Fur therapy

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I’ve gotten back to being more hands-on with the dogs the past couple of weeks.

I hadn’t been ignoring them, but I hadn’t been as relaxed and close with them, either.

I could blame it on the cold and wearing gloves and being all bundled up while they played in the snow, but that wasn’t it. I could claim fatigue or being too busy and a half a dozen other things – none of which would be accurate.

I realized as I was brushing dogs the other day that the last time I had done that calmly and peacefully was while I was trying to convince my Pyr that it was okay for her to quit struggling to take care of me. I spent what seemed like several lifetimes gently massaging her shoulders, running my hands through her thinning fur, drinking in the smell and the feel of her coat, absorbing every moment’s memory knowing that there would be no more moments to treasure with her.

I hadn’t realized how much that tactile exercise was intertwined with my grief.

My other dogs still got hugs and scratches and belly rubs – but it was different. I was holding back, afraid of diluting the memories, or maybe of moving on.

It’s almost spring, and bits of green are starting to struggle through the dirt and dead vegetation. I guess I am ready for renewal. too. Brushing the dogs out in the yard, sending fur flying all directions, getting back in the habit of those quiet massages.

Life happens.

Beginnings 2014

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It’s hard to grasp the concept of new beginnings with three dogs older than ten years and the “baby” turning five years in two weeks.
I’m still caught in that oh-so-human trap of remembering too much and planning and anticipating even more.
My dogs keep trying to teach me to live in the now. The past is over, it had some useful lessons to teach but it is gone and cannot be changed. The future hasn’t happened and may never happen and wouldn’t it be silly to ignore the joy right in front of my nose!
I’m working on it, really I am.
And I enter the new year with the hope that I will get better at living each day with as much joy as I can muster.
The dogs will help me, I know they will.

They’re much smarter than I am about these things.

Little memories

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Faith no longer rests at the front door when I leave in the morning. The sense of the house being protected, of my world being safe, is gone. She no longer comes to the entry of the kitchen when I come home, her tail wagging and her whole body wiggling with anticipation.

Sophia no longer curls up in the chair next to my bed, close enough to touch, watch and be whispered to, apart enough to keep her dreams separate from mine. Never far from me, often seeming to be inside my head. I had so many conversations with her, and she seemed to understand what I told her.

Mascot no longer waits on the end of my bed, knowing that her insulin is routine and inevitable. Knowing, too, that she could rub that certain point right behind her ear against my thumb for as long as she wants. Her purr is both a statement and a beacon – I could locate her almost anywhere in the house when she purred, and half the dogs never could figure out whether they should enjoy her purring or fear it.

Bandit no longer beats me to the door, any door, in or out, to be sure she isn’t left behind. I have never before nor since had a dog so comfortable – and determined – about riding in the car. Nor one who did such a good job of letting me know exactly what she wanted or needed.

There have been other dogs and cats before these, their loss just as painful, their lives just as enriching, but most of them came before I was fully formed. There was so much I just didn’t get when I was younger.

There are so many little things I appreciate now – Domino trying to burrow the top of his head into my thigh, Hagar always prepared for take-off, Duffy always checking in to make sure I’m still okay. And Minco, sweet, goofy Minco, standing for a hug that he wants but won’t ask for, always being sure to do a breath check first thing in the morning, making sure, especially since Faith is gone, to keep me in his sight so that I will be safe. I can tell that he’s not convinced he should let me leave in the morning, though at lunchtime he’s ready to shoo me out so he can nap.

I have now, and I have had, some truly amazing dogs and cats in my life. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I know that I am and there are days when my heart is full of wonder at the love and joy embodied in these animals. If I get really lucky, perhaps someday I will learn to be like them.

Grief

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Some stages of grief are predictable and fairly universal.

But our styles and methods of grieving are as unique as we ourselves. Expecting someone else to grieve the same way that you do is a recipe for additional pain.

Many of us rail at the gods and try to bargain for signs or something, anything, that will bring our lost loved one closer/back to us/whatever.

Many (most?) of us wonder what we could have or should have done differently that might have changed the outcome. A moot point, since the outcome has already been, but we still do it. I don’t know whether it’s a guilt complex, shouldering of blame, or just a need to better understand what happened and can we prevent another similar event.

Since my loss of my Pyr, Faith, last week, at least a half dozen people I know have also lost dogs or cats. I can tell them I sympathize with their pain, I can remind them there was little, if anything, they could have done differently or better or faster. I can validate their loss, their grief, let them know that what they are feeling is normal and doesn’t follow a schedule or a highlighted map.

Some of us feel the strong presence of those animals we have lost. Knowing how tightly woven they are into our hearts and souls, we carry them with us and take comfort in not just the memories, but the strong bonds that will never be broken. But those who are new to this kind of grief may struggle with that concept.

Their grief is theirs and they need to find the path that is right for them. Sometimes all that another person can do is tell them “I am here for you if you need me, and I am so sorry that you have to walk this path.”

