“When a pet dies, remember that you are still alive. There are still more adventures to have. Those adventures don’t erase the grief; it will still be there.”
I believe this from the bottom of my heart. I also know you can’t force a connection before you are ready. You can’t force a connection with someone who doesn’t fit. With a dog, I feel they have to fit you, because they are a partner that goes everywhere with you, and it is a union. I have that with my cat Samson, but have never had it with any other cats. Maybe it is that I expect it from my dogs. My dogs go to events with me, travel with me, run errands with me and share my bed. (The last one, my cats do also).
I have had dozens of cats in my life, but only four dogs. I have been fortunate that all of those dogs have been incredible. I remember when I met Gracie and Lucie at their foster’s in San Diego; they met me at the door and jumped up on me, licking me and wagging their tails. It was as if they knew we would be life partners, that in fact we already were.
My dog Patsy let me hold her every night as I fell asleep, then would crawl out of my arms and sleep on the pillow next to me. I was afraid of the Dentist, so she went to the dentist with me so that I would be brave for her. Patsy made me realize how far you could get in life by being happy and expecting the best to happen. We learn from our dogs, as much as they learn from us.
My first dog was a border collie named Mandy. She was beautiful, smart, athletic, and way too full of energy for her own good. If she saw me get my clothes on to ride horses, she would hide outside and follow me on horseback until she felt we were far enough from home that I wouldn’t take her back. She could outrun coyotes, was a sucker for a car ride (it was the only way I could catch her sometimes, to drive around in the car and pick her up) and excelled at obedience training. As a kid I had always wanted a border collie and we were one of the few farms that didn’t have one.
If Mandy lost me at an event, she would go to the car and wait there for me. I learned how to be a dog owner with Mandy, because until then I had only lived with family dogs. Mandy belonged to me. Every time I cried, she would sit next to me and howl. I had her for fourteen years, and they went by too fast.
Earlier this year, I had a dog who I called Nugget who had belonged to a friend that had passed. Nugget had to constantly be touching me. When I took her walking, she lagged behind me, unsure that she wanted to go at all. I wanted a dog to be a new therapy dog, and she wasn’t interested. At eight, she felt she didn’t need to grow more. She didn’t like being home alone. When the woman at a booth next to mine at a dog show wanted to adopt her, I saw it as the opportunity to give Nugget a home that was a better fit than I was. After I let her go I missed her, but when I saw the happy pictures of her with her new family, I knew I had made the right choice.
Then I got a call to evaluate a foster dog that had been in a horrendous hoarding situation. Her name was Deedee, and she was scared of women. She let me touch her, but didn’t respond to petting or contact. She wouldn’t look me in the face or make eye contact. I felt I had to help her.
After taking Deedee home, it was obvious that clearing her energy and being kind wasn’t going to be the quick fix. It took her a month to be able to hold my gaze and make eye contact. I found that somehow she had been trained to heel and we started walking. One day I was calling the cats and Deedee came running into the room; she knows the command come. She has a cute sense of humor, and you can almost see her mind working as she tries to figure out her new surroundings. We had to sedate her to get her groomed. Yet somehow, during all of this, I realized that Deedee is my dog.
Deedee has commented to me that she didn’t know there were so many nice people in the world. After she got groomed, everyone wants to pet her. She lets them, but starts shaking usually. I am surrounding her with love, and have given her extra Angels so she knows she is safe and protected.
I don’t know what the future holds for the two of us. I am treating Deedee like I would a show horse that has fears; we are going down the road knowing that positive experience and exposure will make us a team. She is only three. She has yet to wag her tail, and again, it was over a month before I saw her holding her tail aloft over her back like Havanese are supposed to. I see her as my future therapy dog. I am proud of the growth she makes, and grateful to people who treat her with the kindness she has always deserved. Deedee still isn’t sure she likes people. That’s okay- I have the time to let her figure it out. The wealth of love I have in my heart from the dogs I have had before her allows me to give her all the space she needs.
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