Tuesday, July 30, 2013


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before us.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

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.

Lassie, the super intelligent, loving, devoted collie was first featured as a short story in a 1938 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The response to the story was so great that author Eric Knight published Lassie Come Home as a novel in 1940. Lassie continued to endear itself to millions in books, films, and several syndicated television shows over the years. However, Lassie wasn’t the first movie star dog whose popularity included books, film, radio, television, and merchandising; that honor goes to a certain German Shepherd name Rin Tin Tin.

Rescued from a World War I battlefield in 1918, at a time when deadly mustard gas was being used and soldiers fought in handmade trenches with little protection from artillery, the discovery and life of Rin Tin Tin is, in itself, a remarkable story involving a bombed village in France, and an American soldier. On 15 September 1918, Lee Duncan, a corporal in the United States Army, entered the severely battered village of Filrey, France, to identify a possible landing site for military aircraft. The village had been bombed recently and when Corporal Duncan discovered a destroyed kennel, the only dogs left alive were a female German Shepherd and her five newborn pups—one of whom would grow up to be Rin Tin Tin.

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.

Convinced the puppies were symbols of good luck, he named them Rin Tin Tin and Nanette. The names were based on a pair of good luck charms that some French children had given the American soldiers. The two puppies remained with Duncan and in 1919, when he boarded a ship back to the United States, Rin Tin Tin and Nanette went with him. Upon arrival in New York, re-entry processing required the dogs be quarantined. They were temporarily placed with a breeder named Leo Wanner.

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.

By the time Rin Tin Tin appeared in his next dog show, approximately 10 months after his injury, he made an award-winning leap of 11 feet 9 inches. (See photograph courtesy of the Rin Tin Tin Collection, Riverside, California.)

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.

With the enormous success of his film, endorsements and merchandising followed. Rin Tin Tin became a worldwide phenomenon, able to connect emotionally with audiences regardless of what languages they spoke. Extremely skilled and well-trained by Duncan’s off-camera voice commands, he proved so ‘almost human’ in his performances that in 1929, Rin Tin Tin received the most votes as a Best Actor nominee for the very first Academy Awards. However, the Academy felt a canine nominee might adversely affect the desired integrity of the awards, and Rin Tin Tin’s name was removed in favor of another human.

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.

And yet I don’t want to focus on his death, but his life, and how on one beautiful day in the summer of 2000, I drove to South Carolina to pick out our long awaited puppy. There he was with his brothers and sisters, and what I noticed first was that wherever he went, they followed him. I picked up this chubby little fella and he looked intently at my face with such intelligence, curiosity, and affection, his bright eyes arched naturally with little brown eyebrows, and my heart melted.

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 wanted nothing more than to be around us. During the day, while the boys were at school, he would follow me from room to room. I truly believe Kane thought he was human; he saw no difference between himself and my other boys. I was his mother. But when my husband came home, I was quickly abandoned. He was, most of all, my husband’s dog. They shared a special bond, so as hard as it is for me and our sons to cope with Kane’s loss, my husband (in many ways) has lost his best friend.

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.

He loved to be outdoors and often resembled a lion to me as he proudly kept watch of the neighborhood from his favorite spot in the breezeway off the kitchen. When he wasn’t chasing squirrels out of the yard, (or on one occasion tearing a drain pipe off the house then clamping each end shut with his jaws to trap one inside), he played with his little brother, our 19-pound Scottish Terrier named Patrick. And just like those little German Shepherd puppies in the same litter as Kane, Patrick followed his big brother wherever he went. My husband built hurdles for Kane to jump, and when Kane wanted to play, he almost pranced about with these beautiful high steps.

Because he was such a big, extremely strong dog, there were endless days of obedience training where he expertly learned special command signs. In fact, Kane was with me on September 11, 2011. We went that morning to his obedience class and as we did our workout with the trainer, someone ran outside to tell us the news of the 9-11 attacks.

“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

This is one of the last photos taken of Kane. He was born on 25 May 2000 and died on 24 July 2013. He was in life and will forever be in our memories, strong, strikingly beautiful, extremely intelligent and intuitive, a devoted friend, tireless protector of our home and family, brave beyond measure, wise beyond his years, and a deeply loved and cherished member of our family.

