BC: HERE LIES ZEUS MY BEST FRIEND OF 16 YEARS NONE WHO RESPECT THE BOND BETWEEN MAN AND DOG WILL DISTURB HIS REST I LOVE YOU BOY DEC. 1969 - OCT. 15, 1985 | Written by John Wirth December 2009
FC: RECOLLECTIONS OF ZEUS Recklessly brave, supremely intelligent, fiercely loyal, and boundlessly energetic; he was the epitome of "Man's Best Friend". | He was the embodiment of every quality that I admire and I thank God for letting me witness his indomitable spirit. | My life was shared with an incredible canine spirit called Zeus. | We were inseparable and every fond memory I have of this time includes him.
1: By John Wirth
2: For almost 17 years, my life was shared with an incredible canine spirit called Zeus. Recklessly brave, supremely intelligent, fiercely loyal, and boundlessly energetic; he was the epitome of "Man's best friend". Blessed with uncanny senses and abilities, he was a great entertainer and the damnedest hunter I ever saw. I'm sure there were dogs with better noses, and were smarter, tougher, quicker, handsomer, and more loving than Zeus; but not as far as I was concerned. He was the best, but more importantly...he was all mine. He was as devoted to me as I was to him. I often recall a particular incident involving Zeus that despite all the years that have passed, will still bring a smile. I thought I would write down a few of these treasured memories before they are lost in time. I see it as a tribute to one who brought so much joy to my life and was my very best friend. He came to me quite by chance in the Fall of 1968. A friend of my Dad had a Black Lab bitch that had been bred with another Lab. Unfortunately, she had also consorted with a traveling salesman, believed to be a mean little German Shepherd, so the litter of pups could not be sold as registered Labs. Duane was preparing to drown all the pups unless they were given away. I looked at the litter and chose two of them to save, one with
3: straight hair and one with kinky hair. Being a college student living in my parents' apartment house, I had to keep the 2 new pets a secret, since pets were not allowed. However, it wasn't long before my Dad busted me and WWII erupted. It was concluded that I could keep one of them, but the other had to go back to Duane and probably certain death. I agonized over the decision, but ultimately chose Zeus for no other reason except that he didn't have a kinky coat. I often wonder what if...but you can go nuts doing that. Better that I was at least able to salvage Zeus out of the ordeal. For the next few months, there wasn't anything extraordinary about Zeus. He | was a typical pup doing the typical puppy antics and screwing up, like all puppies do. But I started to notice that he was an unusually quick study. One time I came home to discover that he had pooped all over the carpet. I rubbed his nose in it and threw him out into a snowdrift. He never did that again...ever. I had told all my friends that Zeus was a lab, but just lacked the pedigree to prove it. But as he got older, his snout grew out and one of his ears perked up like a Shepherd and the jig was up. They tried to kid me about it, but by then I was falling in love and told them all to fuck off.
4: Zeus the Runner Early on, I realized that Zeus had the need for speed. I would take him with me jogging, but he left me in the dust. I got a bicycle, but I couldn't keep up with him. Finally, the car was the only way I could stay with him. We developed a system that worked pretty well the rest of his life. He would ride in the back seat and I would stop and reach back and open the door. He would explode out and be off down the street at full tilt. If I saw him approaching a dangerous intersection or other hazard, I'd toot the horn and he'd pile back in with the same gusto he left with. While in the army stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, Zeus and I could explore miles of troop trails right out my back door. I'd take my motorcycle and Zeus blitzed the woods parallel with the trail. One day, we were clipping along at about 30 mph when Zeus came to a deep ravine about 20 yards across. Going too fast to stop, Zeus tried to jump the chasm. He almost made it, but slammed head-first into the far bank. I was horrified that he had broken his neck, when in disbelief I saw that his momentum threw him over into a complete front flip. He came down on his feet and kept on running, hardly losing a step. He was absolutely tireless and always had it in high gear. A friend of mine once said of Zeus that he
5: had two speeds, stop and gooooooo. Zeus would run for the sheer exhilaration of it, but when he was motivated he could really pour it on. We used to play this game where somebody would hang onto his collar while I ran off and hid, sometimes 1/2 a mile away. When they let him go, he would take off emitting this high-pitched yip-yip-yip. One time I really wanted to put him to the test so I zig-zagged through the woods, ran 50 yards up a creek, then hid in some rocks. From my vantage point I could see the whole route of pursuit. After 10 minutes, he was let go and he went charging along the scent trail yipping like crazy. The creek threw him off, but very briefly. As he hit my last cut spot at a dead run, I could see his body turn with the scent in mid-air. When he hit the ground, his legs were churning so fast on the new course that he was chewing up the turf. In seconds, he was on me wagging and licking. | Zeus the Hunter Whatever else he was, Zeus was the consummate hunter. I first saw the magnitude of his hunting instinct when, as a pup, he jumped out of the car window doing 35 mph chasing a squirrel. He'd see one on the grass and give chase, but they would always beat him to the tree. They would climb to safety and loudly scold him. This happened many times until Zeus started figuring things out. Using triangulation, he would run not for the squirrel, but rather the tree. He had several near-misses, but they would always make a last second juke to escape. It was great fun, but I never thought he would actually catch one. That would soon change.
