A Eulogy for Digger

Digger was beloved by all who knew him. He brought a smile to everyone who saw him strutting down the sidewalk with his tennis ball in his mouth. He entertained many people by leaping into the air, flying in a meters long arc into the Glatt river, or by swimming out into Lake Zurich to retrieve it.

Like most Jack Russell Terriers, he wasn't afraid of bigger dogs, especially ones which he suspected might be thinking of trying to steal his ball, and he regularly growled at or leaped into the face of German Shepards or other dogs who got too close to it. He had a terror of cow mooing sounds, which I thinked dated from a mountain hike where the path went through a hillside farm and he had to go past some cows which gave him mean looks in addition to mooing. From that day on, a Milka commercial on TV, or even a truck horn which sounds like a moo, would wake him from a comfortable snooze on the sofa and send him wild-eyed scurrying to the other end of the apartment. Sheep were apparently a different matter, as on another hike he stampeded some sheep into trampling down the fence and running all over, causing the irriated fellow hikers to have to round up the sheep and repair the fence.

He had his friends and enemies in the dog world. His most recent friends were two small white poodles, along with any female in heat. His arch-enemy was "the red dog". The red dog was about three times his size, red (of course) and aggressive. Digger ignored him at first, but the red dog - Timone - kept trying to impress upon Digger his dominance, and one day Digger growled at him, which was enough provocation for an attack. I grabbed the red dog around his chest to pick him up to get him off of Digger, and when I did, Digger leaped up and got ahold of one of his forelegs and held on. As anyone who has seen me pick up a tennis ball with Digger attached to it - hanging only by his teeth and jerking around wildly - will know, he can hold onto something tenaciously. Since my hands were full of snarling red dog, it was left to the other dog's owner to get ahold of Digger and pull him off. In the meantime, the red dog starting yelping from the leg bite he was getting. Like any big bully who has been shown to be a crybaby by someone standing up to him, the red dog from that point on had an abiding hatred of Digger and a desire for revenge. The leg was uninjured, but the red dog had been humiliated.

One dog which almost killed him was a white Pit Bull Terrier. These dogs should never have been bred, and I would be happy to see the breed made extinct. The Pit Bull attacked from a distance, with little or no provocation, not more than a growl from Digger at most, and got him by the throat and held on. The Pit Bull's teeth missed Digger's windpipe by a millimeter, else it would have been crushed. Pit Bull's don't just merely hang on though, they keep trying to get more throat in their mouth if they can. So it was thanks to me that Digger lived, because while the person walking the Pit Bull (not the owner) was uselessly beating on the dog, I got the fingers of both hands inside his mouth and slowly pulled his jaw open enough to let Digger escape. It wasn't easy. It took all my strength, and I cut my fingers on his teeth, and it took about 30 seconds of continuous pulling to just get the grip to loosen. But it was possible. I talked to the owner later, recommended a muzzle, and the owner just wouldn't hear of it - couldn't let his dog be defenseless against attacks from other dogs - regardless of the fact that other breeds hardly ever attack, but this one often does, and attacks from other normal dogs would only result in a bite wound. Later it attacked one of HIS other dogs, so he had to have it put to sleep. Some kind of justice.

