By Britt Miller
It has been nearly two weeks since Hanni died, and since then I’ve been trying to think about how best to write this. Do I try to go in chronological order from our first meeting? Do I jump from highlight to highlight, unable to focus on one thing for more than a few seconds, just like she couldn’t? Perhaps the best way is to do what I’ve always done when I write—just vomit it all up now, and worry about cleaning it up in the editing process later.
I’ll let you decide which one of those I chose.
For those of you that don’t know Hanni (heck, depending on where you’re reading this, some of you don’t know me, either), she was one of the most beloved members of my family. Found just over eight years ago as a stray somewhere near Yakima, this goofy little Chiweenie managed to find her way into our family, and our hearts. Dachshunds were always the dog of choice for my mom’s side of the family, but when my Aunt Sue and Uncle Lucky saw Hanni’s face, they were fine with making an exception for this dachshund mixed with a chihuahua, found with painted green toenails. They adopted her on behalf of my dementia-addled grandmother who was living in an AEGIS facility, and that was where she went to live.
Now, my grandma on my mom, Jacquie’s, side was a pretty horrible person, to be honest. From ruining Christmas by refusing to go if my cousin’s wife showed up, to multiple disownings of my mom, to telling my grandfather (Boppa to us) that “you can go to Vegas with Jacquie. If I die while you’re gone, I’m sure the neighbors will notice.” For that reason, Boppa never traveled, knowing the moment we touched down, he’d
Hanni when she lived with my Grandma.
have received a call that said she was in the emergency room. The entire family walked on eggshells, rarely challenging her. Even when my dad called her out, nobody wanted to unite behind him, and the only way to make her lose an argument was with a united front of the entire family. Instead of solving the problem, family Christmas was simply canceled that year. So, grandma never lost an argument.
So, giving Hanni to my dementia-brained & evil grandmother in an assisted living facility was, in hindsight, not the best choice. This was the third dog my grandma had decided to call Hanni, though she thought and referred to this one as “Hanni II”. She often complained that Hanni didn’t like her, even though she spoiled her—with chocolate dove bars and malted milk balls, literal poison to dogs. I only saw Hanni in the care of my grandma a couple times, but she was sweet and shy. I didn’t hear her bark even once, a rarity for a dog that comes from two traditionally yappy breeds. My grandma was hard to love, even for a sweet creature like Hanni.
So, I was pleasantly surprised one day, months later, to see my mom pull her car into the garage, open the door, and have a fifteen-pound barrel of a chiweenie come trundling out the door. She looked happy, but I was shocked to see just how fat she’d gotten. For a dog her size, fifteen pounds is massive.
Hanni gives me a kiss shortly after moving in with my mom.
We set to work putting Hanni on a diet, and soon she was down a couple pounds and looking like the sweet, lovely girl in most of my pictures.
At this time, my dog, Cash, still belonged to the neighbors, and had been a little home invader when she broke out of their yard. Cash was only a puppy at the time, but the times she broke out of her house and came calling at our back door, she seemed a little surprised that Hanni had stolen “her” space at my mom’s house. Still, as the friendliest puppy ever, she wanted to play with Hanni, who didn’t really want to have anything to do with Cash. That’s when we learned Hanni could, in fact, bark! No one in the family had really heard her bark, so we weren’t even sure that she could. Cash brought it out in her, getting Hanni to growl in defense and take little lunges and yaps at her to show that this was HER house now. That was when we really began to see Hanni’s spunky personality.
Seriously, Hanni became the queen of the house. She happily accepted affection and pets. She did other standard dog things, like chase the ball down the hall way, and beg impatiently for food. For awhile, we kind of wished that she hadn’t found the confidence to bark, because she would bark when begging, or when we were in the other room, or really whenever she felt like it. She was the antithesis of Cash as a treat taker; Cash daintily removes the treat from your hand like she’s trying to safely and steadily disarm a bomb, while Hanni would gladly take your entire hand with the treat if that’s what had to happen. This little stray had gotten her groove back.
