Saturday, June 5, 2010

June 6, 2010 - Lookin' Around, Movin' On


Losing a beloved pet changes things. Sometimes the changes are major; if you only have one pet and it dies, the devastation can be shattering. Your routines are altered, your whole day different. The silence where clicking claws used to echo hurts, and the sight of that one bowl, now washed and put on the shelf, can rip your heart out and shred it to hamburger every time you pass by.

When Petunia, our first pug, died, we did have one other dog, Freya, but not the pack we have now. It took so very little to bring the grief slamming back down, the memories rushing back. I was having a "good" day a few days after she left us, having only cried once or twice. I went to the kitchen, pulled a package of Poptarts (brown sugar/cinnamon, if anyone's interested) out of the cabinet, opened the package, and broke down sobbing. Petunia loved Poptarts, better than most any other treat. We had an agreement for most of her life - she got the corners, I got the rest. She could tell the crackle of a Poptart wrapper versus any other package in the world and would come running to make sure I didn't forget the deal. Even when the paralysis had taken much of her mobility, she'd burn carpet rushing down the hall, pulling herself with her elbows like a Navy Seal storming a beach under fire.

That's not to say that having a pack makes it much easier. The rest do not "replace" the missing member; they do, however, provide motivation and the comfort of routine. They still expect to be fed, watered, walked, petted and played with regardless. The daily schedule doesn't change much, though you may find yourself setting out one more bowl than you need for a while.

One thing that happens when you lose one of a pack is, at least for a while, you remember to appreciate the ones remaining a little more. My eyes may mist as I look around and don't see George, but I have to smile at what I do see. Spencer still naps comfortably atop my foot as I type. Sammie still give me his best smile when I come in the house or stop to talk to him. Archie still squirms with delight at the smell of dinner, and Sherman still stings my shin with his joyfully wagging tail. Freya's eyes still sparkle with intelligence and good humor as she teases Hawk, and Hawk still sneaks past her to run to me for an ear rub. Loki is, well, still Loki, cheerfully and unintentionally leaving a trail of chaos in his wake.

This may be, in part, why I'm not sure I could stand us being a one-dog family again. What would I do, without my "cushion" of my loving, encouraging, comforting pack? Without cats that don't mind having their fur cried into as I hold them, without pugs that make me smile by smiling at me first? No matter how much we might wish it so, they are not immortal. I know that the day will eventually come for each of them when I will take an urn in shaking hands, and look to the ones remaining to keep my heart from shattering completely.

So, for now, I pet each one a little more, spend a little more time talking to them, saying "good dog" and "I love you." For now. Human nature being what it is, time will heal the worst of the grief. You don't "get over" it, but you do get through it, and eventually habit and routine will reassert themselves. We'll all go about our lives, not thinking about it too much, until another day...and another urn...reminds us to appreciate the ones we love.

If you need some inspiration or comfort in a time of sorrow, I highly recommend You can post a memorial, read others, and join in the Monday Night Candle ceremony. Pain shared is pain diminished.

Ya'll take care now.

Friday, June 4, 2010

June 4, 2010 - Godspeed


It started innocently enough, with yet another "pug needs a foster home" post on the Ohio Pug Rescue foster family list. Cj and I looked around, decided we had enough fosters right then, and so decided to see if another foster family would respond. A month later, he was still there, a little fawn senior (10 years old, give or take a little), blind, fellow named George. He was safe, in temporary foster at a home that couldn't keep him for long, but was still a step up from the shelter from which he'd been pulled, shortly before being put down, so we waited. Another month, and he was still there, still waiting. We felt for the little guy, and the list of pugs needing foster placement was growing, so we said we'd take him.

On February 3, 2008, George came to the Shady Rest. For his age and lack of vision, he was active, bright, interested. He learned his way around the house in only a couple of days. We started working with him, training him to navigate by verbal commands. He eventually developed a pretty decent vocabulary:

"Find me!" meant there are no obstacles between you and me so come here. He'd run, confident that nothing would trip him up before he got to us and the praise and ear rubs that were his primary reward.