6: I had just gone on active duty in the Army and was reporting to officer basic in Ft. Benning, GA. It had been a long drive down from SD, so when we spotted a squirrel in the front yard of the commanding General's house, I figured I'd let Zeus stretch his legs. The chase was on and they both went for the tree. It was over in seconds and I frantically called Zeus back to the car. He came, but he brought his prize with him. We took off, expecting the MP's to come careening around the corner. When the coast was clear, I disposed of the body. Whenever we were outside, he was always hunting. Squirrels, rabbits, gophers, rock chucks, possums, skunks, sea gulls, frogs, or snakes; if it moved, he was going to chase it. In the photo below, he is chasing a butterfly! One time while driving through Wyoming on a hot Summer day, I stopped to let Zeus take a swim in this river we crossed over. I let him out and wouldn't you know there was an Antelope getting a drink under the bridge. It took off and so did Zeus. I watched as the two of them raced across the prairie and eventually disappeared over a rise at least a mile out there. So I sat in the baking heat for a half hour before I finally see Zeus trotting back foaming at the mouth and hanging his head in defeat. | While living in CO, Zeus and I went with a bunch of guys on a pheasant hunt in KS. We were walking through some hip-high grass and I see Zeus' tail start to wag. I yelled, "Get him up boy", and expected a big rooster to flush. Instead, I saw too late that it wasn't a pheasant that had his attention, it was a skunk! I screamed at him to stop, but he charged in for the kill and a huge puff of spray went up. Not wanting Zeus to get torn up I jumped in and blasted the skunk with
7: my shotgun and dragged Zeus away. When we got to the end of the fieId my buddies asked what I had shot at until I got upwind of them. I thought we had avoided getting skunked because I couldn't smell anything. We had gotten it so bad that we had to ride back to the motel in the back of the pickup. Even after several tomato juice baths, we were still so bad we had to sleep outside. The ride home was cold too. But, Zeus did his best work when he was hunting with me for pheasants and waterfowl. We had a technique for hunting pheasants that was extremely effective. I would let him out of the car at a promising stretch of road and drive along with the door open and gun ready, while Zeus invaded the ditch. I'd keep a sharp eye on him and when his pace slowed and his tail started twitching, I'd slam on the brakes and jump out ready to shoot. I don't know if he smelled them or heard them, but there was always one there when the tail quivered. We got scores of birds in this fashion. It was always so funny when he would flush a hen and I'd let her fly away. He'd give me a look that said, "Hey, I'm out here bustin' my ass for you! Shoot the damn gun already!" One day we were out road hunting, just him and me. We saw a hunting party of at least a dozen guys approach the end of a large, thick weed patch without flushing a single bird. As they were unloading their guns and getting in their rigs, Zeus and I decided to try our luck in the same field. I got my limit in about 2 minutes and even those guys on the road picked off a couple that flew their way. One of them yelled, "That's a hell of a dog you got there!" I yelled back, "You better believe it!" He could retrieve from anywhere and always found a downed bird. Once while hunting late in the season after a heavy snow, I crippled a rooster that ran into a deep drift along a fence line. Zeus was right there and dived in, completely buried. I heard a commotion going on under the snow and suddenly Zeus emerges with the bird in his mouth, flapping its wings. Zeus was just as comfortable in the water as he was on land, and could out swim any duck. When he would chase them at the park's lake, the only way they could elude him was to take wing. On an actual hunt, he was spectacular. Bison Benson and I had probably the best duck blind on the Missouri River. Located on a sand bar 1/2 mile from shore, our 150 decoys and Bison's superb calling could bring in huge flocks.
