Maranella & Snowflake (March, 2002)
Portia, Flake & Mara (September, 2003)
Flake, Portia & Mara (March, 2004)
Flake (April, 2006)
Snowflake & Pack (September, 2005)
Undercover Flake (January, 2004)
Snowflake & Papa (December, 2003)
The Pack at the IGCA National Specialty in Hutto, Texas
Flake, front-and-center, with the other Rescue Parade participants
at the IGCA National Specialty in Hutto, Texas
Karen Baird with her favorite girls, Snowflake & Little Mama,
at the Iggy Rodeo PlayDate (July, 2002)
Flake at the IggiGras PlayDate (February, 2005)
Snowman Toy, Bowl & Collar by Fireplace (June, 2011)
Flake & Papa at IGCGH PlayDate (October, 2009)
I had adopted my first IG just 2 months earlier, and named her Maranella, after the Italian town where Ferrari's are crafted. Mara was an extraordinary beauty, with nearly textbook conformation, and a coat that felt like silk velvet, but she was terrified of humans and human contact. She wouldn't sleep under the bed covers, but waited till after I turned off the lights and went to bed before she timidly sneaked onto the bed to sleep next to me. When I awoke each morning, I had my only opportunity to pet this beautiful girl for a precious few minutes. Once Mara realized what was happening, her eyes would flare open and she would bolt off the bed in terror. Mara spent each day avoiding me as much as possible, curled-up in the corner at the top of the stairs. I had daily talks with Karen, giving her updates about Mara, and soon Karen thought that an intervention might be in order. She suggested that an IG roommate might help Maranella deal with her painful shyness and fear.
Snowflake would come stay with us to see if Mara might be convinced that I wasn't toxic. Maranella would sit quietly, at a safe distance, and observe intently as I watched TV from the bed with Snowflake curled-up next to me with her head on my chest getting ear scratches. Her behavior was so different than Mara's. Snowflake was very demonstrative, frequently crawling onto my chest, putting her front paws around my neck and actually hugging while giving IG kisses. Of course, I returned the affection, and Mara was paying attention. Within a few weeks of Snowflake's arrival, Mara decided to make a bold move. I was on the bed, watching TV. Snowflake was next to me, enjoying a back scratch. Mara was watching us, but from a new and closer vantage point, sitting just a few feet from the bed. Mara had been motionless, just staring at us for many minutes, when she suddenly charged the bed and jumped up to join us. Trying not to move my body, I slowly extended my arm towards Mara. It was an awkward and uncomfortable reach, but I was able to start petting Mara, gently scratching her back. I couldn't believe it — Mara was voluntarily letting me touch her for the very first time! My arm was aching in just a few minutes, but I kept scratching Mara's back for a good 30 minutes, till I thought my arm was going to fall off. I finally had to give in to the pain and adjust my position. Maranella immediately bolted off the bed, but a huge barrier had been broken now. Thank you, Snowflake.
It would take several more months before Mara would allow me to walk over to her and pick her up, and Snowflake would be along for that journey. Originally expected to be a temporary "therapist" for Mara, Snowflake's personality had won me over, and I knew that I wanted her to become a part of our family — Mara would have a sister, and I would have another (and unplanned) fur-kid. Just 4 months later, yet another unplanned adoption would bring LaPortia into our home, and Nicholas would join the pack about 3 years down the road, but those are different stories for another time.
Personality — that was something Snowflake had in spades. I found it impossible not to admire this little girl's confident attitude and intelligence. She often challenged me, never failing to stand her ground when she didn't want to do something. That said, she did respect my position as overall pack leader (more likely as keeper of the food bowls), at least when push came to shove. I've never been a particularly strict enforcer and my kids wouldn't stand a chance in an obedience competition. They did, however, understand at least three basic commands — "sit," "crate," and "upstairs." In our home, the stairs are right off the entry, hidden from the living room behind the fireplace. If I barked out "upstairs," everyone would head immediately for the stairs and charge up to the bedroom. On more than one occasion, when I went to the entry and peered up the stairs, I would find Snowflake about four or five steps up looking back at me (all the others had already gone up and dissappeared into the bedroom). Only when I barked "upstairs" several more times, would Snowflake grudgingly comply.
Snowflake loved going outside for walks. As are so many IG's, Snowflake was a devoted sun-worshipper. On particularly nice sunny days, we would often be strolling along, when suddenly I would be brought to a screeching halt by the leash. I would turn around to find that Snowflake had left the sidewalk to plop down on a comfortable area of grass that she obviously deemed perfect for sunbathing — "We'll stop here, Papa!" When indoors, she and her stepsisters usually spent the morning hours perched near the living room windows, which face east. With her snow white coat and very pink tummy, I was always concerned about sun-related skin cancers. Thankfully, that never became an issue.
