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Ch Golden Totem, SH, VC, CGC

26 December 1986 - 4 June 2002

Every dog is a one-of-a-kind, but Totem was rare.


The best story that illustrates her personality:

I took Totem to most of the concerts in the park when she was young. At one concert, a huge boy with Down’s syndrome and severe mental retardation approached us in the manor of a huge ape. He was taller than me even in his hunched over position. He not only grunted like an ape, but swung his arms like one as he walked toward us. Any dog would have misinterpreted his manner and would have barked or bitten him.

In fact, when the boy’s father saw what he was coming toward us, he grabbed the boy and told me that dogs usually bite his son because he flails around too much. But, I watched Totem watch the boy. Her tail was wagging. I told the father that it would probably be OK. He did not want his son bitten again. But I told the father to sit the boy down and let her go over to him. He sat the boy on the grass. She went right over to the boy and licked his face. He laughed out loud…flailed his arms all around even more. She just licked him harder. And he just laughed harder. She found the best in that scary boy and they both enjoyed the other. 

On the other hand, she had the persistence of a bird dog. The birth of her only litter was a great illustration of this. I had set up a great whelping box for her. She even nested in it for several days before she had the puppies. But when it came to give birth, she wanted to have them on the couch. We had a terrible “tug of war” that day. I would put her in the box and she would jump out to go to the couch. This must have lasted for hours. She had the first four puppies during this tug-of-war. Puppies

she would have nothing to do with. I had the puppies crying in a warmed box, waiting for their mother to feed and comfort them. But she would have nothing to do with them. I had finally made enough progress on my side of the argument so that she would lie down at the foot of the couch, rather than on the couch. Those puppies continued to whine as she ignored them. Then, she got up. Went her toy box. Picked up her favorite toy, a little squeaky brown dog. Took that toy to the place in front of the couch. And proceeded to put the dog in a position where she could nurse it. I cried. Here she had four wanting puppies and she was nursing a toy! She won. I gave her the four puppies. She appeared content to have them there. She continued to have the rest of the litter right there, on the carpet in front of the couch. Took care of all of them. All was well. And I had to get a new carpet.

She was born the day after Christmas, 1986. I did not get to choose her. The (backyard) breeder told me I had to take the female with the white on her because she was the only female left. He thought she was flawed because of the white butterfly on her chest. But, little did he know that he had probably just picked the best dog in the litter. I put her in the crate in the back of my Subaru wagon and proceeded to drive home from Bowling Green, Kentucky. She stared out the back of the wagon and screamed. She was leaving her first home and the three brothers with whom she had been playing hard. I dreaded the next four-hour ride home with her. She got tired of screaming about the time we hit Louisville. All the way home, I wondered what I had gotten into with this dog.

Totem was named while I was reading the book, Clan of the Cave Bear. Since the dog appeared to be my totem, I named my dog Totem. I know she liked it. No other dog has had that name, according to a search of thousands of dog names.

