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This page last updated  August 14, 2007

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Shine (Koira's Song)

Copyright 2007 by Elizabeth Hatch



Won’t you shine like the sun
And dance with all the rushing ones?
In a shower of sparks.
You blaze through the dark, so
Shine little star,
Shine like the sun.

Cold nose, big ears, little shoe button eyes
A great heart and a spirit that’s big for her size
Can you tell me, what happens to a dog when she dies?
Throws on a dazzling coat
And she lights up the skies.                                                                           


Nose to the ground, an ear to the gale,
With a jaunty wave of a curly tail
Show me, where is the road she chases along
Just look at the prints of her glittering paws






The time we had flew by
But eternity wouldn’t have been long enough
For her to teach me how to fly

Timing that’s perfect
A show that’s just right
She put her spin on and created delight
Tell me where is the stage where they’re watching her now?
They’ll cheer and applaud when she takes her first bow                              
As a  new constellation. She’ll  light up the sky;
A brand new Dog Star glows in a butterfly.
She follows the summer, and like it, must turn
Round the memory of seasons, as we love and learn.                       



[Koira icon]    August 14, 2007— We Have Lost Our Dog Star

      ON the night of August 12, the Perseid meteor shower performed its annual spectacle. From tiny pinpoints of light, flashes of sudden brilliance grew, then just as suddenly Working the Audienceextinguished. Each celestial streak was a glorious surprise. But on that night, we could not look skyward. Our attention was fixed on another falling star – Koiratähti, Dog Star. Last weekend, our precious canine daughter/puppetry partner fought her final battle with complications from a 2004 neurological illness. A four-day round of emergency medical interventions failed to save her. Koira died in Diane and Stu’s arms around 3:30 am on Tuesday morning, August 14, 2007, from unstoppable seizures and pneumonia. She was 4-1/2 years old.

     For three years she was the poster child for resilience, courage, and determination. She had many health problems and endured countless medical tests and procedures. She looked through Death’s door many times, but always came back to the people and the life she loved. Except the last time.

     Koira’s original illness left her spinning (literally) with a large hole in her brain. Yet she was always sure of who she was. With compassionate medical care and hundreds of hours of training, she overcame the brain damage of her original illness and went on with her “career.” As Toby The Dog in our Punch and Judy Show, she was a star who helped us revive a centuries-old puppetry tradition. Thousands of children delighted in her performance, learned something from her indomitability, fell willingly in love with her. As did we.

     Koira was a tiny being – less than six pounds. She was a mini version of an already small breed – Papillon, the butterfly dog. Her perfect little head could rest comfortably in the palm of a hand. Yet her presence was huge. She filled up every space that she entered. There are now so very many empty spaces.

     Everywhere we look, there are tiny reminders of Koira and the thousands of ways our lives changed to adjust to her needs. Several soft-sided crates where she could be safe in the event of seizures. A small custard dish full of water. The homemade foam steps that allowed her to navigate three living room stairs. The jars of treats that prompted her most joyous form of circling. (We called it the Bucking Bronco spin.) Four miniature boots, all in a row. Soon we will have to remove these things, if only to help Koira’s golden retriever brother understand that, this time, she is not coming home.

     I find myself going frequently outside to breathe – a more neutral space, which was not often Koira’s domain. Yet, there, it is the small things which demand my attention. The song of a cricket, an intricate buttercup blossom, the round perfection of a bluebird egg, a butterfly. Small things. These are the things that astonish me.

     Goodbye, our little Toby girl, our tiny flash of light. Loving you was an immense privilege.


[Koira icon]    August 5, 2005 — I'm Baack

        FORGIVE me, father, for I have spinned. (Er, spun.) It's been seven months since my last blog session. And Mom had to do the January entry because, frankly, I was a mess.

       The doctors never did figure out exactly what happened to me. Something hurt my brain; that's the simple way to put it. We call it The Big Whatever. Whatever it was, it caused much of my right cerebral cortex to die and shrivel away, leaving a fluid-filled pit. We call that Lake Koira.

       I could easily have died. What saved me? Some excellent veterinarians, two determined animal trainers (Mom and Dad), and lots and lots of love.

       For awhile it was hard to learn new things, but Mom and Dad kept working with me. They believed I could heal. And you know what? They were right! I've relearned the art of learning! I train every morning. I practice my acting. I'm gigging again!

       Sure, life is a little more complicated now. I guess I'm a "special needs" dog. I need medication so I don't have seizures. I often turn in small, clockwise circles when I walk, so I need to be careful not to bump into things. I don't see quite as well in my left eye. Sometimes I feel restless, and I don't know why.

       But I do know who I am and what I like to do. I am Koiratähti, Dog Star, appearing onstage in Professor Freshwater's Punch and Judy Show in the role of Toby the Dog. Hey, public! I'm back!

       If I ever decide to retire from show biz, my next move is clear. I'm small of stature but large in ego, with half a brain, and a crew of spin doctors on call. What else?! I'll go into politics!



[Koira icon]   January 1, 2005 — Changes

    2004 turned out to be the year when I found out what I'm made of. Well, we still don't know what that is exactly, but it's pretty strong stuff. Mom will tell you all about it. I'll just say two things: 1) For the past few months I've been feeling fine. 2) I'm small, but mighty!

My Toby

by Diane Rains

For many years, Professor Bert Codman's Punch and Judy Show in North Wales featured a live Toby dog. The dog, a beloved local celebrity, performed well into her 16th year. She died in 1969. Bert died two days later.      

