Remembering Freya, the dog who started it all

18 years ago today, I brought a mangy, itching, largely hairless nine month-old white German Shepherd home from the Fayette County Animal Shelter. She smelled horrible, had no inside manners, and was dog aggressive, but she immediately loved little kids, especially my goddaughters. She hoarded toys like she had never been given one before in her life, tried to eat my cats, and possessively patrolled the perimeter of our property in a most German fashion from Day 1, keeping out infidels. Her name was Freya, and she changed my life.

Freya, beloved Princess Dog 2001-2015

Through several years of obedience training, a canine behaviorist, and thousands of dollars in veterinary specialist visits to control numerous health problems, she became a great dog. She was never a dog that could go to the dog park, but she became the very best dog that she could be. She survived an egregious rattlesnake bite which nearly killed her, and later saved me from a truly crazy neighbor who was attempting to break into my house while I was home. (I needn't ever have wondered if she would bite to protect me. Crazy neighbor found out exactly what she would do.) She lived to be 14 years old.

Freya is the reason I founded the Austin Raw Feeders' Coop, now in its 18th year of existence, because among many other ailments she had celiac disease (which I did not even imagine dogs could have) and she couldn't eat commercial dog food without becoming violently ill. (The journey of how we discovered that she had celiac is a story in itself!) In 2002, every available dog food I could find had corn or wheat in it, so I had to learn to make all of her food myself. I did, and discovered I liked doing it. Because I was on a limited budget, I had to learn to source products for her meals that I could afford, which meant I learned to buy in bulk.

To this day, all of our zoo eat home-prepared raw food, which I would never have discovered was the gold standard if Freya had been able to digest normal dog food. It was never my intention to become a "crazy dog lady," and serve home-prepared food--if there had been a kibble she could have eaten then, I would have fed it! Nearly two decades, three Shepherds and a whole passel of cats later, I wouldn't feed commercial pet food now for anything.

Freya was a poster dog for the terrible genetic problems resulting from backyard breeding, but the things I learned from solving her many health challenges are why her subsequent brothers and sisters have lived long, long lives--and it's just one reason among many why she is always with us.