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


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)


  1. Ashley, your post brought up so many memories of our sweet golden lab, Molly, who died at age 16. She was a good companion for me. Because a man had mistreated her before I told him she was living with us from then on, she was afraid of men--except for my husband, who she adored. Now we have our sweet little Shih Tzu, Webster. Our pets become family members.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Caroline. Whether they come into our lives as puppies or are adopted as an older pet, doesn't it seem they were meant to be with you?

  2. Your blog really touched my heart. I grew up with dogs and my family is devoted to them. When all the world seems against you, your dog will still greet you at the door with love in their eyes and a happy, wagging tail.
    I know what you're experiencing. I lost my loving Golden Retriever, Kate to bone cancer in 2009. I still miss her terribly. A year later, I adopted another Golden Retriever, Lily, who had been dumped at a high kill shelter when she was only 4 months old by, ironically, a couple who had recently lost their Golden and found they couldn't love Lily. Their loss; my gain.
    Before Kate, I had 2 Scotties, Finn and Mac and I miss them, too. Each of my dogs has had a unique personality and I hold them in my heart forever.
    I believe our pets wait for us in heaven. I believe it with all my heart. God wants us to be happy there and our pets do just that.
    I am so sorry for your loss of Kane. He was a beautiful dog.

  3. Sarah, Thank you so much for your lovely comments and posting about the wonderful dogs who have been such an important part of your life since childhood. The names of your Scotties were adorable. Our Patrick is a little lost right now without his big brother. So, we are carefully watching over him. Spoke with our vet and she said dogs grieve just like humans, and he lost his big brother.

    You brought tears to my eyes with the powerful, touching story of how Lily joined your family after the painful loss of Kate. It really is profound the impact these sweet animals have on our lives, isn't it? And I think timing is impeccable of how our dear pets come into our hearts and homes at just the right moment, often unexpectedly. Somehow it seems we were fated to find them, and they us, in this life. ((hugs))

  4. Ashley, this was just a beautiful, beautiful tribute to dear Kane. I know you miss him so much. I never got to have a dog growing up. My older sisters had had 2 that had gotten run over in the past, so when I came along, we always had cats. When my daughter got a puppy from a rescue then her living circumstances changed and she went to a place with no fence, Embry came to live with "Grandma and Grandpa"--she made me laugh when she said, "Now you all are like so many other grandparents in today's world--raising your grandchild!" LOL She lives nearby and visits him often. Now I can't imagine not having him. What was it like before Embry? I don't remember. He's such a huge part of our lives and we love him with all our hearts.

    I believe that our pets wait for us in heaven. People who say that dogs have no souls have never owned one; if they had, they would never believe that. Dogs are better than many humans at affection, kindness, forgiveness and heart-rending love. I don't think God is going to ignore that. I believe Kane is waiting for his family. I'm so sorry especially for your husband. Mine really bonded with Embry, too.

    It's amazing to see the good things that dogs can do for people. I read about a prison program where the inmates are given a dog to train and take care of, and what a difference it has made to them--the only thing bad about it is that those dogs are then taken from them once they're trained. Wouldn't it be nice if those inmates that are deemed acceptable to this program might be allowed to keep the dogs if they're near release time, so encourage them to have something to love that loves them back?

    I used to watch Rin Tin Tin and Rusty when I was a little girl. Did you ever see that show? It took place on a cavalry outpost. Thanks for all the good info and for sharing your stories and pictures of Kane.

    Hugs to you, dear friend!

  5. Ashley--I knew your post would touch our hearts. Truly, I can't say I'm a dog lover as much as other people are, mainly because many of my friends have dogs that bark and jump on me incessantly until I just want to leave. Many don't train their dogs, and that bothers me a lot. I know it's natural, but everyone thinks I will love their dog as much as they do.

