|Brody and Darla with Kelli, February 2011|
|Kelli and Brody in 2009, Provo, Utah|
|Brody and Indy were good friends|
|Darla liked sleeping on her back as a puppy|
|Kelli and Brandy napping, 1995|
|Brody and Darla playing Tug of War through the side of the kennel, 2010|
|Darla loved her toys!|
During the fall of 2011, it became increasingly clear to us that Kelli was unhappy. In fact, that had been apparent for the previous year. We knew things were not well in her marriage. However, Kelli seemed reluctant to share that with us. Instead, she chose to suffer in silence, drawing strength in part from her devoted dogs, Brody and Darla. So, I began to feel some appreciation for those dogs, for what they were providing to Kelli in our absence. During our visits in November 2011, I remember watching Brody and Darla in the “hair room” of Kelli’s place (where she cut hair), which doubled as their sleeping room. When I would walk by the room (which had double French doors with windows), Brody would either cower or bark at me, and Darla would eagerly wag her tail with excitement to see me. By this time, Kelli was more than six months pregnant with Royal. There was building stress in her marital life that she was not relaying to us. We could feel it and, I am sure, the dogs could feel it, too. We could not be there to comfort Kelli and calm her troubled heart. But, Brody and Darla were ever present. They seemed to know what she needed and gave it to her freely.
When Kelli came to Las Vegas with David for Christmas in
2011, her husband was expected to join her the following day. Instead, however, he used that as an
opportunity to tell Kelli, his then seven and a half months pregnant spouse,
that he no longer desired to be married to her.
She had come to Las Vegas with clothes for only the weekend and had no
way to return to Provo without assistance (since both family vehicles remained
at her Provo residence). I had Kelli
make a list of things that she would need retrieved from her home. Brody and Darla topped that list. Kelli was very concerned about them, what
they were experiencing, whether they were being cared for. She worried about how they would fare in her
absence. They needed her and she
desperately needed them. I have never
been much of a dog lover and my first impulse was to simply advise Kelli that I
would not be retrieving the dogs, that she had more important things to worry
about. I was sure that the dogs would be
fine, but this was a very desperate time for our family. Our daughter was in great emotional
need. She was going through something
that neither of us had ever experienced - complete rejection by her
spouse. It became apparent to me that I
would have to arrange for Brody and Darla to join us in Las Vegas. Our daughter was in need, those dogs were in
need and, frankly, Maralea and I were also in need.
|Brody and Darla liked sleeping under blankets|
|Brody and Darla were never very far from Kelli|
|Brody, perched at his couch top lookout in Provo|
The moment of the Kelli, Brody and Darla reunion came as the Flaggs drove into the driveway of our Las Vegas home. I knew it would be great. It was. Brody and Darla were a bit more relaxed by the time we arrived home. I removed their kennel from the Flagg’s vehicle, opened the kennel door, and instructed the dogs to go find Kelli. They got out of the kennel and as Kelli appeared on the driveway, they went nuts. Those dogs were leaping on Kelli and wagging those tails so hard I thought they might fly off. Darla was so excited she actually peed. Those dogs were happy. All their stress was over, relieved - they had been reunited with their one and only true love. I was grateful for them as they helped fill a hole in our daughter’s aching heart, provided her with hope and, most importantly, love.
|Brody & Darla resting in our family room|
Brody and Darla settled down in the short hallway between the bathroom and utility room of our home. All Kelli had to do was put their pillow there, and they knew it was to be their place each day and night. We purchased gates to try to contain them when necessary. When the gates were up, Brody would stay on the pillow while Darla would walk up to the gate and look around in the hope of getting someone’s attention. She was oh so social. We got to where we did not even secure the gates between the walls, but would just kind of lean them up against the two walls across the hallway - because the dogs never touched the barrier. They did not attempt to move past it. When it was up, they seemed to know that they were not to breach the border. They were really good dogs.
