Molly the Rottweiler
Molly was my wife’s dog. There was no disputing that fact. She was Molly’s hero from the beginning. That was the day D noticed our two huskies below in the yard staring very intently. Mojo, the Joker, our large red was statue still and as focused as his sister. His sister was lead huntress, but he liked to follow up on what she found. They’d trapped a neighborhood coon like that once. Huskies don’t yap or bark when in hunting mode. They are dead serious and stay as silent as their wolf ancestors in situations such as this. They would silently move apart to encircle whatever they were focused on, then charge together.
We live on a small, manmade lake, and in late December, the temperature was already in the twenties and the water was fast freezing. By the next day the entire cove was iced over.
D saw this slicked-wet, black beast struggling in the shallows by our backyard, feebly turning this way and that, pawing the chest-deep icy water. D couldn’t tell what she might be. An otter? though that made no sense. When she stepped outside to get closer, D recognized that the creature was a bedraggled canine.
The dog was in desperate straits, freezing to death and unable to make the effort toclimb onto the seawall only a couple feet above her. D grabbed a lead, hooked it to the broken garden chain around the dog’s neck, and used brute strength to haul her ashore. Then brought her inside the house.
Had the huskies been napping inside, had D not been working from the house, returning home we would have found a very sad sight. We’d already come on one such scene of a dead deer, sprawled in the creek, probably struck on the road and tumbled into the water. Life in the wild isn’t always bucolic.
Already living with two heavy coated dogs, towels are a necessity. Dog towels we have in abundance. So first D toweled the shaking beast dry, but as she continued to shiver, struggling to recover, D led her into a seldom-used bathroom where she set her up with blankets and a small heater. She then called me in her most innocent voice, “Bill, do you have a minute?”
D loves animals, so on one level the story she told me on the phone didn’t surprise me. Yet it did. A call to Animal Control would be most folks’ response. To see the beast picked up and not get involved. D could have put it out of her mind, but she didn’t. The things you know yet continue to learn about the person who’s closest to you.
When I got home that evening, together we checked in on the still recovering beast. She was curled in a tight ball at the far end of the narrow bathroom, her large, dark eyes staring at us, ears laid back despite her weak, skeletal body. “Holy shit, she’s a Rottweiler!” though the least healthy of dogs. Sixty-five pounds, two-thirds of her natural body weight, and we could count her ribs. As she rose up on shaking legs, her hip bones were sharply defined, as were her hanging teats. Rather than frighten her with any further interaction, we left her with a bowl of crunchies to rest for the night.
She’d broken free of a puppy mill, she being the mill. She was still nursing pups. Her tail wasn’t cut, so she’d been chained to this duty by humans. Chained with a garden chain like she warranted nothing better. Her black and tan coat was filthy and her ears were torn. Her square jaw, and short nose, she was purebred or close to it.
“We need to get that damn chain off her!” I don’t understand how wolves ever came to trust humans.
When we brought her in to the vet the next day, the doctor diagnosed her as dying of a uterine infection that had been left untreated, probably from the birth(s) of her pups. Nursing bitches naturally lose weight, but she was starving. And, we were warned, her kidneys could be failing. In so many words the vet delicately said she’d understand if we decided to put her down. In so many words we asked that she be operated on. How do you tell an animal caught in a spiral of inhumanity that she isn’t worth saving? There are larger tragedies in the world, but this small one was just in front of us, trusting we’d help.
Loaded with painkillers, coming home from the hospital, Molly the Rottweiler was already bonded to D as tight as any dog could be. It was as obvious as her eyes were black pits, staring intensely at me, trying to decide if I could be trusted. We would spend Molly’s remaining few years trying to convince her that most people weren’t all like the bastards who’d been holding her captive for profit.
We probably considered ourselves old pros, but Molly introduced us to an entirely different dimension of caring for dogs.
She had no identification and none of our neighbors were missing a dog. So I named her Molly, on account of she seemed as feisty as an Irish gun moll, and I’m an Irish mutt, and she was German, so it all fit, see? When the painkillers wore off, her real personality began to emerge.
