Kimberly B. Lawler

Kimberly B. Lawler lives with her family near the University of South Dakota in Spirit Mound Township.

Culture: Tributes
Gifts of A Lifetime
Rosie Marie and Albert Joseph were lucky in love.

“Found on a remote part of the beach” stated her intake report. “Golden Retriever, young, malnourished, stray” it continued. Unlike most of the other dogs in the cement and cyclone cages, her restrained behavior—analytical, you might say—was un-Golden-like in her observation of us. Golden Retrievers are known and valued for their unabashed love of people. This dog, however, seemed resigned to her fate, whatever it might be.

Experts advise to lead with your head and not with your heart. So, noting her reservation, we walked away from her run to look at the other dogs up for adoption. Australian Shepherds, Dalmatians, Labradors, Pit Bulls, other Golden Retrievers, Mastiffs, mixed breeds, Poodles—take your pick. Anyone who has ever walked along a row of public shelter kennels does not need to be reminded of the overpopulated, overburdened, understaffed and underfunded public facility’s ever-present, unspoken take-one-home-now pressure.   

After looking at the other shelter dogs for awhile, we decided we could not leave the observant young adult Golden Retriever there to experience what was clearly written down on her cage card for later that same night. We filled out a release form, paid the fee and put her in our car.  No adoption counselors, cheery notes, overstuffed information folders about our “new family member,” dog food samples, not even a collar, just a quick wave and smiles from a busy staff member and volunteers as we walked out the door with this dog who had been in the building for a few weeks.

Feelings get mixed up when adopting an animal from a public shelter. Other dogs bark and cry as you walk out the door. Thoughts reverberate in one’s brain “at least this one is getting out.” Yet, those left behind, many beautiful, loving dogs with heart and soul, through no fault of their own, will not leave a shelter walking out on their own happy paws. We know it and we cannot help but feel it.

In a short time, we discovered this dog was not particularly fond of any other canines. In our family’s pack hierarchy, she deferred to her humans but demonstrated alpha female qualities to our other dogs, which were never to be questioned again.

Our dog-sitter, an award-winning trainer and German Shepherd aficionado remarked once, “She doesn’t know she’s a Golden Retriever. She thinks way too much like a Shepherd.” But, with a now glossy reddish coat, honey-hued feathers, deep brown eyes and a plumed platinum tail, one would never wonder about her breed. However, out on walks, never changing a step or making a sound, she made certain other dogs avoided her. Imagine an off-leash, big, lumbering dog running toward a typical-looking Golden Retriever only to slide to a complete stop before some unseen barrier, keeping a respectful distance to let this leashed blonde beauty walk by undeterred. Each time, some otherworldly, light-speed correspondence traveled between her and all approaching canines to stay away, which we respected while never once quite figuring out her hidden methods.

Cats, however, were another story altogether. She couldn’t get enough of them, her own cats, the neighborhood strays, or foster kittens. With all of them, she made herself small, which she did with no other creature of any kind. Sickly kittens were nestled into her paws to spend naptime against her chest, safe and secure, while she watched over them. A maternal joy in the presence of every rescued feline stayed with her for her entire spayed life.

One cat in particular captured her heart, completely. It worked both ways, as canines were his preferred companions. He had come to live with us after a family friend’s sudden death. Out of respect for this man, we adopted his beloved cat. People who live with both cats and dogs understand the potential for an interspecies friendship. Every single day for years and years, these two animals were crazy about each other.

Their romance transcended our family. In their middle years, a picture taken of them in our garden was chosen and published in a national calendar.  

Together, they grew old. Watching over the household activity, taking it all in stride, she never lost her regal bearing. He, resting up against her, kneaded her quilt and pillow or whatever he might find next to her. As he aged, his overt affection for her was drenched in unending purrs and droplets of drool. But, as stories do, theirs was coming to an end.

