By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
In many ways, this has been the most difficult post for me to write. You see, on 24 July 2013, Kane, my family’s beloved 13-year old German Shepherd passed away in his sleep. So, when faced with a topic of what to write about this month, all I could think about was Kane, the impact he had on our lives, and the soul deep ache that remains as we deal with his loss. As I gathered my thoughts about Kane and selected some photos to share with you all, I pondered the unique relationship that man has always had with dogs.
Whether or not you are a dog lover or believe the old saying that Dogs are Man’s Best Friend, the extraordinary relationship between humans and dogs has been recorded throughout history in poems, literature and film. Some of you may remember reading Homer’s Odyssey in high school, and that it was Argos who not only waited 20 years for his master to return from his ill-fated voyage, but was the only one to recognize Odysseus after so many years. Other unforgettable dogs featured in literature and later in film were Dorothy’s feisty, devoted Toto from The Wizard of Oz, the scarred but courageous Buck from The Call of the Wild, the heartbreaking Old Yeller from the Newberry-winning novel of the same name, and more recently the adorable Golden Retriever Marley from Marley and Me.
Duncan rescued and brought them back to his Army unit where a new chapter in their lives began. After the puppies were weaned and the mother’s health restored, she was given to an officer. Three of the puppies were adopted by three soldiers in the unit. Duncan, however, kept a male and female puppy.
Unfortunately, when the time came for the dogs to be returned to Duncan, Nanette had become gravely ill with pneumonia. A sympathetic Wanner gave Duncan one of his female German Shepherd puppies. While traveling west to California, Duncan learned that Nanette had died; he named his new female puppy Nanette II.
At his home in Los Angeles, Duncan taught Rin Tin Tin a variety of tricks and believed if his beloved pet won some ribbons at local shows, he would be able to breed Rin Tin Tin. To this end, in 1922, Duncan became a founding member of the Shepherd Dog Club of California. With great anticipation and hope, Rin Tin Tin was entered in the club’s first show. Although he demonstrated impressive agility, he also showed an aggressive temperament by growling, barking, and snapping during the show. To make matters worse, on the walk home from the show, Rin Tin Tin's left front leg was broken when a tied stack of newspapers was carelessly tossed off a delivery truck and hit Rin Tin Tin. Duncan nursed Rin Tin Tin back to health over the next nine months.
At the show, Duncan noticed Rin Tin Tin being filmed and the thought occurred to him that perhaps his dog might do well in motion pictures, following in the footsteps of Strongheart, another German Shepherd who had become quite successful in films.
The seeds of Duncan’s dream were planted, and in 1922, Rin Tin Tin made his film debut in The Man from Hell’s River. Billed as Rintan, he portrayed a wolf in the film because the wolf that was to have been used did not perform well on camera. He would continue to be cast as a wolf-hybrid in other films as well. In 1922, Rin Tin Tin was billed as himself portraying a domestic dog in the silent film, My Dad.
A year later, Rin Tin Tin appeared in his first starring role, Where the North Begins. The film proved so successful, it has often been referred to as the movie that saved Warner Brothers Studio from bankruptcy. Rin Tin Tin would star in 24 other successful films, many of which were written by a young screenwriter named Darryl F. Zanuck. In fact, it was his involvement with the Rin Tin Tin films that contributed to Zanuck’s promotion to movie producer.
Among the extensive silent and sound filmography of Rin Tin Tin are numerous westerns including the 1925 film Clash of the Wolves. The Library of Congress stated this film was “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” and the complete full version has been preserved by the National Film Registry.
When discussing her wonderful book, Rin Tin Tin – The Life and the Legend, author Susan Orleans described the story of Rin Tin Tin as a “narrative about luck, about love, about heroism, and loyalty, and that story is what has endured”.
The qualities she described about Rin Tin Tin resonated with me, because they easily describe Kane, as I am sure dog owners everywhere can relate when thinking about the four-legged fur babies in their families.
