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.
Scenes from the life of a Chesapeake Bay retriever/therapy dog
Toby, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, lived life big and left paw prints on hearts around the world. He was also the star of the book On Toby’s Terms and Toby the Pet Therapy Dog. This video capture’s some of his finest moments—loving life!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Loving reminders of dogs
The brick says “Remembering Kiwi: 125 Pounds of Love” and it’s part of a wall of bricks outside DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Ore. My brother-in-law and my sister purchased the brick in 2007 to honor their Newfoundland who passed away at age 11½ in April of that year. Kiwi was a great dog and I loved her, so the sight of her brick brought me both joy and sadness.
There are benefits of physical memorials to the dogs who remain in our hearts but no longer walk beside us every day, at least not in the literal sense. The tangible reminder of a loved one has great value, which is why gravestones as well as notices in the paper and even decals on cars mention those who have left us. In the case of Kiwi’s brick and others like it, a charitable contribution to buy the memorial goes to DoveLewis. Though a pet may be gone, honoring them with a contribution is a way to know that the love they inspired continues to give hope and lifesaving help to other pets.
Whether it required a contribution or not, do you have a tangible reminder of your deceased dog?
It was the day after Christmas, and I came running outside to feed Sandy our nine-month-old Beagle, on a cold morning.
Usually, Sandy came out by her kennel door eager to greet me, but today it was different. She slowly walked over to me.
Knowing something was wrong; I came in her kennel and started petting her and looking her over. She looked up into my face. Poor girl, I thought. Then Sandy started coughing. Great, I thought. Sandy has kennel cough.
Of the few dogs I have had in my life I never had one sick, but from doing dog research in the past I figured that was what it was. Just kennel cough. Little did I know how wrong I was.
Two days later Sandy was worse. She ate little food—and for Beagles that is very rare—and was not active at all. She would just watch as a ball rolled by her nose and lay down when we tried to get her into a game of dog tag.
My mom said to bring her in my room, where it was warmer and away from the Washington cold and wind.
I was glad to have Sandy inside where I could keep my eye on her, and I think she was too. Instead of exploring my room, she just lay on her dog bed and followed me with her eyes. I figured Sandy would get better, but later that evening Sandy coughed up blood. Immediately, I knew something was seriously wrong. This was not kennel cough. Doing some research, I found Sandy had all the symptoms of rat poisoning.
Sandy had gotten into some rat poisoning somehow, and now she was sick, and possibly dying.
I immediately prayed to God, “Lord, don’t take her away.” Please let her get better. There was nothing more we could do until morning, when we would take her in to Kulshan Veterinarian Hospital.
That evening I didn’t sleep much. I was too worried about Sandy and afraid that she would die while I was asleep. She was breathing hard and I wished I could do something to help her, but I could do nothing.
Later that night, I stayed up and held her in my lap. “Don’t die Sandy,” I gently whispered to her. “Don’t.”
Eventually, I did go to sleep and I woke up early the next morning. I quickly got dressed and then to make Sandy more comfortable I slipped her red collar off.
Waiting for my mom in the van I prayed, and hoped that Sandy would get better.
“Maybe it’s not as serious as we think,” my mom encouraged as we drove to the vets. I hoped she was right.
However after the vet looked her over, she said that Sandy’s condition was very serious and that they could do surgery, but it wouldn’t guarantee if she would make it. I knew we didn’t have the money for that, and I knew that she would have to be put to sleep.
“Good-bye, Sandy,” I said quietly as the vet took Sandy out of the room. A lump began to form in my throat.
As we left the building the lump in my throat grew, knowing I would not see my beloved Beagle again. At home, I cried as I saw Sandy’s red collar on my desk, never to be worn again by our beloved dog.
Even though Sandy is gone, she has left with me some great memories. How she use to run away from us on a trail of a squirrel, how she use to bark until we let her out of her kennel. They were happy memories she has left.
Yes, Sandy is gone, but she was a fun dog to have. Sandy loved everyone and brought a smile to anyone. In the spring, when the weather is warm, I will again be searching for another dog to love and care for, and I look forward to it.
News: Guest Posts
When our departed dogs return to us for a night
The other night as I drifted off to sleep, I thought about how much I’d love to dream about my dog Lulu, who died in August. I’ve only had one dream about her since then, and it felt like she was back, which means it felt wonderful. But when I woke the following morning, I didn’t have any memory that I’d been successful in my efforts to conjure her.
Later in the day, while my husband and I were out walking our dog Renzo, Charlie mentioned that he’d dreamed about Lulu that night. He said, she had come to the back door and barked to be let in. When he opened the door, she pranced in with a couple packages of Jello mix in her mouth. Then, she produced another package of sausages and danced around her treasures. That’s all he could remember, but it was more than enough to feel right and make us laugh.
Next time, I hope I’m at the door when she stops by.
Queen of the Celtic Fairies and Beguiler of Men
“If there are no dogs in Heaven,
Will Rogers, 1897-1935Sidehill’s Mab, Queen of the Celtic Fairies and Beguiler of Men, is now gossiping with Dancer Dawg, Roscoe the Ratador, and Buck(le) Bear about the challenges of living with me. They are talking of misplaced leashes, late dinners, damned cats (and more damned cats), hours in the back of the vehicle of the day and walks promised but not taken. I hope they talk about the good times of meeting and greeting at market, gossipy strolls in the ’hood, playing in the lake and at the river and the great snow marches. No doubt they are comparing notes on the numerous beds, mats and comforters they were each given. Since they all ended up on my bed—they can match stories about my snoring, weird sleep habits and my own marathon naps. Mab can flaunt her trips to the beach (she went to both Nag’s Head and Virginia Beach). She can describe chasing the sea gulls to her heart’s delight at both places and winning admirers with her good looks and gracious ways. She came to me a beautifully trained field English Setter and I ruined her, letting her forget most of her training. I spoiled her rotten and she returned the favor. She was my good good dog.
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