"Careful" meant slow down, you're approaching an obstacle.

"Right" meant, well, go to your right (yes, he learned his right from his left, with more consistency than Cj or I most days.)

"Left" meant go left.

"Step up" you need to step up onto a stair or curb.

"Step down" meant you're at the edge of something, step down.

"Step off" meant you're at the top of the steps, proceed forward.

"Steps" was an early warning to anticipate a "step up" or "step down".

"beep beep" meant back up or turn around, you're at a dead end or wall. (okay, so we have a sick sense of humor)

"follow" meant follow my voice.

He soon became very proficient at navigating by verbal command alone. One day, he was at the far end of the back yard. I was on the deck, but rather than go after him, I started coaching him. "George! Follow." He began coming in the direction of my voice. "George! Right" as he veered toward the shrubs. So on it went, across the yard, around the end of the deck, and up the deck stairs, with me never laying a hand on him. When he finally reached the top of the steps, a proud and happy "Find me!" brought him running right to my arms. "Now, left" took him right through the door.

We even attended a rescue event on the second floor of a local mall. There is an elevator, but he and I opted to take the escalator. Most dogs are confused or frightened by them, but since George couldn't see it, and trusted me completely to not run him into anything dangerous, he showed off to a mall-full of people and did the escalator all by himself. From the door to the bottom of the escalator, stepping on at the bottom and off at the top, around the corner and down the mall to the store. Leash completely slack, verbal commands only. I heard quite a few "wouldja look at that!" from the shoppers, and I couldn't have been more proud.

Of course, being a pug, George had his moments. As noted in previous Shady Rest entries, he could be stubborn, grumpy, demanding, and frustrating. He loved to terrorize the other dogs, and even Freya learned to not aggravate him. She may have been twice his size and half his age, but she knew he could kick her tail and laugh about it. We came to think of him as a little, furry, blind Chuck Norris of sorts. He had a troubled relationship with the kitchen appliances and occasionally attacked them. Far as I can tell, he always won.

George defined "movie-star handsome," with some of the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen.

His blindness was, as far as any vet could tell, neurological, some problem with the optic nerve, not ocular. His eyes were fine - clear, soft brown, gentle. He was probably born that way, which helped explain how well he dealt with being blind.

He eventually developed congestive heart failure, and did well on the medication he took without protest every day. Then, a few months ago, he had what appeared to be a stroke, leaving his neck bent to the side, making it hard for him to walk a straight line, and robbing him of most of his navigational abilities. He was designated a "hospice" foster, unadoptable because of his medical problems and age. He would stay at the Shady Rest for the rest of his life. Still, he kept going, undeterred, undefeated. He allowed us to "drive" him around in a stroller for longer trips, but still enjoyed going out and about, smelling and hearing new people and new places. For all that he could be a bit of a grouch at home, he was all charm when he was out. Someone would approach and start to scratch his chin and he would bestow upon them a huge, happy smile. Scratch his chest, and he'd melt into a puddle of contented fur. He still enjoyed his dinners and would still defend his dish as fiercely as ever. Teasing Loki still made him smile.

The night before last, George left us. No warning, no symptoms. Cj had hand-fed him his dinner, because he'd been losing his dish and not finishing it. He had his dessert treat and laid down on the cool kitchen floor, a fairly common night sleep spot of his. That's where she found him yesterday morning - a small, peaceful smile on his face, one ear sticking straight up. No sign of any pain, struggle, or distress, he just slipped away in his sleep, his brave, fierce heart finally giving out.

As they all do, he taught us his lessons. Stand up for what's important to you, even when you can barely stand up. It's okay to have a little harmless fun with others as long as nobody gets hurt. New people and new places don't have to be scary. If you trust someone, trust them with your whole heart and you'll get where you're going.

Godspeed, Gorgeous George. Run fast and run free, and know that you are missed.

Y'all take care now.