How a Chow named Chelsea made life worth living
My heart remains very heavy after the profound loss of my beloved Chow, Chelsea, on August 22, 2009. My best friend for the last nine years, I still struggle through each day trying to cope with the fact that she is no longer with me. She remains in my heart and in my thoughts, as she always will, yet I miss looking into her beautiful eyes and the feel of her soft, black fur.
I have been blessed that dogs have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember: Each one unique and special, leaving me with everlasting memories. In fact, it was Venus, also a black Chow, rescued from the streets and loved dearly for four years, who ignited my passion for this amazing breed. Though I have loved each and every one of my dogs, my almost-spiritual bond with Chelsea stands apart.
At a time in my life when I was facing divorce and the painful decision to allow my husband to retain custody of our two dogs, a divine force led me to Chelsea. I just happened to walk by a local pet supply store, where she was tied outside following an adoption event that left her, still, without a home. While I was in no position to adopt a dog, as soon as I saw her, I knew. I loved her instantly. I pleaded with her chaperone to allow me to take her that day, but abiding by the rules, I was required to fill out an adoption request and schedule a time later in the week to meet Chelsea in order to determine if we would be a suitable match.
The kind woman who was caring for Chelsea had a house full of homeless animals she had committed to fostering, and with no room left at the inn, Chelsea was sent to a supply yard (aka “junk yard”), owned by her husband. It was in September of 2000, although it seems like only yesterday. The lot was filled with old cars and equipment, and I did not see any signs of Chelsea as I called out her name, “Chelsea, here Chelsea.” Then, out from under a tractor-trailer, appeared the beautiful black Chow, eyes filled with hope, despite her desperate surroundings. She was chained to the truck bed and I approached cautiously. Chelsea did not bark or growl at me, only slightly wagged her tail as I knelt before her and offered my hand. From this point forward, Chelsea and I were unbreakable.
I was so fortunate to have Chelsea’s presence in my life. I honestly believe I would have succumbed to the depression that resulted from the trials of my life, had it not been for her enduring love and companionship. How many nights I cried, face buried in her thick fur, as she offered her love without judgment. On the days when I could not bring myself to leave my bed, she faithfully stayed by my side. It was my love for Chelsea, and her love for me, that kept me afloat. Yes, there were the usual diversions—work, family, friends—but my relationship with Chelsea was the joy, happiness and inspiration that made my life worth living.
I’m sure there are many stories similar to mine, of people who have shared an unusually strong bond with their dogs. I know I am not alone in my grief, as others must feel the same emptiness that I feel, over the loss of their beloved companions. I do have a light in my darkness; his name is Leo. He is a golden Chow that I adopted four years ago, who knew and loved Chelsea, and watched over her in her golden years. He waited patiently while I devoted myself to caring for her as we neared the end, and he has lent his fur for me to cry in as I mourn the loss of my Chelsea girl. Someday, I know, the thought of Chelsea will bring a smile instead of a stream of tears. I know she is watching over me still, and I know that someday, we will meet again, never to be apart. Until then, thank you, Chelsea, for sharing your life with me, I love you more than you will ever know.
Memories of Christmas and his last family vacation
This is a picture of my best friend and soul mate, Cameron. I lost him unexpectedly on Aug. 6, 2009 at the age of 14-and-a-half years. He was a black and tan mini-Dachshund.
I miss seeing his beautiful face, the jingle of his tags and his paws tapping the floor.
I got him when he was just six-weeks-old, and he was the perfect companion. He helped my mother during her illness, and helped me get through her death. He made my dad’s days less lonely and he loved my sisters and brother-in-law very much. He loved my best friend/coworker Deborah, too.
He loved to go for “rides” around town and going on family vacations. We would meet the neatest people during our trips and it was because they had to talk to Cameron. They were either missing their own dog back home or Cameron reminded them of their pet in the past.
He loved to walk and dig in the sand at the beach. In his younger days, he would chase the birds with me holding tight to the leash and running behind him … what a sight!
