What a man you were

You know those little funny, cute, goofy things we all say to dogs when we love them so much and we’re focused on them day to day? Yeah – you who are reading this blog surely do. I had a few of those with my Luke…Wildewit’s African Jabulani – a few, well more like many – but some stand out, and they stand out five years after he died.

I used to say to Luke “Oh, what a man you are!”

Luke was my soulmate. He was my first Ridgeback. He was a dog I made some mistakes with. He was the love of my heart for eight years(and, I will always love him, forever I will) His ashes sit on a table in my bedroom, beside a picture of his serious, focused, beautiful Ridgeback face.

On September 1, 2006, I was on top of the world, or so I thought. I was healthier than I’d been in ages, thanks to diet and exercise. I was happy living in the Gatineau Hills and focused on my work. I had two dogs, Luke and Lila. I was doing well. and that Friday was like any other day, at all, in my life.

I don’t remember all that I did, but I will never forget a few aspects.

I’d been worried about not spending enough time with my dogs, too immersed in my own pursuits (some, in retrospect, more valid than others). I had decided that Labour Day weekend would be dog-focused. On the Saturday, I’d take them to Gatineau park, and then pick up raw bones for their pleasure in the afternoon. Luke couldn’t do raw food, but I’d cook him a beef and sweet potato stew Sunday night. That weekend was, supposed to be,  all about the dogs.

Somewhere about 3 pm, I was upstairs eating one of the strawberry-yogurt Zone bars I used to live on. Luke came up and petitioned me for a bite. I gave him a piece, and he thanked me with an unusually exprssive kiss. I remain grateful to this day I gave him a bite.

He died that night at 10 pm. In the back of my Stupid Ford van, my last gift from my father. We had just pulled in to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Ottawa. He had been fine until about 7:45. Then he collapsed. And shortly afterwards, he died.

I remember how he sounded when he hit the floor, while I was upstairs getting ready forthe evening.

I remember thinking – he CAN’T be seriously ill, he just ate well and ran around like a puppy on his walk.

I remember the sick feeling that came over me when I checked his gums, and they were so pale.

I remember how he finally decided to just stand up and let me lead him to the van, after a half hour of trying, and me so frantic with upset.

I remember that we stopped at Island Park Drive, just five minutes before the clinic, and when I looked back at him he was sitting up and looking straight into my eyes.

I remember how brightly his eyes shone, as if he were saying goodbye. I thought, at the time, he was saying “I’m ok MOM”…but he was saying, that he was nearly dead.

He was, in fact, saying goodbye.

I remember, more than anything, opening the backdoor and finding him unconscious.


My darling, darling babe.

I know some people thought my devastation was excessive.  I carried on with my work and my life, I went to Walkerton to get Daniel just 7 weeks later. I’m a survivor. I wept for months, but I survived. the shock reiterated what I went through when my brother died suddenly  2 years earlier.

I struggled. And when i think about Luke sometimes I still do.

His form of lethal cancer is something I have lived through again and again with clients, friends and members of message forums. He was not alone. It was simply that, there was no sign, no warning, no way to believe that a dog this carefully reared could just collapse and die.

but, through the pain, here is what I will – always- remember.

My very first Ridgeback.

My beautiful young man

I don’t have words, really, to say how great he was, or how much I miss him, or how painful the memories of his last hours till are. all I can do is send my love, and my deep, deep gratitude for all he taught me about diet, about epilepsy, about compassionate understanding of so-called difficult dogs – for every hour we walked this path together. Luke was a completely unique being, and I love him to this day. When I used to (abstractedly, thinking  it was a long way off) consider what I’d put on his funerary urn, I thought about that line from Hamlet, where the Prince talks about his murdered father and says “He was a man…I shall not look upon his like again”.

Luke was not a dog you could say “Good boy!” to. He was a man. I used to reward his good behaviour by saying “What a man you are!”: For which i’d be rewarded with one of those jaundiced eyed, withering Luke expressions, as if to say “UH HUH. And this should make me happy? OF COURSE I’m the man. Where’s the beef?”

I have another male RR now, the absolute glory of my days, a dog I adore to a probably psychotic degree, who despite being not only the same breed but family, could not be more different from his uncle. I have learned to deal with the short lives dogs have and to accept that even when we do our very best by them we still lose them all too soon, sometimes. And even a full lifespan is way too soon. I lost Luke on Sept 1, 2006 and went straight back for more. Danny is my heart, my soul-dog, my best friend. I will be sick in my heart when he leaves even if it is, as I fervently pray, a very long time from now.

They mean too much to let fear and pain deprive us of their company.

And today, I grieve vividly again. For my Babe. For my  beloved, funny, curmudgeonly, irreplacable  Luke. For the good times I miss, and for the sorrow when he left.

Oh – what a man you were….thank you for everything.

Moment by Moment

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough”

Rabindranath Tagore

There is something about the late afternoon in springtime, the force and slant of the sun, that brings about in me  this tendency to reflection. I have always been affected by light; I once stared at a particularly moving Corot in the National Gallery for close to an hour, compelled by the masterful and magical play of light.  Still, I am too sensitive to it; I cannot tolerate direct sunlight for very long and confine myself to moving outside in the early and later parts of the day (or at night). Late afternoon, early spring light can cast a spell on me, and nothing on earth can drag me back to computer and calculation and research. It is time for timelessness. It is time for reflection.Sometimes it transports me to a space not of our normal consciousness, and leaves me with a wondrous feeling of beauty and sadness, intermingled and alive..

