Happy T(r)ails – A Fond Look Back at 2011

As we head into 2012, we stop to fondly remember all the furry friends who left us in 2011 and touched our hearts on their way past.

Groundhog Day, Imbolic, St. Bridget’s Day, Candlemas, and others all land somewhere on or around February 2nd.

No matter what you call it or what religion celebrates it they all mark a time of renewed life and it’s our human nature to look back on the old as we stand on the cusp of the new.  Oftentimes we are hoping for better yet to come and sometimes we are fondly looking back.

2011 brought a number of losses to the community of doggie folks that I know well and this brings emotions of mixed sadness and joy.

Callie happy in the bathtubThe year started out with the loss of our little eight-week-old Callie – it was a sign of the year to come. However, following her  passing we took in her only brother (and the only one of her litter mates still waiting for a forever home):  Pinball.

Things started looking up at that point, but then the avalanche began.  HEART dogs who had been working in animal-assisted therapy for years or training for the work began to slip away from us:

Vesta who had exchanged her Guiding Eyes career for one in animal-assisted therapy left her family after eleven years. Her devotion and love of her family and work was legendary.

RileyMay12011Then we saw the loss of Riley, a little Wheaton who loved the “paws up” command so much that she passed it onto her Golden sister before she suddenly passed away. She was even remembered by Santa this year when the rest of her pack went for pictures and he asked where she was. Riley’s sweetness clearly touched Santa, too.

The loss of Kinsey – the little Mini Schnauzer who seemed to be born with a power pack Kinsey-and-Elmos-for-blogthat just wouldn’t quit –  came at the end of her battle with a host of illnesses and left a not so mini-sized whole in her human’s hearts.

Hunter-PortraitAs if three were not enough HEART dogs to lose, one of the founding dogs, Hunter, left his family to cherish his memory and all of us the legacy of his work.

Thinking the year was almost over and what more could happen we lost Beau and Maude in quick succession.

Beau was fairly new to animal-assisted therapy but he was a champ. When he and Boo Beauwould visit together at the library the name confusion between the two made for a fun game with the kids when asking them if they wanted to visit Boo or Beau.

MaudeMaude was a seasoned veteran in the world of animal-assisted therapy. Always the trooper, she started fading when her sister Vesta passed and just wasn’t able to rally back to her old self after the loss.

Layla, the chocolate lab who patiently let kids cover her with band-aids – and taught Boo how to wear them, too – left her family and a young puppy she had been training.

TorrieThe lovely Miss Torrie, a white German Shepherd Dog who had been a puppy mill breeding female only to be rescued for a new life as an animal-assisted therapy dog – and one of the greatest testing neutral dogs I have ever met – left her family on Christmas Day.

Now, forty days after the last of these losses we can look back and while sometimes their sadness can seem overwhelming each comes with a stream, and sometimes a flood, of sweet, loving memories.

This is the gift that our dogs give us when they are alive and it is the gift they keep on giving even after they pass. The joy they bring us is so great that even in the wake of the sadness that comes with their passing we are still filled with the joy they leave behind.

Dogs will come to us and they will leave us but the love they bring stays with us always.

As the groundhog pokes his head up today we can hold in our hearts that as the wheel of the year turns and Spring dances before us the love of these animals will sustain us until we can meet them once again and forever.


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.