Memoir Contest Winner: The Runt of the Litter by Sara Etgen-Baker

by Matilda Butler on April 26, 2012

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #179 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

All Things Labor — Memoir Contest – PETS: LOVE AND LABOR Category

Sara Etgen-Baker returns with a tie for first place in our PETS: Love and Labor Category. Women’s Memoirs is pleased to publish Sara’s winning story from our September 2011 Memoir Writing Contest.

Sara’s story reminds us of the important life lessons we learn as children — lessons that help us become the adults we are. Sometimes we learn them from family and other times from neighbors.

If you like Sara’s story, be sure to click the LIKE button (Thumbs Up icon) at either the top or the botton of this page. We appreciate knowing you enjoyed the story and the author does as well.

Want to enter one of our contests? At the bottom of Sara’s story, you will find information about our new contest. We hope you’ll enter.


By Sara Etgen-Baker

I stepped off the back porch and approached Fritz’ house which was nestled in the shadiest, coolest spot in our backyard.

“Fritz. Come here….Dinnertime!”

He didn’t emerge as he normally did. So, I knelt down, peered inside, caught a glimpse of his shiny dark little nose, and found Fritz snuggled in the back corner of his doghouse shivering and whining. He tried to stand up but yelped with pain and immediately collapsed.

“What’s the matter ol’ boy? Why ya shaking when it’s this hot outside?”

I reached inside hoping to pull him into my arms, but he yelped even louder.

“How could I get Fritz out of his doghouse without hurting him further?” I asked myself. Then, I remembered his doghouse had no floor, so I lifted the doghouse away from him; placed Fritz in my arms; wrapped him in the softest blanket I could find; and sat on the back porch with him in my lap—stroking his back until he drifted to sleep.

Fritz was a 12-year-old dog—out of shape and a bit worn—but we fit together well—like me and my comfy old shoes. Since I was 7 years old, we had happily shared the back porch—our agreed-upon meeting place—most every afternoon. Whenever I sat on the porch, Fritz jumped into my lap as I petted his elongated back and belly and shared my deepest thoughts, secrets, and fears. Fritz was the consummate confidante, for he agreed with everything I said—tilting his head side-to-side as if to nod affirmatively and looking at me with his encouraging, doe-like eyes. Fritz was the frolicking, bright-eyed, somewhat arrogant doxie I acquired Labor Day weekend 1959—a weekend filled with oppressive air, pregnant rain clouds, and the anticipatory feeling of school’s beginning.

“Hilda’s gone into labor!” proclaimed ol’ man Davis.

I ran next door and watched Hilda labor and struggle as each one of her five pups slowly wriggled its way from her belly. The first of Hilda’s litter of five milk-chocolate colored dachshunds was a runt. I giggled as I watched five bundles of energy squirming beneath their mother’s tummy—all begging for lunch at the same time. The magical moment ended all too quickly, however, when—without provocation—Hilda nudged her runt puppy away from her. Hungry and tenacious, the runt inched his way back to his mother’s stomach.

At that moment, Hilda shoved the runt away; snarled at it—pouncing on its tiny back and tail. It yelped; I screeched in horror as ol’ man Davis—the neighborhood dachshund breeder and aficionado—ran to my side.

“She’s hurting him…make her stop!” I shouted.

Just in the nick of time, ol’ man Davis bent down, scooped up the injured pup, and placed him in my hands.

“Run to my house and find a shoe box; put that pup in it! Hurry back!” he insisted.

I darted for the Davis’ house holding the wounded pup in my hands hoping we had successfully rescued it; as I placed him in the shoe box he stretched and twisted his tiny body ever so slightly. Relieved, I slowly returned to ol’ man Davis.

“Hilda is a mean dog….I don’t like her!” I blurted. “Why would a mama dog kill its own puppy?” I tearfully inquired.

“Hilda’s not mean; although she loves her runt, she believes he is too weak to survive and thinks that killing him is the strong, merciful thing to do.”

When I looked into ol’ man Davis’ eyes, I saw his wisdom and immediately comprehended the profoundly truthful yet paradoxical thread of adult insight twisted together with my shocking childhood disbelief. I unsuccessfully sniffled back the bitter tears and felt the sting that reality sometimes brings.

So, ol’ man Davis patted me on the back and mentioned, “Hey, kiddo, if ya’ have a doll blanket and small baby bottle back at home, go get ‘em; we can save ‘dis pup.”

I dashed home; found the two items; and returned to ol’ man Davis. We placed the runt onto the blanket; heated some milk; added Karo syrup to it; then poured it into the small baby bottle. The runt sucked on it and squirmed contentedly. While I caressed his tiny body with my fingers, the runt fell asleep—serene and out of harm’s way.

“Ya know, kiddo, many runts die ‘for they ever open their eyes. If we can keep him alive ‘til his eyes open, he’ll probably survive. Supposin’ he pulls through, he’ll likely be the most energetic pup of the litter,” asserted ol’ man Davis.
So, for 14 days we hand-fed the runt waiting for his eyes to open and watching him develop into an energetic, mischievous but loving, satiny dachshund with a slightly broken tail.

“Hey, kiddo, ya gotta give your puppy a name; ‘cause he’s a dachshund, he deserves a proper German name,” suggested ol’ man Davis.

