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Valeska Renaissance Violin
On 2/15/03, an accidental litter of 5 borzoi puppies was born. Because their 14 month old dam had a uterine infection, her milk made the puppies sick. Suckling each other led to urinary tract infections. Thanks to their breeder's skill and determination, all the pups survived this rocky start.

On 9/13/03 we picked up a dirty black and white pup named Valeska Renaissance Violin" AKA "Fiddler" AKA Cowboy from his owner in Iowa, who no longer wanted him. He was a perfect little traveler, sleeping peacefully with his head in my lap as we traversed the dark, flat prairie. Our headlights beamed into the distance, illuminating the bright future ahead.

Cowboy shredded everything, including our sofa. In his peaceful moments, he would lie in our yard, gaze up into the sky and study the planes passing far overhead. I renamed him Zorka, a loose variant of the Russian word for "he who has good vision." Zorka also means "dawn."

What a personality Zorka had! He was so full of life, and had such a confident swagger, that we envisioned him banging open the swinging doors of a Wild West saloon. He was an extremely happy boy, always wagging his tail in a most un-Borzoi-like fashion. He pulled us along on walks, seldom stopping to sniff, always intent on going forward---fast. We gave him nicknames: "Punky," "Mr. Personality," "young man in a hurry."

Six weeks after we bought him, I was at the Phoenix airport when my cell phone rang. It was our village police chief, saying "We have your dog." Punky had found a tiny hole in the bushes and escaped. We took him to obedience class, where he graduated in second place. However, there was only one other dog in the class. Well, at least he looked terribly cute in his mortarboard.

He grew into a tall boy, almost 35" at the shoulder and over 110 pounds, with a wide stance. His vet said he had "the heart of an athlete." His breeder said he was too fat. We simply loved him boundlessly.

Zorka ruled our world, a force to be reckoned with. His rich black and white coloring, the Kiss of Allah atop his head, his intense gaze, strong musculature, and confident, manly bark defined him. Those eyes.....

He refused to drink water without ice cubes. He barked several times a day for them, keeping our commercial-grade ice machine busy. I scurried to comply with his demands---"All right, I'm coming!" then dumping a scoopful of cylindrical ice cubes into his metal water bowl, where they clanged merrily.

He barked at deliverymen. He barked at mailmen. He barked at anyone who came near the house, and was very proud of himself when they left---as they always did. We forgot what our doorbell sounded like.

All his life, Zorka suckled intently on stuffed toys, holding his "prey" tightly with his dewclaws. His favorite was a zebra striped pillow. When Vladimir destroyed it in 2010, Zorka switched to a pink shaggy dog. He carried toy hobby horses around the house, biting their ears to play western songs and make galloping sounds. He was always careful that the stick end didnt hit anything.

His high-jumping skills were impressive. Once i opened the upper half of my SUV tailgate, and something flew by my shoulder. It was Punky, leaping in---how he didnt hit the glass window was a miracle!

At age 4, his health challenges began. I scoured the internet, asked questions, joined online groups, tested the patience of vets. At age 7, the surgeon who removed his malformed left ureter noticed that Zorka's liver was small and hard. Biopsy indicated end stage liver disease. She told us that we had "very limited time" with him.

But Zorka didnt know that; he thrived, happy as ever. We believed that there must have been some mistake. It wasnt possible that our big, strong, happy boy could have "very limited time." Look how stellar his bloodwork is! He still acts like a puppy!

On Halloween 2009, he barked to warn us about some trick or treaters, a rarity on our private road. He and our other Borzoi charged the front door. One of the boys outside peered in the glass and announced to his friends, "Dude, they have ponies!" We laughed for days about that.

In late 2011, his back legs began splaying out on our hardwood floors. The vet was puzzled. Multiple throw rugs and home made booties helped.

For Christmas 2011, we put so many treats in the dog stockings that they fell down from the mantle. One day the radio was playing Glee's "All I want for Christmas is You." Singing along, I rubbed Zorkas ribs. He leaned into me, wagged his tail slowly and looked up, tongue lolling. A moment of pure joy.
In April 2012 the vet stunned us by saying that Zorka had a grade 4 heart murmur . We felt fear for the first time. Extensive testing followed. The cardiologist diagnosed degenerative valve disease and suspected occult cardiomyopathy. I asked what was Zorkas risk of sudden death---"Very low." We were to come back in 3 months. Another medication was added to Zorka's regimen. He was terrified of vet visits, so I declined anti-arrhythmic medication because it required multiple vet trips for titration.

How could it have come to this so soon? He was barely 9. We just picked him up in Iowa! Fate had dealt Zorka genetic blows, but it had graced him with strength, joy, and will. He was a master of his life, not a slave to his afflictions. No, it was not possible that Nature could overcome our boy. He would chase away this threat just like he barked away the mailman every day.............

The days barreled by. Vets saw a 9 year old dog who was hypothyroid, had atypical Addisons disease, one kidney, end stage liver disease, grade 4 heart murmur, degenerative valve disease, possible occult cardiomyopathy, and whose rear legs were weak in the house. We saw our handsome, bouncy, barky boy who was just slowing down a little. My protector, my heart dog, the life and spirit of our home---he would be fine. Life would go on. Our love would carry him through.

On July 13, 2012 we prepared a steak for our boy Keepers 13 3/4 birthday. Zorka had 3 helpings and went to bed full and happy. At 5AM I awoke to hear him panting. We left for the ER too late. The light left his eyes 3 miles from our house.
Zorka's life with us ended where it had begun---in my lap. Our big, strong, handsome boy was gone at 9 years, 5 months old.

Unable to violate his beautiful body, i declined a necropsy. Still, I sought answers. His breeder said i was trying to get blood from a stone. Two vets said to ask the cardiologist. A third said he cold have had prolonged arrhythmia or ruptured his chordae tendonae. The cardiologist refused to speculate. Everyone said "You did everything you could" but they were wrong. I didn't save him.

Our house, which had rung with Zorka's barks for almost 9 years, was now unnaturally silent, like the calm after a thunderstorm. I felt vulnerable. The sound of the doorbell was startling, foreign.

The crematory attendant told us that Zorka had almost no body fat. After 6 years of being told by his breeder that he was too fat, this was sad vindication.
Zorka's bowl is still on its stand, empty forever. His collar and lead still hang by the door, awaiting a walk that will never come. His pink shaggy dog, stiff with old saliva, waits patiently to be suckled. We still expect to hear him bark for ice. I press the ears of his toy horse heads, listen to the music and imagine that it is 2003 again, that Zorka is still a boisterous puppy, that his joyful life is ahead, not fading into the past.

All I want for Christmas is
Zorka 2/15/03-7/14/12

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