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A Blond Bombshell that Stole and Broke my Heart

Editors Note: I penned this blog a year ago and for lots of personal reasons have not shared it until now. The day I went and picked up Missy I met my current dog Charlie---who I adopted three weeks after Missy's last big weekend adventure. I thought he was too "barky"  at the time when I  first saw him. Little did I know that he was just cage crazy form the shelter. Now he is more of a roommate than a pet. Good things can come from bad situations. 

I have always been a sucker for a pretty woman. A weakness I will probably always suffer. This past week seemed to reinforce that when I was introduced to a beautiful blond bombshell with long legs and a killer personality.  She was the kind of girl that you are lucky enough to cross paths with once or twice in and lifetime if you are lucky and causes you to fall in love at first sight.  She stole my heart immediately. The aforementioned starlet with movie star looks happened to be a gorgeous German Shepherd named Missy.  One of the many reasons I was attracted to her was we shared something in common. She came with some pretty serious flaws, which I could relate to (though hers weren’t self-inflicted like mine).  She suffered from a condition known as degenerative myelopathy.  Unfortunately, German Shepherds are prone to getting it. It starts in the back legs and moves forward until it causes complete paralysis rendering the dog immobile. It is incurable and ultimately terminal in nature. Missy, who was six years old (42 in dog years—a perfect match for a middle age guy like me) had a particularly aggressive case. Her back legs were already useless when we met. She had been left behind by a family that apparently no longer felt like they could take care of her given her condition.

I was introduced to Missy by my friend Bonnie, who is the President of the McDonough County Humane Society (where she is doing God’s work in this capacity every day).  As a Board member I get inundated with these “calls for help” about “Dogs on Death Row” all the time, but this one was much different for me. My first dog happened to be a big black German Shepherd named Alphie (ironically named for a movie character with bad behavior, addressing the cause of his loneliness while trying to figure out his priorities--- played by Michael Cain).  Alphie also suffered from a debilitating leg condition—hip dysplasia (very prominent in German Shepherds).  He was a regal dog with a big heart and a great personality. He was one of a kind.  I remember when my dad came to us one day when Alphie was ten or eleven years old and told us he “ran away” (what would have been a herculean feat for a dog in his very serious condition).  It was yeas later before I understood that he was put down to ease his pain. My brother and sisters and I loved Alphie and I have always wanted a German Shepherd ever since that time. You never really forget your first love so when I heard Missy’s story I felt an immediate connection. After having a very honest conversation with Bonnie about Missy’s situation and mine I told her that I would attempt to buy her some time, or at the very least give her the best last days a dog in her condition could possibly have.

If you have never been in a dog shelter –even the best ones are like taking that first nights walk through the middle of the prison at Shawshank. It is loud and it smells and sounds like an echo chamber. It is frightening, maddening, and extremely unsettling—both for the people walking through, if not more so for the animals placed there. These are places filled with despair and desperation.  The first time I met Missy she was quiet and sad. She had very little ability to move and she was almost completely helpless laying there in her own urine hoping to escape.  Needless to say, she had me at hello. How could you say no to something so beautiful gazing at you with those big brown eyes. She was a knock out even in her situation. She gave me that look to say “get me the hell out of here”.

As disturbing as shelters can be, they also serve as the beginning of many stories of redemption and hope. There is nothing better on earth than taking a dog out of those places. It’s like being able to participate first hand in the world’s greatest jail break. The dogs know it too, when they are being busted out they very much understand what is happening. I believe that with all my heart.  I literally picked all 70 pounds of her up and carried her over the threshold of the shelter door to my jeep, where I put the windows down and let the air roll over her as we drove home. Even a crippled dog loves a ride on a sunny Saturday summer morning.

I immediately took her to the veterinarian and the prospect wasn’t really good. She had an inordinate amount of open bed sores from laying on her side all the time and not being able to move her back legs. She couldn’t be fitted for a cart due to those sores. So at that point it was about putting together the best “Make a Wish Weekend” I possibly could and check some things off her dog bucket list that she could do just one more time. The next 48 hours were like a whirlwind weekend in Paris for a Dog.

I set up a couple of fluffy dog beds I had and found one of my favorite blankets from when I was a kid, then set it all up downstairs by the television. We spent a lot of time there because she was comfortable and seemed extremely happy. I groomed her and laid by her just petting her and talking to her. Maybe I was hoping she could help me figure out some things out in my life. We listened to the baseball game. I think she is probably a Cardinals fan now. Then we turned on a movie. The movie that came on that we watched together was “Live free or Die”, proving to me God has a sense of humor, if not a strong sense of irony. I had friends and their kids come over so that Missy could be the center of attention.  She absolutely loved it. The sad part is that mentally and emotionally she was still all intact.—full of life and personality. It was her body that was betraying her.

