Hunter the Golden, Remembered

Hunter was a great therapy dog and an even better friend – our heart goes out to his family now that he’s gone.

Hunter-PortraitWhen Dante and I first met Diane, she had a wonderful German Shepherd named Jesse and it was with Jesse that Dante started his visiting career – and never had there been a better guide for him.

However, there was a better buddy!

Hunter the Golden Retriever came into Diane’s life sometime in 2000.  He had been released from the Seeing Eye program for a medical condition – he coughed when too much pressure was put on his collar.  Otherwise, he was a solid working-dog-to-be.

Diane immediately began training him for visiting work.  He was a natural – always the perfect gentleman on visits – calm, beautiful, and inviting, he charmed the pants off of many a visitor.

Diane, Hunter, Dante, and I spent many a visit together in those early years of HART Programs. And while our boys worked well together they also played well together off-the-clock.  While on duty they made a good odd couple with the serious Hunter offset by the goofy Dante.  When a client needed a balancing, barking goof-ball they got Dante, but when a client needed a snuggly, beautiful golden ball of “more fur than fingers could penetrate” for a good cry or hug, they got Hunter who leaned quietly up against anyone who needed it.

Mind you, when he was off duty Hunter was the quintessential golden with as much goof as Dante.

Hunter’s stories are legendary:  from the little boy at the Family Assistance Center post-9/11 who spoke first to Hunter about the loss of his father to the man in the rehabilitation area of the hospital who had not been allowed to get out of bed all day due to his fluctuating blood pressure but who insisted he get to see the golden (and insisted they monitor his BP the whole visit – which remained perfect for the entire visit with Hunter).  Hunter brought joy and healing to countless strangers.

As a visiting therapeutic activities dog his accomplishments were great, but they were secondary in comparison to the love he gave his own family.  Hunter was always there for Diane through major life changes—including both ups and downs and he was there for his new little charge Emi when she came to be a part of his family.

Hunter’s story moved from the Hudson Valley south to Tennessee and then west to Texas.  Hunter left a swath of love and affection as he moved with his family across this country.  Knowing Hunter and knowing Diane I have to assume he continued to bring joy to anyone who reached out to pet and engage him.

Each dog who comes into our lives – our own and our friend’s – brings us a morsel of love and knowledge.  It is up to us to accept both of these gratefully, knowing that it is a gift from the Universe.

Thank you, Hunter, for all that you brought all of us and thank you Diane for letting us share in his love and understanding.

I know that somewhere out there Dante just came running up to the new arrival, ball-in-mouth, saying “Hey buddy, good to see you – wanna chase?”

Goodbye, Riley

Riley, a good friend and great dog, was taken from us far too soon.

There were hundreds of fireflies serenely flying all around the yard Riley loved the night she left her family. There was no question that it was little Miss Riley telling everyone she loved them and everything was going to be OK.

RileyMay12011The adorable, fuzzy, petite Ewok had come to Linda and her family only three years before.  A cuddly, sweet, gentle soul who loved doing her “bang, bang” trick Riley was more than happy to snuggle up in everyone’s lap one minute and work very hard for Linda to try to become a therapy dog the next.  Riley ultimately told Linda she was more happy just being Linda’s personal therapy dog—and she was.

While Riley’s life was short it was filled with love from her human family, her canine family and her extended family in which I was happy to be included.

Sometimes the Universe deals us a raw hand and sometimes when it does it softens the blow just a little in ways we do not even expect.  Riley was around long enough to welcome and begin teaching Maggie, the puppy golden, how to be a comfort to the whole family and carry on Riley’s love of mischief while she softened the blow of Riley’s early departure.

I know that every night Linda and Maggie will look for the fireflies; to try touch Riley’s spirit one more time.

The sky, too, is feeling the loss of Kinsey

Kinsey’s loss is one that touches the hearts of everyone who knew her.

Kinsey-and-Elmos-for-blogIt is raining out now—the kind of rain that is slow and depressing—not a grand thunderstorm that thrills.  I can only imagine the sky, too, is feeling the loss of Kinsey.

This very clever, almost-nine-year-old Mini Schnauzer was the proud owner of Jill and Linda.  They brought her to me when she was just a four-month-old baby-dog for her puppy class.  Bright and happy to work Kinsey sailed through her classes and found herself becoming a happy working Delta Pet Partner early in her life.  She brought her two humans with her to nursing homes and other spots where she would routinely make people smile as she sat with them for petting, or sat on their laps for a snuggle, or did a few little gag-parlor tricks to make everyone giggle.