Particularly when the grief is raw, no one can do what the grieving person wants more than anything in the world – give them back the physical presence of their beloved companion.

A Fare-Thee-Well

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Yesterday evening I had to say good-bye to my 11 1/2 year-old Pyr, Faith.

faithfulShe helped more than a few dogs in her day, whether in transport or foster. Though she was the least likely to play of any of my dogs, it was to her that one special Berner boy made his first play bow, when we didn’t know at first whether we would ever be able to draw him out of his shell of fear.

Faith came to me from the local shelter, intended as a companion for my BARC Beauty Sophia. They quickly became fast friends, and they made sure that all other dogs coming to their house knew the rules. She was true to her breed, keeping me and our property safe from all manner of trucks, buses, birds and planes. We NEVER had a plane land in our driveway!

Age and years of property management caught up with her, she spent the past few years on monthly Adaquon shots and Salmon oil seemed to ease some of her cognitive issues, but a recent infection recurred and may have had an impact on her liver and gall bladder. X-rays indicated that her hips and knees were failing, making the option for gall bladder surgery more problematic.

She refused to tell me that it was time for her to go. To the end, she was trying to protect me at her own expense. But I told her that I would do what was right for her, and I know that was what I did.

Three of my dogs are fine, but my ASD/Pyr mix, who was her closest companion after we lost Sophia, is taking it hard. But I know he will help me keep my promise to Faith tonight that I would be fine. He’s sneakiy that way, making sure that I don’t have time to wallow. He will keep me grounded, Berner Hagar will keep me laughing and Duffy and Domino will make sure that I PAY ATTENTION!!!

Run and spin with abandon, dear Faith. You were greatly loved all eleven years I got to share with you, and I will carry you in my heart until we meet again.

States of Being

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Sometimes it seems that my dogs are not five separate organisms, but parts of one whole. When something is off balance with one part, the whole organism shifts.

I have been surprised the past couple of days, while my sweet Pyr is being treated at the vet’s office, by the behavior of my other dogs. Usually, if I get home later than normal, I am greeted with great enthusiasm and vocalization. I can feel the whole house bouncing and vibrating. But not this week.

This week, the dogs have made perfucntory barks and little else. They have made their way to the door and outside with fair haste, but not with the same drive. They know Faith is ill, they know their world is out of balance.

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I don’t know whether this time balance can be restored.

I know that with or without Faith, we will go on. We will find a new balance.

I wonder how long it will take for us to find enthusiasm and joy in that new balance.

If she comes through this illness, she will be a far more elderly, frail dog than she would ever have expected to be. Her dignity will be important to all of us. She will have to supervise someone else keeping the yard safe from buses, birds and planes.

Life changes. Organisms have an ebb and flow.

I feel so lucky to live within the aura of this organism.

Kids and dogs

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Sometimes I think my sons have the notion that I love my dogs more than I love them.

I assure you, there is nothing in this world more important to me than my children.

Part of the confusion may come from the fact that if I did my job well as a parent, my sons are not dependent. If I do my job well as a pet owner, my dogs are dependent.

I hope that what I taught my sons will allow them to continue making informed and independent decisions, choosing to do what is right – for them, for their communities, for the greater good.

I hope that what I have taught my dogs will bring them running back to me whether it’s mealtime or not! I hope they will look to me for guidance, for permission, for praise.

I love my dogs dearly. Their illnesses, their deaths, tear me into tiny pieces that scatter in the wind. I am conscious, from the moment they arrive in my home, that I will have them but a little while, to teach and be taught, to share joy and pain.

My sons are an act of faith, that this world can be a better place, that one child, one man (or woman) can make a difference. They are an act of love, of patience, of devotion and perseverance. They are hope, they are connectedness, they are an extension of me to which I have cut the cord.

I am incredibly fortunate that I have a family that loves being together, exploring, experimenting, supporting each other and laughing together. The loss of any piece of that wonderful collage diminishes the whole. But does not put out the light. We have each taught each other to be strong, in love and in loss. So have I taught my children, I hope, to be strong enough to lean on each other when need be.

My dogs are smart dogs. They have yet to learn to open the containers that hold the bags that hold their food. They need someone around to help them get food and shelter and veterinary care and a little recreation now and then.  And some comfy furniture to flop on. That someone is me. In return for providing all of the above, I get to laugh and play and hold them. They challenge me and we work it out. They are dependent on my presence, my involvement with them, for their survival. And because I have brought them into my home, I owe them that and so much more.

My kids are smart, too. They know that I love them and support them in the decisions they make, because I know they are kind and just men. I suspect they prefer that I not hover at the edges of their lives, offering opinions and judgments that are not mine to offer. I hope they know that if they need me, I’m there for them, whenever, where ever. I cannot take their pain away, nor should I. No matter how much I want them to be free from pain, I know that isn’t realistic and I hope I have given them enough strength to deal with whatever life brings.

Perhaps the most important difference can be summed up this way – I have promised my dogs that I will do everything I can to ensure that I outlive them (or make arrangements, just in case).

My sons had damned well better outlive me.