Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just about every Monday morning finds me at the local off-leash dog beach with a group of dogs and a friend or two. It is such a welcome break from my demanding and stressful job as an animal control officer. The dogs I see at the beach are beautiful, happy and loved. Old and young, large and small, they are having a blast getting exercise, playtime and social interaction. It’s a delightful change from some of the heartbreak I see at work.
On a recent beach day I came across a scene which touched me deeply. A couple stood looking out at the ocean. Between them was a canvas stretcher with a handle that could be pulled across the sand. There was a thick dog bed on the stretcher and a very old dog lay flat on the bed. I paused for a moment, gazing at the gray muzzle and alert but cloudy eyes of the old dog. One of my dogs came up and before I could call her, the two dogs sniffed noses. The old dog was unable to even lift his head, but I could see that he was aware of what was happening around him and seemed to enjoy the interaction. I called my dog and apologized to the couple for the intrusion.
The dog and his people were calm and accepting and I continued on my way with a lump in my throat. I’m guessing that this was good-bye and that the people wanted the dog to have a last visit to a place he loved. To smell the salt air and feel the sweet ocean breeze. It was so obvious that this dog was adored, cherished, beloved. I teared up at the thought of what was coming and yet, in my world, I found it to be a beautiful scene. I’ve seen the old dogs, abandoned and alone in the shelter. I’ve held those unwanted dogs and tenderly stroked their gray muzzles. I’ve told them they were loved and kissed them as they drew their last breath.
This is what every dog deserves, I thought, as I took a final backward glance at the little family. All three were gazing out to sea.
I would love to hear how readers have made good-bye special for an adored companion.
When Andrew Sullivan’s Beagle, Dusty, passed away a couple of weeks ago he wrote a very moving piece about her at that time. Now he is writing about how his other Beagle, Eddy, has responded to this loss. Again, in a very touching, observant manner.
“Her demeanor shifted to sadness and quiet. She didn’t just leave her food around to eat at leisure; she stopped eating in the morning altogether. It was almost as tough as getting her to eat in the evening as well. On walks, she trailed behind, moving slowly, tugging at the end of a long leash, as if not really wanting to go anywhere. It happened after about a week – perhaps because that was when it became unmistakable that Dusty wasn’t just away for a bit – but was, in fact, never coming back.”
I certainly believe that dogs can grieve, as well as possessing the full range of emotional expression as we have—it just might be more difficult for us to translate theirs. As another post on Sullivan's The Dish site noted:
"The 17th century English philosopher Anne Conway argued that the differences between humans and other creatures were “finite” differences—differences of degree and intensity. There is no infinite difference between creatures that makes another’s form of life wholly and eternally incomprehensible. Whoever can’t see that something sort of like “justice” functions in the animal world, Conway argued, “must be called completely blind.”
A few years ago when Bark’s “founding” dog, Nellie (a Beagle/Border Collie mix) died, Lenny, our 14-year-old Terrier, went into a tailspin. I feared that he too would soon leave us, dying of a broken heart. Like Sullivan’s dog, he stopped eating and simply wouldn’t respond to my attempts at consoling. It didn’t take me long to realize that Lenny missed having a pack mate and there was little that a human substitute could do. So we quickly decided to get him, and us, another dog. That is when our rescue Pointer, Lola came into our lives, and turned out to be the magic pill for Len—not only did he perk up almost immediately, but he seemed to drop years in a blink. It wasn’t that he liked Lola all that much, but she added a necessary foil for him to maneuver around. He had a new motivation to live and since Lola was more concerned with “environmental matters,” as is the wont of sporting dogs, he got to trail after her in those pursuits. He went on to live another 4 years, and passed away in my arms at 18.
I’m sure that you too have experienced this, not just a dog grieving for the loss of another dog (or other family member), but how a new dog can provide just the right antidote to the “other” dog. Let me know your thoughts.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Loyal Navy Seal’s Dog Remembered
Last week’s episode of NCIS was inspired by Hawkeye, the dog who led the family into the funeral of his guardian, Navy SEAL Jon Tumlinson, and remained by his coffin throughout the ceremony. The photograph of Hawkeye lying on the floor by the coffin, taken by Tumlinson’s cousin Lisa Pembleton, has been admired by millions of people.
In the episode, a dog named Dexter, who is trained to detect landmines, and his Marine handler save a young boy from being killed. The boy is chasing after his soccer ball, which sets off a landmine. The dog and the Marine guide the boy back to safety, avoiding an additional landmine. Immediately after the boy is safely hugging his mom, the Marine is shot and killed by a sniper. Dexter lies down next to the fallen Marine and stays there, just as Hawkeye remained by Tumlinson’s coffin.