I had hoped that we could train Brody and Darla to do their business somewhere other than the putting green we had in the backyard. Brody seemed easier to guide to the east side of the backyard than Darla. After a while, I just gave up and let them poop all over the putting green. Kelli was pretty good about cleaning up after them. If not, then I did it on Saturdays when I would clean the yard. I enjoyed complaining about the dogs . . . and tormenting them. They did not like being in the backyard when I was working - especially if I had the blower. I think I scarred them emotionally when I chased them around the backyard with the blower once. After that time, any time they saw me anywhere near the blower they ran for cover.
|Brody with Royal, July 2012|
|Royal and Darla, August 2012|
Brody and Darla were great in helping Kelli get through
her pregnancy under her very sad circumstances of abandonment. They were at home with her during the hours
when Maralea and I were working, keeping Kelli company, loving her, helping to
fill the painful hole in her heart. I
could not put a price on that. I
wondered how Brody and Darla would adjust to Kelli coming home from the
hospital with Royal. From that time
forward, they did not receive the kind of attention from Kelli to which they
had become so accustom. She had
something more important - a son. It did
not take Brody and Darla long to figure out the connection between Kelli and
Royal. If there was jealousy (which
would be understandable), Brody and Darla never displayed it. They always just gleefully accepted any
attention they could get, and loved being a part of the family (especially
during dinner time). In time, Royal
became intrigued with the dogs. Once he
started crawling, Royal would enter the dogs’ domain, and sometimes hug them
like they were little stuffed animals.
When Royal began walking, he seemed to fancy himself as one of the
dogs. They were fine with Royal feasting
on their dry dog food (which they didn’t really seem to like that much anyway),
and Royal was fine with Brody and Darla camping beneath his high chair so he
could drop food for them while bending over to watch them go crazy for his
latest offering. (When Brad and Whitney
were visiting in March 2013, we found Royal and Beckham in the utility room
with hands and cheeks filled with dried dog food, as though they had found the
proverbial mother lode of treats. Royal
never lost his taste for dog food.)
Royal’s first words were: Go and Darla. Both related to those dogs, which I suppose
is fitting. (The word Go
is what Kelli would do when she simply needed the dogs to vacate the vicinity
immediately. All they needed from her
was one word: Go, and they listened. Well, Brody listened. He always went away on the first command and
landed in his bed. Darla was a different
story. She would usually take a few
steps in the direction of her bed, walking with Brody, but would usually take a
short little detour and return. It was
rare to get Darla to actually Go with just one command. She was far too reluctant to leave the
family.) Royal got to where he would say
Darla whenever he saw any dog.
He would even call Kelli Darla.
|Little Royal enjoyed visiting Brody and Darla at their quarters in the hallway|
|A very festive Brody, December 2012|
At the end of each day, we would have family scripture reading and prayer, followed by our family cheer. The dogs picked up on the routine. They knew that event signaled the end of the day. As we would kneel down to pray in the evenings, Brody would quietly begin his walk to bed (he knew what was coming next, and did not seem concerned about going outside for one last potty break). Darla, on the other hand, would stay with us, savoring every moment she could get with the family. (Brody and Darla were so much like Eeyore and Tigger. That comparison never got old.) Whenever it was time to go outside for a potty break, Darla was quick to leap into action, while Brody sometimes had to be forced outside (almost pried from his bed). When they were done outside, Brody and Darla would camp by the back door, sometimes give short little barks to let us know they were done and ready to join the family. Darla would occasionally resort to whining and scratching on the back door. (She was always more assertive than Brody.) Then, once the back door would open, just a little, Brody and Darla would just shove it open (no way they were going to hesitate in case anyone happened to change their mind about letting them back in).
|Darla hanging with Kelli in the backyard|
Brody and Darla loved visiting Mom and Dad’s house, and hanging out with Luke and Romeo. Luke was less interested in the doggy parties than Romeo. At first, the four dogs would run around the house like crazy, but Luke would then break away to return to his place next to Dad in his office or wherever else Dad might be. Romeo, on the other hand, enjoyed hanging out with his new friends. We had some gatherings at the Pine Valley cabin, where the dogs got to run around freely (although any doggy accidents were blamed on Brody and Darla . . . even though we all know it was Romeo, who makes a habit out of doing his business inside the house). Mom would complain about Brody and Darla being right under her feet in the kitchen. That is where you would always find them if there was any kitchen activity. Brody was pretty much a dud in life for the exception of four circumstances: 1) he is playing protector (barking); 2) he is getting any attention from Kelli; 3)Darla is engaging him to play; or 4) I enter the kitchen. Whatever Brody thought of me, whatever reservations he had about me regarding our relationship were completely tossed aside when it came to food. Whenever there was a possibility that some morsel might come his way, Brody gave his full attention, studying my every move. There were times when I actually thought he could read my mind by carefully watching me, reaching some kind of sophisticated, scientific calculation as to when, how, what and where I would be dropping food onto the kitchen floor. That was clearly his forte. Darla would sit back and play off Brody. She would let him do the work, then swoop in and get first crack at the food. There were occasions when Darla would turn her nose up at food, such as a marshmallow, grits, etc. Brody would then kind of shyly walk up to the item, rather nonchalantly, and eat it. Brody was a much less discriminating eater than Darla (which explains the general physical difference between the two: again Brody = Eeyore (fat and waddling), Darla = Tigger (skinny and bouncy active)).
