Zinneke’s Story


Our dog Zinneke died yesterday of complications of autoimmune hemolytic anemia. If you’ve followed the posts I’ve written over the last couple of months, then you’ll know what a roller coaster ride this has been. Some dogs survive this disease, and others die very quickly. Some, like Zinne, seem to be doing all right for awhile, then take a sudden turn for the worse. Relapse in the first months to a year is common, so we were prepared for it, though you never are fully prepared. During the first week of the disease, we thought we were going to lose her, until  buttermilk and the medicine kicking in, got her appetite back and she began to recover. She seemed to be doing well for several weeks, then a week ago, the Prednizone she was on stopped working as well — we increased her dosage back to the level she was taking in the beginning. This Sunday, she could hardly walk, and we had to carry her to the yard to pee. We kept her indoors by us much of the time, and tried to comfort her as much as possible, bringing her food and water when she wanted it. In the morning, we took her directly to our vet, who gave her more steroids with a shot, and also gave her an antibiotic shot, since she had a slight fever. We were somewhat hopeful that she’d pull through again with proper treatment, but in the afternoon we received the call that she had just lain down and died very suddenly, which is why the vet suspected a blood clot, a common side effect of the disease.

Zinneke was 7 and a half years old. We had her in our lives for nearly 7 of those years — we brought her home on July 13, 2006. The picture above is from that first day. If you knew her in recent years, you can see the ten pounds or so she gained in her first year (and we struggled a little to keep her at optimum weight — she was always happy to keep eating, though she was always happy to exercise until the last couple of months). She was calm and gentle, but as a herding dog (we assume), she did nip a few people in the heels now and then — esp. kids running by or strangers who invaded her house. We had pretty much weened her of that behavior, though the instinct to herd anything running past her was still strong. She never ran away from home (except for one time, when a foster dog led her on an excursion and she got a block away before realizing there was a fence between her and her back yard — her barks led us to where she was, so she wasn’t missing long). She would stay in our fenced in yard or in my Mom’s completely unfenced yard. She didn’t do tricks, but she would obey nearly any command. And she was one of the best popcorn catching dogs you will ever meet, though frisbees were only meant to be picked up off the ground in her opinion–then she would want you to chase her around the yard with it. When she was young, she used to run circles around the yard for the pure joy of it, and she loved it most if someone would try to catch her. But she was never much of a barker. Only if she was left outside longer than she wanted to be, then she would let us know, or if a stranger came to the door, she would announce them.

Zinneke was a very healthy dog most of her life, though she was no stranger to hospitals. When we first brought her home from the Humane Society, we knew she had a great personality, but it didn’t take long to realize there was a slight problem. She peed. At first, we thought she was a house-training challenge, so we took her to the yard a lot. Still, she peed in the yard, and then peed some more as soon as she came inside. We took her to the vet, thinking she might have a urinary tract infection, which might be a complication of her recent operation for spaying. Our vet gave us some medicine, and we watched her for month. You might say she tried our patience, though we knew by that point that something was wrong, and she wasn’t intentionally soiling our carpets — we did replace those and put down hardwood later. When we finally took her to the vet school at Mississippi State, we learned that she had an ectopic ureter. Essentially, her plumbing wasn’t hooked up right and one of her kidneys wasn’t connected to her bladder. She spent the first nine months of her life constantly leaking a little urine, which was probably why the family that surrendered her at the Humane Society did that, though they apparently didn’t give the real reason. We were told she was too aggressive with children (and she did nip kids, so that might have been part of the reason). She had been at the shelter for two months already; if someone hadn’t adopted her, she wouldn’t have lived long. And if she didn’t get treatment, it would likely lead to an infection that could be fatal.

It took an expensive operation and much post-operative care to get her back to normal. We never regretted the cost, knowing that we had a lifetime of love from our pet to look forward to. It was also a responsibility that we had agreed to take on when we adopted her, so we were just glad we had the resources to be able to give her the care she needed. (And we can certainly sympathize with those who face a similar choice and don’t have those resources — whether that means the financial resources to pay for the surgery or the nearby vet school that can perform the surgery). After the operation, she developed a bladder of steel. We remember one early camping trip when she wouldn’t relieve herself on a leash until 4:00 in the morning, when I had to take her out of the tent and let her off leash in a field. Even after that, we never had problems with her until recently, when she was on steroids and again couldn’t help herself. We also remember her puppy bouts with car sickness and a few other trials, but for the most part, she was a trouble-free pet. Our only trips to the vet were for her annual shots or to pick up heart worm and flea medicine. We spent more time at the vet with the various foster dogs that we took in temporarily than we did with Zinneke.

Of course, we expected 13 or more years with her, or possibly less since we didn’t know her pedigree. We’ve often been told she looks like a blue heeler or a cattle dog, though we’ve never known for sure. She certainly acted like a herding dog, though. That she would also come down with a somewhat rare terminal disease (40-60% of dogs die of the disease within the first year or so, and most dogs who get it will have their lifespan shortened) seems unfair, but life is unfair and unpredictable in this regard. And though we would like to have had several more years with Zinneke, we value every day we had with her. She was an excellent dog who gave as much love back as we could give her and who taught us many lessons. There are many other Zinneke stories, and I’m sure we’ll tell them to each other over the next weeks and days as we grieve together and remember her.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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