When first I mentioned Rally O to Kinsey’s human Jill— Laughing at me Jill said, “There’s just no way.” But, of course, Kinsey would not be daunted by anyone’s doubt—she sailed through her rally exercises and always looked at the distraction toys as if to say, “Who are you kidding, I am so all over that…”  I knew then that the exercises would have to be more difficult and perhaps I needed better distraction toys.  Kinsey pushed us all to be better and better.  She helped shape the lives of her sister Shelby and baby brother Arlo as she guided them on how to live in a human world—Kinsey knew it was all about carrots…

The love that Kinsey gave to and received from her humans was, as so many of us have known from that special dog, epic in its scope.  We all have had a dog (and if you’re lucky more) who moves our hearts profoundly and permanently.  Kinsey was that dog.  Just as Jill and Linda shaped and lured Kinsey’s behaviors for training, Kinsey shaped and lured their hearts for unconditional love.

As I said when Dante passed:

All told, dogs ask very little of us.  They ask us for love, they ask us for patience and understanding, and for our mercy and bravery when their time comes.  And once they’re gone, they part with one final request:  to not let the pain of their loss stop us from someday filling the dog-shaped hole they leave in our lives with another canine soul.

Kinsey will be missed beyond description.

A Sweet Short Life Remembered

Far too soon after Dante we’re forced to say goodbye to another furry friend as Callie is taken by the parvo that infected her litter.

Ginny and her pupsCallilily-Baby-Girl’s-Bagel, our first silly-named dog was in this world for only 11 weeks.

She and her six siblings were born to Ginny, a sweet collie/terrier mix whose family sent her packing to a kill shelter when they discovered she was pregnant.  She was on the usual “due to die” lists that circulate between shelters and ARF brought her up from the south to Beacon to have her babies and find them all forever homes.

Ginny was always sweet and soulful with anyone who interacted with her.  She passed her striking eyeliner on to her puppies who were born on November 6, 2010.  I got to see them when they were just hours old and we started working on their bio sensor early neurologic stimulation on day 3.

I’ve always believed that our dogs find a way back to us – I was struck by Ginny’s eyeliner – and couldn’t help but remember that Dante always had similarly striking eyeliner.  I watched her puppies as they grew and we worked with them and one always drew me to her – she was sweet, bright, eager, confident, and had the most beautiful eyeliner.

As they grew we thought it a good idea to give them some home social skills so Lawrence and I brought all seven puppies home for a couple days just before Christmas.  They learned all about the sights, sounds and smells of a home.  I let them explore a little (with massive supervision) and let Porthos and Boo tell me who they wanted to be their new family member.  Porthos and Boo gravitated to Callie and her look-alike sister with shorter fur.  The choice was made.  I had gravitated to Callie, the boys had gravitated to Callie and Lawrence had, too.  We were all in agreement.

Callie happy in the bathtubAll the puppies went back to the shelter for another week before they were ready for adoption and, when I picked them all up again the Thursday before New Year’s Day for some more social skills, something was wrong.  The only boy in the litter was lethargic and then started vomiting and began having diarrhea.

Because none of the girls were sick the vets thought it was an obstruction or some infection unique to him.  We treated him with fluids, antibiotics, and other meds and watched him carefully.  Since Callie was staying with us she was not going back to the shelter that Saturday and because the boy was not well he stayed with us, too.  By Monday all the girls were sick and by Wednesday the vets knew it was Parvo – a hugely contagious and deadly disease.  All the girls including Callie were much sicker than the boy and were in ICU for a week.

When we were told we could bring Callie back home we were thrilled.  She had made it through the worst of it we thought.  Pinball – her brother’s new name – went back to the shelter to find a forever home.  For nine days after she came home to us Callie was perky, eating, playing, kissing, and running through the snow to catch up to Porthos and frolicking between Boo’s feet.  Then she started to slow down a bit and become just a bit clingier on Sunday night.  By Monday night she was not eating much at all and by Tuesday morning her vomiting woke me.  Her poopies were normal but her demeanor was frighteningly lethargic.

I made an appointment with the vet for that afternoon and watched her carefully that morning and saw she would approach the water bowl but sometimes not be able to drink.  She would wobble sometimes and occasionally fall over.  Every now and then her right eye would go in the wrong direction and she could seemingly never get comfortable.  Her exam was fairly normal except for the lethargy and signs that she was struggling to pee every few minutes.  Antibiotics and fluids were prescribed and home we went.

