I was talking to a close friend over dinner the other night. For the sake of privacy, let’s call him Joe. Perhaps you have such... Read more →
She’s been my constant companion for nearly fifteen years. Ever since she bounded out of the puppy room to greet me at the shelter that day in March, my Border Collie-Retriever mix has been my puppy girl. They say Flat Coat Retrievers maintain their puppyhood qualities throughout their lives. Looking at her lying on her bed after two days of self-imposed water and food deprivation, she still looks like a puppy, with just a lot more gray. Her body may be quite a bit more broken down after a lifetime of osteoarthritis and a recent bout of cancer, but her spirit is still decidedly, my puppy girl.
You did what? My then-husband scolded. Without consulting me?
Nope, I did not. I smiled, unhooking her from her new leash and trotting her into my office. I didn’t hear about the trip to Mt. Rainier until after it was booked, so I figured, you didn’t need to hear about the dog.
Fourteen and a half years later, I’ve always known I got the better end of the deal. Eventually, he came to love her as much as I did. There isn’t a person she’s met whose heart she hasn’t moved through her sheer persistence to seek out love at all costs.
When I reflect back on her life, though it’s been the Life of Riley — and an adventurous on eat that — there are still, no marked tragedies or amazing stories of how she overcame obstacles to find her way into my life, no dynamic tales of drama or intense episodes through which she miraculously survived. She has quite simply been my joyful, exuberant, brilliant, energetic, devoted, loyal sweet dog for all but the first three months of her life. I knew from our first meeting that she was meant for me. That was that.
Rainier has lived by my side day after day, accompanying me to my office in my old life in law for eleven years where she met every client and discerned their integrity upon first sniff. She’s hiked just about every trail this side of the Continental Divide and many on the Western Slope. She has traveled on road trips all around the Midwest, played in Oz Park in Chicago and slept in hotel rooms in Rapid City, South Dakota. Mountain creeks and flatland lakes made her heart sing and her paws paddle, particularly when her ailing osteoarthritis left her infirm and frustrated from lack of more gentle alternatives. She’s loved every cat ever to come into her Bagel Bed, from Nevis with whom she cuddled at night to the Blues Brothers and their kitten-like rowdiness. She’s accepted and loved my new husband ever since he came into my life some four years now, and sought acknowledgment for her existence from people who’d rather she had never made herself known. She’s a crotch rocket, a good friend once complained, hands swiftly moving to cover the front of his jeans. She loves everyone – all six billion people on the planet – she’s been striving to meet them all in her short fifteen years on this planet. One by one.
She’s fallen a few short, but she’s known many.
She’s herded our Longhorn Heifer from one end of the land to the other, ridden bareback on the back of my old Paint horse when she could walk back from a long trail ride no more. She’s suffered the intrusions of surgery and CAT Scans, had more traditional and alternative therapies to ease her aching joints than I’ve had visits to any spa in town.
You do WHAT for your dog? A southern ex-boyfriend once said. Adjust WHAT?
Her spine, you ninny, I responded with annoyance. Hadn’t they heard of dog chiropractors in the South?
Through it all, she’s never complained. Not once. She’s never bitten a veterinarian delivering yet another shot (of which there have been many), never argued when being walked back into the procedure room for yet another test. I wish I could have such acceptance and joy of every uncomfortable moment I’ve ever had to endure in my own life.
Dogs have always been in my life to remind me to sit in the present and stay in the moment. Rainier has shown me the persistence of self-love can manifest in finding another to mirror that kind of love right back. She’s shown me the better choice of being friendly to all who may even reject us because you wind up with more friends and people who love you in the end. And she’s taught me that stoic resolution to maintain joy at all costs gets you more out of each encounter, given half the chance.
Quite simply, Rainier has been with me through it all. How many of us can say that? She’s been the one I’ve spoiled because I believe my love for her is best conveyed through a bowl of steaming chicken and yams in beef broth simmered in a crockpot overnight. I’ve treated her thusly not only out of love, but out of the belief that all dogs deserve the best of ourselves.
Because at the end of their lives with us, no matter now much our own hearts break upon their leaving, they have, quite simply, given us the best of theirs.
Women are innate nurturers. Which is why my new role as full-timer caregiver to our Sheba was bound to happen? It was also a natural result of being in love with our dog.
This particular morning, the day is going something more akin to a horse race at Arlington Park. I tend to Sheba and our other two dogs of relative age and ailments:
AND, we’re up…
HERE we are, leading Rainier down the trail, we sure do hope those Canyon motorists don’t notice our skimpily clad bedroom attire but she really did need to go out RIGHT AWAY it’s been a long night…
THERE she is, that Sheba-she, hanging back on the front porch, she’s not feelin’ it, she doesn’t want to come, she never did come when she was called…
THERE goes that Linus, breaking away from the pack, he’s taking the lead, that short little Shar-Pei nose isn’t much but he sure is sticking it out front…
THERE goes Rainier, she’s lagging behind, wagging that fluffy tail of hers, she sure is expressive, just look at her smile…
BOY! It may take a while, that cancer in her paw is slowing her gait down but not her little spirit, she sure is a loving pup of nearly fifteen years, that Rainier…
WHERE is that Sheba-she, is she still on the porch, she’s watching it all – No! – she doesn’t want to go near that dog mom – all that squeezing and pressing on that bladder she wants nothing to do with any of that this morning thank you very much!
FOLKS, the big question we’re all asking ourselves this morning – Will she go to the bathroom on her own? – Oops! – What’s that on the carpet – Jesus! – Don’t step on it – BOY, what a way to start your morning or end your night!
