I made a new friend about six years ago. I was recently reminded of meeting her by my Facebook feed. But, a sad, yet wonderful reminder of how we met actually came up a few weeks before that.
Right after the twins were born, we had to rehome one of our dogs. He was my dog. Zeppelin Von Gunther. When I was at home, he followed me everywhere I went. His entire being was wrapped up within my existence. A friend with some German Shepherd knowledge told me it was because I was the ‘weakest link’ of the family. Apparently, my ability to survive household situations was less than my husband’s and thus, Zeppelin saw it as his sole purpose in life to ensure I returned safely from wherever I went in the house.
Zeppelin was our ‘second born.’ He was Bella’s litter mate and two weeks after we adopted her, he was still available. So, we decided to adopt him too.
One summer, before we had kids, we took them to the beach with us. To ensure they traveled safely we bought them dog seat belt harnesses. Folks, do not buy your dog a seat harness for the car. Before we made it to the interstate, Bella had herself tied up in it like a pretzel. She literally could not move. Zeppelin, on the other hand, sat calmly in his tether letting Bella do the convincing that we had wasted a handful of money.
We released them to travel freely and comfortably the rest of the way and donated the harnesses to the Goodwill for some well-meaning poor soul to purchase.
After all that, it turned out the beach wasn’t the best vacation choice for Bella and Zeppelin. They were terrified of the ocean.
I suppose the sound is much more amplified when you are a dog and your ears are this big.
When I ventured out alone to the beach, Zeppelin completely lost it. He was beside him self that he could not see me. He rushed through the beach house until he found the perfect spot at an upstairs window where he could watch me sitting on the beach. And, he did not leave his post until he saw me get up and head towards the beach house. Then, he greeted me with gusto as I came through the door.
He was my dog.
But six years ago he became someone else’s dog. A misplaced growl at our first-born child, just two weeks before we brought our twins home, caused us to painfully decide he was better suited for a home with no small children. So, we never picked him up from the kennel, where he was while I had the twins. Instead, we went there and said goodbye to him.
He had no idea. He didn’t understand.
A few days later, his new parents picked him up and we picked up Bella. And, from that point on, he was no longer my dog.
Within a couple of weeks Zeppelin realized the knocks on the door to his new home and the ringing of the door bell were signs that someone was at his house. He adopted a new person to be his person. Her name was Joann. She was the ‘weak link’ and he judiciously watched over her every day of the rest of his life. And, Joann loved him fiercely that entire time – almost six full years.
It was an open adoption and we became friends through our bond with him. She would send me sweet messages about what he was up to. And, after the first Christmas, Joann even sent us a Shutterfly book with images of him in his new life. It was hard to be sad because he had it so good and arguably better than he would have had it with us. Plus, we were so busy with three children under two years of age. There was little time to reflect on our seven years together and miss him.
Earlier this year, Joann’s messages grew longer with concern about his health. She wrote of how they had enlisted the help of a doctor, a hospice veterinarian, who started acupuncture to help Zeppelin’s failing body. Despite the odds, and thanks to the care of his owners, Zeppelin made it to his thirteenth birthday. He almost made it to Thanksgiving.
And then, just like that Joann had to pick the day to set him free to run across the rainbow bridge. To see Bella again. To meet her other dogs, Shelby and Bristol. That day was a Thursday. Three weeks ago.
One morning, weighted down by knowing Zeppelin was leaving the Earth soon, I sought the distraction of tile selections for our new house. As I was browsing through a tile store I received a text message from Joann. She wanted to offer me the opportunity to come and see him one last time.
Over the prior six years I happened to see him at the kennel one time when we picked up Bella after a trip. He was getting a bath and we peered around the corner at him. The twins met him for the first time and I gave him a hug.
I quickly left the tile shop and stopped to get a sleeve of tennis balls. They were Zeppelin’s favorite. He chomped them like chewing gum and would plop them on the couch or nose them to you on the floor, so you could roll them back to him. He never grew tired of the game. And, he played it with me one last time, on and off, for an hour or so.
It was like seeing an old, dear friend. It didn’t seem like six years of separate lives had passed between us.
I like to think he remembered me. My friend, Joann, captured this image.
Zeppelin was alert, but his body was no longer capable of supporting him. Thirteen good years of tennis balls and watching over two weak links.
Joann picked the perfect time. It wasn’t too soon. And, it wasn’t too late.
Bella and Zeppelin were two of the best. My daughter still draws pictures of herself walking or playing with Bella.
She wishes with all of her might that she could bring her back.
And, I know if she could, Joann would bring Zeppelin back.
My hope is for our empty spaces to be filled with time, for time to distance the sorrow, so that only the joy of the memories rises in the form of smiles and falls in the form of laughter, instead of tears.
Zeppelin would not care about the history of tennis balls, but in honor of his obsession, I leave you with some tennis ball facts.
Some historians say that tennis can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, while others say it started in the 12th century with European monks. Over the centuries tennis balls have been crafted of leather, chalk, moss, human hair, metal, sand, wool and sheep guts.
Tennis, as we know it today, evolved from “Real Tennis,” which was a favorite of European royal courts. Modern tennis has always used rubber for their balls. Early on, players stitched flannel around the ball to improve its performance and durability.
Balls were usually black or white, depending upon the color of the court. Shortly after balls were modified with flannel, makers began using a hollow core filled with pressured gas. The balls were constructed using a cloverleaf technique. Rubber sheets were stamped into patterns resembling three leave clovers. They were then made into a ball with machinery.
A more uniform production means was developed and is still used today. Tennis balls are manufactured by compressing two half shells together and then covering the union in a cloth called melton. They use vulcanized rubber seams instead of stitching.
The bright and recognizable yellow that we know today didn’t come about until 1972. It was chosen because research showed that television viewers had a hard time seeing the ball in motion. Wimbledon continued using the traditional white ball until they adopted the yellow ball in 1986.
And why the fuzz? The surface of the ball affects the speed. Technically, a ball with the most fuzz laying flat against the surface will be capable of moving through the air faster. So, if you ever see a big time tennis player going through a few balls before choosing one to serve – that might be why!