“I like the name Fritz,” I immediately responded.

“Well, that’s a right and proper name and a regal one that means peaceful ruler; today, he’s officially Fritz.

memoir contest winner, memoir writing, memoir and petsFritz was true not only to his German name but also to his German heritage, for he was a peaceful doxie who loved sausage, sauerkraut, pretzels, and an occasional beer. Fritz soon understood German because I practiced my German with him knowing that he would neither ridicule nor correct my mispronunciations. That wonderful dog even acquired a bit of the German wanderlust—escaping from our yard and roaming the neighborhood. I never worried about his wanderings, though; I always found Fritz because he was the only neighborhood dachshund whose tail was broken.

As soon as I spotted him, I’d yell in German, “Fritz, kommen Sie hier. Schlechter Hund!”

The whole family loved Fritz.

The whole family loved Fritz.

His mother’s early rejection made Fritz a bit arrogant—which was all too evident when he haughtily turned his head toward me and trotted home—as regally as a ballerina on spot. Once home and inside the house, Fritz sounded like Fred Astaire tap dancing—his tiny little toenails clicked, clicked on mother’s linoleum floor. However, Fritz was half-a-dog high and a dog-and-a-half long with short stubby legs and tiny feet. So, he lacked Astaire’s coordination and grace—running down the hallway and sliding out of control with his back always going in front of him.

Sadly, now, Fritz looked listless, fragile, and feeble; and I wondered what to do. Ol’ man Davis must’ve seen us on the back porch and said, “Hey, kiddo, ol’ Fritz is in some pain; let’s take him to the vet. How does that sound?”

I silently boarded ol’ man Davis’ truck, resting Fritz comfortably in my lap. When we arrived at the vet’s office, he immediately took Fritz from me disappearing from view for what seemed like an eternity.

The vet finally reappeared and said, “Fritz, has arthritis causing him excruciating back pain; also, he’s had a heart attack and will likely have another—further increasing his discomfort. He’s an old dog and too weak to survive. The loving and merciful thing to do would be to put him to sleep.”

Although we did not easily associate the words weak and merciful with Fritz, ol’ man Davis and I both loved Fritz; so we glanced at one another in silent understanding—nodding our heads in mutual consent.

“Okay,” the vet said. “Would you like to see him one last time?”

“Go ahead, kiddo,” replied ol’ man Davis. “I’ll wait right here for ya.”

I entered the back room and approached the examination table; Fritz lifted his head and enthusiastically wagged his broken tail. I stroked Fritz’ belly, patted his head, and said, “Fritz, you’re sick ol’ boy and not gonna get any better. So, we’re puttin’ ya to sleep.”

I paused and hugged Fritz saying, “I’m gonna miss you, ol’ boy!”

Fritz looked at me with those familiar doe-like, understanding eyes and nodded his head as if to say, “I’ll be okay. Thanks for being loving and merciful.”

Then, the vet reassuringly said, “Putting Fritz to sleep is safe and harmless. He’ll receive two shots; the first will render him unconscious. The second will put Fritz to sleep quickly and painlessly—usually within about 30 seconds.”

After Fritz received the first shot, I waited until unconsciousness washed over him like a soothing rain. With the second shot, Fritz slipped away quickly and peacefully—just as the vet promised.

As I lingered by Fritz’ side, I remembered the day Hilda tried to kill Fritz. Ironically my perspective had shifted, for I now understood and respected Hilda’s instinct to be loving, merciful, and strong.

storytelling, memoir, memoir writing


Women’s Memoirs has several new memoir writing contests for 2012. We’d like to invite you to send us a 500-1000 word memoir vignette about your favorite recipe — plus include the recipe.

Do you have a nostalgic dish that reminds you of your mother? Do you remember a romantic Valentine’s Day when you made a special recipe? Perhaps he proposed that evening or maybe each time you make that recipe you remind yourself again how much you love each other. Have you developed a recipe that you share with your friends? Whatever your story, whatever your recipe, we’d like to receive them for consideration in a new ebook from Women’s Memoirs.

This morning, for example, my partner asked if I’d make French Toast using the loaf of bread I’d made for dinner last night. That doesn’t sound like much of a story until you learn that I’m a gluten-free vegan. I remember the first time he said he wanted French Toast. I laughed, “You’ve got to be kidding.” But of course, I accepted the challenge and now make a fairly good version.

I’m sure you have your own stories and memories bound into favorite dishes.

ScrapMoir-Contest-ChartHere’s the inspiration for this contest. We learned recently that more people are eating out than ever before. As you can see from the chart on the left, away-from-home food (this includes take out as well as restaurant meals) is almost half of all food consumed.

We thought it would be fun to give everyone some great food to prepare and eat at home and great stories to share while they start creating their own special family stories around meals.

With your help, we can bring back kitchen table wisdom.

Your memoir story and recipe are due by July 1, 2012. Just email a .doc file that includes both the story and the recipe to:
matilda (at) womensmemoirs (dot) com.

Food Memoir and Recipe Contest

(This will help me spot your memoir contest entry in my emal inbox.)

storytelling, memoir, memoir writing

Leave a Comment

Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category News Category News Category News Category