Yesterday, it came again unbidden; the memory of Lila’s last days. Oh, but time is a tunnel, isn’t it, that pulls us into beginning and end as if it were all just one thing; standing at the kitchen window, watching the hawk hunt for voles, waiting for tea; and there I was again on that first and transformational night, confronted with a black, nervous puppy emerging from the woods and into my life, carrying my  destiny. Just a black, Labrador-type puppy, no pedigree, no concept whatsoever of how to behave around humans, a little being who could only stare at me with a smile that split her face into an exuberance of joy, and then freeze, tremble and urinate uncontrollably as I drew near. Standing at the kitchen window I could see that night as though it were yesterday, and see too, just there beside it, the last moments, when I kissed her head and the needle let her spirit go.

Where does all the time in between go to? Thoughts run through me in no particular order. The hawk grabs a very large vole and disappears. I am left just watching landscape.

What a wealth she gave me. How blessed I am to have found her, what strength and determination and generosity she brought out in me.

How grieved and pained I am to have her no more.

Such is the way of the Dog Tribe person; we who love them so much that we  actually let them change us, make us better, grow and learn from the simplicity and wisdom of their message. Each one has the same message and each one has something unique. It changes us, to let these beautiful innocents into our hearts. It changed me,  with a force and power I had never found before. But it carries a cost, for as Kipling put it:

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
But when we are certain of sorrow in store
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Yes, we’ve all heard that one. We all go through it and come back for more, but I loved this quote from Cleveland Amory;

Unlike some people who have experienced the loss of an animal, I did not believe, even for a moment, that I would never get another. I did know full well that there were just too many animals out there in need of homes for me to take what I have always regarded as the self-indulgent road of saying the heartbreak of the loss of an animal was too much ever to want to go through with it again.

To me, such an admission brought up the far more powerful admission that all the wonderful times you had with your animal were not worth the unhappiness at the end.

I have known people who felt the pain of the end was too much for them to go through it again, and I understand that; it simply  hasn’t been my way. The grinning, peeing little black puppy who was to become Lila and later, ThePossibleCanine, did not bring me to my knees in gratitude for her lessons only to have me forget it all after she left. The dog with whom I developed a “third language” based on strange sounds and TTouches  so we could communicate on a more level playing field, was not going to say “well Mom, it’s been great. Thanks for the home made meals. I assume you will go back to cats now I have to make my journey”. No, for me, the pain of the end is part of the joy all along. I know I’ve quoted Shadowlands on this before, but  it’s important; the pain at the end is part of the deal. It can’t be avoided, so it’s truly how we handle it, what sense we make of it (being that we troubled humans always need a thing to make sense, somehow) that’s what matters.

For me, losing my dogs has always been a Hell on earth, and I’ve found my own way through those  times (blogging, prayer, work) but that’s a whole other topic.  Today, I am thinking of the moments I have loved best with all my dogs, the ones that stand out, that I recall so clearly, though some were very long ago.  From the moment I put lila in my car and drove her home on that Full Moon of May, 1995, to the rainy morning 13 years later, almost to the day when I kissed her forehead and let her go, so much is lost to the fading of memory and passing of time – but what remains are the most precious things of all.

The time she brought me one of my jade elephants, carried in her mouth, presented with such  an impish look, while I was painting and so absorbed in my work I hadn’t remembered to walk her.

The time I collapsed in tears after a terrible phone call from my mother, and Lila swiftly gathered up every rawhide in the house and brought them all to me at once, her jaws stretched wide, her eyes entreating.

The day I got the heart disease diagnosis from the specialist at Alta Vista(she was five).

The day before her ACl surgery when I took her into Ottawa with me to get a special toy, and she sweetly selected an expensive stuffed Gund toy in the shape of a seal, which of course I promptly bought for her.

I have memories of her swimming around and around in a small lake in Nova Scotia, chasing a family of ducks who didn’t seem to mind the game at all, as if they knew she was really only playing.

The way she looked and looked for luke after his sudden and untimely death, looked and looked although she had been beside him in the van when he died, and with us in the clinic as I sobbed over his body. Her searching for him was a cold stab of pain in my already broken heart, every time. And I wonder, at what point did she stop hoping?

The way she sat with me for months after the death of my brother, one paw on my foot, lap or anywhere she could find to connect. She had never done that before and never would again, once I passed from the first stages of touch-and-go shock and anguish.

Moments..just one after another, many of them associated with the pain of life, the fear of death and loss, and all of them filled with sweetness, courage, connectedness and simplicity.  I think about Luke, and some of the hardest moments surface; Danny, and my heart swells with love and gratitude. I think of Tina, and my kinship with this tough but battered survivor, still grateful for love and comfort, brings a smile to my face and a softness to my heart.

We do survive, we carry on. We mourn some of them always. but we open our hearts again and again. Because dogs need us, and we need dogs. A sacred harmony in a strange and difficult world.

One precious, heart-filled, perfect moment at a time.

Lila, July 1995

Summer of 2000

On the last walk of her life, May 2008

For all our dogs, past and present – may we cherish each moment, the ones gone by, and yet to come.

“Just” my dog…

He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful. He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.”
Gene Hill


Let’s Start with a Poem

I’ve loved this one ever since I first read it, somewhere online, many years ago. How true, start to finish (although I know none of you would be using a choke collar!)

I lie belly-up
In the sunshine, happier than
You ever will be.

Today I sniffed
Many dog butts — I celebrate
By kissing your face.

I sound the alarm!
Paperboy — come to kill us all —
Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!

I sound the alarm!
Garbage man — come to kill us all —
Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!

I lift my leg and
Whiz on each bush. Hello, Spot —
Sniff this and weep.

I Hate my choke chain —
Look, world, they strangle me! Ack
Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack!

Sleeping here, my chin
On your foot — no greater bliss — well,
Maybe catching cats.

Look in my eyes and
Deny it. No human could
Love you as much I do.