        I'M a dog person — always have been. I love everything about dogs — the panting enthusiasm, the soulfulness in their eyes, even the smell of their fur on a rainy day. So it's surprising, really, that I was a Punch Professor for over fifteen years before I thought of adding a live Toby to Professor Freshwater's Punch and Judy Show. One day the idea just struck me, and I couldn't let it go. It took a little lobbying to convince Stu, my bottler/musician husband, that our golden retriever needed a small "sibling," and our show needed a canine actor. But Stu soon came around, and a very sweet, three pound Papillon puppy took over our lives. We named her Koiratähti, which means "Dog Star" in Finnish.

        Over the months that followed, we devoted great chunks of our lives to caring for and teaching the puppy. Koira was the smallest, daintiest little dog I had ever had. Her capacity for learning amazed me, yet her brain couldn't be bigger than a walnut! We learned as much as she did: how to use reward-based training to get the behaviors we wanted; how to promote harmony in our dog pack of two; how to keep Koira safe from roaming dogs, hawks, and other perils to which such a small animal (now all of five and three-quarter pounds) could fall prey. We took her with us to Punch bookings. At first she just tagged along and got used to audiences. Then we asked her to demonstrate her "tricks" at the end of the show. She danced on her toes, spun in circles, bowed, nodded/shook her head, played dead.

[Our Toby]       Finally, when she was almost a year and a half old, we felt she was ready for her acting debut. It went well. Then the next time it went better, and better yet the next. Audiences adored her. I took a three week intensive class in advanced animal training techniques. With that knowledge, Stu and I fine-tuned Koira's routine even more. At an August 11, 2004 library performance, she absolutely shone like a little dog star.

       This was a pinnacle moment in our Punch and Judy career. We had set out to help revive the tradition of the live Toby dog, and we did it — at least, in America. Ideas for expanding Koira's bit popped into our minds: we could add music to her dance sequence. She could jump through a hoop. The sky was the limit! I felt a satisfying kinship to Bert Codman and all the Punchmen before me who have shared their performances and lives with special little dogs.

       Then Koira's star fell. On August 23, for no apparent reason, our tiny Toby had two back-to-back grand mal seizures. Over the next week, she lost vision in her left eye, her left foot flopped under, and she had intermittent bouts of hind limb paralysis from which she would recover moments later. Something sudden — something awful — had happened in her brain.

        We sought the help of a veterinary neurologist at the University of Minnesota. Over the course of the next five weeks, Koira underwent extensive testing: a full blood workup, CT scan, spinal tap, MRI. The results were perplexing. Scans revealed a very large area of diffuse lesions in her right cerebral cortex. This is extremely rare in young dogs. And inexplicably, within two weeks of her seizures, all of her outward symptoms disappeared. Yet her brain was clearly injured.

       For a week, our neurologist's best guess was a brain tumor. That diagnosis wouldn't mean "Might she die?" but, "How long does she have?" I'm not ashamed to say that I fell into a deep, dark pit of grief. (At the time, Stu was away in Europe on a business trip. That was terribly hard for him, for me, and for our two canine "kids." Stu is just the most devoted doggie daddy imaginable.) While I waited for the neurologist to consult with other colleagues, I thought about a lot of things.

       When we decided to train a live Toby, I expected that the dog 's presence would add a new level of energy and excitement to our Punch and Judy Show. I was spot-on about that. I always knew that a live dog would add extra risk, too. She might not do everything just on cue. We'd have to protect her from over-anxious toddler hands. And so on. The risk I didn't anticipate was my own emotional vulnerability. When Koira became our Toby, our show changed forever. For us, she is woven into the atoms of the Punch and Judy Show. If we lose her, our show will simply never be the same again. Oh, yes, we will surely go on. Some day I may decide to train another Toby. I will undoubtedly love that dog, too.

       But that dog won't be our Koiratähti, Dog Star. So I try to savor every moment that I have with this little girl — even the annoying ones. Because it's not just the Toby in her that I cherish. I love the way those ridiculous ear fringes dip into her food, slip along the dirty ground, and pick up leaves like gaudy earrings. I love the way she taps my legs with both front paws when she wants to be picked up for a cuddle. I love it when she wields her little, blue Nylabone like a cudgel and prances up and down by our deck door snarling at squirrels: "Tremble before me, rodents, for I am the weapon of your mass destruction!"

        Koira continues to have neurological attacks followed by periods of normalcy. No definite diagnosis has yet been reached for her condition, though we continue to seek every answer that medical science can provide. The brain tumor theory has now been discounted, to our great relief. Most likely she has a congenital malformation of cerebral veins and arteries. Within the next few months we may take her elsewhere in the country to try high-tech diagnostics and treatment not available in Minnesota.

       I've worked long and hard to train this Punch and Judy dog. But she's not really my Toby. She's only on loan from biology, fate, circumstance, God — whatever you care to call it. But every day I wish upon my dog star that this loan is long term.

       One thing I have learned: the more you invest, the more you stand to lose, but the return is almost always worth the risk. Such is the accounting of the heart. The wise among us remember this as we venture into marriage, or have a child, or face the inevitable fact that parents age. Or train a little dog among puppets. Species, it seems, does not alter the grand equation of love. Not true love.

       Bert Codman, I think, would have agreed.[Punch icon]

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