The episode reminds us all of the sacrifices made by members of the military and their families. It is dedicated to working military dogs and their handlers.
July 17, marks the anniversary of the 1959 death of Billie Holiday. Her life was a hard one: a childhood of bitter poverty and early sexual abuse; an acute sensitivity to the all-pervasive racism of her time; a series of difficult relationships with controlling, exploitative men; an eventual downward spiral of depression, addiction and broken health. Among the things that gave her joy and an amazing vitality despite her troubles, music was, of course, the most important—her profound connection to jazz brought her the respect and adoration of audiences and fellow musicians alike. Another was her faithful and requited love of the series of dogs who were her companions throughout her life. We don’t know how or when she found her first dog friend, but anecdotes crop up throughout her biography. Lena Horne recalled that when the two jazz divas were together, they usually talked mainly about Billie’s dogs; “her animals were her only trusted friends.” There was the beloved Standard Poodle who, on his death, was wrapped in Billie’s best mink coat for the cremation, and the Chihuahua puppy she fed with a baby bottle in her New York apartment. Perhaps her most elegant companion was the handsome Boxer, Mister, who accompanied her to glamorous Harlem nightspots—places where he surely would not have been allowed if his mistress were anyone less remarkable than Lady Day.
NPR did an interesting story today about trying to find her final Resting Place—notice the little porcelain dog on her headstone.
It was the 113th birthday of E.B. White yesterday (July 11). His diverse work—spanning the likes of childhood favorites, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, to the writers’ essential, The Elements of Style—have long enthralled and elucidated readers. His love of dogs, and the quotes his observations spawned, have become memorable and can be found in strange places like in defining rather obtuse terms like what a syllepsis is: “When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes.” (A syllepsis is a kind of ellipsis in which one word, usually a verb is understood differently in relation to two or more other words, which it modifies or governs.)
Or this one to expound on the specialness of dogs:
“A really companionable and indispensable dog is an accident of nature. You can’t get it by breeding for it, and you can’t buy it with money. It just happens along.”
Or through his delightful essays and letters, including the one written to the ASPCA in 1951 to defend his dog Minnie’s lack of a NYC dog license.
I have your letter, undated, saying that I am harboring an unlicensed dog in violation of the law. If by “harboring” you mean getting up two or three times every night to pull Minnie’s blanket up over her, I am harboring a dog all right. The blanket keeps slipping off. I suppose you are wondering by now why I don’t get her a sweater instead. That’s a joke on you. She has a knitted sweater, but she doesn’t like to wear it for sleeping; her legs are so short they work out of a sweater and her toenails get caught in the mesh, and this disturbs her rest. If Minnie doesn’t get her rest, she feels it right away. I do myself, and of course with this night duty of mine, the way the blanket slips and all, I haven’t had any real rest in years. Minnie is twelve.”
And White further notes:
“You asked about Minnie’s name, sex, breed, and phone number. She doesn’t answer the phone. She is a dachshund and can’t reach it, but she wouldn’t answer it even if she could, as she has no interest in outside calls. I did have a dachshund once, a male, who was interested in the telephone, and who got a great many calls, but Fred was an exceptional dog (his name was Fred) and I can’t think of anything offhand that he wasn't interested in. The telephone was only one of a thousand things. He loved life — that is, he loved life if by “life” you mean “trouble,” and of course the phone is almost synonymous with trouble. Minnie loves life, too, but her idea of life is a warm bed, preferably with an electric pad, and a friend in bed with her, and plenty of shut-eye, night and days…”
E.B. White died in 1985 at 86, but he left a literary legacy for many future generations to cherish.
I picked out a star the evening O’Henry crossed on December 7, 2011. Each night I step out on the porch to say goodnight to him. I still can’t do it without tears. Of course, sometimes the stars are not visible but I know “he is always there” just as I never had to turn around when he was alive, I just knew he was right behind me. I miss you sweet boy.
February 7, 2003–April 7, 2012
Grief. One small word, one short syllable. Unfortunately, there’s nothing small or short about it. When it hits you, it’s the 18-wheeler you didn’t see coming in your blind spot that slams you so hard, you’re careened off your path before you even have a chance to comprehend what happened.
Grief. In a blink of an eye, it puts you in a tailspin that has you clawing at the ground hoping to find balance while you grasp for air as its essence settles over you like the net of a black widow spider. It’s colorless, odorless and otherwise benign—until it lands on you and attacks every sensory faculty you have.
