For those of us who have never been close to a pet, it may be hard to understand all of the commotion over a dog. But for those who know what it's like, the feelings of pain and loss that so many of us are going through are as real as they would be for any close friend.
Walter was so much more than a mere dog. Since 1985, his spirit of adventure, mischief, and ultimately survival has been our spirit and our inspiration. In a very real sense, he understood the different people around him and knew how to reach out to them. I can't even count the number of times he was there for me, whether it was just to help me out of a bad mood or console me on the loss of a loved one. That unconditional love and devotion that is so hard for us humans to summon up came so naturally to him. My one hope is that he never felt as if he mattered any less, even as his slow decline overcame him.
I'm a firm believer in the ability of fate to somehow guide you to appointments with destiny. There are certain places you simply have to be at and certain people you have got to meet in order for your life to follow a particular course. Walter was one of those essential ingredients in so many lives and his presence managed to point us in the right direction time after time. And for one final time, he's brought us together.
Wherever Walter has gone, so must we all go one day. Perhaps he will again lead us into an unknown place. That vision is a very comforting one to me. But, no matter what awaits us on the other side, if anything, I have been forever honored by his presence in my life. I know so many others who will say the same thing.
There are an awful lot of memories of Walter from an awful lot of people. A number will recollect that he was always great around kids - I don't think he ever got angry or snapped at anyone, although his imposing size and baritone bark was enough to instill fear in any intruder. He had such a gentle disposition and that's what made people love him so much. And there were so many other mannerisms - the "Walter stare" which involved his turning his head completely around to look into your eyes while pointed away from you, the "Walter dance" which was basically leaping into the air while running backwards when he realized he was being taken for a walk, and the "Walter dive" that happened without exception whenever we brought him to the beach.
Of course, a lot of this stopped after his crippling accident in 1995. But, though life got harder for him, the spirit never left his eyes, not until the very end. It was when he stopped eating and started to withdraw that we knew some other instinct had taken over... that he was aware his time was near an end.
By all accounts, Walter had a good life, surrounded by people who cared about him and with access to a large area to roam freely. He was brought up with positive reinforcement rather than being punished for misdeeds and I think that is one of the things that helped make him so pleasant to be around.
Walter's grave is only a few feet away from the porch on which he was born and probably not too far from where he was conceived. We all hope this means his spirit and his memory will always remain close.
And finally, I just want to say thanks to all of those people who have been writing and extending sympathy. I don't think I've seen a single piece of mail that didn't communicate the true sense of loss that Walter's passing represents. Some of them have been extremely insightful and very therapeutic. I'm amazed at how many people truly understand. For those of you who say you've never met Walter... I think in a way you have.
Thanks from all of us.
March 3, 1999
Walter died early this morning.
February 28, 1999
The last few months have been alternating between positive and negative as Walter improved slightly from his November problems but continued to decline overall. He managed to get around pretty good but it gradually became increasingly difficult for him to stand and move around. The frustration he's been experiencing has become very apparent and we've done everything we can to help him out and minimize the discomfort. Within the last day, we've seen a significant downturn. Walter appears to have given up and has stopped eating. He doesn't seem to be in pain but he has withdrawn into his house and can't be coaxed out. There doesn't seem to be very much we can do for him at this point except try and get him to eat and keep him as comfortable as possible.
November 26, 1998
It's been getting increasingly difficult for Walter to stand up and move around. Today was the first time he was unable to get up on his own. We intend to do everything possible to keep him comfortable and alert. He's obviously frustrated by his inability to get where he wants to go but he remains responsive and otherwise appears to be in good spirits.
November 25, 1997
Walter's mother (Reuther) dies at the age of 16 in California.
We're out of Walter shirts so our fundraising efforts appear to have been successful. Thanks to everyone!
Late Summer 1996
A strange new problem began to appear as the summer drew to a close. Walter was losing strength and unable to keep anything down. A medical exam revealed the existence of a condition known as mega-esophagus, a chronic ailment that prevents dogs from swallowing so that they literally starve themselves to death. Once again, Walter's vet recommended we put him to sleep.
(This was something like the third time he did this.) We opted to switch vets and give Walter IV treatment so he could regain his strength. We appealed for information on the condition over the net and what we were able to obtain was enough for us to get him on the right kind of medication. He still has trouble swallowing, he coughs a lot, and he pukes almost every day.
But he's not in pain and he's definitely happy, especially now that he has an old friend to keep him company - Naftali, a cat who met Walter as a kitten several years ago and hence developed many doglike qualities.
More information on Walter below......
Walter was born in August 1985 at 2600 Headquarters. Back then we were a tiny three sheet newsletter and were hardly deemed a threat by anyone. Well, as everyone knows, that's all changed.
Walter is the son of Reuther and Coa. Reuther is a Yellow Lab bitch who currently resides in the Bay Area. Coa is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever whose whereabouts are currently unknown. He is wanted for two and a half years of unpaid child support.
Considerable confusion was caused at Walter's birth when he turned out to be the only puppy in the litter. Indifferent to humans in his first few weeks, his attitude changed profoundly when he discovered where dog food really comes from.
Over the years, Walter has been a terrific inspiration to us. Always willing to go for a walk, play frisbee, or dive into the harbor to retrieve sticks that kept falling in, Walter had what we consider to be the true hacker spirit.
Early in his life, while being walked on a rural street, Walter was hit by a pickup truck. Actually, Walter hit the truck more than it hit him (Walter was in pursuit of a cat) but it was still a sobering experience for all concerned. Other than a few scrapes, he escaped unscathed.