He would let me dress in him up in bandannas, bow ties, sweaters and Halloween costumes. He loved to bark at the trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, while I gave out candy but Christmas was his favorite holiday. The day after Thanksgiving, we would go to the mall and in his new Christmas sweater Cameron would get his picture taken with a “real” Santa. Back home, he would jump in his bed, while I got the tree and decorations out, and then watch me decorate the tree. On Christmas Day, he would pull his stuff out of his stocking and look inside the gift bags for new toys and treats. Sometimes, I would catch him gazing at the tree at night, and when New Year’s rolled around, he would get a look on his face like “don’t take it down.”
He always had a birthday party with a different theme each year, and he would get his treat of vanilla ice cream along with plenty of presents.
I love this picture because he is just “chilling” on the front porch of our rental cottage in Nags Head. He was so happy on that trip, and it was his last family trip.
I miss Cameron so much! I know I will meet him on that Rainbow Bridge one day.
The story of a Beagle and his belly.
To call Herbie, my family’s rotund former Beagle, a “foodie” isn’t entirely accurate, as that term implies some selectivity in consumption, which Herbie did not have. His time with us was certainly borne of a love of good food, though, more specifically, a love of good drink, having been purchased by my parents from a pet store after their better judgment was drowned in too many margaritas at the nearby Mexican restaurant.
With the droopy eyes and ears of a hound, the barrel chest of a linebacker and a stomach of iron, Herbie’s relish of rations served him well. The kennel cough he’d been harboring became evident a few days after his homecoming, and his forlorn puppy form spent the better part of two weeks at the vet’s office before making a robust recovery. The vet solemnly informed us that most puppies don’t survive kennel cough—the only thing that saved Herbie was that he never lost his appetite.
It wasn’t hard for Herbie to feed his insatiable hunger at our house—Pop-Tarts and cookies frequently dangled from my unsuspecting little brother’s five-year-old hands. Herbie would nonchalantly follow him around the house, looking anywhere other than at his prey, but all the while inching closer until SNAP the tasty tidbit was his.
Herbie didn’t always limit himself to such low-hanging fruit, however. Although he couldn’t see the top of the kitchen table, with a little effort he could plop one paw on top like a periscope and feel around for stray food items. Having watched him locate an Oreo this way, his paw dragging it incrementally towards the table edge and into his waiting gullet, we didn’t have the heart to deny him his prize when he’d shown such initiative. Plus, if the chocolate bunny he’d stolen the previous Easter and the entire pepperoni pizza he’d managed to swipe from the delivery boy hadn’t killed him, then one Oreo wasn’t going to either.
Herbie’s love of all things gastronomic did occasionally lead to his downfall. Smart enough to figure out that when we took three towels out of the closet it meant bath time (we had three dogs), Herbie would stealthily disappear under the guest bed, where he would wait in stony silence while the other two dogs endured the indignity of the garden hose (fools!).
Eventually, someone would be sent to tempt Herbie from his hiding place with a piece of cheese. His eyes would shine coolly out of the darkness beyond the bed skirt, thoughtfully considering the cheddar placed just beyond his reach, weighing his options (one sweet but fleeting moment of satisfaction versus a good ten minutes of backyard rubdown?). As he belly-crawled towards the mouthwatering morsel, we would move it further away. Herbie may have been patient in the pursuit of cheesy goodness, but we all knew who was going to win that game.Concerned about his weight, we would on occasion attempt to deny him the cheese when he finally emerged, but his reproachful glare—as if to say, “I thought we had an arrangement”—always made us relent. Despite his ongoing battle with the bulge, Herbie lived an active and happy life—playing ball in the backyard, occasionally digging out under the fence to hunt varmints along the stream, cuddling on the couch with his humans. When he passed away recently after many—ahem, solid –years, we knew he’d come full circle. He started life as a puppy eating to live, and died fifteen years later, living to eat.
