into bars and restaurants in Germany. We didn't do it often, but when we did, she was the perfect dog, usually going under the table and laying down for the entire service. I loved that the wait staff would bring her water without us even asking for such. In the Spring of 2006, she got to take her first train ride. She did brilliantly, of course -- she laid down most of the time. We went to Stefan's parents, where he was helping put in new patio stones. Albi and I took a nap under a tree in the back yard, then we joined Stefan and his Dad for a long walk -- there are so many beautiful hikes all throughout Westerwald. She also got to go on a couple of very, very long, gorgeous hikes in the Ahr Valley, through vineyards, through farmland, past Roman ruins, through the craggy hilltops and severe inclines around Altenaur (and that was AFTER she survived cancer the FIRST time) - she loved it all.

She just accepted whatever craziness we put her through. When she was stressed, she didn't pace, she didn't whine - she laid down. Seriously. She would lay down when she was upset. For Stefan, she was the Greatest. Dog. Ever.

For six months in 2007, I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, coming back every eight weeks to be with Stefan and Albi. That six months was a very special time for the two of them: walking together twice a day, Stefan being her primary caregiver, they bonded on a very deep level. He even created a ritual for their bed time: she would walk to his side of the bed when he got into it, he would pet her, and then he would say, "Go to your bed, Albi." And she would walk around the bed and lay down on her own mattress. While she could walk, it was a ritual they continued for many years, including here in Forest Grove. She loved me, I know that - but I would watch her almost melt when Stefan would pet her, and I would say to her, "Yeah, girl, I feel the same way."

She loved our Sinzig apartment full of people before our wedding in October 2007. And she mourned oh so much when we would go on our long motorcycle trips, though I know that our landlord and his family, as well as the various wonderful dog sitters she had over the years, showered her in love while we were gone.

We moved to the USA in April 2009. Albi and I came a few weeks before Stefan, and we stayed in an apartment in Louisville, right in the heart of the highlands. Albi immediately bonded with my brother, Barry. She was thrilled every time he showed up at the apartment. She couldn't get enough of him. And then, after a few weeks, Stefan showed up. And from the MOMENT Stefan arrived, Barry no longer existed for her. We still laugh about that.

Albi loved Kentucky: she loved the Highlands and Dog Hill in Louisville, she loved dog night at the baseball park, she loved hanging out at my grandmother's house in Spottsville while we packed up Mamaw's things for her move to the big city of Henderson, and she loved everyone up at Pleasant Point apartments, where my maternal grandparents lived at the time (she bonded with my grandfather immediately).
Then we took a long road trip to move to Oregon, camping along the way. The first night of camping, in Missouri, was tough for her: she'd never slept in a tent, at least as far as we know, and she was incredibly anxious whenever either of us left the site to go to the bathroom. By the next night, she was loving it, and a few nights, turned in before we did. She loved tent camping - it was like we were all sleeping together in one giant crate which, of course, is the dream of every dog. As long as she knew we would be with her, and that the routine would be roughly the same - walks, food, bed time - she could adjust to anything. I so regret that that was the only time we ever took her camping.

She adjusted immediately to our hotel room in Gresham the first week, to our hotel room in Hillsboro the next month (and the dog park on the outskirts of the city), and to our home in Canby, where we stayed for three years. We took her to a restaurant here only once - to the outdoor part of a restaurant in the Mississippi neighborhood, where such things are unofficially allowed. She laid down next to our table and guests laughed as they stepped over her and she never moved - she didn't care. She was groovy that way. We would have loved to take her to more restaurants, but there were none in Canby with a patio that wasn't right next to a parking lot - and none had shade.

She was the belle of our Canby neighborhood, loving her walks, meeting other dogs, having visitors (especially motorcycle travelers) and chasing flocks of birds in a nearby elementary school. For the first year, we had neighbors with two dogs next door, and they would bark ferociously through the fence at her. She just stared at them, then went about whatever it was she was doing in the yard. She would tolerate the rambunctious boxer across the street, and when I walked the two together, something about Albi made the boxer behave perfectly. There were two tiny dogs that we visited almost every day, and they would jump all over her face - and she just stood there, not just tolerating it, but enjoying it.

