The Bittersweetness of Dogs


As a child, I was not allowed to watch Lassie.  Oh, at first it seemed like a perfect match, coming on after Disney on Sunday nights when my child mind was still filled with magic.  But, after a few episodes that left me sobbing in an uncontrollable tyke puddle on our multi-colored shag carpet, my mother, wisely, put an end to it.

It seems I can rationalize all evil in the world except for sad stories with animals.  To this day, The Goose will shout out “For crying out, DON’T LOOK” when we pass an animal dead on the road.

Yesterday, I played hooky from The Boy’s lacrosse game and, unwisely, watched Lassie.  I don’t know why, it was just on. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the edge of the bed, hooked.  By the time my son and his friend got home, I was a mess.

Trying to explain this caused typical guffaws of laughter from my family, but my son’s good buddy, inexplicably named Mad Dog, understood.  He had just lost his family dog last week.


Pulling up pictures of his friend, Lucy, in her last moments, brought sympathetic sighs from all of us.  It reminded me of all those little loves who I’ve lost.  Who, among us, hasn’t had to make that terrible decision to end the life of what we call a pet, but is really more like a fuzzy chunk of our heart?

I had a Golden Retriever, unimaginatively named Brandy, that I got when I was 11. I can still smell his puppy breath, see his wiggly little body wrapped in a beach towel and feel the disbelief that I was lucky enough to get him.  He went absolutely everywhere with me, from childhood through my teen years. He was a well known dog.  When I spoke to him, he talked loudly back in whines and barks that were just his frustrated way of saying “Damn this snout, I’ve got something to SAY!”

While Brandy was with me, I met The Goose, got married and moved three times.  We added Maddy, who we called our “first child” and she became Brandy’s bride, becoming the mother of 10 outstanding puppies whose new families sent home Christmas cards and update letters about their perfection. For eight years, they were our family, and when our friends bragged about their slobbery hairless babies, we boasted the fact that our kids could hold a treat on their nose until we told them to flip them into their mouth. All other Oskoshbgosh clad kids paled in comparison.


By the time I was 27, Brandy was skinny, lumpy and smelled like parmesan cheese gone bad.  Not once but twice did someone stop, ring my doorbell and sadly try to break the news that there was a dead dog in my yard.  Since he could no longer hear, I would walk over and touch his shoulder and his cloudy eyes would look up at me and he would wag knowing I was his constant and he was my always there.

Everyone knows when that moment comes.  Our’s came on Christmas Eve and we had a vet kind enough to help us out.  It was the first tragedy of my young life.  I remember The Goose telling me it was just preparing me for worse things to come as we got older, and, sure enough, even in a life as wonderful as mine, there have been some heart-wrenching losses. Losing that dog, though, was like losing a brother, companion, son and friend all in one, just on a slightly smaller, hairier scale.

I’ve had some other dogs who I’ve loved just as much, and who surely occupied just as much of my heart, but none with the uncomplicated love that an 11 year old can give a dog.

And so, I’m sad for Mad Dog and his family.  It has caused me to observe my Matilda, who has been stiff and elderly since she was a puppy, with a worried eye.  She’s 9.  Because she’s my first small dog, I have great hopes that she’ll live even longer than Brandy’s span of 16 years, amazing for a big dog. I don’t ever want to have to sleep without her curled up behind my knees.  I have observed our Finn, shoe chewer extraordinaire, and pictured him elderly.  At least once a day I hear his Jack Russell feet pounding through the house, like he’s being chased by a demon, until at last, he finds me, puts his head on me and gazes as me as if to say, “I here, Mom.  Whew.  I here”. In my mind, he speaks in a voice that hasn’t quite mastered grammar.  It is too horrible to think of him getting old.

My dad had a terrible dog, Boo, who no one liked except my dad.  She loathed me with raw, exposed sibling rivalry.  When my dad was dying, Boo began failing.  She pined and wasted when he was in the hospital and died, just one day before my dad.  Although I cannot imagine a Heaven that contains that despicable hellion, I know, begrudgingly, that she was there, glossy and black, wagging her stump of a tail, joyful at my Dad’s arrival.  I don’t know how my Mom has reconciled the fact of Boo in their celestial home, but I know that for Dad, she makes his afterlife complete.


It’s hard to remember when a puppy has chewed up a favorite shoe that the unfairness of a dog’s love is that their lives are way too short.  It’s surely a cosmic mix-up that they can’t be our companions for life.  No one loves us more than our dogs, their love undiluted by our fallibilities.  They are children who never grow up, never get sassy, never know it all and never leave us.  Just our appearance through the door is a miracle to them every single time.

While I was reading books on Heaven not too long ago, I was so happy to read about tales of animals there told by those brought back from the brink.  When Brandy died, I had him cremated and found a beautiful antique box for his remains.  He sits, unobtrusively, on a chest in my foyer.  No one would know what the box was unless they stopped to read the poem there, which I think sums it all up:

I said to St. Peter, I’d rather stay here, outside the pearly gate.