Snowflake's name had a wonderfully ironic quality to it. To me, the word implied a certain delicacy, and there was absolutely nothing delicate about Snowflake's personality. She was strong-willed, confident, opinionated, outspoken, mischievous, and manipulative. She also was, by far, the smartest and most calculating of my herd. As any good parent would, I used her full name when she had done something unapproved, but I soon started using "Flake" as her usual call name.
Flake was a natural alpha. She relished her position as pack leader and was extremely good at her job. Both Mara and Portia were biggies who, at 15 pounds, were significantly larger than Flake's 10 pound frame, yet her tough-girl attitude allowed Flake to rule her sisters with an iron paw. I totally respected Flake's alpha status — she was always fed first, and first in line for group treats. I believe Flake loved this type of recognition and validation. Whenever she would "tree" a squirrel during a walk (a frequent occurrence), she always checked to make sure I had noticed. Flake would assume the position, standing on hind legs with one front paw stretched up the tree as far as she could reach, and tail held out high behind her. She would then alternate her view, looking up at her prey, then looking directly at me, then back to the squirrel, and then back at me, as if to say, "See what I did, Papa?" Flake was a very serious little huntress.
Snowflake's mischievousness taught me some valuable lessons in responsible parenting. Just a couple of months after adopting Flake, I came upstairs with a drink, and got on the bed to watch TV. When I realized I had forgotten the peanuts in the kitchen, I put the drink on the floor next to the bed and went downstairs (I was still a neophyte). As I came back up the stairs, I heard the unmistakable clanking of ice cubes in a glass. I ran to the bed, and was horrified to find a half-empty rum-and-cola, along with a very drunk Snowflake. She couldn't walk without staggering. Even with her behind planted on the bed, her head was swaying several inches back and forth, to and fro. I know alcohol is not good for canines, and I was concerned about Flake, yet I couldn't help laughing out loud many times as I spent the rest of the evening watching over her. Lesson learned: NO more glasses on the floor. Of course, there would be more lessons Flake wanted to teach me.
Just a few weeks after the "no glass on the floor" rule was learned, Flake was ready to teach me a new one. Again, it involved a beverage, and, again, it hinged on a quick trip downstairs. Flake and Mara had had their breakfast, and I was enjoying my morning coffee. I had to go to the kitchen for something. Upon my return, I found Flake, hind legs on the bed, front legs stretched across to the TV tray a foot away from the bed, and her head hidden from view in my coffee mug. It had been half full when I left, but it was empty when I pulled Flake's face out of it. For the next 5-6 hours, Snowflake was jumping, barking, running and spinning on the bed like a maniac — she was "wired"! Although she would never again have nearly as big a serving, coffee would become a daily treat for Flake. In fact, all 3 girls loved coffee so much that they would gather, sitting on the floor next to my computer chair by the time I was halfway through my second mug, impatiently waiting for their "8 laps" of java. Nicholas, on the other hand won't touch coffee. For 7 years, he has watched with interest as the girls got their morning treat, and I have offered it to him many, many times. His response has always been the same — he takes a sniff, then runs the other way.
Flake was house-trained to use pads, as are all of my pack. She picked up on the required behavior very quickly — use the pad, get a treat. She was quite accurate and reliable with her potty manners, unless she was ticked off with me about something and her "aim" would briefly be off by a foot or so. Snowflake figured out a clever way of increasing her treat quotient. Let's say that Flake had done number 1 on the pad 10 minutes earlier, and was now snoozing on the bed, after getting her treat. One of the other kids then goes to the pad to do his or her duty, and comes to me for a treat. Flake would perk up her ears, open her eyes, and see what was going on. She would then get up, go to the water bowl and gorge on as much water as she could hold, then waddle to the pad, manage to squeeze out a teaspoon-sized number 1, and then march herself over to me expecting another treat (which I almost always let her have). If I didn't offer a treat quickly enough, Flake would let me know with a couple of quick, chirpy barks and a sneeze or two. No doubt about it, Snowflake was a very smart and manipulative little girl.
Eye contact was one of Snowflake's most effective tools of manipulation. Having fostered somewhere over 200 rescues during the past 9 years, I have obviously had the chance to peer into the eyes of many, many iggies. As Flake's human, I admit that I'm likely to be biased, but I have to say that she made the most intense eye contact of any IG I've ever met. I truly believe that she could have stared down a Sherman tank, or at least try to, if she felt so inclined. When she was in the mood, Flake would curl-up in next to me on the bed and lay her head on my chest, but not with the usual "chin down" posture. Rather, she would turn her head to the side, making direct eye contact with me, staring intently, daring me not to look her in the eye. During the nearly 10 years we spent together, we had many extended staring contests, and I loved everyone of them.