Friday, April 6, I boarded a plane for a trip of a lifetime to Florence and Venice, Italy. Saturday, April 14, after having the most extraordinary eight days of my life and being happier than I can remember being in many, many years, I arrived back home to find that by the time I had landed in Florence on Saturday, April 7, my beloved dog Boris had passed away. Grief had come to pay a visit.
One look at my mother’s face when I walked in the door braced me for the 18-wheeler, but even still, there was no stopping the jarring impact of grief as she grabbed for my hands and the words “we lost Boris” fell from her lips. How? Why? When? What? A twister of questions, a funnel of answers, but nothing coming through because of the howling wind swirling around me so that I couldn’t see, hear or breath.
His stomach bloated and flipped. It happened in seconds in the middle of the night. All attempts were made to save him but it just wasn’t possible. It was nobody’s fault. It just happened.
But could I have saved him? If I would have been in New Jersey and not in Italy, could I have saved him? Three vets, including the one who performed the emergency surgery on him, have told me no. Bloat is the second leading cause of death in dogs. I’d never heard of it until it took mine. What kind of dog owner am I not to have known about this? I worried about Boris getting hit by a car, worried about him getting cancer, or getting lost or stolen. He had just turned nine and started showing signs of hip arthritis. I worried about his future and how we’d manage his hips. Stomach bloat? Never heard of it. Grief that I can’t even explain.
Everyone says their dog is the best, brightest, smartest, cutest, and they are probably right. Boris was all of those too but he was also different. From the start, he made it clear to me that he was not going to be owned. If I was going to accept him into my life, it was going to have to be as a partner. We struggled with that for a while but once I clued in; he became a kind of partner to me that will never be replaced.
Boris was meant to be in my life. Of that I have no doubt. He was born outside of Chicago in what I believe to be a puppy mill and too quickly sold to an irresponsible family in Kentucky who thought that keeping a puppy in the garage in a crate was a good idea. Thankfully, Boris, then called Buddy, fought back at some point, making him in their eyes, an unsuitable dog.
He was handed over to Samoyed rescue at seven-months-old and flown to his third home in Maryland. The day his picture was put on Petfinder, I was in Washington, DC and on the way home to New Jersey, I stopped by his foster home to check him out. There were five or six dogs in the house. I walked in, sat on the floor and Boris climbed on my lap. The negotiations started. Only then did I find out that he was born on February 7, 2003, the day after my father’s funeral. The deal was sealed.
Six months after I got Boris, I was diagnosed with cancer. Boris and I were still struggling with the whole ownership/partnership issue at that time. After one particularly bad chemo session, I fell into bed, crying and miserable. Boris jumped up on the bed and started to lick away the tears on my face. He then curled his big lanky body up against mine until I fell asleep. That was when the question of ownership dissolved because the partnership he’d been asking for couldn’t have been clearer to me.
The stories of Boris and all that he did—and didn’t do—and all the lives he touched in his nine years could fill a book and some day they may. Boris and Natasha is indeed a love story to be told. But first, there is the grief to detangle myself from.
Today, his ashes, leash and collar will come into my hands. I would do anything to have him back the way he was when I left him two weeks ago but that just can’t be.
We know life is not fair, we know it’s tough and we know it throws punches when we’re not looking. And we know that it can bring a grief so strong that there’s no way the arrow on our compass can stop from spinning, making us completely lost on the path we were taking. But we also know, and need to remember, that life can be kind and giving and bring unimaginable joy, and if we can just hold on a little longer, a new path will clear and we’ll find our way back.
There was always one way I could get Boris’s attention and that was to say “goodbye Boris.” No matter what he was doing or what he was chasing, he’d stop in his tracks and come running so that we wouldn’t be separated. So although the hardest thing for me to do will be to give him a final goodbye as I head out on my new path without him, I know in my heart and soul, he’ll always be right by my side.
Tribute poem by Tank Hogsed
Read by the poet John Hogsed.
Grieving. Grieving heavily. It was Annie. Annie who has been with me through it all, quiet, loving, never complaining, always in the background as if to say, “I’m here if you need me but I’ll just let you get through it until you do.” Annie, who let me use her for a pillow, drape my legs over her to take a nap, who stepped aside when Boone came in and just let him be the number one dog, knowing that she would just BE THERE hanging out waiting for when I needed her. Annie, who let me cry into her fur and hold her and just sat patiently while I did. Annie, who was scared of everyone else but Tom, Kaity and me, but knew, completely knew, that we would protect her and never let anyone hurt her again.
Annie appeared about ten years ago. We were living on a farm in Richmond, Ky. I went outside to see Kaity petting this furry red puppy, a true redhead, who had come up the driveway. She sat by Kaity, but wouldn’t let me near her. She was scared, scared to death.