The memorable stories:
  1. When she was six months old, the 17-year cicadas returned to Bloomington. These critters were so thick that you could not see the bark of the trees. I had to sweep them off the house and patio. But Totem loved them. She ate so many of them that I did not need to wean her off of her noontime meal. She loved the males more than the females as they would flutter and make more noise when she caught them. She was only 1 ½ years short of experiencing the cicadas again, when she died.
2.      I never had any intention in showing her, even though my family had been active in the sport of showing dogs since the 1950’s. All I wanted was a buddy to go hiking and running with me. I took her to an obedience class to socialize her to other dogs. It was the professional handler who
First Major in 1988
was helping with the classes who told me that Totem was a great dog and that she’d
Winning Veterans Sweeps at 12 years old
like to show her. Well, she was my dog. Not hers. So I proceeded to show her. Totem hated the show ring because she’d sense my disappointment in her losses. Showing looked so easy compared to obedience. But it was not. Several people proceeded to tell me my dog would have been a champion so much sooner if she had a different handler. But we did do it and did it together. What Totem taught me here was that I had to make dog believe he/she won every time he/she was in the ring, even if he/she did not. That worked well with Copper, Flick, and Dart.
 3)     As for the field competition, I had absolutely no idea what that was, having grown up in LA. I knew I wanted a pointer rather than the poodles I grew up with, but I wanted a pointer because I liked it’s looks. I had no idea pointers still liked to point. Her desire for birds was so strong that she developed a little game in the backyard. She would hide behind a small brick wall. Wait until the birds came to the bird feeder. Then she’d point. Hold it for quite a while. But no one came to flush and shoot, so she flushed and chase them out of the yard. Then, she’d go back and hide. Then wait until they came back. She would do this game all day long, until the birds would go to sleep. It wasn’t until Debby (Friedlund) Lynn saw Totem at the Hoosier Dog Show. Debby knew Totem's
line quite well. She knew Totem's field potential and invited us to the Miami Valley Vizsla Club versatility where Totem had her first bird. She was 1 ½ years old. She got that bird in her mouth and would not let go for 45 minutes. The picture of her first bird is above. She was so proud of herself. That same day, they wanted to see her run the field. I had never let her off the leash and was afraid she would run away. Everyone laughed at me. So, under the peer pressure, I let her go. She hunted like she’d been doing it all her life. That day I saw a spirit come out in her like I had never seen before. From that point on, I knew we would continue to look for birds the rest of her life. I even got a shotgun and began to hunt with her and the rest of our new Vizsla family.

4)     For my first summer vacation in Bloomington I decided to drive around Lake Michigan. You know, to see part of the Midwest. Totem and I were going to camp out all the way. She was only seven months old. We took a few hikes. On one hike, through a wooded area, Totem went nuts. I wasn’t quite sure I could control her. Her nose would not stop. Her activity increased 200%. She quartered the area as much as she could on her 15-foot rope. I know now, that she had scented grouse or some other type of bird and that her bird dog instinct took over.

5.     This picture of Totem that made the 365 dogs calendar in 1993. She was June 17th. That day I got a phone call from a guy who said he was a lawyer from Louisville and wanted to know if I had a dog. Lawyer - dog. I hesitated, to say the least. Then he asked if my dog was on a calendar today. He had had a bet with his secretary that Totem was a dachshund and wanted to know if he was correct. I don’t think I’d ever hire him as a lawyer. The Monroe Co. dog calendar rejected this picture because they thought the yellow reflective collar was an electric collar
6)     In May of 1988 Totem and I flew to LA. I took Alice Lindeman to the airport with me to make sure Totem got on the plane. If she did not get on the plane Alice was instructed to take her home and I would be back to get her. Even though I had found a direct flight from Indy to LA, the trip was worse for me than it was for her. She traveled with a collie and two cats. And I knew she was OK when we landed because as the cargo door opened, you could hear that “where-in-the-hell-have-you-been” bark. She liked California much better than Flick did. We went to the beach, a dog show, and my favorite
place, Yosemite. Flying home was even more traumatic than flying out. I took Patsy to the airport with the same instructions I had given Alice. But no one could see her get on the plane and the attendant could not tell me she was aboard or not. I did not hear any barking when we landed in Indy. It was a long flight and were we glad to see each other! 
7)     Each New Years, Totem and Flick and I spend time with the Schaefers, even though Ed makes the sauerkraut for dinner. One New Years it snowed so well that there was a great accumulation. Trip Schaefer wanted to build a snow cave. Totem thought he was working too slowly and started to dig with him. Trip stepped back and Totem dug and dug and dug until the only thing that we could see was the snow being thrown out of the opening of the cave. She and Trip played in their snow cave the rest of the day.
8)     She was a little boy’s dog. Jay and the neighbor kids would come over on a daily basis and ask, “Can Totem play?” She would run and play hard with them. She would steal their shoes an play keep-away. She also did that with Pam Flower’s cigarettes. Pam was quite frustrated. But I always came to the rescue with a, “Totem, over here.” She’d always come to me and give it back.
9)     Spaying her at eight years old was another reproductive nightmare. She would always have false pregnancies. When I decided to spay her, she had just finished her season and the previous vet said we should do it before the false pregnancy to prevent it. Well, Totem’s hormones didn’t like that. She must have spent a month in the closet nesting and nursing her toys.