I won’t be a nuisance, I won’t even bark.  I’ll be very patient and wait.

I’ll be here, chewing on a celestial bone,

no matter how long you may be.

I’d miss you so much if I went in alone;

it wouldn’t be Heaven for me.

A Peek at the Other Side


I’m a reader.  Always have been.  I will read almost anything except fluffy romance or cold war stories.  Even the hyper-active wild child that I was when I was small would sneak away and hide under the coffee table in the living room and read for hours.  I had a notebook like Harriet the Spy and solved mysteries like Trixie Belden.

I like to read in waves. I love to find a subject and explore it thoroughly.  Early this summer, I went, again, through Pearl S. Buck.  This put me on a China track and I read book after book about pre-war China, the poverty, foot binding, the lifestyle.  China crept into my life and I found myself ordering vegetable moo shu almost daily from the restaurant up the street.


After that, though, I got on a kick about NDEs.  Honestly, this has been life changing.

When I was 27, one of my best friends died.  She had been my cohort throughout high school.  She knew where the bodies were buried.  After school, our paths went completely different ways and while she traveled with bands, dated celebrities and partied, I got married.  When she was 24, in the late 80s, she came home sick.  Really sick.  We picked up our friendship and I watched as, over the next three years, she wasted away.

One of the sharpest people I’ve ever known, The Goose and I adored her.  She ate with us, lived part time in her room at our house, went to work with me.  We sat at the same booth at Houston’s in Buckhead so often that the hostess knew it was “our booth”.  We laughed continually and she was an everyday part of our household.  The Goose and I went to Paris that spring and when I came home, she was gone, having slipped away while we weren’t watching.

My grief was all encompassing.  I am a person who, when confronted with something scary or overwhelming, does not rent her clothing or wail.  I get very quiet and shut down. Sometimes I escape in a book.


That was the year Embraced by the Light came out.  I picked it up out of desperation and I did find it comforting.  I have never had a crisis of faith.  God makes sense to me, even if some of the churchy details don’t.  I’m a prayer.  I bother God about lots of things.  I honestly yack his ears off all day long. I don’t question why bad things happen.  I understand completely about having free will and what mankind has done to ourselves.  I do question why animals suffer, being such pure spirits. But even with my faith, I certainly did mourn the loss of my friend.

Embraced by the Light, whether or not one believes her account, was fascinating, although certainly not my favorite.  I saw where recently, doctors have come out with new studies about NDEs, or near death experiences, and this sparked my interest in, again, reading the accounts of those who have been down this road .

Instead of shoving personal brands of religion down non-believer’s throats, I wonder why no one thinks to approach belief in God in this way?  Yes, God is faith, but some folks just aren’t accepting of anything that smacks of Earnest Angley (say baby) brands of God. Surely it is the hypocrisy of “religion” that makes everyone so crazy.  What a shame church has snuffed out so much that’s good and comforting about God. Maybe this would be great reading for someone searching for a little proof.

So, I’ve been swimming through these accounts. I just Googled NDEs and jumped in.  I read everything in my local library, received daily deliveries from Amazon and Half,  and waded through websites until my reading glasses made dents on my nose.  I’ve consumed book after book of documented stories folks tell upon being resuscitated. Giant towering stacks of books about children who have died and come back.  Kids just tell it like it is and their stories are great, comforting and funny.  There are blurbs from Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and old accounts from history, some centuries old.  The really awesome thing is that they all tell basically the same story.

Call it what you will, almost all end up calling it “God”.  Many call it “The One”.  I like that!  This is not gender specific.  It’s not contained to a certain faith, although a huge percentage, including those of other faiths, do see Jesus. I will definitely see Jesus. Not the Jaysus of the TV evangelist, but the loving and accepting personification of God.  There is always a light.  There are always loved ones who have gone before and, to my eternal delight, there are animals in some accounts as well. There will most definitely be animals waiting for me and my mother will be there, shooing them away from her lest their celestial animal fur get on her skirt.  There is total acceptance. There are usually life reviews wherein what’s important is not what one has done wrong, but the love one has shown to others.  Many accounts say that we have been together in spirit form before we’re born and make the decision to come to Earth, much like a life university, and learn from the hardships in the life we choose. I don’t know why this angers some.  God says he knows us even before we’re formed.


Even in the stories, which are few, that are bad, or seem to be of Hell, there is a desire to go to the light, to be with the light, to make-up or get things right with the light.  Each and every person, without exception, whose story I read, came back with one desire.  To love more. To love God, to love others, to lift each other up and show kindness.  Possessions didn’t matter anymore, politics, hatred, the crap of the world all fell away.  They came back to help others and wait for the time that they’re called “home” again.  The thought that came through again and again is how we are all connected.