“Can I keep her Mommy?”
“You’ll have to ask your Dad, and you know how that will go.” He wasn’t a dog person. Never was. Never would be.
Kaity named her Annie. “Because she has red hair and she’s an orphan.”
He came home from work that day and true to form demanded that Annie be taken to the pound. I have such a vivid picture of little Kaity sitting out by the fire pit, puppy Annie by her side, sobbing. But Annie stayed. Annie stayed through it all.
Annie was shy. Not by nature, half-Chow, but by life, abused before we got her. It was obvious immediately. For the first several months, she would only let Kaity near her. She jumped, ran and hid at the slightest noise. To get her to go through a door you had to stand way back and hold it wide open (Did they kick her going out of doors?). She would easily let any of the other dogs take anything away from her. Nothing was worth arguing about to Annie. She was a puppy but never played. Toys were just an excuse for another dog to come near her and she wanted no part of that. I promised her, as long as I had breath in my body, no one would ever hurt her again. Annie just stayed.
She flourished at the farm, running through fields and through woods, with Zoey, then Izzabel. Never the leader, always the follower, always careful, they chased cows, brought home an array of dead animals, caught frogs, swam in the pond and smiled, always smiled—happy dogs.
Annie stayed through a succession of other dogs. Toby, who lived a long wonderful life, whose life was prolonged by moving to the farm, died an old man of 15 in my arms of congestive heart failure. And while I grieved, it was Toby’s time.
Zoey... I went to the store, I was only gone an hour, and when I came back my first words to Annie were, “Annie, why are you here and Zoey isn’t?” That launched a several month search for Zoey, heartrending, only to finally find her decomposing on the railroad tracks. We think she was poisoned or got into poison somewhere. Annie was there.
Jenny Lynn, who was mean, who locked her jaws on Annie’s back over a bone and I had to pry away. Jenny Lynn DID go to the pound. I hope they put her down. We loved her, but she was mean and would eventually hurt someone. Rocky, the Dalmation from down the road. His owner, a young guy, was beating him so badly that Rocky came up the driveway one day just dragging his hips behind him. I found a Dalmation rescue for Rocky. He went to live on the beach in North Carolina. The woman sent me one picture, of Rocky in a fire truck in a parade. We did good by Rocky. And Izzabel, who, when I fled Richmond, got thrown into the backseat of a car to go live with new owners, a horrible thing to do to her, but something we thought we had to do at the time. And through all of that, there was Annie, quiet, shy and scared. But Annie stayed.
The first time Tom met Annie, he quietly crouched down and just looked at her. He didn’t reach out to her, he didn’t try to pet her, he didn’t say anything to her, he just looked at her on her level. She immediately trusted him. From his past owning wolves, he said. She saw the wolf spirit in him and trusted him. Immediately, Annie decided he was okay, he would never hurt her, and she loved him.
When I left Richmond for Fort Wayne, Annie had to stay behind. Kaity wasn’t coming with me, I thought she would need Annie in my absence and our landlady didn’t allow dogs. Izzabel had a new home. Annie couldn’t go anywhere. Annie would be too scared. She’d never trust new people. It would terrify her. So Tom and I left Annie there. A few months later, Kaity called and said Rich once again wanted Annie to go to the pound. Annie couldn’t go to the pound, she was too shy and scared. They’d put her down. People adopt the cute puppies who lick their faces and bound into their laps. Not a middle-aged Chow mix who cowers in a corner scared half to death. We talked the landlady into letting us have her. Annie came home. And Annie stayed.
She was scared in that house. We had a lot of company there, Tom’s kids, their friends, other friends. She spent months in that house lying on the floor behind our bed. It was safe there. But when no one was there, Annie for the first time was TOP DOG. For the first time there were no other dogs for her to stay behind for, just Annie. As my bond with Tom grew, so did our bond as a family, Tom, me and Annie, and Kaity when she came to visit. Annie was safe. And she stayed.
We moved to Bloomington and got Boone there. Annie needed a friend. Boone was her baby. He’d sleep cuddled up by her. They’ve been inseparable. Even though Boone is now twice Annie’s size he was her boy. But still, true to form for Annie, she took a back seat to Boone. When we’d pet her and big lug Boone would push her out of the way, Annie just went and lay down. There was nothing worth arguing about to Annie. If you got them each a bone and Boone took both of them—that was fine with Annie. Not worth arguing about. Annie was so safe with us. She’d lie in the hallway and just let you step over her to get by. No worries. Tom and I would never hurt Annie. Annie stayed.