The horror stories:

There are always a couple of events that make you older, faster. Both of them had to do with Totem getting lost.

The first was after the Cleveland Specialty, in 1996, when we stayed at Cindy & John’s. We all had decided to go out to dinner. I left Flick and Totem in the back of the GMC Gimmy, in their crates, with the back window up, in the cool of the July evening. When we got back, not only was Totem missing, but also her crate looked as though it had been bashed in. I yelled that she was missing and that someone had taken her. Cindy took one look at the crate and knew Totem had ripped it apart from the inside. We had no idea how long she’d been gone, but I took my whistle out of my pocket. Walked down Cindy’s driveway. Cupped my hands so that I could project the whistle. Blew it long and loud. I only blew it about five times and there she comes out of the darkness with that “where-have-you-been” look. There appeared to be no marks on her, but the next day her gums had turned black from the pressure
she had put on her mouth to bend the wires of the crate. No one knows what made her panic. But whatever it was, it drove her to do “super human” things. When I got back to Bloomington there was a message on my answer machine telling me that they had my dog. They lived in Columbus OH. Apparently they had found her after she got out of the crate. I called them. They told me she had seen them in the yard and just wanted to be part of them. She did not appear anxious or anything. They said they were going into the house when heard the whistle. When they saw how she responded to it, they let her go. She had only been three houses away, but too close to a major road.
 The second time she got lost was just a few weeks ago, at age 15 ½ years. The gate had been left open after the graduation party I always give my students. She was so elderly at that point that she was sleeping downstairs because she pooped in the bed and so that she could relieve herself when needed. When I got up the next morning I could not find her downstairs. I could not find her in the garage. I could not find her in the yard. My heart fell when I saw the gate was open. I just knew she had left the yard. But when? It could have been as early as 11:00 pm the night before. I also knew she could not hear and could only see movement. Her back was bothering her so much the night before she could barely walk. She could not have gone far. But she was so venerable to cars and coyotes. I knew she had to be dead. I kept saying to myself, as I combed through every gulch, “it’s not supposed to happen this way”. My neighbors joined in the search. They took the streets and side streets. After 1 ½ hours of looking, I felt sick and needed to go back home. When I got there I called the human society and told them I had lost an old dog and would appreciate it if anyone had called. She was getting grumpy in her old age and would snap at hands coming at her face. I believed that people would not try to touch her. They asked me to describe her and tell them were she was lost. I did. She was there. At the pound! A woman and her daughter had seen her struggling to walk by the side of the road. They thought she had been hit by a car, but found it only old age. She went right up to them and got in their car. She had walked more than a mile from home. Without a scratch, not even bloody feet. When I got to the pound to pick her up, I had to listen to a lecture on licensing and then bail her out. They had to call the vet to verify her shot record. They asked me for ID. I had none with me and hoped she would recognize me in her senility. She did, and was quite happy to see me. The little girl that had found her was disappointed I had picked her up. She wanted to take Totem home. Once again, it was a “lost scenario” that she should have not survived. It must have been the St. Francis medal I got for her at the Vatican.
Things that I will not miss:

The endless digging – Boy did Totem love to dig. Every time we went camping she would spend the whole time digging up all the trees in the camp. She loved to dig. So, I gave her one area of the backyard to dig up. It would look like a bomb field, but she’d stay there and dig while I did yard work or split logs. Copper would stand there and watch her dig. Flick ignored her digging.

The screaming bark - The screaming she did on the first ride home was an expression she continued express when she was not liking situations. Later, it evolved into an expression of greetings when I came home. The neighbors would always know when I got home.