|Brody and Darla prepare for a sled ride with Kelli, Maralea and Royal, December 2012|
|Royal and Beckham invade the dog dish, March 2013 (notice Royal's puffy cheeks - yum, yum)|
On April 12, 2013, Kelli posted the following on Facebook: “Sadly, I think I'm at the point where I need to get rid of my dogs (two mini Dachshunds ). I would like to keep them together, locally if possible, and to a good home. If you know of a family who might be interested please let me know!” I do not know how much of Kelli’s decision related to my complaining about the dogs, but I am pretty sure I had a lot to do with it. There was no timetable to place Brody and Darla, but Kelli had a goal of June in mind. I was not sad about the prospect of being without Brody and Darla. I basically coexisted with them. They knew it. We were not pals, but I was good to them at the same time.
|Darla was okay with Royal invading her space|
A few weeks ago, as Maralea, Kelli and Royal were walking Brody and Darla in the neighborhood, they were approached by a man who was impressed with the dogs. He asked if he could pet them. The gentleman said he was visiting a friend, and told Maralea and Kelli that he knew a couple that had lost a Dachshund that looked much like Brody, noting that they had been in mourning since their dog’s passing. Kelli mentioned that she was in the process of trying to place the dogs together in a good home. Shortly thereafter, Kelli was put in touch with Walter and Elsie Steigman. She spoke with them on the phone and learned that their dog had passed away about a year ago, that they were thinking about getting another dog but were not sure if they could handle two. They agreed to have a trial weekend with the dogs on May 10-12. Before the trial, I reminded Kelli that she did not have to give the dogs away, that she could keep them. I wanted it to be her decision . . . not ours. Maralea and I were out of town on May 10, 2013, when Kelli delivered the dogs to the Steigmans. I felt bad about that, as I learned of Kelli returning home crying by herself, without having anyone around to console her. I know that must have been very hard for her. Kelli’s plan was to return to the Steigman home in a few days and deliver the rest of the dog things if they decided to keep Brody and Darla. Of course, there were times that Royal would go wandering down the hallway home of Brody and Darla looking for them, calling out: “Darla!? Darla?” The initial separation was quite painful.
|Kelli and Royal prepare to take Brody and Darla for one more walk|
Kelli called the Steigmans on Sunday, May 12, 2013, to see how the trial was going. Walter said that it was great, that Brody and Darla were seated on Elsie’s lap at that moment, and that Kelli “would probably have to pry them away from us at this point.” That news was rather bittersweet for Kelli. It was really a best case scenario for Brody and Darla, being in a home with a couple that absolutely loves Dachshunds and has nothing else to do but take care of them. But, Kelli also would have been happy to take them back. Kelli made arrangements for us to visit the Steigmans the following evening, where we would deliver the rest of the dogs’ things and take them on one last walk. I knew it would be an emotionally heavy experience for Kelli and was glad to be there for her this time. However, what I did not anticipate was how much it impacted me.
As we entered the Steigman home, Walter welcomed us with a bright smile. Brody and Darla went crazy for Kelli. They were delighted to see her again. Walter said: “They show us a lot of affection, but nothing like that.” Truly, Kelli had a special bond with Brody and Darla that they shared with no one else. It was fun watching Royal. He was far more interested in exploring the Steigman home than playing with Brody and Darla. And, it did not take Royal long to locate the dog food dish, which he knew how to operate, removing the top lid which allowed him to dig in both hands deep into the dried food pile and fill his mouth with that disgusting stuff. (What a crack up.) We got Brody and Darla ready for a walk. I said the word “walk” and Brody started yelping with excitement. Kelli got the leashes on the dogs, and Royal picked up the leashes like he was ready to say mush! As we took Brody and Darla outside, I think the Steigmans were a bit concerned that we might change our mind and choose to take them back. We assured them we would return soon. Maralea put Royal in the stroller and tied the leashes to the stroller. Kelli then walked in front and the dogs pulled the stroller like a couple of Santa’s reindeer, both equally eager to catch up with Kelli. In fact, they pulled with so much force that they nearly toppled the stroller. Fortunately, Maralea caught it in time. My role was to play photographer. I was taking pictures, making a video of these last moments together with Brody and Darla. It was fun at first. However, as we turned to make our way back to the Steigman home, I began to feel heavy and sad.
