Our agency's guard-schnauzers

By Charlie Funk
Charlie FunkOne of the things my wife, Sherrie, and I enjoy most is traveling with our friends David and Linda Bohan and Jim and Linda Tidwell. Over the last 20 years we have traveled extensively in Europe and cruised Hawaii, the Caribbean, Canada-New England and the North Atlantic. In our travels, we have shot hours of "man on the street" video interviews that reveal Jimmy's unique sense of humor in too many ways to list. Mixing the two of us in these videos has been likened to putting matches and gasoline together.

David has a great sense of comedy, as well, and I have to confess that he and I have pulled more practical jokes on Jimmy than I can remember. Seemingly innocuous questions (Jimmy: "What kind of money do they use in Hawaii?") have led to some of the most elaborate pranks one could imagine (this one involved seashells with $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50 inscribed on them with a felt-tip pen). We've had great times together and made more memories than should be allowed.

In early November 1999, we were in Europe, traveling in two cars through a valley in Switzerland. The scenery was glorious. I have never understood how it could be November in Switzerland and grassy fields were still as green as summer, but the contrast of the meadows against the snow-capped mountains and a sky so blue and cloudless that it made your eyes hurt was striking, and the panorama magnificent.

Suddenly, the two-way radio we were using to communicate between the cars crackled to life, and Linda Bohan began singing "The hills are alive with the sound of music," which seemed so appropriate as we headed toward Austria and the home of the von Trapp family.

It also answered a question Sherrie and I had been struggling to answer: Our newest schnauzer puppy would be named Liesl. For the AKC registration, she would be officially known as Liesl von Tramp.

Our first schnauzer, Gretchen (Gretchen auf dieSchwarzwald), adopted us in 1992 and was such a joy that we were adopted by Abby (Abigail von Buren) in 1995. They went to the office with us every day, working as trained guard schnauzers, Gretchen keeping away marauding elephants and rhinoceroses and the like while Abby took care of wildebeests, impalas and smaller animals. For those given to skepticism, be advised that we never had a single one of those beasts anywhere near our office.

We discovered they liked to watch television when the Westminster Dog Show was on and both reacted to dogs trotting across the screen by alternately running up to the TV set and putting their paws on the entertainment center, then running into the kitchen on the other side of the wall on which the center was installed looking for those dogs. We had so many people tell us that dogs didn't/couldn't watch TV that I made a video of them watching "101 Dalmatians" in which they can clearly be seen following the actions of the onscreen dogs.

Sadly, Gretchen died in 1999 of complications associated with leukemia. Abby grieved to the point that we had to put her on Prozac. We knew we had to get a companion for her but hadn't been able to come up with a suitable name.

So, Liesl it was, and this 8-week-old, 4-pound ball of fur turned out to be all Abby could handle, making life a chore for Abby just as Abby had done for Gretchen. But oh, it was a lot of fun once they grew accustomed to one another. Abby treated Liesl like she was her own puppy, grooming and loving on her nonstop. Liesl gradually took over as the alpha dog and joined in protecting the office, but both found a new job, as well. When business was especially hectic and nerve-wracking, Abby and Liesl would stop at the agents' work stations on their patrol route to be petted. All agreed it was a welcomed stress reliever.

We moved our office in 2010, and Abby (now 15) and Liesl (11) retired from the security business. Abby was showing accelerating signs of old age, being diagnosed by our vet as having the canine equivalent of Alzheimer's. The situation deteriorated to the point where we realized that we loved her too much to let her suffer, and in June 2010 we had her put down.

And then there was Zoe, a West Highland terrier that came to us from Westie Rescue Southeast in December 2010. Look up "assertive, take charge, run the whole show dog" on any online search engine and her photo and biography appear. Liesl, at best, tolerated this new addition that didn't look anything like her and jumped up on the sofa in her spot and more. But Liesl still loved to get in my lap, press her head against my chest in a doggy hug and get a neck rub and ear scratch.

In August Liesl began sneezing and had a bloody nose once in a while, as did Zoe, which we attributed to allergies. Except Liesl's symptoms got worse and worse, and a visit to the vet revealed she had been bitten by a tick and had Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Three rounds of antibiotics seemed to get the situation under control, and we put her on a cautionary fourth round as we readied to leave on an Avalon Waterways river cruise from Amsterdam to Zurich at the end of October. We dropped off Liesl and Zoe at "doggy camp," which they both loved, and headed out.

Switzerland really is beautiful at that time of year, and passing through a verdant valley reminded both Sherrie and me of the last time we had been there.

When we returned home on Nov. 6, the lady caring for Liesl told us that she had stopped eating, couldn't be made to take her meds and had begun showing significant swelling in her forehead and ears the evening before.

Her breathing was labored, and our hearts sank at her appearance. A call to the vet confirmed our concerns, and we were told to take her to an emergency pet clinic if she had convulsions or her condition worsened.

An examination by Liesl's regular vet the next day revealed she had pneumonia and there was no prospect that even heroic measures would do more than poke and probe and cause more pain. The story had come full circle, and Liesl went to the Rainbow Bridge to be with Gretchen and Abby to wait for us.

It's been said all dogs go to heaven. I hope that's true. If it isn't, I'm not sure I want to go.

Charlie and Sherrie Funk own Just Cruisin' Plus in Brentwood, Tenn., and have provided agent and agency-owner training throughout North America on every facet of travel agency operations. They are the authors of several books, including "A Recipe for Travel Agency Success," "Creating a Blueprint for Growing Your Agency" and "You're Invited," a complete guide to hosting consumer travel events. 
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