by Erica Eisdorfer
Those who knew what he was might look forward to an initial encounter with trepidation. His brethren, after all, are famous for their ferocity. And there was no mistaking him for anything other than a Doberman–sleek, serious, formidable. But he was different from others like him. His very name marked his distinction. He bore the moniker “Nerf,” after the toy foam balls so soft and harmless, that one marketing slogan ran thus: “Throw it indoors; it won’t damage lamps, or windows; babies or old people.” Those who knew Nerf agreed unanimously: never was an example of man’s best friend more aptly christened.
Back in 1890, German tax man Herr Karl Friedrich Dobermann, required protection from the bandits on his local collection route. He wanted a dog with the perfect balance of loyalty, intelligence and enough muzzle leverage for an extremely strong bite. Luckily, Herr Dobermann also ran the local dog pound and so had both the motive and the access to breed his ideal hound. Thus was the first Doberman Pinscher introduced to the world.
As a younger dog, Nerf found himself in an untenable situation. There were two Dobermans in a single household. One was Herr Dobermann’s standard ideal: aggressive, territorial. The other was Nerf. Top Dog needled Nerf mercilessly. Nerf turned the other cheek. Nerf was not aggressive. Neither was he territorial. He did not chase. He did not snarl. Not unlike the beloved children’s book character Ferdinand the Bull, Nerf preferred to sit quietly and smell the flowers.
Nerf’s human best friend, Tom Burke, was also his lifesaver; Tom rescued Nerf from Top Dog’s increasing belligerence and took him home with him. And once in the safe haven of Tom and his wife Sophie’s house, Nerf was able to show his true personality. On daily walks, Nerf demonstrated not only his graceful springy stride (Dobermans walk on their toes, not their pads) and his vibrant interest in all things earthly, but also the sternness with which, if and only if completely necessary, he was willing to protect his masters. At his new home, Nerf lived in harmony with his other housemates, a rescued husky named Bean Dip and various cats.
Those who recall Nerf most fondly remember the way he might stand in the center of a room and stare at a very particular point, as if in Zen-like meditation. It was not possible to view Nerf’s calm stillness and not feel calmed oneself. Nerf was large and he was lean; if the room was small, one simply did one’s work around him.
Nerf’s mildness belied a certain confidence. A bed or a couch was his manor and he was to the manner born. While other canines might be reduced to the floor for their naps, Nerf neither sought nor needed invitation for higher ground. He’d simply scale the piece of furniture, stand silently on all fours for some minutes as if pondering his existence on the planet (or the sofa), and then gently stretch his great brownness full-length, his front paws crossed like the hands of a ballet dancer, an ear gracefully inside-out. Tom and Sophie report that on those nights that Nerf didn’t sleep between them like a sleek chocolate-colored sword, they’d find him stretched out above their heads, on their pillows, taking up as much room as possible.
When he dreamt, Nerf’s outward composure disappeared. He howled, grumbled, shook, twitched, quaked, roiled. It was as if his dreams helped to exorcise whatever turbulence there was within, whatever chaos remained from what may have been a cheerless puppyhood. Once refreshed, Nerf regained his poise and was again able to stare squarely and at length into the eyes of a human, without a hint of belligerence, with nothing but the purest goodwill. By most estimates, Nerf lived ten years on this good earth.