|Kelli with Brody and Darla, saying goodbye to these wonderful friends who helped her so much|
We took a few more pictures just outside the Steigman home, then as we returned into their home, we delivered things like the dogs’ pillows, blankets and play toys. Brody and Darla immediately went to lay on them. I showed the Steigmans how the dogs would obey to words like: “blanket” and “kennel.” I opened the kennel we brought with us and said: “Kennel.” Brody and Darla immediately raced into the kennel, with tails wagging, as though they were thrilled to think we would now be taking them back home. I then had to coax them out of the kennel, back to their blankets. As we prepared to leave, Walter handed Kelli a check for $200. She did not ask for any money, but it was very thoughtful and sweet. We took some pictures of Kelli with the Steigmans, then prepared to leave. As we were starting to walk out the door, Walter gave Kelli the stuffed animal Dachshund they had kept on their couch since their dog had passed away a year earlier. It had provided them with great comfort in quiet moments. Now, with Brody and Darla, they did not need it. However, perhaps recognizing that Kelli would need some comfort, they provided their precious stuffed animal to Kelli. As we walked to the front door, Brody and Darla were wagging their tails, following us. Then, as Kelli stopped in the doorway and turned around to say goodbye, Darla stopped about six feet from the door. She looked at Kelli, then up at the Steigmans, then again at Kelli. Darla then sadly dropped her head slowly, as though she knew that this situation was now permanent. It was all I could do to keep from crying at that scene. Those dogs so loved Kelli. She so loved them. They had given and meant so much and to each other. Now, however, they both were moving on with new chapters in their lives. Kelli noted that Elsie Steigman had a dramatic change in countenance since they met a few days earlier, that she radiated with happiness and even seemed more healthy. Clearly, Brody and Darla were a blessing to the Steigmans. That provided Kelli with great comfort, to think that she and those precious dogs may have been a direct answer to prayers. Also, it is nice to know that Brody and Darla are not far away, and that we can visit them any time. The Steigmans have provided us with an open invitation.
|Kelli with Walter and Elsie Steigman, the very happy new owners of Brody & Darla|
(Notice the stuffed toy Dachshund in Kelli's right hand . . . and Royal getting into the dog food at the bottom left)
We stopped to have some Nielsen’s Custard on the way home from the Steigmans Monday evening. We all needed something to help us feel a little better. My heart was weighed down with guilt, feeling that Brody and Darla were now gone (at least partially at my insistence). I did not sleep well Monday night. I woke up Tuesday morning with an achy heart. David called to discuss some issues he was having with his car, and the subject of Brody and Darla came up. As I described our experience of leaving them with the Steigmans the night before, tears welled up in my eyes, my voice cracked, and I found myself unable to speak. I was so incredibly emotional. David probably thought I had gone mad. He had heard me complain about the dogs many times. (Sheesh, Dad, get it together.) Later, as I went into work, I was relating the experience of giving away Brody and Darla to my assistant, Linda, and later to Greg. On each occasion, I had to fight back tears. In fact, I simply could not talk about it. The emotions were just so powerful. I had a deposition on Wednesday morning and met with the witness to prepare. I happened to mention my experience with Brody and Darla, and learned that the witness has three dogs. He could identify with the feelings I was expressing. Once again, I had to fight back the tears as I related details surrounding Monday evening’s last walk of Brody and Darla.
|Darla studies the kitchen area for food|
As I write today, I feel more at peace. Yes, emotions were high a few days earlier, but only because I so clearly saw the blessings that have come into my life through Brody and Darla. They comforted our dear sweet daughter in so many of her dark and lonely moments, helping her mend through a long, painful divorce, and giving us all a joy in our home that we would never have experienced without them. Yes, I complained about them. Complaining is, sadly, something I do quite well. But, with all the love, candor and appreciation I can muster, I extend my deepest gratitude to Brody and Darla, for unconditionally loving Kelli and Royal, for even accepting Maralea and me into their special, tight knit circle of friends, and for sharing their healing powers with the Steigmans, who can now feel joy again with the sounds and activities of Dachshunds again in their home. It was a very selfless act for Kelli to deliver Brody and Darla to the Steigmans. She loved them deeply, found them a good home, and said goodbye with the hope and expectation that she will have them again in the next life. Surely, Heavenly Father would never allow for such close bonds to exist between mankind and dogs if such loving devotion cannot continue forever. Thank you, Brody and Darla. You won my heart (although I would never before admit it). I love you two, too.
Brody and Darla chasing Kelli and Royal at the Pine Valley cabin, December 2012
Our last walk on May 13, 2013