Occasionally, Walter would get into things he shouldn't have gotten into, like garbage. One time he raided something particularly noxious and came down with a condition known as bloat. He had to be taken to the animal emergency room where his stomach was pumped multiple times. The vet would occasionally come into the waiting room with assorted objects they had pumped out to ask if we needed them. Once again, Walter survived a brush with death.
Having been brought up in the country, Walter was used to roaming the neighborhood. He became known to all and respected by most. He became infatuated with a neighborhood dog who, unfortunately for him, turned out to be a Chihuahua. Over the years, every time the Chihuahua went into heat, Walter would go completely crazy, breathing heavily, howling, and camping out outside the Chihuahua's house. One day, Walter disappeared and all attempts to find him were futile. Two days passed and there was still no sign of him. Concerned that something from his father's shady past had caught up with him, we printed up hundreds of flyers and distributed them to the entire neighborhood. On the third day, we started getting calls which placed Walter at a location some distance away. We sent a team to investigate and were greeted by homeowners delighted that we had come to remove the mysterious howling brown dog. Walter, looking emaciated, had found a new house to camp in front of. But, as it turns out, it was the same dog. The Chihuahua had moved.
It was determined at that point that Walter should be fixed so that he wouldn't continue to be manipulated by the Chihuahua. Even though he was more than five years old, the risk of weight gain was better than his continued unrequited love. Unfortunately, the weight gain was more than anyone had anticipated and Walter was soon known as the heaviest dog in the neighborhood, physically and spiritually.
While he was slowed down a bit, he never lost his enthusiasm, his zest for living, or his hacker skills. He came to accept cats as potential allies, casting aside his earlier youthful brashness and replacing it with a more tolerant, open-minded policy.
October 27, 1995
It was dusk and Walter was being walked. Since there is minimal traffic, leashes are rarely used in the neighborhood. Walter was trained to return to his master's side whenever a car approached. He was coming back from across the street to do this but the car was speeding. He was hit hard as the car tried to stop. A crowd gathered. It happened right outside the Chihuahua's house.
The weekend was spent determining the extent of Walter's injuries. After multiple tests, major internal damage was ruled out. But Walter had severe rear hip and leg damage. And, because of his weight, there was a grim prognosis concerning his ability to walk or stand in the future.
A decision had to be made regarding his future. An operation would cost thousands of dollars and might not make any difference. The vets told us that we should consider putting him to sleep if he was facing a life of pain.
November 1, 1995
Walter was drugged out most of the time because of the pain and the need to do further testing. We decided to bring him to a hip surgeon who would give us a sense of what he was in for. We drove for more than an hour and carried him in on a stretcher. He was almost totally knocked out but would occasionally stare sadly at one of us. This would be the moment where we would have to make a painful decision.
The surgeon looked him over and said, although his injuries were bad and his weight was a handicap, he thought he had a fighting chance. That was all we needed to hear. Surgery was scheduled for the 3rd.
Mid November 1995
After the surgery, Walter had a long road ahead. He was unable to move on his own. The only way we could "walk" him was with two people - one would pull on a leash while the other lifted a sling that supported his rear legs. The pain was so severe that he would snap at the leash until the sling was holding him. We made up schedules around the clock and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. He was panting a lot and whined frequently. But we also noticed something that hadn't happened in a long time - his tail wagged slightly.
Late November 1995
Walter had been on a super restrictive diet and the result was significant weight loss. While he had been 110 pounds at the time of the accident, his weight now was around 75 pounds. This was a very positive development. It had also become less painful for him to be pulled up on his sling; in fact one person could now do it without the leash.
He was starting to sleep peacefully now and started to seem a lot more like his old self. It was obviously frustrating to him that he couldn't stand up but he was able to drag himself across the floor. One of the most positive developments came when he dragged himself into the kitchen and knocked over the garbage can in an act of protest against his limited rations. He was coming back.
Slowly, his outer wounds began to heal. Then, one day, while he was being held outside, the sling was slowly removed. He didn't fall! In the days ahead, we tried to wean him off the sling and he gradually began to hobble around more on his own. Then, one day, he stood up on his own. If he never progressed any further than this, it would have been worth it. But there was still a lot of recovery ahead.
Walter's improvement has been hampered by a new development - invisible mites that caused him to chew away a lot of his fur and prevented the fur that had been shaved off during the operation from growing back. He now has to have special injections and a weekly bath with a special chemical. The mite infestation appears to have been stopped and now we're trying to get that final hip usable again. It's likely he will need further surgery on it - at the moment he's only using three legs. At this point we feel it's more important for him to gain full strength on those three legs and to get over the mite problem before we subject him to any more trauma.
Over the past couple of months, Walter's spirits and health have been almost fully restored. We've set him up outside where he is almost always paying attention to something, which makes him a whole lot happier. He's in a controlled environment so he is in no danger of wandering off but he also has a lot of free space. His fur is almost completely grown back - this seemed to accelerate once he was back outside. The mites are gone, his appetite is as good as it ever was, and he is mentally alert. He will never regain full use of one of his rear legs but he has very few problems getting around. Multiple steps are the only really big deal; he can get up two or three without a problem. Walter's recovery has been a great joy and inspiration to all of us here and so has all of the support and kind wishes from everyone out there. We cannot thank you enough.
Number of puppies born in Walter's litter: 1
Number of swans Walter has chased: 1
Number of swans that have chased Walter: 6
Number of times Walter has had his stomach pumped: 5