Rest In Peace, October 9, 2009
Age has sprayed his muzzle gray;
Once a proud protector,
We no longer require or expect
His wanderings have dwindled to a slow, shaky circuit
Nose faintly quivering,
--Poem by Richard Johnston
We adopted Cooper, who was more than ten-years-old, from Hope’s Haven, a wonderful sanctuary in Salem, Ore. Despite enduring years of abuse, Cooper was the most loving and trusting dog. We were privileged to share the last four years of his life with him. He brought us so much joy. He was loved by everyone he met.
Jennydog left us a year ago after a shockingly short illness. She was an intense Border Collie—strong, elegant, fast and bossily dominant. She was noise-phobic, terrified of falling baby gates, unbelievably kind to my elderly mother, intolerant of rudeness in other dogs and people. She ruled the boys with relentlessness in some things and not in others. Jenny was our strength in times of tragedy; the one we knew would protect us if anyone meant us harm. With her gone, the house never feels the same and I still apologize to her when the gate hits the kitchen floor. One year later, my mother begins her slow journey towards death, and I dream of her beloved Jenny zooming around the house, hitting the couch so hard it rocked backwards.
The first hello in the morning and the last goodnight each night.
Almost all the memories I have of my childhood include one large, brown, lovable ingredient: our family dog, Kodi. A chocolate Labrador, Kodi was the four-legged love of our lives, and when he passed away this past Thanksgiving at 13-years-old we were devastated.
I can still remember the day my father came home and told us we were going to get a puppy. I had never had a dog before and was so excited. One day after school my dad drove us to meet the litter. When we arrived there were all of these adorable little chocolate balls of fur running around, but one little puppy stood out. He had blue eyes; he was the runt; and he was just kind of sitting there while all of his brothers and sisters were running around. As soon as I looked into his little eyes, it was love. He slept on my lap the entire ride home; he was my new best friend.
Well, let me tell you, his calm demeanor that first day was just a clever cover, because once we took him home, he turned into a wild man! So many memories of Kodi involve us chasing after him in the yard and playing tug of war with his rope. When the little runt grew into a very strong dog, he would pull my brother and I (and our couch) halfway across the living room.
Kodi was the one constant in a sometimes-crazy childhood. So happy to see me each and every time I entered the room, Kodi taught me unconditional love. When my dad was away for work, he kept me company and kept me safe. When the social part of high school overtook my life and I wasn’t home as much, he always forgave me. When I left for college, he became my dad’s constant companion. Kodi was my first hello every morning and the last goodnight of each night. He was my sweet boy and I will forever miss him.
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.
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.
Her last wishes were my first choices.
Six months before her ninth birthday in May 2002, Nessi was diagnosed with kidney failure. At the time, her vet said she would only live a couple of weeks. I researched naturopathic diets, vitamins and nutrients that have been shown to help the immune system in dogs whose kidneys are failing. I talked to vets all over the U.S. Finally, I had enough information and I put together a special diet and took my research to my vet. The diet I suggested passed my vet’s scrupulous requirements. I began making her home-cooked meals that included feeding her only the freshest chicken, eggs and fish, plus assorted vitamins. Nessi lived an additional six months beyond what our vet thought she was physically capable of.
I knew fate was catching up with us. Some people would put their love to words. I put mine to paint. During the last week of life with Nessi, I created this water-media painting. It is called “Friend for Life.” This work describes our experiences together. Nessi passed on at the end of October 2002. Creating this painting helped me to deal with my loss. In this work I have a memorial not to her death, but rather to her life and our exceptionally fun experiences together.
Thank you for allowing me this moment to share my memories of this long lost friend. But fear not for I am not alone. Two years later, Big Dawg Bella Blue tumbled into my life and now I share my journey with a new furry friend and muse!
It was a match made in heaven…
I met him at a Borders bookstore. I had been avoiding such “open houses” since an ill-fated Internet match did not work out in the least, but a neighbor urged me to look again, and there he was … in all his fluffy, furry glory.
Clayton was not an easy dog to own at first: stubborn, arrogant and prone to running out the door. I remember his first Christmas at my mom’s, the star of the show, gladly receiving adoration from family members, until my niece got ready to leave, and Clayton dashed out the door. His fur was pitch black, and it was a Christmas miracle that he was not hit in the street that dark night. My niece ran after him in her high heels, and dragged him and his smug smile back to the house. If she hadn’t, he would have run clear to Tijuana.
