So when I found him on the morning of the 14th while letting the dogs out to start their day, lying dead in his favorite sleeping position with a calm facial expression, I was utterly shocked. I literally found myself not being able to breathe for a few moments. It was totally unexpected.
I racked my brain about what could have happened and mentally ran through the activities we had the previous day, aside from the walk. The only thing I was able to think of was that he possibly overexerted his heart by playing and running with the other dogs while I was mowing the lawn that evening, an activity that our dogs love because we have to toss the toys in the mower's path off to the side. They have turned it into a game. I toss, they retrieve and put it back in the path I am heading toward, I toss, etc. That day, like many others lately, it was unusually warm and humid, and even though I waited until the evening to mow, it was still quite warm. In hindsight, I should have probably put the dogs inside, at least Diego, being he was our oldest. As healthy and strong as he was for his age, ten is still ten. But he was having such a wonderful time and so I let him stay out and trusted he would rest when he felt the need. Now I think all that activity may have simply been too much for his heart with the humidity and warmth.
After I finished mowing, I made sure the dogs had lots of fresh, cold water and went inside to shower. We have no air conditioning so I let the dogs cool off in the shade outside. Later he had dinner and all was fine. When it was time to have everyone come in for the night, I noticed that Diego was moving a bit slower than usual, but I just assumed he was quite tired from such a busy day. In the morning, I found he was dead. His body language that morning tells me that he most likely did not suffer at all, for which I am extremely grateful. He also made no unusual sounds in the night. It seems he just died quietly and peacefully in his sleep.
I miss him deeply. He was a part of our family and an incredibly important part of our dog group. He was my canine partner who helped me teach and train any new dog that came into our family over the years by being welcoming and open when meeting them, but also being a very fair and clear disciplinarian when necessary. Being that we don't have kennels, the dogs need to get along and Diego helped keep the peace by correcting behavior that was not acceptable. I never taught him that; he just did it. All the dogs respected him without fearing him. He was my second in command.
When being taken out on walks, he was social with people, but in that typical German Shepherd dog way, heacknowledged the stranger, gave a brief greeting and moved on. If we came across other dogs that barked at him on our walks, he barely glanced in their direction. It was below his dignity to respond to such unruly behavior.
I am very grateful to him for all the roles he played in our lives:
He was a loyal, affectionate, and protective family member, an amazing stud dog who together with our females gave us beautiful and healthy puppies over the years, and a wonderful role model and teacher for the dogs that came to join our breeding program or the ones that came through for training.
I feel good about the fact that he had a full life with us. Besides the above, he was solidly obedience trained, enjoyed regular walks, hikes, and car rides. He loved car rides; I would say that was his favorite activity in life, with walks being a close second.
He was a big help and did everything well, which I very much appreciated. I told him that often, the last time being 2 days before he passed. He always seemed to enjoy hearing it and while I would bend down to give him that hug of appreciation and thank him for all his help, he would lean into me and look at me with a smile in his eyes. He knew he was loved, appreciated, and had a purpose. He had a varied life and I am glad we were able to give that to him. He was an amazing dog: calm, dignified, noble, and healthy. I will miss him dearly for a long time to come.
Rest peacefully, Diego. You were such an important part of our lives all these years, and we love you with all of our hearts. You are a part of the very fabric of our being, and as such, are always with us. Thank you for everything - we couldn't have asked for a better family member, stud dog, and canine group leader! Rest in peace, my friend! You are immensely missed, very much loved, and always appreciated!
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To Dirk and Alice: We are so grateful that you entrusted us and graced our lives with such an amazing being all those years ago! Diego was the best present I have ever received and you will both, along with Natalie who gave him his wonderfully fitting name, always hold a special place in my heart. My deepest gratitude to all three of you! (Please give Luca a hug from us! May he possess some of his sire's beautiful qualities!)