Me & Hanni in 2015.
Probably my favorite moment with Hanni came when I accidentally taught her how to speak a little English. Somewhere in the depths of my mom’s hard drive, there’s video proof, but for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it. One lazy morning, Hanni was cuddling up next to me in bed, and I was showering her with scratches and pets and general affection.
“I love you, Hanni,” I said to her, over and over again. “You’re so good Hanni. I love you! I love you!”
Eventually, she howled back “I ruuuww rooooo!” and I just about lost it, I was so surprised and excited. I repeated the call to her a few more times, and she howled it back again. I of course made my mom come see what her dog could do. Hanni was endearing and awesome in many ways, but “smart” isn’t a descriptor that really applied to her at any point before or after this, so the fact that she did this showed intelligence beyond what any of us had expected. She felt that it was making us pay more attention to her, so she howled it out, over and over.
Hanni was always happy to start the howls up, too. Say “I love you” to her two or three times in a row, and she was repeating it back at you. Though sometimes she freelanced, most specifically any time we would leave the house. While in the garage, before getting in the car, you could hear her howling her best “I love you” over and over again, not wanting us to leave. Sometimes I’d be just waking up to my mom leaving, and hearing Hanni howling in the living room. She always had an “Oh…I’m not alone…yeah don’t worry, I’m cool” look on her face when I caught her howling when she thought she was alone.
Hanni running the show at the dog park.
This little Chiweenie was full of quirks. It’s often said that dogs are a reflection of their owners, and that was certainly true with Hanni. Once she found herself, she was a spunky, take-no-bullshit warrior of a woman, not letting her size get in the way of her big heart and personality. When we were at the dog park, Hanni would typically gravitate toward the larger dogs and bark in their face or hump their legs, as if to say “I am not small! I’m as tough as you! Don’t act like I’m small!” Hell, she even had hearing issues—my mom has one good ear and one bad ear—and Hanni could never tell which direction a sound was coming from. Call her name and she’d generally turn her head in the wrong direction, and look around until she actually saw you.
Hanni really came into our lives at the perfect time. My parents weren’t too far removed from their divorce, so my mom was set to have an empty house when I was about to go off to Washington State for college. Hanni picked the right year to escape my grandma’s, helping my mom through the difficulty of being alone for the first time in over two decades. I don’t have as many details on this part of the story, because this part is my mom’s, but I’m very grateful that little sassy football-shaped bundle of joy was there to keep her company.
Hanni letting Cash know who the boss dog is.
After I finished up my time at Washington State, by now with Cash officially as my dog, my mom and Hanni had bonded quite closely. My dog was my best friend, and her dog was her best friend. I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree! I spent the next couple of years bouncing around from place to place, with different sets of roommates—even a pair of cats that Cash had to learn to live with—but Hanni was a constant for my mom during the time she needed stability. Like most everyone has said since her passing, I think Hanni was lucky to have my mom, but my mom was also lucky to have Hanni during those years when I was out of the house for the first time, as well.
Hanni was far more adaptable of a dog than the rescuers told us. They had said she “hates cats” and absolutely cannot coexist with them. So, when we took vacations, Sue and Lucky would watch after her, and put their cats in the other room. But sometimes, the cats would find their way out…and it wasn’t long until Hanni
Hanni with my Aunt Sue and her cat, Guy.
was snuggled up under one of my aunt’s arms, and their cat Guy was snuggled up under the other. As much as she wanted to be the boss, she was a sweet girl that learned to coexist with any other animal she had prolonged exposure to.
I finally found a place I could afford to live in without roommates in Seattle in March of 2019, after about a year back at my mom’s while I was between places. Hanni was still peak Hanni at that point, despite being somewhere between 12-14 years old. People at the dog park still asked if she was a puppy. She still bossed my nearly 60-pound dog around the house. She pranced her sweet little happy step when going out for walks. She still almost took your hand off when taking a treat. Age hadn’t slowed her down. By the end of 2019, she was almost if not entirely blind, but you wouldn’t know it if you just saw her prancing along on a walk.