Stealing my food – The counter surfing and stealing of my meals as I turned my back. She did not start this until she was spayed at eight years old.

Especially -The habits of a frail elderly dog –

As an elderly dog:

  • Her tail stopped wagging
  • She could not read my body language and I would always end up tripping over her or stepping on her toes
  • The endless pacing
  • The dragging of her back feet until her toe nails bled

  • Seeing every bloody foot step of her endless pacing
  • The standing and starring at the wall
  • Pooping
    • as she slept
    • as she walked through the house
  • The anxiety of being without me there

And most of all, as an elderly dog, she eventually lost all the qualities that had made her “Totem”.

This is Totem they way I want to remember my Totem.

With her “rooing” in excitement about life.

Totem’s last day:

Totem is now resting in the arch of the flower garden.....where a "yard-art" totem pole was placed.

These last few weeks have not been easy......especially for her. When we traveled to Cincinnati over memorial day I learned that she could not travel well and would never make it to LA. She could not rest/sleep in comfort which meant her back would really hurt and walking would be progressively more difficult. I also learned that she had lost most of what was “her”.....except for that look in her eye that was only hers. She still loved people. She could still find the birds, but just stood there confused. And, Clif, it was you who gave me the permission to do what I needed to do.......whereas others judged only what they

saw....thank you. When I traveled to St. Louis last week I learned that dog sitters, no matter how responsible they were, would never give her the care she needed. I realized she had the right to die at home and not on the road. I cried most of the way home.

Monday when I came home, she told me she'd had enough. Her "eyes" had turned into a tired stare.....she had the dry heaves......drool hanging from the corner of her mouth.....she could not walk in a straight line.......she'd fall over if she ran into something.....she would not eat. She had paced the run that whole afternoon in >90o heat. She paced right by the swimming pool full of water, but never stopped to drink. She was so dehydrated. Inside, she drank water for, what seemed like, more than 20 minutes. She had almost paced her self to death.

So I decided Tuesday would be her last day....but that it would be a good day. I took her to bed with me Monday night. Flick let her sleep alone in the bed with me. She slept through the whole night. She didn’t even poop in the bed. It felt good to feel her beside me. I fed her her favorite food......the porterhouse steak left over from the memorial day dinner with Rem & Judy. She enjoyed the bone as much as she could with what teeth she had left. We took naps on the the hammock in the gazebo.....on the swing by the fire pit....all the places she loved so much....however, I could tell she was not comfortable in the hammock or on the swing....her back hurt her too much. Mary Alice (vet) came by as the sun was setting....and she died by the fire pit, the place we spent so much time together.

It was so important to me for her to have a good last day. She followed me all over the back yard....she even ran a few strides....she barked at Flick to play....she was as much of “Totem” as she could be as an elderly dog. But, I never wanted to come home again and find her suffering as she was on Monday. It would have meant that I had waited too long....and I would have regretted that. I waited too long for Oliver and came home to a dog who could only drag himself to follow me around the house. It is too selfish, to keep a dog alive as long as you can because you don’t want to lose them. I wanted to remember Totem feeling as good as she could......not bad. The quality of her life had not been good for a while. I knew that. As her partner, my participation in her life is just as vital on her last day as it is on her first day. There is no good ending to this. She did not have to get any worse....and I did not have to watch it happen. But I can make the ending as best as I can.

She did fight the needle and had to be sedated.....I'm not sure how I'm going to sleep with that.

As darkness came, I held her lifeless body. I want to remember her "feel" forever. When I let Flick out to see her he ran over and took only one look at her. But, he watched me bury her....stood there the whole time while I piled dirt over her. I found it hard to cover her face....but she's resting with a quail and the bone of her last meal.

......and I know she is chasing that bird right now.

Flick now wears the St. Francis medal that watched over her so well.

CH Golden Totem, SH, VC, CGC
26 December 1986 – 4 June 2002

Last Updated: 18-Aug-2013
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