    Our daughter and her husband have two big dogs--one a beautiful collie-like dog, and the other a cross between a greyhound and a Catahoula Louisiana Hound (something like that.) Before these they had two big ugly terriers. All four of these dogs were shelter animals, and they go there to choose one to take home when one dies. My son-in-law is a psychologist with a practice, and he often takes his dog to his office when he knows he has patients that day who respond so positively to dogs.
    So, any dog they have is trained to the nth degree, and I love their animals. They are taught not to jump on anyone, although they do run to the door and bark once or twice to let their owners know--there's someone at the door!!!!!
    They're polite, they love attention and to be petted, but they'll approach, sit and wait until I hold out my hand to pet. They're lovely, wonderful creatures.
    I adored Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin but had never heard the story about the latter. That is a wonderful thing.
    We had a small white dog, the prettiest sweetest dog in the world. We got her as a puppy, but an older puppy. She'd been neglected and our kids--in elementary school at the time--begged for this dog. I did not want a dog, but we said yes..and guess who trained her, took care of her, etc. The kids loved her, though.
    Our kids grew up, left home, and left behind this sweet dog and two cats we had at the same time. And so, they lived on and on until old age, and Jim and I said we ran a nursing home for animals. Since they were all close to the same age, they all died close to each other.
    I have a family scrapbook, and each animal has its own page.
    Thanks, Ashley.

  6. Sweet post, Ashley. So sorry about Kane. I felt the same way about our kitty we'd had for 18 years. They are our children. I now have grandkitties and grandpuppies. Our oldest is a black lab, Megas, who will be 14 next January.
    Loved your post. you have wonderful memories.

  7. Ashley, your story of Kane touches my heart so much. I had dogs as a child and loved them all, but as an adult I've always had cats. And believe me, I've loved them just as much. Several have gone on without us over the years, but I fully expect to meet them again in the hereafter. Unlike some folks, I firmly believe animals have souls. No, not like humans but of their own special kind. I'm sure Kane will greet you someday on the other side with all the joy you shared with him in this life.

    Hugs, Lyn

  8. Cheryl, Thank you sweet friend. I love the name of your dog. I am so glad you liked the post. I can well understand the bond you have developed with Embry, and the emotional connection you and your husband have with him.

    I do believe dogs can be very therapeutic with their quiet understanding and unconditional love. When we toured UNT this summer,we learned they have a Golden Retriever on campus so students who are feeling homesick or lonely can spend time with it. When you think of all the service dogs out there that have helped people, they are so intelligent and empathetic. I remember reading that dogs often visited nursing homes to comfort elderly patients. I also learned that many of Rin Tin Tin's descendants were service dogs for special needs children. And when you think of the search and rescue dogs after 9-11 and still used every day by our troops, Dogs are AMAZING. :) ((hugs))

  9. Celia - Thank you, and I can understand how frightening some dogs can be. When I was little, I was deathly afraid of these little Dachsunds on my street. They were very temperamental and I had to walk home from school. Each time I passed by their house, they would run to the gate and looked as if they would eat me alive. You would think a little dog like that would not be scary, but they were to a 7-year old me.

    But I love big dogs. Little dogs are just too fragile for me. They are cute and cuddly, but I'm always afraid to play with them.

  10. Thank you, Carra. Wow. You must be a good human mommy to your fur babies and grandbabies. That is remarkable to have a cat live to 18-years old, isn't it? And your Megas will be 14 in January. God bless him and keep him well. ((hugs))

  11. Hi Lyn - Thank you so much, especially for your support during Kane's final days. I often think about your book, "Six Cats in My Kitchen" and how each cat came into your family's lives just when you needed them -- and they needed you. Our pets give so much to our lives; it's humbling how self-less they are, and what beautiful spirits they have. ((hugs))

  12. Gorgeous post, Ashley...feeling your loss along with you. Thank God for happy memories! Xo

  13. What a beautiful tribute to Kane, Ashley. We all have those moments when we have to say good-bye, but all those years of love and companionship will take over the loss after a while. I was always afraid of dogs when I was a kid because I'd been bitten a couple of times. So, when we brought dogs into our family as our girls grew up I was stunned at how smart and loving - as well as protective - they were. They are definitely man's best friend.

  14. Thank you dear Paisley. I can understand your fear of dogs as a child after having been bitten. But how wonderful you had loving dogs with your children, and were able to experience the love, loyalty, intelligence and devotion to your family's safety that these sweet furry family members can give.((hugs))


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