Katja and I were married on August 28, 1960, at the Quaker chapel on Antioch’s campus in Yellow Springs. We honeymooned for one night at a downtown hotel in Dayton, and a week later we drove up to Ann Arbor to start grad school. We had arranged to rent a small second floor apartment in Mrs. Quackenbush’s white clapboard home on Brookwood St. Mrs. Quackenbush was an elderly lady in her 80’s who had rented to students for many years. She was friendly and accommodating, but also business-like and rather anxious.
Several weeks into the Autumn semester, Katja brought home a German Shepherd puppy. Though a complete surprise to me, the dog was totally darling – a little puffball of black fur and endless energy. Katja suggested the name Heather, and it fit her perfectly. Heather symbolized the excitement of our new marriage and the beginning of our family life. We petted and played and cooed over her. We were sad when we had to leave her alone each morning, and it was a thrill each day to come home in the late afternoon.
Mrs. Quackenbush was enthusiastic about our having a puppy and insisted that her relieving herself in the yard wasn’t a problem. After a while, though, the back yard became sort of a minefield of stools. I collected them all up one day and built a bonfire of the dried out pellets while Mrs. Quackenbush stood and watched. Heather also spent a lot of time barking during the day while we were gone, and the noise increasingly got on Mrs. Quackenbush’s nerves. We talked to a friend and fellow Antiochian who had moved to Ann Arbor when we did. He volunteered to take care of Heather in the daytime since he had a fenced-in yard, and we were very appreciative. I began delivering Heather there each morning and picking her up at the end of the day.
On the evening of Oct. 14, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was scheduled to give an address from the steps of the Michigan Union. We walked over with Heather and waited for a couple of hours for the candidate who was running late. There was a huge crowd, and, in the midst of it, some guy stepped on Heather’s foot. It hurt a lot, and she cried in pain and limped. We held her for the rest of the evening, and Kennedy wound up giving the famous speech in which he introduced his proposal for the Peace Corps for the first time. I carried Heather home afterward.
I took her to our friend’s house the next morning. When Katja and I came home at the end of the day, my friend was waiting for us on our porch. He had the saddest expression on his face, and we knew something was drastically wrong. Teary-eyed, he just blurted it out. He had tied Heather on a rope attached to a tree, but she had managed to climb over the fence. She had strangled to death on the rope.
We went into shock. Our friend was distressed and terribly guilty. Katja and I were so heartbroken, it’s hard to put into words. Heather had provided a wonderful source of happiness for us, and now she was the first tragedy that we had to deal with as a couple. We had an empty painful feeling for a long time. John F. Kennedy won the presidency a few weeks later. We talked about Heather having been there that evening, and that offered a small bit of consolation. All in all, our experience is a vivid reminder of the emotional significance of dogs in our lives.