WE’RE still watching – who’s comin’ round the corner – will that Sheba come off that front porch or will she simply stand there staring at Linus as he lifts that leg – I wonder she’s not jealous he can go on his own?
THERE she is – she’s heading back inside — Frank just opened the door – she’s looking for that hot dog – Oh! – that Armour Hot Dog – the dog Sheba loves to bite – the one with all those special little things inside, it’s got more crunch – she doesn’t seem to mind — she gets lots of those little Armour Hot Dogs three or four times a day…
NOW COMES Rainier breakin’ round the turn — she’s ambling back into the house — she’s after her own Armour Hot Dog – it’s special too all that Tramadol — but she doesn’t seem to mind – Look at her woof that down!…
And thus, our day begins. The same as any other. Anyone who has raised children or cared for animals knows the required rituals. Sometimes it feels like a race to meet everyone’s needs. Nothing else can happen until everyone’s been fed or pottied…
In spite of the newer more frenzied rigor, I appreciate this particular morning. Late summer has come – golden aspen leaves peak through the green. The fullness of summer yields to the expression of autumn. As they shimmer and speak a little louder in the increasing winds, the grey squirrel clings to the branches outside the window of the French bathroom doors, chattering and tail-twitching. His pine nut-stuffed cheeks inform we are on the cusp of a new season.
I welcome the change in seasons. I embrace the opportunity to slow life down just a bit.
I head back into the house, after this part of our morning ritual ends, to follow our new regimen of dog care for the pack: A cocktail of prescribed pharmaceuticals. The brilliant Israeli neurologist we found after three weeks of searching gave us a measure of hope for Sheba’s bladder. Three times a day, we are packing pills – Gabapentin, Prednisolone, Famotidine, Bethanecol, Baytril – into those special Armour Hot Dogs. They all line up excitedly – Linus stammering his paws, smiling – he is the only one getting just the dog – Sheba takes hers readily, the Prednisolone makes her appetite voracious. Rainier takes her Tramadol-laced hot dog reluctantly. It’s keeping her cancer pain down while she lives out the remainder her fifteen or so years. I can’t bear to think of losing her as well; yet it feels more a natural course of allowing life to unfold.
I stare at Sheba after we’ve finished this round of doling out the pills. I realize that I’m turning into an obsessive-compulsive over her condition. I realize her situation is impacting and engulfing and overwhelming me to the point I cannot concentrate on my other real-life responsibilities. It’s just that I can’t help any of it.
Which is precisely the point – anyone who has ever loved and wanted to help animals, understands that each deliver a healthy dose of helplessness alongside the love.
It’s the problem with having a dog, a close friend said to me recently, you get so attached.
What’s the answer, then, not ever loving an animal? I couldn’t envision a life not loving animals.
Maybe, she said, it’s better not to…
I didn’t agree, but I understood.
With Sheba, we’ve connected on a soulful level, the way you sometimes can with a particular horse or a cat or a dog. I remember when I first recognized that she held within her something that I always believed was in me. It’s her resilience, her strength. She knows what it’s like to feel thrown away. She’s fought all her life just to be herself. She escaped euthanasia by an angel’s breath after eight months in a shelter before my good friend found her and brought her to me. In all the reasons for mistrust, she found someone on whom she could rely. In all that rejection and loss for being the independent spirit she’s been, she has bounced back fully. Until this event, she was bounding up ski slopes and mountain ridges with the fervor and enthusiasm of a six-week old puppy. I’ve had the deepest admiration and respect for her strong spirit. To her, I vowed I would never abandon her. And sometimes, even when it’s only a dog, you just have to admire an inherent determination to get back up, no matter what life throws at them.
If you let love in deep enough, it moves your life in ways unexpected.
My husband has come to love her as I do. He sees the uniqueness of her that shines brightest among the three we have. He understands the bonds that tied our hearts together. He knows the sadness that comes with helplessness, the moment you realize you have no control over what affects your heart.
He reminds me in the wee hours of the morning when grief and stress steal away my slumber, that we have no real control over any of this.
He reminds me as I cry for the seventh time in three days, that no one in the world would not agree we are doing all we can to help. Then, he adds, they’d probably think we were a couple of idiots.
I know what he means. Sometimes, I do indeed feel like an idiot. Albeit, a helpless one. There are times I just stare at her and those crooked Shepherd ears, hanging relaxed on her greying head, betraying the character that is quintessential Sheba-she. Often, she lies along the creek while I meditate and simply stares back at me. These days, she is more contemplative, moving just a bit slower than before. But she is still that special soul that I just need to have around.
My husband and I joke, at this stage, between our respective expenditures to keep her here: She’s our Ten Thousand Dollar mutt. On two separate occasions, the stroke nearly claimed her. Veterinarians are professionals, after all – all that education, experience and training, comes at a price. And yet – at what price, the dog you love the most?
I glance over at my husband as we send Sheba, Linus and Rainier out the door. I know that we were meant to be together. He is the only one who would ever devote himself so completely and selflessly as to join me in saving the dog I once rescued because he understands she rescued me for him. I vowed to her in the moments in between peace and heartache I would stick around if only just for her. Sometimes, life can carve out the simplest of complexities into a sheer will to live despite the hardships.
We walk out into the day after the pack. They’re all resting in the late summer sunshine on the front porch. For the moment, the race is over. It’ll be about two hours before trying to express Sheba’s bladder, and another eight before the next go-round of doling out those special little Armour Hot Dogs. We’re hoping this new round of medical treatment will help restore her bladder back to health, so we can have her for the remainder her long canine life. And just for this moment, we move into our respective rituals for the work of the day, bidding each other goodbye, until we meet on the front porch a little while later…
Stay tuned for Episode 3 of The Sheba Chronicles…