On 17th May I turned 42, but more importantly, my eldest dog Danza turned 13. We share the same birthday.
Danza came into my life when I saw an advert asking for a new home for a puppy GSD. I responded and went to the house of an old couple who had taken him on but were struggling to cope with him. It was love at first sight and he assumed, as is the way with good dogs, that my daughter was in fact his daughter who he needed to protect and be with at all times. He was an incredible animal, playful, intelligent and very affectionate. He wasn’t big for a GSD but he had a mindset and an aura of utter unshakable confidence…he was also very bloody protective.
I was injured after attending a domestic incident during which I got trapped in a house with a violent offender. The result was my back locked up and I couldn’t bend over or move my upper body. It hurt like hell and I could just about walk in a straight line. I remember it was winter and the evenings were dark early. I took Danza for a waddle down the road while I was recovering and like I said, I could just about move in a straight line. I felt awful as Danza and I normally did huge walks and runs but he seemed to understand I was hurt so he took it easy and didn’t pull so much. As we walked past a shop I saw a man I had arrested a week before during another violent arrest. The chap saw me and instantly puffed up with his arms out to his side and started coming at me. I couldn’t do a thing. I couldn’t run, fight or even walk away. I was worried for Danza. What if this guy went for him too? Danza hadn’t showed any guard instinct or a hint of aggression so I started to pull Danza behind him, intending to shield him as best I could. The guy closed in with his arms swinging while screaming abuse and stopped dead at the German Shepherd now on his back legs giving voice and showing teeth and the noise Danza made was just incredible. This deep rumbling snarling bark. I had no idea he could do that and I was a stunned as the guy now frantically back-pedalling. The guy ran off but Danza changed after that. He just became. His stature changed, his manner changed, his confidence grew and suddenly his instinct to protect and herd kicked in.
Over the next few years we led an idyllic life. We’d go on huge walks or run together through country lanes or down the beach. When we ran on the beach he would go down onto the sand and race me over the breakwaters while I sprinted along the path at the top. He always won and waited at the end for me. He slept on my daughters bed when she stayed with me and became her shadow whenever she was with us.
I was broke most of the time back then. Coppers don’t earn a great deal and once rent and bills were paid it didn’t leave a lot. I ate the same thing every day, chicken, pasta and veg because it was healthy and cheap. Danza would always finished my chicken off. Even now, a decade later, if I feel worried or anxious I will eat that meal as it takes me back to a time when I felt safe and content and Danza would still wait for the chicken remains.
Danza and I then met a woman who we took into our lives for the next 7 years and Danza became devoted to her. He assumed that we were all his pack and he was Alpha. There were times I would come home from work late at night to find him standing at the top of the stairs dominating his pack and refusing to let me up. I had to cajole him and lure him down with fuss and treats then re-train to remind him he wasn’t in charge. It never worked. We were his pack. End of.
I decided to keep his line going and sourced a bitch. Milka was brought into our home when she was 12 weeks old. I remember carrying her into the house and putting her down in the hallway. Danza just stared at her with an expression of WTF is that doing here? She sniffed him, pissed on the carpet then ran in the kitchen and ate his food.
It took Danza about 10 minutes to fall in love. After that he was hooked and assumed, as is the way with good dogs, that she was his and part of his pack. He followed her everywhere. Outside, inside, on walks, on the sofa but they had a different energy between them. Whereas Danza would sometimes dominate with a show of aggression it never worked with Milka. She simply didn’t respond to it and if he got too much she swatted him away, besides, she grew to about twice his size.
We managed to keep them apart for her first few seasons to let her grow and develop but then the time came to breed so we let them carry on. I’d worked a night shift and came home exhausted to sleep during the day and while slumbering peacefully I felt the bed start to shake and move. I woke up in a start to see them going at it right next to the bed, shunting it over an inch at a time. It was sooo disgusting. I yelled out to stop but by that time he’d finished and they’d tied together (which means his willy gets stuck in her vagina for about 10 minutes). It was so gross. I got up and went out the room calling them dirty shits and ignoring the huge grins on their faces. After that we pretty much got them a hotel for a week. It was just a sordid disgusting sex-fest of awful smells and much licking.
Nature took it’s course and pretty soon Milka started getting bigger. We prepared and the pack were there when she birthed 11 puppies. It was a strange time as Milka’s instincts kicked in and she wouldn’t let Danza anywhere near the pups for the few two weeks. He’d edge forward, fascinated at the smells and noises and she’d simply lift her upper lip which made him step back and lie down.
After 2 or 3 weeks she was exhausted from constant feeds and cleaning. That’s when she let Danza help clean puppy bums and eat their shit. We all worked together during those weeks, changing bedding, cleaning pups and keeping them altogether and Danza loved his new role. He was in heaven with so many little underlings to follow him about. He’d play, fight, chase and let them maul him to the point he showed dominance but in so doing he taught them the pressure of their bite and acceptable behaviour. They grew and one by one went off to new homes, apart from this one…
This is Bear. Son of Danza. A majestic animal of exceptional intelligence. He adored his father too and became the perfect addition to Danza’s pack. Unfortunately, I didn’t get Milka done in time and Danza, the dirty shit, booked her back into the sex-fest doggy love hotel for another sordid romp of licking and gross smells. They made this one next…
This is Crusty. Son of Danza. A floppy eared animal of questionable intelligence. He did go away to a new home but came back after the evil bastard that took him abused the poor sod. I got him back and kept him.
