This column is a tribute to Tiffy Grauer, a very special dog. Dr. Grauer says, "She was the school dog who never was, a show dog who never showed, the most beautiful dog ever."
School Dog Tiffy Grauer
The first Grauer School dog was Rita (née Margarita Guadalupe Pilar del Corazon). She was the matron dog on our first site, a commercial plaza on Encinitas Boulevard, and Rita and I spent years walking through the Manchester Canyons to get to work there.
Having a school dog seemed like an unintentional Grauer school design feature. We took heat for that feature over the years (“Oh, The Grauer School, that’s puppies and bean bags”), and I always (always) used the heat as an example of what’s wrong with schools, the coldness and hug-less-ness. Bring on the puppies. And what’s your “real” problem?
When Rita was getting old, we thought we’d get a follow-up dog for the school, which was Rosie. When Rita died, I wrote a column about it for everyone and sent it out. My assistant Kathy Metta (Brandon, class of 1998) rejoiced in it so much that I started writing an almost-weekly column, which is now this blog. Rosie was pretty crazy for a couple years and, once she mellowed out, thanks to Don and Sharon Kish (Danielle, class of 1996) who loved her as a house guest, she took over for Rita.
We were just moving to the new campus, and Rosie became the perfect school dog: lovable, stable, soft and huggable. One school family even named their own new dog after her.
Okay, I’m dragging my feet here, tiptoeing into my actual topic, and I don’t really want to get there.
Years went by, and now Rosie was getting old. I knew we’d need a successor to Rosie on campus and I was talking about this with the school mom, Barbara Green. Barbara was one of those parents who launched our very first gala, a legendary group of school moms, really. They really understood what warm, small school campuses do. And dogs.
We were looking for a small dog, a lap dog, this time, I was explaining to Barbara, for our daughter Audrey’s 11th birthday present. Next thing, we got a call from her, en route home from visiting her Kansas City friend who was a dog breeder. She was boarding the plane with a miniature, longhaired chihuahua.
In a day or two, she brought it over to the house and it was about as big as a mango. We said to our daughter, Audrey, what shall we call her and, without missing a beat, she said, "Tiffy". We had quite a few pets over the years and this is exactly the way they were all named.
“Tiffany?” we asked. “No. Tiffy,” she clarified.
We would have a new school dog. You can’t just walk right into that job, but Rosie was role modelling. Realistically, as I say, it takes a couple years before a dog is stable and knowable enough to be a school dog. So, we commenced training with Tiffy, and I would snug her into the pouch of my sweatshirt, with her little white snout and moist black nose sticking out, and we’d go walking around the neighborhood. She was tentative and not social, preferring the pouch to the ground. Because of her tiny size and my natural inclination toward wiliness, we snuck her in everywhere.
We figured that after two years of mellowing we’d have a successor to Rosie and Rita on campus. Two years passed. Tiffy became beautiful, with her big round eyes and thick white coat. She was a looker with papillon ears, and on the defensive side as so many small creatures are, and she didn’t mind giving other dogs and small children a snarl. Tiffy, with her pedigree and attitude, was a true show dog who easily could have been called Tiffany, though we would have hated that for our school dog. Too preppy. At last, we brought her to school.
Kids showed no interest in her, nor did she show interest in the kids. She might yip at them, but would not be pet or held much.
It is not like she was of no use at school. She spent many a day in the cave-like comfort of the admissions office with Sally, and there were a couple seasons of applicants who met Tiffy in there before they even met the teachers or other students. They particularly loved hearing her snoring. She shaped up as an admissions officer.
Eventually she put in some campus time, and there were even a handful of special students whom she inexplicably tolerated. I remember Joshua Brandel (class of 2017), for instance. For some reason, she was never feisty with him. We wanted to say to the kids who got snarled at, “She really is nice, she really is lovable, I swear!” but she was a refined and acquired taste, a home dog, not really a campus therapy dog. Meanwhile her white hair grew flowing and long even on her tail and ears.
Of course, Rosie died, so we got our next dog, Paco, to be Tiffy’s companion, and Paco turned out to be equally hopeless as a campus dog. Paco was the needy one, just as scruffy as Tiffy was elegant. Paco the rascal was not always respectful of Tiffy, jumping on her head, and biting her face. Tiffy schooled Paco with a little nip here and a growl there and a lot of patience. She was old school.
Tiffy could have won the dog shows and deserved the attention, but Paco needed the attention, and we took more photos of him. It was a kind of rebalancing that makes no logical sense, except any parent will understand.
For three decades, we were always rebalancing the outgoing dog with the new one, like new layers of life. We humans are used to making earlier lives move out of our way with or without the proper show of respect. When younger, we are pretending we are the rising, dominant force. I fully expect this will impact my own role as head of school, if it is not happening already. (It is.)
Tiffy loved being carried around, loved having her ears rubbed, and loved sleeping on our laps and snoring. The years rolled by as they do.
At 17, which is of course 149 in people years, she at last grew mellow. Or at least she grew aloof, so that kids on campus could pet her without a snarl. We brought her around a few times and she started getting a bit of a following, too late. By then she was bumping into things, sleepy most of the time. We thought she was losing her hearing, too, but it may have been that she had no interest in listening. I’ve known people like that, too, and some have their reasons.
As Tiffy faded, Paco was rebalancing, too, and he grew doting and adoring, getting up every morning and licking Tiffy’s eyes and face clean. Both of them were just about ready to be school dogs.
But by then, teachers had their own dogs and families and some of those dogs got to be two or so years old and stable campus dogs.
At 18, so far as we could tell, Tiffy became blind and deaf, walking into walls and wandering like a sleepwalker. She might pad laboriously into a room and stand there, staring into the dark. I thought: should I remember her this way? Is it endearing? Her hind legs might splay out twice as wide as normal and in that posture, you never knew if she wanted to pee or if she was just stuck. She would fall asleep in crazy, new places: the middle of the kitchen floor, the doorway, little crevices that were cave-like. Then she stopped eating.
At that point, a lot of humans try to get medical interventions or force feeding, or operations. I don’t think that’s always intelligence. When a creature is ready to die, I want to help it. Saint Francis counselled us to assist the animals when they need our help. Dying might be the most natural thing in the world, the help we need. As magical veterinarian Kathy Boehm (Marcus and Jason, classes of 2015 and 2019) says, dogs aren’t afraid of dying, anyway. I’ve always loved the image of the Eskimo elder ready to go, getting in the kayak, and just paddling, no more eating, allowing all energy to leave the body and spirit, paddling out to sea for eternity.
Tiffy paddled out last weekend. She was the school dog who never was, a show dog who never showed, the most beautiful dog ever. She was ready to go, the energy had been leaving her body for some days, so she did not seem different before and after the injection, a soft transition, and we kept holding her little, bony body for a while. I kept my sunglasses on.
I don’t know why I mark my life in losses. The lives and deaths of my dogs mark the seasons of my life. Tiffy marked the end of Rosie, my daughter going off to college and leaving home, my mother dying, and probably the end of some significant phase of the school that we will only recognize looking back in a few years. I hope there will be a school dog then. To all who were kind to her, thank you.
Please click on the "Comments" drop-down box below to leave a comment about this column!