Brando the Wonder Dog died peacefully in my arms at 10:35 PM (PST) on November 25th, 2011. He was 12-years old. The last words he heard were, “I love you, Brando.”

Brando died from an overdose of barbiturates administered by a critical care veterinarian after he was diagnosed with cancer in his shoulder that had spread to his lungs. His chest cavity was filled with blood and fluid; he was slowly suffocating. I had no choice but to put him down. Nonetheless, it was a difficult and wrenching decision.

I wanted to get that part out of the way off the top because I don’t want this to be a maudlin obituary. This is the story of a great and loyal German Shepherd, a dignified and grand old man who lived to love and play. He got plenty of both in the all too brief time we had with him.

Brando chose me for adoption in June, 2007, a few months before his eighth birthday. I was looking for a German Shepherd; I knew them to be smart, loyal and protective – not mean unless an owner made it so. A family friend had one when I was growing up, Bruno. Bruno once saved a young child’s life by pulling him back to the curb as the boy was unknowingly walking out into heavy traffic. Later on, my brother Steve had Sundance, a magnificent Shepherd.

In 2007, the time was right in my life and I searched German Shepherd rescue groups. I didn’t want to go through the puppy phase so I looked for a young Shepherd, maybe one or two years old. The Oregon German Shepherd Rescue Group had about nine or 10 dogs living with a foster family. I drove down to Portland for a look. Foster mom Heather told me she had one older dog who was special but I was looking for a youngster. Brando had other ideas.

The first dog I met was okay but, frankly, nothing special. He walked nicely on the lead and ignored me when I let him off and called him to me. No surprise there; who the hell was I? Brando, however, had no such qualms. He was the second dog out of the run, a grinning black and tan who walked right up to me and licked my face. He had me at hello. Our short walk only solidified my decision. He trotted contentedly at my side and waited patiently as I unhooked the lead. “Brando, come,” I said gently. Without hesitation, the big fella walked up to me with that smile on his face and, what else, licked my face.

C’mon, buddy,” I grinned back at him, “let’s go home.”

Brando slipped into my life as if he’d always been part of it. He was a little underweight and had a few minor issues – read that worms. Once free of the parasites, he rapidly reached a normal weight of 95 pounds – a big ol’ lovable, overgrown pup. It didn’t take long before he was happily walking at ‘heel’ along side me without his lead. It didn’t take me long to learn that Brando had a very short list of self-appointed responsibilities and that he took them very, very seriously.

First and foremost, it was Brando’s job to know at all times where I was and to never take his eyes off me for more than a few moments. That is the way of German Shepherds; they choose their “person” and that is their first commitment; a very strong bond is established. Secondly Brando wanted to give and get love, primarily from me but, once he got to know someone, they would do just fine if I wasn’t around.

Finally, Brando wanted to play. No, he wanted to chase things and bring them back, only to chase them again, and again, and again. He was an incredible athlete but he was also like a U.S. Marine; he would chase anything on the land, in the sea and in the air. If it was a stick, he wanted to carry it around, even if I didn’t throw it. If I stopped to rest, Brando would lay down and gnaw on that stick as if trying to shape it into the perfect throwing object.

If it was a ball, he’d carry it around until he was ready to run. Then he’d drop it at my feet and assume the classic canine “play with me” pose, wagging butt in the air, his snout flat on the ground between his forepaws. If it was a frisbee, he’d carry the soft cloth disk proudly from the house until we reached the big grassy play field about a half mile away, at which point he’d drop it at my feet so our favorite game could begin.

I don’t know what made me throw the frisbee for him the first time but I was astonished as he galloped full tilt until he outran it and leapt about three to four feet in the air and snatched it on the fly. Likewise, I don’t know what made me throw a stick in the water for the first time but I’ve never seen a German Shepherd hit the water like Brando; he swam with tremendous strength and glee. On hot days, as we walked along the beach or a lake, he would wade in chest deep and put his entire head underwater to cool off.

How much did Brando love the water?

My friend Wende lives on a small, wooded lake and no gasoline or diesel powered watercraft are allowed. As such, everyone around the lake has a big wooden raft with a relatively small electric motor. Throughout the summer, these rafts meet in the middle of the lake for joint barbecues, swimming parties and, of course, the annual raft race.

One sweltering weekend, with the mercury tickling 100, Wende, young Sarah and I – with Brando and Wende’s aging Golden retriever Smokey aboard – slowly motored her raft to the middle of the lake for a late afternoon family swim. As she killed the electric motor, Wende called over her shoulder, “OK, who’s going to be the first to dive in?” The next thing we all heard was a big SPLASH and, as we simultaneously turned toward the source of that splash, the only thing we saw was Brando’s hind legs as he dove head first into the cooling water.

Have you ever tried to lift a 95 lb. dripping wet dog out of the water and onto a raft? With no ramp it was damned near impossible until Wende took a big beach towel and draped it under his chest right behind his armpits. With her pulling from the raft and me lifting from behind we finally got the big guy back on board, only having to grab him to stop him from diving back in.

A year or so later, when I rescued an abandoned Golden Retriever pup – Trooper, a dog born and bred to swim – Brando regularly out-swam him every time I threw a ball or a stick into the water. Amazing!

Brando continued his games, even as age slowed him down, until arthritis finally overtook his hind joints and forced him into a grudging retirement toward the end of 2010. Yet, he remained in relatively good health just about to the end.

Then, about a month ago, he developed a severe limp; he could not put full weight on his front right leg. At first, under our vet’s guidance, we treated him for arthritis and hoped for the best but the limp never really eased. By Thanksgiving eve he began to breathe with difficulty. The rest you know.

So, I will leave you with this. Shortly after Brando adopted me, when Sarah was about nine years old, she wrote his theme song:

Brando the Wonder Dog
Can help save the day.
Brando the Wonder Dog
Can help save the day.

He pulled a train off a car,
He saved a school bus.
Hip-hip hooray
for the doggy of the day!
Brando the Wonder Dog
Can help save the day.

©2011 by LeeZard


LeeWith apologies to Bruce Springsteen, Lee Somerstein was ‘Born to Write.’ When Lee was 10-years old, his Grandpa Joe challenged him to write stories. Joe would edit and Lee would rewrite. And so it goes.
Joe must have known something. By age 22, Lee was an editor and correspondent in Washington, D. C. for the Metromedia Radio Network. He went on to an award-winning 20-year career as a broadcast journalist, including stints at the ABC and CBS Radio Networks. After another 20-years in public and media relations, Lee began writing for himself.

His blog can be found at

He’s also published two books: Link to Books.