Shortly after she died, her devoted cat had a stroke from which he did not recover. Now, their ashes ensconced in shiny cedar boxes sit together on a shelf behind a small armoire’s glass doors. Their story, however, is not finished after all. Not really.
Recently, while browsing through a Pacific Northwest shelter’s online magazine, a picture took my breath away. Right there, on my computer screen were the two friends in a photo from years ago—surrounded by spring flowers in our sun-dappled yard. A long forgotten photo contest submission had made its way to the shelter’s development office. Staff chose the picture to be used as a tribute card to honor loved ones. It is, they say, one of the most popular cards selected to accompany an acknowledgement.

And, for us, finding out about the picture of Rosie Marie and Albert Joseph, which helps to raise funds for an animal shelter and honor those individuals who touch our lives, well, what can we say but theirs has become a never-ending, timeless story of love, family and friendship.

Culture: Tributes
The Big Benbow
Memories of a great dog

At the farmer’s market, a dog—the same sort of big black dog with a massive head and handsome gray goatee as you—sat proudly on the front seat of a new truck. We locked eyes. Just for a second my heart jumped because, well, I had a quick fantasy: I was seeing you again. For a moment, I allowed myself to feel how much I miss you every single day. Memories hold me hostage, too often mixed with sadness and pain and so many other things. I look forward to the days where every thought of you will bring a smile but they are not here yet. For now, I am still teary-eyed and heartsick. 

Years ago, your shelter card mentioned you chewed up a couch. Well, yeah, you were an oversized young dog stuck in the house for 10-12 hours every single day. In the same circumstance, I’d eat a couch. Then again, with Labrador Retriever and hunting Hound blood surging through your veins, attempting to eat inanimate objects or questionable cuisine was to be a lifelong sporting event with you: Find it; eat it; do not get caught!  

The boy, at first, was nose to nose with you. As his chubby finger touched your long pink tongue, your thick tail thwacked the wall. The two of you bonded on the spot. “He’s my little brother,” was our son’s decision, “And, he’s Benbow.” Love at first slobber from both sides was how it looked to us, how it remained, and how we wanted it to stay forever. 

When I read My Dog Skip and Dog Years, the grief of parting was so very far away from us, right? You had so much time to play with your boy, hike with us in the mountains, swim in alpine lakes, take walks, sleep by the woodstove, to grow, to enjoy one another. 

Even though you became an XXL dog and a powerful swimmer, we aren’t sorry we made you wear the neon-colored canine life vest every single time we were out in the kayak and canoe.  It was too bad when you bellowed at other dogs, chasing the interlopers up over the lake’s small island, only to be greeted with roars of friendly laughter on the other shore. 

A fun-loving, gregarious, always up for the next adventure dog-dude, you never went on a road trip or met a person you didn’t like. Even when old age settled in your gut after years of sampling foul loot, a glance in your direction or a slow walk around the block to see your neighbor-friends was met with a sparkle in your eyes and a Lab-Hound smile on your face.

Then, much too fast, it happened: Our time together was up. Things were moving along just fine and then they were not. We rushed you to the veterinarian’s office. Sitting on the shiny floor of Exam Room 2, we held your big head and your tail in our laps. Busy office noises faded away. Thirteen years and now here we were hoping, waiting, knowing. The veterinarian sat on the floor with us. Quietly, he talked about his father’s late dog and his father’s death. For a brief moment, you opened your eyes to watch him, listening. Then, in one breath, you were gone from us.

Later, one of the neighbors asked for an update on how you were doing and I told her you were gone. With tears in her eyes, she asked if we, and our son who left for college 2 years before, were okay. In my mind’s eye, I saw the trip we took three short months earlier to see our 6’ 4” son in college, taking you with us. When you saw your boy walking toward you, your ageless tail thumped against the seat of the car; you tilted your head back and a hoarse hound bark greeting filled the air. “Well,” I tried to tell her, “You know, losing Benbow is a huge change for our family. And, his death officially closes the book on our son’s childhood.”

When someone asked my husband about Benbow, he told them, “All dogs are good dogs and some dogs are great. Benbow was a great dog.” He’s right, of course. Our son’s Benbow River Otter Molly Lincoln Tyriffian Humboldt Bear Shelter Dog is and always will be a great one.