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Mike Reiter: Xena, our princess warrior

Sal and Xena pause for a photograph. (Photo by Mike Reiter)

Coming from a family of dog lovers, I have always been in a home that had at least one dog and at times as many as four. My wife, Sally, has also had at least one dog as she was growing up and after our marriage, dogs were a focal point in our lives.

Before, during and after our kids were born, grew up and left to start families of their own, dogs were an integral part of family life. Our kids have followed in our footsteps and started families of their own which have always included dogs.

Over the years we have been fortunate to have many dogs. Tyson, a yellow Lab, and Lola, a boxer mix, were two who were my son’s family dogs. At first we cared for them when Matt’s family moved to North Carolina, with plans for them to be reunited when they got settled. Later we were unable to part with them as they had become family fixtures. Being older dogs, their time with us was limited and Lola passed away in December 2013 at the age of 13 and Tyson left us a year ago in July of 2015 at the age of 14. I’d written about them in past columns. Lola and Tyson are dearly missed.

This brings us to Xena, our warrior princess, who was a 15-year-old Lab-Weimaraner mix. Fourteen years ago, our daughter in law, Angela, had arranged to have a year-old puppy, who resided with a family in downtown Chicago, brought up to us. That family had gotten the female puppy and her brother a few months earlier but decided that two large puppies were unsuitable for a small house in a big city. They had found a home for the male but were unable to place the female and would put her down if no home was found. A decision was made to have Matt pick up the dog and meet us in Wisconsin Dells to make an exchange.

XenaThe first time we saw Xena, she had her head poked out the rear window of Matt’s vehicle as they sat in a Culver’s parking lot. Following a brief visit with Matt and Angela, Xena found a spot in the back seat and we were on our way. It was only a short distance before Xena crawled in the front seat on Sal’s lap and fell asleep. It was a rewarding ride home with the newest member of our family.

The first thing we did was change her name to “Xena” from “Angel.” It just didn’t seem appropriate for a dog of her stature and temperament to be called Angel! Biff, our old Lab/springer mix, was still the top dog on the pecking order and Xena fit right in.

The first time we let her run loose was on a piece of DNR property near our house. This was probably the first time she ever really had her true freedom. Once she realized what it was like, she ran full speed through the thick grass, grabbing at the strands with her mouth in pure ecstasy!

Over the next 14 years, she grew into a great hunting dog, showing the traits of her ancestral linage. She always found the downed game and retrieved it in water or afield. She loved the water and raced the other dogs to the prize once a stick or ball was thrown. She was a good nanny-dog, always allowing the grandkids to crawl on her and cuddle her while never showing displeasure. People commented on the fact that she had such soft fine hair and piercing eyes. She was one of a kind!

In the last year of her life, she had slowed down greatly and was unable to take the walks she so loved. She also was unable to jump into the back of her beloved truck to take the short rides to her favorite locations. One thing she never lost was her love of food. Twice a day, at the appropriate time, she would come find me and with a panting request, tell me it was time to fix up her food. She was always a very good eater!

No matter how long one holds out hope, the time always comes when it is apparent that the once happy puppy no longer is a “happy dog.” We made that decision quickly and Xena is now able to meet all our other pets that have gone before her. She is greatly missed!

Several folks have mentioned that it is too difficult to get another pet after having to put down an old one. For us it is an easy decision to make. You never really own a pet. They are part of the family and add so much to the quality of family life. Studies have also shown that owning a pet reduces stress and can add two years on to an average lifespan!

Brewer is now our happy puppy. While he will never replace Xena or any of the others, he has found his place in our family. Sally is talking about perhaps getting another dachshund addition soon.

Stay tuned!