The story that blew me away was about a blind woman.  Blind from birth, she had never experienced color.  She had heard about it, but had no context for it.  When she died, she saw colors.  She exclaimed over and over that though she couldn’t put a name to each one, she had seen colors.  She had seen.  She had descriptions of things she had never touched that she could only have learned through sight.  When she came back, of course, she was blind again, with the memory of sight, but looked forward to a time when she was, again, “home”.

I am digging all this.  It has given me a decidedly hopeful feeling in my heart.  Although I never doubt where I will go when I die, and am in no hurry to get there, it’s always good to see the vacation slides of others who have been before.  In the midst of the storm and fury that goes on in the news, I feel a strange calm and perspective that probably won’t last, but is certainly enjoyable now because I am looking at things through this long range lens. It has caused me to feel a lot less disturbed about the things I can’t control and a desire to do some lasting good while I’m here.

This is reading thread I highly recommend to anyone who is down about the state of things, feeling alone or just sick of daily crap.

My son’s friend told me he didn’t believe I could become any more of a tree hugging hippie until he heard me spout off about this new interest of mine, and I do get how loony it sounds.  I can’t help but share it though, as I’ve been talking, ad nauseam, to my family about it since I started reading. If I’ve picked up anything through all these books and articles, it is how we are all so deeply interconnected and so I hope others will find this fascinating as well.


Wildlife Woe

ImageYesterday, I went to a fun football party.  Not fun because of football, which I don’t understand nor have any desire to watch, but because it was with lots of old high school friends and included jello shots and Triscuits, my favorite things ever.

On the way home, the Goose was driving (as usual as it would threaten his masculinity otherwise) and I yelled “Stop! There’s a good one!” and we pulled over to bag up a juicy piece of roadkill.

Uh huh, roadkill.  This is all because I had a black vulture waiting in the barn for me at home.

I don’t accept birds. I know almost nothing about them. I work with small mammals and deer.  The only thing I know about birds is that if someone finds small birds on the ground NOT to move them, they haven’t fallen from the nest, they are fledglings and their mom is somewhere nearby in a panic because some fool is messing with her babies.

Even knowing nothing, I took this bird because some super nice people called me after striking out with 11 other rehabbers.  I caved in and told them to bring him over. He was beautiful.  I’ll admit that some of the vulture’s manners are less than perfect, but they really are cool birds.  I called the bird guru, The Pagan Raptor Goddess, but she wasn’t taking vultures.  She is a wealth of info and I always want to give a shout out to her organization,

This morning, after having my hand shredded by this glorious creature, I finally got him down to Chattahoochee Nature Center.  The only good thing about the bloody injury on my part was that my son’s friend with diabetes jumped forward and gave me a quickie blood test, which came out a little low but he suggested it was a left over jello shot problem. Saved me a $35 annual physical copay.

The good folks at the nature center, who do great work with wildlife and are responsible for sending me Tortellini and Tiki, our emu, were happy to take him and I felt great when I left. On my way home, top down, radio up, sun shining, I got the call that his wing was shattered and he was being euthanized at that moment.

Now, I’ve grown a thick skin over my years of rehab.  I’ve had to put down lots of animals and my poor Goose has helped me with even more.  It’s horrible but necessary.   Some stories, though, just get to me.  What got to me is that I had spent the entire ride telling this magnificent bird to just hold on, help was close by.

Of course, I KNOW he didn’t understand, I get that a bird that can’t fly will mentally fall apart and I accept that this was the only option.  It just caused a deep sadness.

I spent the rest of the ride listening to depressing music, being angry at the drivers ahead of me, regardless of my new kind thoughts toward others, and thinking back over the sad cases I’ve had. I once had a summer when a virus took 7 of my little fawns.  Only one survived.  The last one, the smallest, writhed and screamed in my arms for an hour until I finally had to concede he wouldn’t make it.  He whimpered and wept like a baby and I cried along with him.  After that summer, I took the next year off from animals.

I know the sad losses I’ve seen cannot compare with the sadness of others.  My friend who held her son while he passed away, the family that lost their sweet little girl a few weeks ago, the Trophy Wife’s friend who lost her 16 year old son just yesterday to an accident, these tragedies are beyond my comprehension.

Mine are just little sadnesses that cause a heart to get harder and stronger, but sometimes, a little crack appears like today and I spend a half an hour or so being mad at God and not understanding why animals, who are wholly good, have to suffer.

I don’t have an answer or an upbeat ending except to think that all the years I’ve spend in church I’ve heard Jesus’ quote that “in my Father’s house there are many mansions”.  I don’t want a mansion.  What I’m desperately hoping for is a big beautiful barn where the souls of all the precious creatures that I’ve lost are finally safe, happy and whole.