I gave Hanni the “Happy Honda Days” bow treatment for Christmas.
But, unfortunately, father time is undefeated. My mom and I left her at Sue and Lucky’s once again this January when we went to Las Vegas for a softball tournament my team was in. When we got back, I tried to greet Hanni with “I love yous” to get her to howl…but try as she might, she couldn’t do it anymore. Her voice sounded hoarse, and she looked noticeably smaller than when we had left. She’d lost about two pounds in a four-day span, and Sue and Lucky weren’t quite sure why. She began drinking water like it was going out of style, despite never being much for hydration in her earlier years. So, we decided to get her checked up.
Our local veterinarians at Perrinville Animal Hospital have been a part of our family since my childhood dog, Amy. They’re a wonderful group of doctors that have been an easy choice to take our dogs to. We got the diagnosis that Hanni had diabetes, as well as an enlarged heart, and they thought Cushing’s disease was also a possibility. She was prescribed insulin, and we’d see how low we could get her blood sugar, and see how much fight she had in her.
My mom was deathly afraid of giving Hanni her shots at first, but Hanni, as always, was a little trooper, not even flinching when my mom put the needles in. It cause my mom stress and anxiety for weeks until she got it down to a science and it became routine, but it worked. Hanni’s blood sugar came down as we slowly increased her dose. We added heart medicine as well, so she’d get a helping of wet food twice a day, and two needle pokes in the back.
Lil’ Hanni always took her baths in the sink.
Still, seeing her slowed down was a bit of a bummer. She couldn’t howl anymore, and her bark had become a falsetto caricature of her once sharply aggressive and fierce yaps. She had to be picked up to get on the couch, and since she had to pee so much more frequently, my mom put puppy pads down in the kitchen for her.
When Covid-19 became a reality, and I was stuck in my 375 square foot downtown Seattle broom closet with Cash, I wondered if I had seen her for the last time. My mom would text me some nights, saying her breathing was labored. But for the most part, the heart pill would allow her to relax and breathe more easily. Still, my car lives at my mom’s house in Edmonds, and busses seemed like a place you didn’t want to be with a deadly virus in the air—and this was before masking was mandatory. I felt trapped, and like I’d ever see her again.
At the beginning of June, after guidelines had been laid out for reopening, and data about the spread of things became more clear, my mom offered to come pick Cash & I up, both of us double-masked, to come stay at her place for a little bit. This was a welcome development. I am a very social person, and when all of a sudden the social scene is pulled out from underneath you, and your apartment is the size of a broom closet AND you’re in the middle of realizing you’re transgender, things get a little claustrophobic.
I arrived up north in Edmonds with no intention of how long I would stay, but Cash seemed to enjoy having a yard again, and of course, her little buddy Hanni to harass. She truly loved to get in Hanni’s face, and have Hanni snap at and chase her, so she was sad that Hanni rarely fought back anymore, only occasionally mustering some high-pitched woofs from the couch. Cash didn’t get it.
Taking an elderly Hanni for her last walk 🙁
Still, it was nice to get another month’s worth of Hanni memories while I had the chance. She couldn’t go on long walks anymore, but she used to love them, so I put her little self into a backpack and walked her around the block, letting her smell the familiar smells of our neighborhood. She still had moments of spunkiness, and was more of a cuddler than ever, resting her chin on my mom’s leg every night as my mom went down a Candy Crush rabbit hole.
When I left for a socially-distanced camping trip to my friends’ parents two-acre property, I was wondering if I was saying goodbye to Hanni for the last time. I picked her up, gave her some kisses, and told her I loved her, without the tone that would make her attempt to howl it back at me. She certainly had lost energy even in the month I’d been back up north.
But Hanni waited for me to come back.