We didn’t attempt locating her ‘breeder’ owners. Anyone who’d treat an animal that poorly, the least they’d get from us would be scathing words, and I daydreamed about a baseball bat hoping to come across them. We knew, given her liability, it would take a serious dog person to adopt her, and none volunteered. So she was ours, and the story unfolded from there.
She’d not been previously part of a household; this we learned the night she came home from the hospital, when she stood in front of the TV we were watching in the family room, and peed like a horse on the carpet. Molly had a substantial pee stream. Though that was the only time she ever had an accident.
She fascinated Mojo the Red Joker, while Maddie the alpha dog stayed more aloof. Molly for her part accepted the huskies came with the deal. In short order we were a pack of five. Who chooses to live with three large, willful dogs in their homes? And travels with them five hours to the beach so they all could dip their paws in the ocean? In a sedan. Then buys a new SUV so the dogs can travel in style?
Her first trip in a car, Molly decided the driver in the car idling next to us at the light needed to understand that Molly was a bad ass. Conveying this in her bellowing basso scant inches from behind my head was enough to scare the piss out of me. I’m sure it didn’t do much for the other driver, either.
Molly enjoyed her new yard. She particularly enjoyed hiding in the bushes by the road, then leaping out to bellow at the neighborhood ladies on their morning walks. Great fun, ha, ha, ha.
The time she chased an impertinent squirrel up the tulip poplar, leaping easily eight feet from the ground, it was obvious we had a lively one on our hands. Black Dog became her nickname.
Though water terrified her. After her initial terror, she wouldn’t approach the lake. First time we took her on our running trail and had to cross the creek, she balked and refused to take another step forward. Though seeing D cross with the huskies cheerfully splashing through the shallow water, Molly began to moan; D was leaving her! Two days later on her second attempt, she leaped stepping stone to stone, two paws to each across the water. As long as D was directly in front of her, Molly would not be left behind.
It was not easy running her. Molly entertained herself by going off at people we’d pass walking or running. Great fun. Except that with her large jaw, healthy canines and a belligerence to strangers, she was a serious liability. At her first checkup, the vet reminded us of this; she said her husband was a lawyer, and it rubbed off, evidently. But we had to admit it concerned us.
Yet Molly could distinguish between good and bad in an uncanny way. When our ten year-old neighbor and her teenage sister came to see her for the first time, Molly was saintly and charming to them both. Outside on her walks however, all bets were off. D learned if we humans and dogs insisted on walking together, Molly was going to lead the parade, stalking the street looking for dangerous strangers to chew on. Walked by herself, she became less explosive.
The term dog behaviorists refer to is “reactive.” She was all of that. She had scores to settle with humanity, and a few with their dogs.
Early on, when we invited neighbors in for a night cap, the four of us sat in the family room along with the three dogs. I kept Molly close. When it came time for the neighbors to leave, I took hold of her collar (she had a real one now) which was lucky if not prescient. When they rose to leave, Molly gave out a roar and lunged. Beyond fearing I might lose my grip, my main thought was that my wrist was right by her neck, and those teeth… Enraged as she was, I feared for my hand. We’d never seen her that threatening. She didn’t stop until they were gone. By the following Thanksgiving, she dozed under Rob’s feet while we were gathered at the breakfast bar.
Have you ever seen a ninety pound upside down Rotten Weiler looking at you with her lolling tongue, goofy expression, waiting for a belly rub? In her own space, Molly acted the happy puppy she had never been previously.
There is an article on dog training in the Washingtonian magazine from 2010 that mentions Molly and D. The article is about Pam Nashman, our very own dog whisperer, who then lived with her own rescued Rottie across the lake from us. Pam Nashman, Dog Whisperer.[i] A mutual friend put us in touch with Pam. The mutual friend was terrified of Molly, and she’d raised a Great Dane from a puppy.
D would drive Molly to her doggie behavior class forty-five minutes each way, once a week. Big Boy was a one hundred-fifty pound Rottie at the far end of the warehouse where the classes were held, and when he barked, all the other dogs paid attention. Except for Molly, who had things to say as well and the voice to match.
We ran Molly with the huskies. Three dogs abreast we two behind. Early on, she did fine except when we’d pass others along the bike trail. So we made adjustments. I paired her with Maddie, who would hip-check her to keep Molly from wandering. She outweighed Maddie by nearly forty pounds, but Maddie was the alpha dog.