8: We had all the luxuries of home out there, including a propane heater and a stove to cook breakfast on while surveying the skies. When the ducks came in, we'd pull a pin and bungee cords instantly ripped the entire canvas roof off. During the melee of shooting, Zeus intently watched where every duck fell, marked the spots, and shook with anticipation of the "go" command. When it came, he exploded out of the blind and always went for the furthest duck first. Sometimes there would be 3 or 4 of them down at the same time. He never gave up on a retrieve either. If a cripple fell in deep water, he would swim it down. Often, they would dive just before he got them, so he would swim around in circles until they came up for air and dived again. He continued to close the gap on each dive until finally it would surface right in front of him and he had them. Unfortunately, the Missouri had a pretty strong current and he would sometimes be swept a very long way downriver. But Zeus had the brains to swim to an adjacent sand bar, run the length of it above the blind, and swim down to us with the duck in his mouth. Rarely, did we have to fetch him with the boat. One time on a really nasty Winter morning, a couple Snow Geese came in and we dropped one, but the other was crippled and crashed on a sandbar 1/2 mile upriver. Zeus and I jumped in the boat and gave chase. When I hit the beach, Zeus was off like a shot to where he saw him go down. But to get to this spot, he ran across a small cove that was frozen over and maybe 20 yards wide. Well, he broke through the ice and was floundering in vain to get out. I wasn't about to stand there and watch my dog drown, so I charged in after him. I had hip waders on, but by the time I reached him, the water was chest deep. I dragged him back to shore and the little bastard immediately took off for that goose, but this time he ran around the cove. I followed as fast as I could with 50 pounds of freezing river in each wader. Just before Zeus got the goose, it had just enough life left to get airborne, but not enough to get any height or speed. Zeus was running and jumping, nipping tail feathers out. A few more seconds and the goose would be gone. I made a snap decision that still bothers me today. They were about 30 yards in front of me and a direct shot at the goose would have gotten Zeus as well. I guessed at the size my pattern would grow to at that range, and aimed where I thought the bottom of the pattern would get only the goose... and fired. It dropped and Zeus had him. By the time we got back to the blind, I was frozen stiff and cursing myself for taking that stupid chance with my best pal. I think I did it for him, since losing a goose is not big deal to me.
9: But after all he went through to get that thing, I didn't want to disappoint him. It was still probably wrong for me to shoot, but it worked out nonetheless.
10: Zeus the Entertainer Whenever Zeus took time off from his hunting duties, he threw himself into the tasks of providing comic relief and displaying his remarkable abilities. He enjoyed being the life of the party and perfected every fiendish trick I could come up with and did them better as time went on. To test his nose, I'd hide treats throughout the house, like under couch cushions or inside a shoe. Too easy. I'd roll them up in socks in the dresser drawer and he'd open the drawer and unroll the socks. One time I took a chunk of hot dog, sealed it in a sandwich bag, then sealed that in another bag, and put the bag inside a shoe box. It took him half the evening, but he got it. He did that stupid trick where a treat is balanced on his nose and after a certain time you'd say OK and he'd flip it up and chomp it. One time I set the treat and walked into the kitchen. I spotted my neighbor out the window and went out to talk with him, forgetting all about Zeus. We must have chatted for 15 minutes and I came back in and discovered Zeus still sitting there like a statue. I quick said OK, he did the flip, and then looked at me as if to say, "That was a bit excessive wasn't it?" We would play tug-o-war with a towel and he could pull you right out of your chair and never give up. He used to entertain my Brother's kids out in the yard by glomming onto the towel while I spun him around off the ground. By changing the plane of the swing, I could jerk him up over my head and he hung on like a Pit Bull. Zeus loved fireworks. One 4th of July in Boise, we went out to watch the display put on by the city. We joined a huge crowd on a hill overlooking the soccer complex. They had two firing stations a couple hundred yards apart on the left and right in front of us. I let Zeus run free to mingle close by, but when that first rocket took off so did Zeus, charging after them and barking incessantly. Back and forth between the stations he raced drawing howls of laughter. Finally, some ass-hole lit a whole pack of Black Cats and tossed it close to Zeus. When they started going off, he attacked them and a lot of them went off right in his mouth. He seemed unfazed by the explosions, but I got him out of there nonetheless. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.