The difference between Bear and Crusty was marked. Whereas Bear showed deference to Danza, Crusty showed none.
This clip shows Danza playing with Crusty in the same way he did with the others, to show Crusty who was boss. Except the behaviour that Crusty shows in that clip, challenging his dad, went on as Crusty grew and got big. Just over a year later Crusty took his dad on properly and won the right to dominate. There were no injuries. It was a minor standoff over a dentastix chew. I saw it happen. Crusty had eaten his and went to take Danza’s chew away. Danza said no. Crusty said yes and took it. Danza tried to take it back and a second later he was flattened by Crusty with a huge shove. They didn’t bite or use claws but it was done. It was Crusty’s pack now. End of. And that’s the weird thing about dogs because it was entirely organic and everyone else just got on with it.
Crusty and Bear became, and still are, inseparable. They are naughty scamps that run riot through my house. However, one deeply poignant thing stands true. Crusty was abused and even now when he feels worried he will find either his brother, his mum or his dad to hug. They reassure him that the pack is safety and security, and even though Danza and him were at loggerheads most of the time, Danza would always let Crusty snuggle up to him.
We almost lost Danza a couple of years ago. He started pissing blood and became very sick. We took him into the vets who said his only hope was to be castrated but it wasn’t looking good and we should prepare for the worst. They operated, pumped him full of meds and told us to come back the next day but to be ready to say goodbye. By the next day he was back to normal, grumbling and getting fuss from all the nurses.
He aged though and slowly over the next two years he slowed down. He slept more and more. His hearing and eyes faded. His energy waned. There would still be flashes of the old Danza, a quick run, or a grab of the ball in the garden. He still had the loudest bark too, that huge deep resonating noise that filled the house.
As I stated at the start, on May 17th I became 42 and Danza became 13. We celebrated with a walk, lots of fusses and we ate chicken and ribs. Five days later I was in my writing room working on the third time travel book, my ex was visiting to see the dogs. I looked round in the afternoon to see he had thrown up on the rug. It was no bother. I got up and went to fetch cleaning materials when I saw him shaking. He’d lost control of his legs and looked confused. He couldn’t stand or walk but slumped down. It was Sunday but we booked the emergency vet and got him in. The vet said it was a spinal thing and pumped Danza full of anti-inflams. Danza couldn’t walk so we had to carry him and even at that point he grumbled and moaned at the indignity of it all. The vet said to monitor him and we’d see how he was over the next few days.
By the next day Danza had suffered a stroke. His eyes were twitching, his body was curling to one side and his head was cocking over. He couldn’t walk without toppling over. We were both in pieces and phoned the vet who said he would come over as soon as he could. We sat with Danza, fussing and talking to him. He looked so confused and sick, so quiet and drawn. Milka stayed close and even the boys, Bear and Crusty stayed quiet. The vet came with a nurse. They shook their heads and said it was time.
Fuck me it was a gut punch. It was so quick too. So brutally quick. Danza wasn’t in pain, even the vet said he wasn’t suffering but that he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t go out to wee or poo. I’ve never cried so much in my life. I’ve pulled bodies from the sea. I’ve held people as they died. I’ve cut hanging victims down and told families of the deaths of their children but never have I felt pain like that.
The vet gave Danza a sedative and said to take our time. Time? Time for what? Time to say what? Do what? I laid down with my boy under my desk where Danza slept during the day. I held his head and told him how much I loved him and I wept like a child. Even writing this hurts like something I can’t explain. We’d been together for 13 years and now he had to die. It was so awful. So so awful. Danza just grew sleepy but he licked the tears on my cheeks and laid his head down and closed his eyes. My boy. The vet came in and the rest doesn’t need to be told. Danza died in my arms and I felt his last breath on my ear as I held him.
He was cremated the next day. His ashes are in a box in this room. It’s been a week and a day since and none of us are right. The other dogs are subdued and quiet. Milka was always walked with Danza. She’s walking on her own now and keeps looking round for him. I keep looking round for him. My feet are under the desk now budged over out of habit of Danza being there.
He smelled like an old dog. He farted and snored. He grumbled if we woke him up. He shit and pissed in the night when I was asleep because he was too lazy to wake me up and tell me he wanted to go out. He walked too slowly for Milka and he ate the other dogs food and got fat but fuck me I miss him so much.
I am thankful that I was able to stop working in the police and be at home every day for the last year with him. For that I give thanks.
I also give honour for knowing him.
I give honour that he chose me as his pack and let me be part of his life.
I give honour that he gave such love to my daughter and my partner.
I give honour for the two boys he gave me that right now are crowding round my chair because I’m crying again.
Love you Danzeee, sleep well and wait for me x