One night, the W&D trail empty, I spied a medium size dog running off leash, and steered Molly onto a side trail running parallel to the main trail. D had the huskies. I didn’t worry; Mojo could take care of himself. The bonehead owner let his privileged poodle come right at Mojo, who dispatched him with a snap. From a distance I yelled at the bonehead in words not normally used in polite society. A couple hundred feet away on the main trail, D was doing much the same. Bonehead charged me (though not his dog, who had a better appreciation for Rottweilers). I suppose it was the only wise thing Bonehead did that night. Had he gone after D, he would have set off Molly and I both. So instead, Bonehead got in my face like he wanted a piece, spittle and all, demanding his rights to huff about stupid shit. Barely holding Molly back by her collar, it was all I could do not to let her drag me into him. She was ninety pounds of in-shape muscle, and Molly badly wanted to show him how stupid he was. What passed for thought was if I let her go at him, she’d be put down for attacking him. The best I could do was scream at him to get lost, and finally he huffed away. That night I wanted him as badly as she did, but one of us had to be the adult. Sigh.
Rottweilers and huskies are distinctly different characters. Where huskies are the original jokers, always looking to get into something fun, Rottweilers are an excellent breed at training, provided their owners commit to them. Their reputation is that they are inherently dangerous because they were bred to be, but that’s BS. The dangerous dogs are the ones that have been driven to it by humans. Michael Vick’s pit fighters were mostly all rehabilitated. Out of fifty-one pit fighters, forty-eight were found homes.
Not all dogs are saints, even if dog lovers think of them as such. Some dogs are unstable, and need to dealt with carefully. Molly was one of those. As a result we rarely had visitors while she was with us.
Rottweilers were bred originally for hauling carts thus their strength, and lived with their families thus their loyalty. Huskies (my opinion) act closer to the ancestral wolves, so they demonstrate an independence of people, whereas Rottweilers have been carefully integrated into our company, and it shows. Huskies are boon companions if you want to run, regardless of weather and distance, and they are uncritical in their affections. Rottweilers run like armored tanks and will die defending their families.
We lost all three dogs in a painful space of eight months. Mojo the Red went first at thirteen years, felled by a brain tumor. Molly next, her kidneys giving out, dying at an unknown age. Lastly Maddie, the alpha dog was done in by organ failure at fourteen. Watching each of them decline, I found the only solace was to write about them. Even dogs should have their stories told. Dogs and Disturbance holds those stories. Toward the book’s close, the poem, Does She Have a Name? is Molly’s story. My son, Ryan had died not long previously, so the wounds of losing them was like losing him all over again. And because she’d devoted so much time training her, Molly was hardest of the three for D to lose.
It was hard, watching the two huskies who we’d raised from pups fade, but they’d lived full lives. Losing Molly after only three years was unfair. She’d found her place in the world, but her kidneys began to fail her. The vet taught us how to ‘bag’ her with subcutaneous shots of fluids close to daily, and I ‘pilled’ her putting my hand deep into her mouth for the anti-nausea medicine. As long as she could walk, we kept her going.
One day at the vet’s, I was sitting with Molly when Pam Nashman came. Molly thumped her tail on the floor in recognition, and Pam sat on the hard, cold floor with us for her treatment that day. Her own Rottie was dying of cancer, yet she sat there beside Molly.
A week later, D was traveling out of town when I called to tell her it was time. We returned Molly to the vet, and on wobbling legs she led us into the treatment room for the last time. We keep the three small urns upstairs on a bookshelf.
Al, the semi-retired vet tech who loved Molly, road a hog and grew an out-of-control beard, mourned when she died. I suspect Al saw hers as a hard life story similar to his own.
Do we regret anything? Beyond wishing she’d had more time with us, probably not. It took three years before we were able to consider another dog. The current rescue dog, Layla, was picked up in Prince George’s County, Maryland across the river. Chipped, and clearly a purebred husky, five years old and escaped from her home. Her owners never claimed her; a rescue group south of us, Pet Harbor adopted her. We put a claim on her first time we met her. I sometimes wonder what she’d think of the Black Dog.