11: There was one trick I taught him that I probably shouldn't have. Cultivating his natural ferocity, I would make him growl for a treat. Pretty soon, I didn't even need a treat to get him to do a perfect imitation of Cujo. He really got into it and it would have been frightening, except we did it all the time. I would entertain people by cradling him in my arms and sticking my face right up to his I'd say, "Growl you son-of-a-bitch!" And he would until he was foaming at the mouth and onlookers begged me to stop. The last time we did that trick, was for one of my customers and his 12 year old Daughter. But I pushed him too far this time and at the climax of the performance, Zeus chowed me in the face. He only bit me once, getting me above and below my eye, but it shocked the hell out of me. As blood was streaming down my face, I put a choke hold on him and looked him in the eye and squeezed just hard enough to get the message through that this wouldn't be tolerated. I took him to the door and drop-kicked him outside. After I got the bleeding stopped, calmed down, and apologized to my stunned audience, I let him back in. He was sorry and so was I, but that trick was never done again.
12: But probably his best trick came about by accident. Living in Pueblo, CO, there were miles of open desert right out my back door. I decided to go rabbit hunting, so I strapped on my pistol and jumped on my motorcycle. The plan was to ride down the trail while Zeus blew through the brush hunting for prey. Soon a rabbit jumped up and the chase was on. But about a mile from my house, Zeus pulled up lame. When I inspected him, I saw this nasty pine cone cactus buried in his paw. I would need pliers to pull that thing out of him and I needed to get him back home. He couldn't walk, so I loaded him onto my bike and straddling him in front of me, got him back. It was a bitch yanking out all those barbs, but he was most appreciative when the operation was done. But from that moment on, he was a bike riding son-of-a-gun. He was a natural and leaned into the curves just like he should. Country roads or freeways, it didn't matter. It wasn't great getting snot blown back on me at 70 mph, but it was a small price to pay to go biking with my buddy. A cop picked me up one time, but said he couldn't think of any law I was violating, he just wanted to meet Zeus. Passing motorists were always taking our picture and waving. I even got him some goggles and a snoopy scarf.
13: Living in Seattle, it had been a long time since we had gone hunting. So when somebody told me that there were a lot of rabbits up on Friday Harbor, an island in North Puget Sound, we hopped on the bike. We took the ferry over and I stopped a woman jogging to ask her where we could find some rabbits. She laughed and told me to go straight ahead all the way to the end of the road and she guaranteed me that we would see some rabbits. The road ended at the Western tip of the island where there was a lighthouse, but not a single tree nor hardly any grass on the windswept dunes. I was pissed off at that lying woman, but decided to let Zeus off the bike to lift his leg before the long trip back to Seattle. Suddenly a bunny sprang up and Zeus chased it for about 20 yards, as it popped down a hole. But then a couple more popped up and did the same short sprint and disappeared with Zeus yipping right behind. Then there were 10 of them, then 20, then God knows how many. Zeus was in a frenzy and had to have
14: been dizzy in the mayhem. For 20 minutes I let this go on, laughing until I cried. It was like some insane arcade game out of The Twilight Zone. I finally had to stop it for fear that Zeus would have a heart attack. Once in a while, Zeus would entertain by doing a good deed, like a little Black Boy Scout. We were on a canoe trip down a MO river with a bunch of rowdy Army buddies and having a great time swimming, paddling, and imbibing vast amounts of adult beverages. Zeus impressed the guys with his tricks and high-diving skills. But when we hit the rapids, | most of our canoes capsized and we scrambled to save our gear...mostly the beer. Then another group of paddlers behind us hit the rapids and suffered the same fate. Among them was this woman wearing this god-awful sombrero, and she was screaming hysterically as it was being swept away. Without even being told to, Zeus took off after it and was quickly swallowed up by the white water. I got worried when he got carried out of sight around a bend and we were about to go after him, when suddenly he appears running back upriver with that damn hat in his mouth. The woman showered him with hugs and kisses and Zeus said, "Just doing my job, ma'am." Another time in Seattle, Zeus and I had a little brush with the law. We liked to go over to Green Lake, where I would drive the 3 mile encircling road while Zeus rampaged along the bank scattering ducks and geese at full throttle. We'd gone about 1/4 of the way around when I looked up and saw a mounted policeman, who had spotted Zeus and was coming hard from several hundred yards away. Suddenly, I remembered a radio announcement from the day before that said packs of dogs had burrowed under the fence at the nearby zoo and killed a number of deer.