We noticed that Albi was having trouble with her eyesight in Canby, and we had to put tape on the sliding glass door in the back so she wouldn't walk into it. But as the months past, her eyesight got worse and worse until finally, it was gone. Albi was completely freaked out at first about being blind, particularly when she would come in from walks, but gradually accepted that she couldn't see. Something that came at the time of her blindness was a hugely increased appetite. She went from oh-so-finicky eater to I-must-eat-this-as-fast-as-possible. Before, we sometimes had to beg her to eat, and mixed in wet food with her dry food to guarantee she'd eat some. I followed the advice I read on the Internet, about letting her figure out where things were. It was a good strategy, one that worked very well when we moved to Forest Grove; within days, she'd figured out the house. And being blind had its advantages for us: she couldn't see cats. One got right under her nose once, and she tried to chomp it - that's when I learned her sense of smell was just dandy. But the hardest was when I cooked a roast or sauteed meat: she would start wandering around the kitchen, bumping into things, desperate to find the source of the smell.

I have joked more than once that we bought our house in Forest Grove because of Albi. Whenever we looked at a house, we looked for a downstairs space where Albi could sleep and spend most of her time, knowing that steps were no longer an option. And while we were walking through the house we eventually bought - a one story house with just one step up, at the front door - Stefan said, "This would be perfect for Albi." So, if you ever visit us here, remember: we bought this house for Albi.

I also resent that my training videos on YouTube have just a few hundred views, while her video of my rubbing her tummy with my feet has THOUSANDS of views.

In the first month of our time in Forest Grove, we still went on very long walks with Albi. Lab tests from the vet here in Fo Gro reported that all of her internal organs were functioning VERY well for a dog her age - the vet was as shocked as we were. But after just a few weeks, we noticed she was having some trouble moving, so we started reducing her walk distances. By the summer, she was walking only around one block. And by January of this year, she was walking only up the street and right back home. Little by little, things got worse, but nothing we couldn't deal with.

One of her favorite daily rituals was growling, barking, even howling, if someone came to the door with a dog. For some reason, I found it hilarious - it made me think of an old woman standing on a lawn, holding up a cane in the air, yelling, "Get off my lawn." She did it on her very last day on Earth, in fact: one more time, asserting that this was her house.

Albi in a sweatshirt 02

We thought we were losing Albi to cancer on two occasions: In January 2008, Albi had surgery to remove a massive growth in one of her breasts, and the vet, the wonderful Dr. Claudia Rogler,  removed four of Albi's breasts on Albi's left side, as a preventative measure. Both the vet and I were stunned that neither the x-ray nor the biopsy of other breasts showed any signs of cancer - we were all expecting the worst. Recovery was... intense. The goal was to keep Albi from scratching or licking her massive wound, to keep her from running or jumping, and to avoid any steps (and our house was atop more than 90 steps). That meant 24 hour surveillance and, for three days, my not leaving the house except for a few feet for her bathroom breaks. I slept on my camping air mattress and in my sleeping bag on the floor next to her bed for most of the following 10 nights, and she wore a sweatshirt, then a t-shirt, during the day to limit her movement and allow me to leave the room for a few minutes. Two years later, I had to do all that again, when cancer showed up on her uterus just after we moved to Canby, Oregon (and while Stefan was on a business trip). Both times, I was convinced I would lose her. In her last weeks on Earth, there I was again, sleeping on the floor next to her, moving my office into the kitchen so I could be with her round the clock. But I have a confession to make: I enjoyed it every time. I loved giving her that much love and devotion. It was a privilege.

And now, we are so very, very lonely in Albi's house.

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This information posted by J. Cravens. The personal opinions expressed on this page are solely the opinion of Ms. Cravens, unless otherwise noted.

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