Every several hours she would drag her body towards the door to let me know she had to go out. It took considerable effort for her to do this so I would pick her up and take her outside so she could take care of her business. She wasn’t only just another pretty face---she was extremely intelligent as well. We napped together and I listened to her dream—in only the way a dog can dream. A sound so beautiful that it almost makes your heart want to explode listening to it---especially given what was coming. I am one hundred percent certain that in those dreams she was running in green fields playing like she did as a puppy with her friends and her family. I would have paid $1,000 to have seen her in her prime and ten times that to restore her to that condition again.

I took Monday morning off work and made an appointment for the Vets to come to my house. Missy and I got up early and laid in the grass overlooking the park across the street. She was able to watch a couple of squirrels playing in a tree and she listened intently to the birds singing. It was sunny outside and almost as perfect a temperature as you could ask for on a summer July day. She greeted the mail man one final time and you could tell her heart was full. It was apparent from looking in her eyes. Bonnie and my friend Jude came over to spend time with her in her final hours. We fed Missy donuts from Casey’s and sausage biscuits from McDonald's. She absolutely loved it.

The Vets (who could not have been more caring or compassionate) arrived before lunch after Missy had a full morning. If you have never had a dog “cross over” Rainbow Bridge while lying in your arms the only thing I can tell you is that no one can prepare you for it. It is one of the hardest most emotionally debilitating things I have ever done. It is heart wrenching, painful and an incredibly sickening feeling. I cried uncontrollably for a long, long time as she passed peacefully. I knew in my heart she was in a better place, but it doesn’t make you feel any better at the time. I can assure you of that fact.

I believe all dogs go to Heaven so I know that she is running freely again. Maybe she will meet Alphie up there in the “Big Field in the Sky”. I know she will be breaking all the other boys hearts because that was Princesses do. I now that she will forever have a piece of mine. I am just glad that fate brought us together, even if for just a little while. The best love stories almost always end in sadness whether they are forever or fleeting and these affairs almost always come at a high price.

My weekend with Missy reminds me of several important lessons. All of us are broken in some way and we desperately need someone to take care of us. Sometimes we are lucky enough for that to happen.   Life isn’t fair and sometimes you are dealt a pretty bad hand, even if you are a good person or a good dog. It’s all random. The small things in life matter so don’t take them for granted and enjoy those moments of time that you have because life truly is fleeting and precious. Dignity matters. I have many times lost my own dignity and taken others from them, and she reminds me how much I regret that fact. Hers dignity was dragging herself to the door when she needed to go out and dying in fresh grass under a clear blue sky on a sunny day and having a proper burial after enjoying  life to its fullest in her last days---instead of being put down on concrete by strangers and thrown in a dumpster.

They say you get three great loves in your life. I don’t know if that is true. If it is, then Missy would have to be in the conversation for me. In too many love stories though the guy doesn’t always get the girl in the end (especially when she is a Blond Bombshell with long legs, brains, and a heart of gold and he has too many flaws to overcome). Bogie and Bacall will always have Paris. Missy and I will always have that one last weekend in Macomb. For a brief moment I was connected with something so special it wrecked my insides—and I will never be the same again because of it. No one can ever take that away from me.

One More Time: A Dogs Version

Have you ever chased a squirrel until you ran him up a tree?
I want that one more time.
Have you ever rolled in the grass uncontrollably because it gives you such great joy?
I want that one more time
Have you ever taken a long walk and got to stop and smell all the beautiful things this earth has to offer?
I want that one more time.
Have you ever rode in the car with the windows down and let the cool breeze blow on your face on a sunny day?
I want that one more time
Have you ever played with your toy until the squeaker came out of it?
I want that one more time
Have you ever played with your favorite tennis ball so much that you could barely recognize it, but it’s the only one you want?
I want that one more time.
Have you ever dreamed so deeply that you talked in your sleep because the dream was so good?
I want that one more time
Have you ever let a young child tug at your tail and pull at your ears because it gave them so much joy?
I want that one more time
Have you ever gone to sleep with your head in your humans lap on a cold winter’s night?
I want that one more time.
Give me that just one more time

By John Biernbaum

Missy and me on her final morning after eating McDonald's

Alphie with my brother Eric and sister Julie in the late 1970's


  1. Absolutely awesome JB. Have had to do this more than once, I can attest to the uncontrollable tears and heartache, just as I am experiencing now reading your story.


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