She blossomed when we came back to Kentucky and moved into this house. She had a nice yard. There are three other dogs here who came to visit every day. She had horses to watch and make friends with, she had Boone. She had Kaity back who visits often. She started doing things that she’d never done!!! Things that most people take for granted out of their dogs. Annie barked at us! Annie barked because she wanted something! That was amazing. Annie never did that. We even called our friend Kerry to tell him, “Hey! Guess what! Annie barked at us!” Annie and Boone had a wrestling match every night in the floor. Annie played? Annie had never played. I caught her one night with one of Boone’s toys tearing the stuffing out of it. Annie never touched a toy. We weren’t sure what it was but Annie felt safe here. For the first time in her life, she felt completely safe and started to relax.
When I would come in the door after work, Boone would always come to greet me. Annie would be somewhere else in the house. I’d say, “Where’s Annie, Boone? Did you eat her?” And Annie would come walking out.
Last weekend, I saw Annie squatting in the yard to potty. I thought she was constipated. I fed her some fat off of a roast, thinking it would help her. On Monday, I asked Tom to just kind of keep an eye out and see if she went potty. She was walking with her tail tucked between her legs, obviously she wasn’t herself. On Tuesday, she still didn’t seem like Annie. By Thursday, she started running a temperature. I put her on the couch, covered her up, watched her, hugged her and loved her. We decided come hell or high water, whether we had the money for it or not, she would go to the vet on Friday to see what was going on. Was it possibly a urinary tract infection? On Thursday night, Annie kept going back in the back bedroom and hallway to lie down. She never, ever goes back there. I told her, “If you’re looking for a place to die, don’t do it. I need you. You’ll go to the vet tomorrow. Don’t you die on me.”
Tom got up Friday to take Annie to the vet. She was in extreme pain. He called me at work and told me to get there as fast as I could. I flew. I was texting people, calling people on the way. Annie is dying. I’m on my way.
Annie’s bladder was full of calcium stones. Sometime Thursday night, while we slept Annie’s bladder exploded in her body. There were paths of blood where she walked the house and looked for a place to die. She wouldn’t get us up and tell us, that’s not Annie. I held Annie in my arms, with Tom, while they put a needle in her and stopped her pain. I paid money, good money, to kill my Annie.
We took her to the farm in Richmond. That’s where Annie belonged. I was ready to find out who lived there and beg them to let us bury Annie there with Zoey and Toby. She needs to run the fields, chase the cows, play in waterfalls and swim in the pond. Kaity was rushing to meet us there. When we got to the farm, it was for sale and vacant. Tom dug a heart shaped hole for our Annie. And there she rests. There Annie will stay, because Annie always stayed.
I listen for the sound of her nails on the floor. I look for her around the house. Boone is lost. Tom is heartbroken, as is Kaity. We are tearing ourselves apart wondering if we could have saved her if we’d done something sooner.
Annie always stayed. What will we do without our Annie?
News: Guest Posts
An 86-year-old poem that rings true today
A friend sent this poem to me, knowing how much I miss my beloved Desoto and Shelby. I had been holding onto their ashes, unsure of where to bury my good dogs. Shall I scatter them into the Louisiana swamps that Desoto loved to explore? Would Shelby be happiest under the big tree, watching for squirrels? This poem tells me they're already in the right place. —Julia Kamysz Lane
Where To Bury A Dog
There are various places within which a dog may be buried. We are thinking now of a setter, whose coat was flame in the sunshine, and who, so far as we are aware, never entertained a mean or an unworthy thought. This setter is buried beneath a cherry tree, under four feet of garden loam, and at its proper season the cherry strews petals on the green lawn of his grave. Beneath a cherry tree, or an apple, or any flowering shrub of the garden, is an excellent place to bury a good dog. Beneath such trees, such shrubs, he slept in the drowsy summer, or gnawed at a flavorous bone, or lifted head to challenge some strange intruder. These are good places, in life or in death. Yet it is a small matter, and it touches sentiment more than anything else.
For if the dog be well remembered, if sometimes he leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, questing, asking, laughing, begging, it matters not at all where that dog sleeps at long and at last. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked and the trees are roaring, or beside a stream he knew in puppyhood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pasture land, where most exhilarating cattle graze. It is all one to the dog, and all one to you, and nothing is gained, and nothing lost—if memory lives. But there is one best place to bury a dog. One place that is best of all.
If you bury him in this spot, the secret of which you must already have, he will come to you when you call—come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again. And though you call a dozen living dogs to heel they should not growl at him, nor resent his coming, for he is yours and he belongs there.
People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall, who hear no whimper pitched too fine for mere audition, people who may never really have had a dog. Smile at them then, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth the knowing.
The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master.
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