Pinball sleeping on CallieBy just after seven Tuesday night Callie was drooling heavily and Boo was whining and pacing around her pen.  Porthos suddenly started acting strangely, alerting us that she was having a massive seizure.  Rigid post-seizure, we rushed her to the vet who had brought her through her Parvo who was open late and told us to come right in.  She seized a few more times at the vets, went into shock and she was lost to us by nine.

Dogs move into our hearts and homes with light speed.  We can’t remember a time without them once they are rooted into our souls.  And when they are ripped from us so quickly in the midst of such innocence, it is easy to say – “no more.”  But then the meaning of our time with these joyous critters would be lost.

Once again and all too soon we find ourselves heartbroken.  We and the boys will miss Callilily-Baby-Girl’s-Bagel and we will wait to see what to do next.


Goodbye Dante

Today we say goodbye to our friend and family member Dante. Our hearts are absolutely broken.

Dante-with-stickIt is with great sadness that we mark the passing of our oldest boy, Dante.  Surrounded by myself and Lawrence, his brothers, and friends who came to say goodbye, he died peacefully at home and left the pain of his arthritis, wasting and cancer behind.

He came to us shortly after we got married and he was the first dog that was “ours” together.  We were living in Greenwich Village and it was an unusually warm Spring evening – so warm, in fact, that we decided that it was just too nice for a regular walk for Atticus so we decided to head over to the dog run in Tompkins Square Park.

We were going into the “airlock” gates of the dog run when a young woman came over to us and asked us if we wanted a dog.  Our apartment was too small for the two of us, Atticus, and our two cats, so the idea of a second dog was out of the question.

She, however, was persistent.  Just say hi to Goofy, she pleaded.  (Goofy was the original name she gave to Dante.)  Lawrence was insistent that we didn’t have the room and we wished her luck and walked past the woman, into the dog run, and over to one of the benches to sit down.

At one point while we were watching Atticus play Lawrence stooped down to tie his shoe.  Suddenly a large Shepherd mix bolted out of the group of dogs, bee-lined toward Lawrence, and stopped only to lick his face in a line of slobber that stretched from his chin to his forehead.  This strange dog then turned to Atticus and gave him a play bark that could have set off car alarms before licking me on the face, too, and darting back off into the play group.

We laughed about it, but then the dog kept coming back to us to check in before darting back out to play.  We noticed that Atticus was unusually friendly with our new visitor, which was very unlike him at the time.

After a while, the young woman we met at the entrance came over to us and asked what we thought of Goofy.  She told us that he had been wandering the streets of Brooklyn by a junkyard near to where she lived and had followed her husband home during a jog through the area.

She pleaded with us again to take Goofy as she didn’t have the room for him at her apartment and her own dog didn’t like the new visitor.  I was shocked when it was Lawrence who was talking me into taking him, but he insisted to the woman that it was only going to be for the weekend to give her some time to find a permanent home for him and to give her own dogs a break.

That weekend lasted from April of 1997 to today, as we both couldn’t bring ourselves to send him away by the end of our first weekend together.  The cats couldn’t make heads or tails of their new brother but Atticus was like a puppy again and blossomed by having a second dog in the apartment.  For us, Atticus sealed the deal but the name Goofy would have to go.

It took us a surprisingly long time to come up with a name, but it was Lawrence who came up with Dante.  From the looks of Dante at the time – severely malnourished, caked with dirt, and crawling with worms – it looked like he had been through Hell and back, hence the name.

For all the unpleasantness that Dante suffered before he came to us, we were amazed by just how none of it ever seemed to dampen his outgoing personality.  He seemed to fill whatever room he was in, going from person to person like a seasoned politician, and it quickly became obvious that he was born to be a therapy dog.

If dogs could have vocations, Dante’s was visiting as a therapy dog.  No matter how exhausting the visits were for us, he would always bounce up and down whenever he saw this Delta Society vest – even when it became clear to me he was past his prime.  His spirit was willing but his body had begun to wear out, and when he retired from therapy work he did so with well over 500 visits to his credit.

His senior years were happy and quiet for him, but in the last year the dog that had spent his life helping others needed more and more help from us.  When he was diagnosed with cancer we knew that his story was coming to a close but, being the dog that he was, we also knew that he would not ever leave willingly no matter the pain he was in.

Today we made the decision for him, and our hearts are broken.

All told, dogs ask very little of us.  They ask us for love, they ask us for patience and understanding, and for our mercy and bravery when their time comes.  And once they’re gone, they part with one final request:  to not let the pain of their loss stop us from someday filling the dog-shaped hole they leave in our lives with another canine soul.

Dante was a great friend and a hell of a dog, and while we will certainly honor his final request – for now the three dogs will be two until the time is right.