"There will always be a Rin Tin Tin.” ~ Lee Duncan
Rin Tin Tin died on 10 August 1932; he was 14 years old. Although heartbroken by the loss of his beloved dog, Duncan believed the legacy of Rin Tin Tin would live on in the hearts of Rin Tin Tin fans. Without question, this remarkable dog broke ground in a very young movie industry and became an unprecedented movie star. He demonstrated not just how intelligent and agile he was on film, but the unique emotional connection between dogs and humans that he was able to communicate with a worldwide audience.
“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” ~ Doris Day
I emphatically believe there is an undeniable empathy that dogs possess, a quiet understanding and almost psychic insight established by a close emotional bond with their human families. I saw it often in the eyes of our dog Kane; I felt it in the quiet moments after the death of my mother and he watched me in silence then came over to quietly rest his head in my lap. And I saw it again in his eyes when he lay dying – this sweet sadness, quiet knowing, and stoic acceptance that the time had come for him to leave us. I think of the wisdom in his eyes, the calm of his demeanor, and the nobility in the way he faced death on his own terms.
Kane grew quickly, as most puppies do, literally by leaps and bounds. He hated squirrels, loved to play tug o’ war, and could let himself out by opening the kitchen door like a raptor from Jurassic Park. Throughout his life, he tirelessly remained sentinel over our home and children. He literally leapt into the pool at six months of age when our youngest son screamed. Kane didn’t understand that Will was not in danger, but just having fun with his brothers.
He was an extremely healthy dog until the last year of his life. He weighed on average 122 pounds, and guarded all of us unfailingly night and day. With an almost noble sense about his bearing, Kane easily intimidated anyone who saw him, and to the very end of his days remained watchful and wary of anyone who approached any member of his family. Still, to us he was a big teddy bear.
“They say that dogs may dream, and when Topsy was old, his feet would move in his sleep. With his eyes closed he would often make a noise that sounded quite human, as if greeting someone in his dreams.” ~ Alice Hoffman, The Red Garden
Thank you for allowing me to share some memories of our sweet Kane with you, and I hope you enjoyed also learning about Rin Tin Tin. I would also like to thank my dear friends who not only understood the pain of our loss, but helped to bring comfort to our hearts as we adjust to life without our precious Kane.
With that in mind, I would like to share a poem by Donna Swajeski that Cheryl Pierson, one of my dear Sweethearts of the West sisters sent to me. She found it on Facebook and shared it with me. Now, I would like to share it with you.
And yes, I DO believe that dogs go to heaven. :) ~ AKB
TAKE JOY IN OLD DOGS
Their joys are simple. A soft bed. A scrap fallen from the table that the younger dogs missed. The memory of a treed squirrel. A stormless night.
White whiskered faces and legs crooked as question marks.
Old Dogs…their sweet Buddha bellies hang over crossed legs as they fall asleep in a coveted patch of sun. Dreaming of out-racing their shadows down long, shady lanes.
Once they danced by your side. The very definition of joy unleashed. A perfect poem caught in shining eyes and wagging tails. They have followed you faithfully for years. And would plunge into fires, untamed wildernesses, raging waters if you asked.
Now, they struggle to catch up. Their pace slow but their hearts still valiant.
Their cloudy eyes are starting to dim and go distant, tuning in to some invisible world. Just beyond your reach.
Don’t go you say, as you scratch the tender part between their ears. Stay longer. I can’t imagine a world without your fur pressed close to my cheek. There are still so many roads we haven’t explored.
And they look up at you with a wisdom that just slays you.
Their backs are bent, not from the weight of years, but from the invisible wings they are growing that will soon take them to a place where once more they are warriors of speed, drunk with the sights and scents of a thousand meadows.
Able to leap high enough to touch the wing of the tiniest butterfly.
A place where they will now wait for you to catch up. ~ Donna Swajeski
Rin Tin Tin – The Life and the Legend by Susan Orleans (Simon and Schuster)
Dog World: And The Humans Who Live There by Alfred Gingold (Random House)
Lassie - The Extraordinary Story of Eric Knight and the World's Favourite Dog by Peter Haining (Peter Owen Ltd)