Pikka von der Salztal-Höhe crossed over the Rainbow Bridge the morning of May 9, 2023, just a few weeks shy of her tenth birthday. She passed peacefully and surrounded by love, held by her favorite people, and helped over by her favorite vet and technician at Oceanside Animal Clinic in Long Beach, WA.
Multiple chronic health issues, to include serious neurological issues and osteoarthritis, had worsened in the preceding few months to the point where even with all of her medications and care it was no longer fair for us to ask her to stay. So we let her go while she still could enjoy a few weeks of spoiling and before she reached the stage where there was no joy, only her ever-increasing struggle to get through her day.
She never had to learn what it was to give up, and we never had to see the sparkling light in her eyes be replaced by dull misery that only waited for the end. Pikka's three favorite things were car rides, food, and us (not necessarily in that order!) In the not quite four and a half years we enjoyed with this ridiculous, marvelous girl, she traveled all over the Pacific Northwest, as well as twice to Missouri and back. She was an accomplished hiking buddy who explored the slopes of Mt. Hood, the Blue Mountains in northeast Oregon, and even an old growth forest in the Ozarks. Even as her body began to rebel and become less mobile and more painful, her will to find adventure never failed, and we made the best use we could of mobility aids to keep bringing her with us as much as possible, whether that was for road trips or just a quick round of local errands. And this incredibly intelligent dog was quick to pick up new routines and commands, even picking up cue words before we'd realized we were using them. Nothing was more fun than the sight of her spinning in circles as soon as you asked her "Hey Pikka--wanna get in the CAR? Wanna go for a RIDE?" But she figured out really quickly, even without us trying, that she got to get in the car faster if she held still once we went to put her harness on.
While she came from a long line of West German working line German shepherds (as per her kennel name on her passport when she was first imported), it was not ferocity for which she was known, but friendliness. She never cared much for other dogs, but she adored people, and even to her last days we endeavored to help her meet as many new friends as possible. A consummate goofball, she had no compunction about shoving that big head under your arm if she wanted attention, and would impatiently thump the floor with her front paw if you stopped giving her belly scritches too soon. Coming home to her was like having an entire cheering section just for you, wrapped into the body of one dog whose tail would be wagging wildly even as she leaned into your shins as the canine version of a big, loving hug, all while singing us the song of her people. And she was no snob about treats, though her favorites included pig ears, yak cheese chews, and--surprisingly--nori, the dried seaweed used in making sushi.
Pikka was not without her quirks, of course. She had the touchy digestive system so typical of many German shepherds, especially as she got older, and even without a clear dietary indiscretion we learned to keep canned pumpkin and white rice on hand, just in case. And while she was generally a very good dog who never counter-surfed or scratched the door, there were a couple of unfortunate moments of anxiety where she earned the nickname "Pikka, Destroyer of Seatbelts." (She was, of course, worth the occasional fuss and kerfuffle.) As she was our first dog as adults, we learned a lot from her. She taught us about preparation, responsibility, and the importance of routine. She showed us so much about boundaries, and how to listen to what she was trying to tell us as a canine creature instead of humanizing her too much. She walked us through what it is to be the caretaker for a dog whose health was imperfect, and how to help her age as gracefully and comfortably as possible. She reminded us to take breaks, and to not get too wrapped up in work and other serious things. And she showed us so, so much about love and loyalty.
We miss Pikka intensely, from her adorable, lopsided face to her ever-wonky feet. We are grateful to Clatsop Animal Assistance for rescuing her from a sad situation and nursing her back to good health, and to Arnicadia Dog Training for helping us--and her--get good foundations in training and behavior early in our time together.
Our thanks go to the Grooming Garage, both for being willing to help her shed out copious amounts of undercoat and for always giving her the best of care when we had to board her. And we are forever amazed by the outstanding and compassionate medical treatment she received from Oceanside Animal Clinic over the years, from her first visit to her very last bittersweet day. We appreciate the significant financial support we got from Pets Best Insurance over the years, especially as she got older and required increasing medications and care.
We know that once an animal is adopted, you often never know what happens to them and you hope for the best. Rest assured that Pikka was absolutely loved every single day as a member of our family, that with us she never spent a single day or night sleeping alone outside and was our constant companion in our home, that countless hours were put into making sure she had the best of care, and that she has left such a deep impression on our hearts and our lives that we will never, ever forget her. While we grieve her, we are so grateful that we got to share a few years with her.