One could say that Digger - along with Shiva - learned to swim by watching other dogs frolicking in the river when I lived in Zofingen. It looked like such fun that they jumped into the cold rushing water as well, in the shallow rapids area where the dogs liked to play. He was a strong swimmer, and if he hadn't been, he wouldn't have been around so long. On the other hand, if he hadn't liked water, he wouldn't have gotten us both almost killed. He dropped his ball and it rolled down the river bank just upstream of an artifical waterfall, presumably made to control the flow of the river or prevent erosion, or maybe even to aerate the water, I don't know. It was, in any case, a deathtrap. Water on the surface downstream of a waterfall is pulled by the waterjet back upstream into the waterfall. Only on the bottom does the water travel downstream. This makes it difficult or impossible to swim away from a waterfall. Further, the currents and strong eddies underneath the surface tend to jerk things down and throw them around. Of course Digger jumped in to get his ball and when I saw that, I jumped right after him knowing that he was going to go over the falls. We both went over and when I came up, sure enough I got ahold of his collar and got over to the side. Unfortunately, the Swiss engineers had lined the river with smooth vertical concrete walls, many meters high and long, and there was no handhold at all. Digger and I were dragged backed into the waterfall, and I had to let go of him when I was suddenly pulled under. One second I had my head out of the water, and the next second I was looking up at the dark reflective surface about a meter over my head. I went through many cycles of popping up a couple of meters away, snapping some air, and being dragged back down again. Being fully clothed was a big hindrance. The water was cold, which sapped my strength. I got out, by the grace of God, only a minute before my strength would have given out and I would have drowned, by holding my breath, curling up into a ball, and letting the waterfall push me as deep as possible toward the bottom, where the current was flowing more strongly downstream. I said a little prayer down there, not knowing if my breath would hold out until I got back to the surface, and I came up just far enough away from the waterfal to be able to paddle backwards away from it, to where I finally got past the concrete walls and was able to drag myself up the bank. As I staggered up, I saw some other people had gathered. Fuckwits the lot of them, none had done anything. There was a very long hooked pole in the wooden bridge over the river, specifically placed there for fishing drowning people out of the water, and a life ring and rope prominently decorating the side of the railing which some of the people were leaning over. Knowing I could not go back in to get Digger or I'd surely drown, I started yelling at the people to get the pole and get the dog, thinking they could hook it under his legs and pull him downstream. I started to stagger back to the bridge to do it myself. Digger heard me yelling, and started swimming toward my voice, and the people waved me back and told me he was coming. By some luck of the current, he was able to get a bit of headway away from the waterfall, and once he was a couple of meters away, swimming for all he was worth, he was able to slowly inch his way downstream. In the meantime, in all the excitement Shiva had run downstream of the waterfall and jumped in, but fortunately she swam around in circles and didn't swim upstream to get trapped in the vortex. Digger and I struggled on home after I got my breath back, my lungs congesting from the aftereffects of adrenalin overload and shock, and just climbed into bed to recover.

I brought Digger from the U.S. My mother's bitch Daisy had birthed a litter just before I went to visit my parents on a vacation. I extended the vacation so that I could take Digger back with me. He was biggest, brashest, and only long-legged one of the pups. One of the other puppies either fell or was knocked by a roughhousing sibling into the swimming pool on the patio where the puppies were playing and drowned before it was noticed. I tried to resuscitate it when my mother or somebody found it, but it was too late. The puppy which had drowned was called "whitey" because it was almost all white, which is one of the traits that breeders strive for with Jack Russells. My mother was upset because the nicest one had drowned, and muttered that she wished it had been the "big one" instead. Naturally this made me mad, though I never said anything, and I had to have the big one.

Digger didn't get his name from digging; he was named after Digger Barnes, the father of J.R. Ewing's arch-enemy Cliff Barnes on Dallas. He did like doing the occasional digging however. One of his favorite pastimes was pushing his tennis ball under something and trying to get it back out. Pushing it under the back of the bookcase behind the sofa was a good game, because the gap was not high enough for him to get his head in. That meant that he had to lay on his side and bat the ball back and forth with a foreleg like a cat until it bounced out or within reach of his teeth. Pushing it under the chainlink fence along the path next to the river was another game, but frequently I had to help him get the ball back, either by pulling up the fence to let him crawl under, or by putting him over it. I had always done the former. It was Anais who discovered the latter and who taught him to jump up into her arms as she leaned over the fence. He learned to be circumspect about rasberry patches however.

He learned to climb a tree when he lived in Zofingen. I came home one day and there was nobody in the house. I looked out the back window and what did I see but a couple of dogs sitting comfortably up in the treehouse I'd made in the apple tree. He loved chasing apples I'd throw, and eating them, and he ate a great many small and hard green apples.