We got to know one another, became a family, and he learned to love his dog brothers, first Wilber, and then Pete. But when my daughter visited at Christmas, he bit her puppy in the nose. Clayton was not interested or patient with puppy antics.
After several years, Clayton suffered a fatty embolism in his spine, leaving him partially paralyzed. We nursed him back to health, and walking, but his running days were over. He loved us; we loved him. When he boarded at the kennel, he played in the pool all day and kept the staff laughing. On the way home from the kennel last July, he slipped in the car and caught one of his weak legs in an odd position between the seat and the wheel well. Paramedics came to help us get him out. I’m sure they are still laughing about the day they had to save that big dog (we now have doggy seat belts to prevent such accidents).
Clayton died on Saturday. We will miss him forever. I know there’s another dog out there that needs a home, a dog that I will love. First, I need some time to let the ragged edges of the dog-shaped hole in my heart heal over.
From scruffy mutt to regal specimen.
I wonder if Duncan’s first owners thought he was a Scottish Terrier. Why else would they have given him such a grand Gaelic name? We met Duncan when he was six-months-old—by then he weighed thirty pounds with legs like stilts and ears like goalposts. Obviously, Duncan was not a Scottish Terrier.
We were visiting the shelter in search of a big dog, but when we saw Duncan we wondered if he was the dog for us. At first glance, he was a somewhat scruffy mutt, but he had beautiful, wise golden eyes and a very happy and confident demeanor. We went back the very next day to bring him home with us.
We enrolled Duncan in obedience class, where he soon became known as “Duncan the Wonder Dog,” because he was the model student and he had the most amazing repertoire of tricks. Okay, maybe your dog can catch anything from any distance, like Duncan, and maybe your dog will wave goodbye when you leave for work, like Duncan…but I wonder if your dog shakes his head from side to side (that’s right, side to side, not up and down, Counselor) when you ask him if he likes lawyers!
Living with a wunderkind of a dog can be a challenge. At first, we tried crating Duncan when we left the house, for his safety and our peace of mind. Within a week, to our wonder, our Houdini hound had figured out how to unhook the latch. We installed a baby gate so that Duncan would be confined to the back of the house, but it didn’t take very long for us to return home to find Duncan on the “wrong” side of the gate—or, if he was on the “right” side, the comforter on our bed would have conspicuous canine creases. Needless to say, we gave up on restricting Duncan to or from any part of HIS house.
All this time, Duncan continued to grow. His legs grew, his torso grew and his fur grew. We wondered when the growth spurts would end. By the time they did, we had the big dog we originally wanted: Duncan weighed 75 pounds, and the somewhat scruffy mutt now was a rather regal specimen!
We could take Duncan anywhere. We never wondered how he would behave. He always was a perfect gentleman—although at parades he would raise his snout to the heavens and howl when the fire engines sounded their sirens, much to the amusement of other parade-goers. On the Friday evening after September 11, 2001, there was a candlelight vigil along Ridge Avenue, which spans the entire length of our town. Duncan and I walked over to be part of that meaningful memorial and—wouldn’t you know it—the city’s police and fire departments had vehicles that traveled the route, sirens sounding, to close the vigil. On that night, Duncan’s howling seemed appropriately mournful.
Duncan and I once won a look-alike contest! We beat out a Dalmatian whose owner sported a black-and-white polka-dotted outfit. I’ll bet you wonder what I wore…nothing! Well, nothing special, Duncan and I won on the merits of our mutual grey hair.
There was never a time that we were out with Duncan that someone didn’t wonder about Duncan’s lineage: “I wonder if he is an Irish Wolfhound.” “I wonder if he is a Briard.” “I wonder if he is an Otterhound.” “I wonder if he is a Giant Schnauzer.” “I wonder…” We wondered too, but to tell the truth, we really didn’t care, because Duncan was a wonderful dog!
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