16: Police were shooting on sight marauding dogs. I tooted the horn and Zeus dutifully bounded over and jumped in the back seat and I took off. The cop was about 100 yards behind me at full gallop. I didn't turn and look, giving my escape at least the plausibility that I hadn't seen him chasing me. But he was gaining on me, so I stepped it down pretty good. If I'd had any intention of stopping, this was abandoned when the cop blew through a break in some bushes and a huge flock of ducks flared on the other side. The horse shied, nearly throwing off the cop and my mind was made up. I made it to the main drag, turned right, and breathed a sigh of relief after about 5 blocks. As I passed a side street, there was a cop car sitting there and he lit up the lights and was right on me. I pulled into a grocery store parking lot and the car cops said that they had gotten a radio call to stop me, but knew little else. Way off down the street I saw the rider coming at a steady trot and was dying a thousand deaths. The closer he got, the bigger he got. Finally he arrives. His horse is sweaty, foaming at the mouth, and just starting to get its breath back. The cop dismounts and walks up to me and put his nose right against mine. He says, "I'm going to ask you some questions and, if I don't like your answers, you're going right to jail!" I'm giving him this sob story that I hadn't seen him, had no idea why I had been stopped, and if I had known I was being chased I would have pulled over because I respected the police and really appreciated the fine work they did providing for public safety. I felt like one of those clowns you see on "Cops" who says, after a high speed chase in a stolen car, that it was his Sister's car. But I actually thought I was making some headway when suddenly Zeus barks at the horse out the back window, the horse jerks its head and smacks the cop in the cheek. The cop turns around and slugs the horse on the end of its nose and I know my fate is sealed. He pulls out a summons and is writing for 5 minutes, all the while just reaming me out. Expecting to be "perp walked" to jail, I was stunned when he ripped off the ticket, handed it to me, got on his steed, and rode away. Long after he and the other cops left, I looked at the summons, expecting to see: evading arrest, endangering the life of an officer, criminal negligence, and other sundry charges, all of which were true. Imagine my surprise when it read...Dog not on leash, Fine: $25.
17: Zeus the Protector Good or bad, Zeus was a natural junk yard dog when it came to protecting me or any place I put him. I tried in vain to break him of greeting every stranger that came to the door with curled lips. After they were identified as non-threatening, he would immediately turn back into "Fluffy". But until then...look out! My buddy Bill Montgomery came to town for a golf tournament one time and brought with him a basketball coach named Wayne, I think. This guy was 6'6" and well over 200 pounds. I was going to college and was at class when they arrived, so I had told Bill to go on in and relax until I got home. Now, Zeus knew Bill very well and everything was cool when they first came in. They made themselves at home and while Bill raided the refrigerator, Wayne stretched out on the couch for a little nap. Pretty soon, Bill decides to make a run to the liquor store and leaves. What happened next was told to Bill and me by the still frazzled Wayne. Apparently, Zeus made the determination that, without Bill being there, Wayne was no longer welcome. This 45 pound Cujo grabbed this enormous man by the pant-leg and dragged him to the door. Even when Bill returned, Wayne refused to go back in my apartment.
