What is a "tiehacker"?

"Tiehacker" is a term originating in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri. It referred to a class of people from WAY back in the hills that made a living cutting trees into ties for the railroad. I first heard the term from my wife shortly after we married. I had been working outside all day and was dirty and stinky. She had learned it from her father, and thought it just meant "a bum". Never having heard it before, I looked it up. Although I am not really a bum, I thought it was interesting, and I do have a life-long love affair going with the Ozark hills, so ... there you have it!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Good by, li'l buddy ...

Stempy Johnson
January 21, 2004 - May 11, 2015

This is a tough blog to have to write ...

September, 2004. I'm a newly married 45 year old man. A guy I work with, Bob, knowing I am a serious dog lover, asks me if I would be interested in a small dog, a nine month old mostly-grown puppy. It belongs to his sister & her husband and young son, and her husband is very displeased because the puppy is chewing things around the house, and occasionally has "accidents" before he gets out the door. The dog is half dachshund on his mother's side, and half golden retriever mix on his father's side. ... Not sure I can visualize how that happened, but ... there it is. His name is Stempy, and yes, he had a twin brother named Ren, who is not part of this story.

I've had a lot of dogs in my time, and had always figured that if a dog couldn't knock me down, it wasn't a real dog, merely a wannabe. But a few years before, I was disabused of that notion by a Maltese Terrier mix that literally followed me home one day and wouldn't leave. I named him Fritz, and he was one of the neatest pets I had ever had. I was heartbroken the day he died. Also, my best friend, a big burly lumber-jack type of guy, and his wife had dachshunds . So, I was at least amenable to the thought of another little guy.

Well, Bob brought the mutt to work, and I immediately agreed. Such a cute little thing! He mostly looked like a tiny golden retriever. Slightly shorter legs and a slightly elongated torso were the sole markers of his dachshund heritage.

The trouble began that evening when I took him home for the first time. Remember, I was NEWLY married, for the FIRST time, and had been single and independent my whole life until just the month before. It just didn't cross my mind to check with my wife first. Although the Debster is just as animal-crazy as I, she had just had surgery on her Achilles tendon, and was hobbling around wearing a boot-cast on her foot. So while I was at work she would be stuck with trying to finish his house-training and keeping his chewing confined to dog-toys and not shoes and furniture. She was NOT pleased. She loved the dog, but was aggravated that I hadn't checked with her first. Understandable. 

So, for about a week, I took Stempy to work with me every day. I was managing a small used-car sales lot, and had some free time at work. He would wander the lot with me, play fetch with sticks, and play with the customers. 

Unfortunately, as he became acclimated to living with us and "adopting" us as his "pack leaders", his aggressive dachshund nature asserted itself. He started growling at customers, especially if they got too close to me. Not good. Not good at all! So, I tried keeping him in a crate behind my desk. Didn't work; he would bark his fool head off every time somebody came in the door, and wouldn't shut up until they left. Can't run a business with that kind of nonsense. So, I was forced to leave him at home with the Debster.

Well, she had gotten over her little fit of pique, and had grown quite fond of the little runt, as I knew she would. There were a few issues that developed over time. Our yard wasn't fenced, and he "decided" that the whole neighborhood was his territory, and that the only people allowed were me, the Debster, and Travis, my step-son. Neighbors, not so much. One day, he chased the neighbor's wife back onto her own front porch and scared the daylights out of the poor woman. After that, whenever he had to go outside, it was on a tie-out lead.

Another issue was his rampant adolescent male interest in mating, if you know what I mean. Although, to the best of my knowledge he never showed interest in any person's leg, any four-legged creature that he could get hold of was fair game. Didn't matter what gender, age, or even species. If he could figure out how to get his front legs around the critter, it was open season! I don't know how many times we had to pull him off of one of the cats before he got sliced and diced by their claws. And the Debster's dog Chelsea? Just two years old herself, she bore the brunt of most of his attentions. She would raise Cain and whoop on him, but nothing would deter his ardor. As he got a little older, he mostly outgrew this, as I knew he would. He wasn't the first male pup I had raised, after all. But for the Debster, it was a fairly hilarious experience.

Other than that, he quickly became an integral part of our home. He loved both of us, but as luck would have it, he became more of a daddy's boy than a momma's boy. Maybe because he and I were the only males around, surrounded by females and cats. (Cats are all female, you know, regardless of what "plumbing" they have.) He also became closely attached to Deb's mom, and she to him. Every time she visited, he spent the whole time sitting in her lap loving on her, and her on him.