Although his siblings in Florida have about as many rat kills to their credit as the Red Baron had planes, Digger never was a great hunter. I found one live mouse stuck in a mousetrap, but otherwise seemingly uninjured, and told him to get it. He approached it warily, neck at full extension and body poised to leap back, and snapped it and tossed it into the air in one motion. This caused the mouse to fly out of the trap and start running around the kitchen. I had to kill it myself before it got away. He never bothered with cats, except if one ran away in panic he'd run after it for fun, but then just look at it if it stopped. He did however run madly in circles around the rabbit pen out in the yard in Zofingen. The male rabbit would poke its nose through the fencing, and Digger would try to bite its nose. There was just enough nose to get a good taste, but not enough for Digger's teeth to get a hold on. The rabbit seemed to think it was a game, because it would just keep pushing its nose while Digger was turning his head this way and that, frustrated the way a person would be trying to pick up a thin coin from the floor and not getting a grip on it. I figured that Digger might calm down and treat the rabbits the same as cats - i.e. leave them alone if they didn't do anything - so I got into the pen one day holding Digger around the chest, and put him up to where he could sniff the rabbit. A second later there was a lot of squealing and I had to pry his mouth off of a mouthful of rabbit fur. Fortunately rabbits have a lot of loose skin and Digger hadn't hurt it. The smell of rabbit caused Digger's eyes to glaze over and his mouth to start watering.

He finally did get a mouse. I'd let him chase a baby mouse once while out for a walk, holding him back on his leash so that he couldn't catch it. Some weeks later, we ran across a big fat field mouse on the roadbridge over the river. Maybe it was the same mouse, all grown up now and fat and sassy. He got the smell of it, then I let him run after it, holding him back on his leash as before. The mouse made the fatal mistake however, of making a 90-degree left hand turn at the opposite sidewalk instead of running up and over it. This put it within the radius of curvature of the leash, and we were running so fast that I wasn't able to stop and reverse direction in time. Digger snapped it and with two bites the mouse was history. Digger was extremely proud - you could see it in the way he walked, with his head up like in a military parade. For weeks thereafter, he looked and looked on that bridge to see if there might be another mouse. And even though he only ever seen a couple, he knew very well what the word "mouse" meant. All I ever had to do was ask "Digger, where's the mouse?" and he'd be all over the place looking.

His prize kill was unfortunately a prize rooster. I didn't witness this myself. I left Digger and Shiva with the breeder from whom I'd obtained Shiva to go on vacation. She had a farmhouse in the middle of a woods, somewhat unusual, but safe as it was far from any normal roads. There was a big yard and the dogs could roam around. There were also other farms animals, including a donkey, some goats, some pheasants, a fair number of cats, and one big-assed red rooster which thought it owned the place. It was one of those aggressive roosters which is not above attempting to chase people. My theory is that it tried to chase Digger, and Digger wasn't having any of it. I have no reason to suspect that he had the same kind of attraction to roosters as he had to rabbits. In any case, when I came back, I had to pay for a dead rooster. It was an extra CHF 35 I think.

He made up for his lack of real hunting by utterly destroying any dog toys. It didn't matter if it was some supposedly indestructible dog toy - he'd rip it to bits within minutes. It gave him great joy to kill the squeak part of any plastic squeak toy, before he bit the plastic into small pieces. He loved pulling the stuffing out of the cloth kind. His ultimate stuffed toy destruction was of a big cow - about 3 times his size - which Josh and Elizabeth let him get ahold of. The stuffing was sufficient to cover the living room floor.

Tugging on what's left of the cow. Tunnelling under the pile of stuffing is fun. Bow-wow-wow says a very excited dog. Hey, there's also a box to destroy.

We had our rituals, me and Digger. In the morning he'd race into the living room as I walked from the kitchen, breakfast in hand, which I'd consume while watching the news on CNN. As soon as he saw me drain the last of the milk from the glass, he'd let me know it was time to go out NOW. He'd get a running start, leap up onto my lap or literally bounce off of my chest with his front feet, and plant his wet dog nose right on my nose during the bounce, or even give me a soft nip on the nose. I'd start giving a commentary as it it were a professional wrestling match - "owww, there's a lap crush", "whoaa, a stomach smash", "chest leap", "nose nab", and so on, with him getting more excited until he'd quit leaping and just stand there barking. Coming home was always an occasion for a dog greeting, although it was less tumultous with Digger than with both Shiva and Digger, who wound each other up. The sound of a rustling comforter would bring Digger from anywhere in the apartment rushing to the bed. He favorite sleeping place was on the comforter in the depression between the backs of my knees, and in the morning I'd find him on his back, all four feet sticking up.

He got to fly back to the U.S. a couple of times, and also go on some trips to Milan, where he occasionally managed to catch a lizard sunning itself on the sidewalk where my cousins lived. I tried to take him with me wherever I could.

He will be sorely missed.