Saturday, May 7, 2011


The Ridgeless Ridgeback

I just sort of closed my eyes and leapt into my career as a public relations professional.  Each time I moved from place to place, I miraculously found a perfect job for me.  And, with each of those positions somewhere out in the communities I lived, almost without exception, there was a crusty, old military retiree as my boss.  I often learned that those ‘great opportunities’ were because my strong-minded, sometimes stubborn-like-a-mule and ALWAYS hard-working-to-a-fault-boss had run off the previous tenderfoot in my position.

Not to worry, these veterans of world wars, unpopular police actions and true warriors for our country, were woefully misunderstood.  Grateful was I for the chance to salute now and then, say a few ‘yes sirs’ and agree with indignation in just the right moments for these matches, made in heaven. 

And, just about the most indignant (and heartfelt) of these was Don Kirchoffner.  He could get so worked up over things that he would reduce mere mortals to tears, sending not-just-a-few drama queens marching right into the human resources office to complain about him.  Finally, one day, I just smiled and said something to the effect of “Honey Bee, Honey Bee, if you keep getting that upset you’re going to hurt yourself,” and after he wiped the tears of laughter from his face, we got down to some serious fun in the ensuing time we worked together.  I learned so much from him that I will be eternally grateful for his lessons in professionalism, creativity and hudspa.  Don has all those qualities, in spades. 

Don taught me so many things, but one of the greatest gifts we gave each other was the gift of laughter.  Together we learned to lighten up about taking ourselves and our situations too seriously.  Not the least of those was a good laugh now and then over his dog Duchess.  When things got quiet or when there was little to laugh about, I would say “So, how’s the ridgeless ridgeback doing nowadays,” or, he would say, “Well, the ridgeless ridgeback got into it again,” and he would be off some cockamamie story, and we’d all be laughing about that fifty-dollar dog, whom Don said he bought for the kids, but that he really loved for himself. 

When Duchess passed away, Don wrote a heartfelt eulogy to his beloved royal friend.  I am grateful to him that he allows me to print it here, as he writes it better than I could have ever done so….


"Duchess Louise” an Azriel brown Rhodesian ridgeback, went gentle into that good night at 3:30 am September 12, 2001 after a sudden debilitating illness.   She went quietly, sadly, and she had a beautiful yet mournful look on her face.  Those who attended her during her final hours were filled with deep grief and sorrow at their sudden loss.  The grief was sorely compounded because of those who loved her even more dearly; Matthew, Jill and Megan were not able to be in attendance.

Duchess was affectionately known as Dutch, Rown Brown and Rown Brown Bear and various other peculiar names by those who loved her.  She was born September 24, 1991.

Duchess came to the Kirchoffner household based on a promise that the elder Kirchoffner's finally kept with their children.  That promise was thus stated "When we get a house with a backyard, you can have a dog."  On a cold November day, Mrs. Kirchoffner and her son went in search of said dog and happened upon the proud owner of Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  A peculiar breed of dog, powerful, beautiful, devoted to protecting children, noted for hunting Puma and Lion, possessing great speed with the unique identifying mark of a reverse ridge of hair running the length of their backs.

Only those dogs born with the reverse ridge were deemed worthy and others such as Duchess would be put to sleep unless new owners agreed to ensure that the dog would undergo an operation to ensure that it would not have a litter of its own.

But that is how it came to pass that Duchess was brought to the household of the Kirchoffner family, "a ridgeless ridgeback" purchased for the paltry fee of $50 with a signed oath to ensure that said operation would insure that Duchess never bore children of her own.  Mrs. Kirchoffner nursed her for three nights with hot water bottle and alarm clock to attempt to replicate the missing mother.  Duchess grew fast and big, but even faster was the love that developed between her and the children. While she sought many places to call her spot and her turf (to include on that rare occasion Mrs. Kirchoffner's furniture) she could be most often found at the floor or foot of the bed of her self-proclaimed Master Matt Kirchoffner (which led to Matt’s claim that she was “his” dog).  But in his absence she would often find refuge with the daughters Jill and Megan who also laid claim to affection from Duchess.

She was a gentle dog, not given to chasing the defenseless or barking out threats. Only when the doorbell would ring or something seemed amiss would she let instinct take over to protect and mother her masters. She was trim and well muscled, weighing about 90 pounds most of her adult life but was for some reason fearful or had not time for other small dogs and animals.

Her favorite pastime was the romp in the back yard.  Not once in all the years was she caught by any of the masters.  Other peculiar tricks that only she was capable of performing were the blanket over the head, and the protective crouch with the blanket between her paws.  She was also quite adept as chasing and pushing a soccer ball around the back yard at speeds that were truly amazing.

Probably the greatest joy that Duchess brought the younger Kirchoffner's was the profound love she would express to them when they would return to the household after extended absences.  Jumping, pawing, licking, and circling with intense love for the three and the Mr. and Mrs. Kirchoffner.  Her eyes literally sparkled with the love she had for them and that same love was reflected in their eyes.
Her food needs were simple but she was also quite capable of foraging on her own for hamburgers, butter dishes and other dishes left unattended. Wherever she went, humans, adult and child alike, were drawn to her.  Though she took no particular interest in their attention, she was always intrigued with their activities.

The Kirchoffners were no less intrigued by Duchess' compulsive and neurotic behavior to only leave droppings in her own back yard.  Other neurotic behavior was displayed by Duchess when on occasion (or so it was rumored) Mrs. Kirchoffner would leave the gate open hoping that Duchess might try to experience some newfound freedom.  But about as far as Dutch would venture would be from the back yard to the front and on only one occasion did she stray across the street which caused a massive and uncalled for manhunt…but those were the early years before the family became well conditioned that Duchess was not going anywhere.

Because Duchess always seemed to take the full measure of life offered to her it was all the more agonizing to watch her suffering. During this sudden crisis, which lasted less than two days, we were desperate for answers that were not forthcoming.  Her deterioration progressed rapidly and the vet did not have the divine power to restore her to the vibrant dog she had been. The elder Kirchoffner's anguished over her total lack of mobility and their inability to help.  And while Duchess too was confused she seemed to understand what was happening to her…and consequently she fought all the way.  It was most apparent in her eyes and the quiet calls she sent throughout that final night.   During those last hours we spent together she was sending her love to her masters, Jill, Matthew, Megan and the Mr. and Mrs.  

Duchess did not go gently into that good night.  At three-thirty in the morning she knew that God was calling and called for Master Kirchoffner one last time.  I went to her and looked into her eyes and said its ok and lay down beside her.  Very shortly after she passed on.  She stayed true to the end, a loving and loyal companion.  She wanted someone there with her in her final minutes, someone who could tell the younger Kirchoffners that she did not go without saying goodbye….and that she will be waiting for us on the other side.

We will miss you Duchess......

I keep in touch with my good friend, Don, and his family via Facebook.  Since then, he and his wife, Elaine, have welcomed sons-and-daughters-in-law, grandkids and, yes, even dogs into their lives.  He and Elaine have moved a couple of times and Don has stared down cancer with the courage of the warrior and patriot that I know he is.  I’m grateful to be friends with the Kirchoffners and to hear their stories…It’s too perfect.

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