18: On a jeeping adventure in CO, we stopped to have a few beers at this pub in a little mountain town. Zeus was tied to the steering wheel and left to guard the open-topped jeep. In the bar, we got sideways with a group of the local riff-raff and I saw two of them duck out the front door. Thinking that they might do something to the jeep or Zeus, I went after them. As I approached the jeep, there was a bunch of guys crowded around it. Here was Zeus, who had torn out of his collar, and he had this poor bastard cornered up against his jeep, that he had innocently parked next to ours. I called Zeus off and re-secured him. These guys weren't mad, but were very impressed with Zeus. About this time, my other two buddies came running up thinking I was being mobbed. We got things straightened away and joined our new friends back at the bar. The locals now didn't like the odds and left us alone. Zeus the Fighter Zeus got into a large number of dog fights in his life. He won a lot of them, but lost a bunch too. He never started them, but he never ran away from one either. He got into one in GA that chewed up his neck so bad it got infected and he swelled up terribly. He looked more like a pig than a dog. One time, we were riding down the street in Salem, OR on the bike and this huge German Shepherd came charging out of nowhere and crashed us, jumping on Zeus. I kicked it off him and picked Zeus up over my head, so it couldn't reach him. Later, the vet said that he had deep puncture wounds that had to be cleaned out, but because Zeus was getting on in years, anesthesia might kill him. So, while I petted him and looked into his eyes, the vet went to work. He was amazed that Zeus endured that level of pain with the trust in me that this was being done for his own good. Once Zeus was resting at home, I went back to the Shepherd's house and presented its master with Zeus' huge vet bill. He paid up right quick. But the worst fight of all took place when I wasn't there to stop it. Zeus was 16 years old and was rapidly showing the effects of his advancing age. 6 months earlier, Zeus had suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. I had to feed a and water him with a turkey baster for several weeks. But he incredibly came out of it and was just about normal, except being more frail. Anyway, I used to leave my back door open when I went to work, so Zeus could go
19: out into the yard whenever he wanted. I came home one day and was met by my next door neighbor. He told me that Zeus had been out in the yard when this big, scruffy, wire-haired mongrel appeared and they began to fight. He said it went on for 1/2 an hour, which I found unbelievable. Rushing inside, I found Zeus all torn up and laying in a pool of blood. I raced him to the vet and he had to tolerate another session of probing and stitching, all without anesthetics. I was mad at my neighbor for not breaking up the fight and went hunting for that dog with my rifle, but couldn't find it. My neighbor said the dog stunk badly and since Zeus was covered with its saliva, I smelled what he was talking about. Zeus really went downhill after that. About a week after the fight, the kid next door alerted me that Zeus' attacker was back in the neighborhood. I thought about grabbing my rifle, but grabbed the leash instead. I approached it, seeing a stub of rope around its neck, but no collar. It had the telltale stink. I did something that I'm not proud of, nor am I ashamed of. I attached the leash and put the dog in my car. I lived about 12 miles outside Portland and I drove back to the city, across the bridge, and stopped in the tough waterfront area. I let my passenger out and simply drove away. | I never saw it again. This photo was taken no more than 2 weeks before he died, with his wounds still visible. The spirit was strong, but his body was beginning to give up the struggle. I was sitting at my kitchen table with my buddy Dave, when death came for Zeus. He gave out a yelp and spasmed violently. I rushed to him and as he spasmed again, I said "Go quick Boy, I love you." I laid his body next t my bed and cried myself to sleep as i felt the warmth slowly go away. The next day, I took him up to the mountains and chose a spot along a logging
20: road at Wolf Creek Pass. I dug a deep grave, so the coyotes wouldn't dig it up and wrapped him in his favorite blanket. I put him gently in his grave and sobbed as I filled it in. Then I collected a bunch of river rock and put these on around the grave. In a few days, I took my favorite slide of Zeus and showed it through the projector on a large piece of white template paper taped to the wall. Then I traced the outline of his body with magic marker and took the paper to work. The burning department did a nice job of cutting a tombstone out of 1/2" steel plate with the Zeus silhouette in the center. Then I had it galvanized and drilled to accept an inscribed bronze plaque. When I got the plaque back from the engraver, I covered it with Plexiglas, sealed the edges, and bolted it to the tombstone. That weekend, I drove up to Zeus' grave with the monument and enough cement to strongly stand it up. This was the fruit of my labor. It has been 25 years that he has been gone, but I think of him nearly everyday. Except for the time I was in Vietnam, we were inseparable and every fond memory I have of this time includes him. He gave himself to me without conditions, without fear, and without question. He was the embodiment of every quality that I admire and I thank God for letting me witness his indomitable spirit.