Many years ago, my family moved from Southern California to Atlanta, Georgia. It didn't take long before Charlie, a German shepherd, spent more time at our house than hers. I cared for children after school, and when David arrived home, he walked across the street with Charlie following. Curious why Charlie's ear bent at the half way point, I had asked. "What happened to Charlie's right ear?"
David lowered his head. "When I was a baby, Mom said I pulled on her ear and broke the cartilage."
Murphy fell in love with Charlie and when the neighbors moved away we kept her. Charlie attached herself to Murphy as he did yard chores. At age ten, she had cancer and we had to let her go. Murphy's despair was painful to watch.
The children lamented, "Dad needs another dog." We decided while he traveled for work, a new puppy would be a wonderful birthday surprise.
My six-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son were elated. We spent s few days scouring shelters, and breeders. I believed Murphy needed a dog that didn't remind him of Charlie. After reading an ad for White German shepherd pups, we headed there.
With the puppies' parents in the backyard, I learned about their easy- going personalities. My children had wandered over to the crates and called to me. "Mom, this one. This one."
One eight-week-old shepherd pup with a bent ear stared at us. She was adorable, and we didn't hesitate to choose her. This pup had so many fleas, she could have been part Dalmatian. She couldn't be bathed with flea soap at her young age, and I hoped water would wash them away.
Driving home, we played with names. We were new to the south, and I came up with a perfect southern name. "This pup was born in May, and she is a SHE." I asked my children, "What do you think about naming her Shelia May?"
The laughter started first, and then moans and groans came louder. "No way, Mom. That's awful." The children decided Dad needed to name her.
We had two days before Dad arrived home. I pulled out a porta crib from the attic and wound a sheet through the slants. The puppy took her paws and shoved them down and squished her tiny body through the small openings.
If she was left alone for any time, she'd do all her business on the carpet. I slept downstairs in our finished basement to keep her company and wondered if I had made a huge mistake. My kids were independent, and now I had a new baby.
The afternoon Murphy arrived home, the children made him sit upstairs on the couch and close his eyes. He asked all kinds of questions.
Their excitement spilled out. "We have a birthday present for you."
I carried the pup upstairs and plopped her on Murphy's lap. The second she sat on his lap, a scratchy, wet tongue slid across his cheek and nose. His eyes popped open, and to say the least, he was surprised.
Now it was time to name her. My sweet children had a great laugh with my choice of name.
Murphy stared at me and chuckled. When he caught his breath, he started suggesting German names. Gretel or Gretchen. Our young daughter mixed the two names, and it was so cute we named our pup, Gretchel.
Over time, Gretchel became the children's dog. Murphy had built a fort in the backyard and the neighbor boys played there. Gretchel climbed the wooden ladder to be in the middle of all the fun.
Our daughter, who wanted to ride horses, trained Gretchel to jump over bushes, and to follow her many other commands.
As we walked around the neighborhood, Gretchel would fill her mouth with small rocks one at a time. She'd tilt her head sideways to adjust the rocks. When she had no room for one more rock, she'd spit them on the street and rearrange them one at a time. And sure enough, she'd get one more in her mouth.
She became a water dog as we water-skied every weekend. At first, she was small enough to sleep under the dashboard. As she grew, she'd leap into the lake with the children and could climb the ladder to get into the boat. She enjoyed camping with us and would stand guard the bathroom, waiting for her best friends to reappear.
Gretchel was our first chosen puppy. When she died at eleven-years-old, she left a huge hole in our hearts. We didn't wait too long before we filled our gap and chose our first Australian Shepherd.
And that will be another story!