Her propensity for hugging was another capability Flake knew how to use to her advantage. At my very first meeting with her in Karen's highrise, I was blown away when Snowflake hopped onto my chest, placed her front paws on either side of my neck and actually squeezed. This behavior would become Flake's one and only "trick," or, perhaps I should call it a "stunt." I quickly learned that if I kneeled down and patted my chest, Flake would jump up, extend her front paws around my neck, and expect me to catch her. As I later came to appreciate this girl's intelligence, I started to realize that this behavior was probably a calculated maneuver for her own safety rather than an expression of affection, but it was, nonetheless, highly effective. Right or wrong on my part, I choose to think that Flake always knew how to express herself.
During an annual check-up about 3 years after her adoption, our vet informed me that Flake had a mild heart murmur. At subsequent vet visits, the murmur was seen as progressing at a modest rate. In late 2009, it was obvious to me that Snowflake's heart was working "overtime," as it seemed to be pounding vigorously, even after extended snoozes. Cataracts were forming and her hearing had diminished — like it or not, Flake's age was unavoidably catching up with her. Our vet visits increased in frequency, and when a hollow cough developed, the vet said it was time to start a drug treatment for her heart situation. Low-dose aspirin and Lasix quickly improved Flake's coughing and I had high hopes that she would have several more active and comfortable years with us. Over the next couple of months, her overall activity would decline and become more difficult. My concerns and our vet visits would increase. Flake's heart murmur worsened rapidly and we added Enalapril to her daily regimen.
I have to switch gears now. In December, 2003, I fostered a girl named Bella. She was an owner surrender who came in with her mother from a well-intended backyard breeder who had become overwhelmed by her husband's health problems and expenses. Bella was adopted by Barbara Franzheim, who would become a good friend over the next 7 years. Barbara was the ex-wife of Kenneth Franzheim, II, the U. S. Ambassador to New Zealand, Fiji, and Somoa, under President Nixon. Needless to say, Barbara had many friends around the world, and she travelled frequently. Whenever Barbara left town, Bella would come stay with us, and that was usually 3 to 4 times a year. As far as my kids were concerned, Bella was a "cousin" who visited for frequent sleep-overs. Tragically, Barbara died in December 2010, days before Christmas, of complications from injuries suffered when her townhome was destroyed in a three alarm fire. Bella barely escaped when caring neighbors rescued her from the burning building. I immediately offered to foster Bella while she found a new home, but 3 months would pass before she came to stay with us. When she finally arrived, Bella was a bewildered and grieving little girl. Knowing her pretty well, I initially felt that she would be happiest as an only dog (she was one of the "neediest" IG's I had ever fostered). With my lack of adequate employment, I was also concerned about the financial commitment of adding Bella to our herd — heartworm and flea preventives, not to mention dental cleanings, can easily run hundreds of dollars per year.
Over the next few months of fostering, it became unavoidably clear to me that I was in a unique position to offer Bella her best possible option for a forever home. Her neediness had lessened, and she seemed "at home" with our pack. The idea of forcing yet another transition on this traumatized little girl seemed inexcusable to me. I called Barbara's son, Daniel, to arrange a meeting and tell him I wanted Bella to have a home with us, as long as he could help us with the financial issues of adding another dog to the pack. Our meeting was on June 14, 2011, and Daniel was happy to see how well Bella was doing here. He was also pleased with my proposition and generously offered the needed help. It was official, Bella would become a part of our pack, and we would now be S+5. I was so very happy.
Sadly, ironically, we would be S+5 for only a few hours. Right after my meeting with Barbara's son, I had to leave the house for a meeting with one of my few freelance clients, and would be gone for about 3 hours. When I returned, I found Snowflake's lifeless body on the bed — her heart had given out while I was gone. And my heart fell to pieces. I just sat on the bed next to her, gently scratching behind her ears, saying, "Oh my God, no," over and over again. I had known this day was coming, but I wasn't ready for it (I guess no one really is).
I take comfort knowing that my special little Flake was at home, on the bed she shared with her sisters and brother for almost 10 years, when her time came. I am also truly grateful that she spared me the agonizing situation of having to decide when that time should be.
Thank you for being a part of our family and making me feel like the luckiest boy in the world for almost 10 years.
I'm grateful you no longer have to deal with the difficulties of your age and failing health.
I'm also sure you are more than happy bossing around a new pack at the bridge, just as you did with us.
I miss you terribly, but I believe with all my heart that you knew how very loved you were.
Until I can hold you again,
Fly high and float gently my little Snowflake...