I got back late Sunday evening, a day earlier than initially planned, thanks to the others all having to get back to work—some of my friends’ employers hadn’t honored time-off requests that came before the pandemic after they returned to work. My mom had said Hanni had had a tough day, and that her breathing was especially tough, but her heart pill seemed to help. I was happy I got to see her face, and give her kisses.
The next morning, she seemed to be struggling some again, but the morning dose of the heart pill brought her back to something approximating normal. She had an appetite, drank water, and wagged her tail. She was still happy to be here. But in the evening, the heart pill didn’t stop her labored breathing. She drank tons of water, but looked like she was struggling, scared, and uncomfortable. I talked soothingly to her, and put a cold pack on her side to try to chill her out. Her sides were swelling like a balloon with each breath she took. My mom called the emergency vet and took her there, where she was put in a cage with oxygen. I thought that might be it, that night.
Hanni wasn’t going to go out that way, though. The next morning, after conferring with the emergency vet and our own vet, we determined it was time to let her go. We scheduled an appointment at our vet, and the emergency vet was worried she wouldn’t make it the ten minute drive between offices. But this vet had bonded deeply with Hanni over the years, and we wanted her to be in the care of someone that loved her. So they handed Hanni off to me in the back seat of my mom’s car, and we raced to Perrinville Animal Hospital. At first, since she had just gotten out of the oxygenated cage, she seemed ok. She even stood up on my lap, in one last triumphant display of energy.
Hanni with me on her last day, just minutes before getting to the vet.
But her breathing quickly became labored, and her discomfort apparent. I pet her and tried to soothe her and calm her down as much as I could…”just make it ten minutes, Hanni, we love you, you can do it,” I pleaded with her on the way.
She made it. I handed her off to my mom when we arrived, and they allowed us back to the room where Dr. Rehberger was ready. My mom held her and kissed her through her mask one last time, and finally, Dr. Rehberger ended her struggle. We cried hard, for a long time right then and there. It was time. It was the right thing to do. We’d been preparing for it for months. But that never makes it easier.
That day was full of tears, and since then, the grief has come in waves. Out of nowhere, suddenly one of us will get choked up or start crying about my mom’s little girl. She loved that dog so much, that Hanni and I were basically sisters. Dogs are a part of the family, and Hanni was just another one of my mom’s kids.
The outpouring of support we received from my friends, her friends, family, and acquaintances who had only seen her lovely face on social media was incredibly helpful in processing our grief. Simply knowing how many Hanni had impacted in her short time with us made me feel more able to celebrate her life, than wallow in sadness. Those moments still hit, but knowing the positive impact she had on so many was incredibly helpful.
My mom sharing a moment with a younger Hanni
Cash was, and still is, very confused. When we came home, she smelled Hanni on my hands, and heard my mom coming up the stairs behind her and ran to greet my mom and Hanni…only Hanni wasn’t there. It took Cash a day or two, but she clearly got it. She was sleeping in Hanni’s spots, refusing to get up and just taking in Hanni’s scent for as long as possible. Hanni’s empty collar fell off the table it had been sitting on in one of the early days, and Cash smelled it and got excited…but we had to let her down. Watching Cash feel the grief was, in some ways, hard to watch.
In other ways, though, Cash’s affection ratcheted up in the days after Hanni died, and she really helped us through it. What I didn’t realize before Hanni left us, is that we’d be helping Cash through the loss of a dear friend, too.
I still think about Hanni almost every day, and I know not a day goes by where my mom doesn’t. She was a spunky, sassy, queen bitch who didn’t take shit from anyone. She was a fart in a frying pan, always living exactly in the moment, never thinking beyond the current second. She had attitude, she was affectionate, and she could say “I love you” in discernable English in a way no dog I’ve ever seen could. I’ll be talking about Hanni for years. She’s always going to be one of my very favorite dogs. People say she was lucky to have us, but truly, we were lucky to have her. Her unique and special personality will be with me forever. I love you, Hanni.
The last photo I got of Cash and Hanni together.