He sure did like to get comfortable!

Stempy had one annoying quirk. When he got REALLY excited, he would scream. Not bark, or whine, but SCREAM! Sounded just like a three-year-old girl throwing a temper tantrum. There were a few times I was kinda surprised the neighbors didn't call the cops to investigate the "child abuse". 

When he was about five years old, there was a rather alarming development. He began having "fits", when he would suddenly start scuttling stiff-legged with his head off to the side. He would look for me, scuttle towards me, and rear back on his back legs, waving his front paws frantically. If I didn't reach down and grab him quickly, he would fall on his side and just twitch. I would hold him tight and talk quietly and calmly to him, and after a few minutes, he would snap out of it, jump down, and go about his business as if nothing had happened.

The vet diagnosed it as canine epilepsy, and put him on a twice-a-day dose of phenobarbital. That got the fits under control, but also made him a little lethargic. He was never again the highly energetic bundle of fur that he had always been. But we all adjusted.

Stempy & Daisy, taking a break from playing hard

He was a very sensitive dog, quick to pick up when a household member wasn't feeling well. He would snuggle up to and get all lovey-dovey with any of us, even the cats, if we were sick. This was always a comfort to the Debster, especially when she was going through some nasty bouts of depression.

He was a very jealous dog. If any member of his family payed attention to someone, or something, other than him, he had to get in the middle of it. It got to where it was an adventure just trying to kiss my wife goodby on my way to work. But we turned it into a little game, and had fun with it.

About two years ago, a new addition was added to the family, in the person of Miss Daisy, a tiny year-old terrier mix. This little six-pound bundle of playful puppy energy almost immediately adopted Stempy as her very own "chew-toy", mostly by default since neither Chelsea nor the cats wanted anything to do with her. She most definitely kept him busy! They'd be outside, and she would wait till he was in mid-squat, and hit him from the blind-side like an NFL linebacker. Off and running! Initially, I was a little concerned that the sudden increase in physical activity would be detrimental considering the epilepsy. But the vet said not a problem, in fact, a good thing. It added to his quality of life.

Napping with his daddy

Well, a few weeks ago, the morning of April 11, I came home to a sick dog and a frantic wife. Our beloved Stempy was coughing and wheezing and lethargic, hacking up blood. Wouldn't eat, even when a hot dog, his favorite treat, was put in front of him. An emergency vet run gave us the bad news. He had incurable lymphoma in his lungs, with a prognosis of a couple or three months at best.

The vet put him on prednisone, an antibiotic, and an anti-fungal medication. The anti-fungal was just in case the lymphoma was an incorrect diagnosis, but she was pretty sure it wasn't the fungus. Within a day, he was doing much much better. We were overjoyed! He was still wheezing and breathing hard, and a little weak, but he had regained most of his pep and vigor, and even played with Daisy some. One funny side-effect of the prednisone, which is a steroid, is that it made him revert to his adolescence, in a way. He suddenly became interested in the females again. Poor Daisy! He wouldn't leave her alone! It was so funny to watch them tussle, and suddenly he'd have her wrapped up and doing his darnedest to, well, you get the picture.

Things went well until this past Friday evening. I woke up about 9pm, to get ready to go in for my midnight shift. The Debster had laid down with me for awhile, and she got up first. All three dogs were wanting to go outside. Stempy made it to the back door, but before she got there, he suddenly whimpered and laid down. She got to him just as he drew his last breath. He was gone.

We were both devastated. I tried to take off work, but my boss, though sympathetic, said there was no one available to cover my shift and couldn't let me take off. So we picked him up, laid him in his favorite dog-bed, and set it and him in a chair. The next morning, when I got home, we took him to be cremated. We'll get his cremains back in a short while, and they will have an honored place in our home, until it is time to mingle his, and the other pets', with mine and the Debster's.

He's in heaven now**, laying on Gacky's lap, getting to know the Debster's dad, and my parents, and all the other family and pets that have gone on before.

God bless you all, and thanks for reading.
Ron, and the Debster.

** Yes, I know, in theological / Biblical reality, animals don't really have a soul in the sense that humans do, and thus don't go to heaven. I know that when I get to heaven I'll be completely entranced by the presence of my Lord and Savior and that the dog will only be a pleasant memory. But, until then, sometimes you just gotta wink at "reality" and take comfort in these little fibs we tell ourselves.

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