German Shepherd

Dogs and Death

One of the things that has always struck me as ironic is that we give our animals more dignity in death (usually) than we do our fellow human beings.  Whenever one of my animals has neared the end or contracted a deadly disease, I’ve had him/her “put down.”  I distinctly remember when my German Shepherd, Jessie, could no longer hold on at the old age of 19, and we made the decision to take her to the vet.

She couldn’t lift her head when I went out to the yard that morning to feed her.  For at least three years, her eyesight and hearing had been failing, but she still swung her tail, and she still knew that she was the one responsible for herding our other dog, a massive British Mastiff, whenever he was doing something wrong.  Though she couldn’t see me, nor hear me, when I touched her head, her tail wagged weakly, yet she couldn’t eat or drink.  I called my husband and told him to come home. Together, we went to the vet and held hands while he inserted the needle with the tranquilizers that would put her out of her misery.  Together, we cried like babies over the dog who’d been with us most of our adult lives.  Together, we buried her in the back yard where we would bury our Mastiff a scant three months later.  Leaving that house and their graves was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

During this season when all the leaves fall off the trees, the ground goes brown, and everything appears dead, Izzy is only excited.  He can see further, there are new smells, and somehow he seems to know that nothing is ever truly dead.  It’s just gone temporarily.  When we were walking this morning, it dawned on me that every day is new to him.  Ooh, what’s that over there?  Did I smell that yesterday?  I did?  Well, let me smell it again.  And that mean dog . . . there he is today.  Maybe he’ll be nice to me now.  Nope, he won’t.  Okay, let’s go the other way.  Even if he has done the same thing a hundred times, every time he does it again, it’s exciting.  He has no memory for the sadness of a dead rose bush or the crispiness of dead leaves on the ground.  A dormant rose bush is something new to investigate.  Those dead leaves?  Let’s scuff through them and throw them up in the air.

This season reminds me of all the people and things that no longer exist in my life:  those dogs I mentioned, my parents and grandparents, some friends.  I just lost my former mother-in-law last week, and the sadness that I have felt is one that deepens when I think about the fact that she is the last adult in my life.  There are no other generations before me.  I — and my siblings, my cousins, my friends — am the “older generation” now.  It dawns on me that every day brings me closer to the day that I, too, will no longer be part of this earth.

As with so many other life lessons, I learned this morning from Izzy that age simply doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t recognize dogs because they are puppies or because they are senior.  He recognizes simply that they are friends (or, in some cases, animals he needs to avoid).  He has no idea where he ranks on the scale of age, nor does he care.  He simply does.  He simply lives.  He simply explores every day as if it’s the first one.

By the time we arrived back at the house from our morning walk today, my eyes were no longer wet with the grief I felt for my mother-in-law.  Instead, I thought about the last photo she took:  nestled in a wheelchair, she weighed about 50 pounds, her cheeks sunken and unable to hold her teeth.  She wore a knitted hat over her kinky gray hair and her church friends and pastor clustered around her chair, all grinning as if enjoying a party.  In her lap, a tiny chihuahua.  I can hear her voice as if I were there myself:  “How cute!  Look at him wigglin’ all ’round.”

This week, I watched a brief video with Oprah interviewing Eckhert Tolle about what happens to us after death.  He explained that our body is a shell, animated by atoms that are pure energy.  When that energy dissipates, it leaves the shell that is our body inert.  The energy simply rejoins the other energy that powers our earth and every living being on it.  We are everything.  Everything is us.

I think animals know that.

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“Lassie, Come Home!”

We all have those dreams that come back to haunt us–the dream about running, the one about the haunted house, that nightmare about missing the first day of work/school–and we have daytime fears that make us crazy.  One of mine is losing Izzy.  

Izzy has never learned how to come when called.  Even in the house, if I ask him to come so he can get a treat or his supper or a ball, he’ll come just-so-close, then stand out of reach, ignoring me by turning his head from side to side, as if when he doesn’t look at me, it negates my need to have him come right up to me.  Outside, it’s worse.  Occasionally, I will let him off the leash to play with his friend Ellie, but that stopped when he took off after a groundhog one day and it took me almost fifteen minutes to catch up with him and get him to come to me so I could click his leash back on.  When he was younger, he would see one of his dog friends across the street and immediately lunge, trying to run across the street.  If I didn’t have a good hold on his leash, he would get away from me.  And there have been a few times he’s dashed out of the house, across the street without looking, disappearing into a neighbor’s yard.  

Yup, losing Izzy is one of my fears.

Years ago, I actually did lose a dog.  My German Shepherd, Jessie, was 18 at the time and well trained.  She would come and sit/stay at my heels until I told her to leave.  We had gone to obedience school with police dogs, so she knew all of the tricks and was smart enough to pay attention.  I can honestly say she was the best trained dog I’ve ever had — and the best trained dog I’ve met.  Izzy, on the other hand, is not and never will be.  The day Jessie disappeared, we had just moved from Vermont to Florida.  We had spent three days unpacking and were ready for a break, so my husband and I took the afternoon off and went to the beach.  As it does every day during the summer, a thunderstorm rolled in around 3, and we headed home.  When we arrived, the garage door was open and our Mastiff, Joshua, was lying in the garage, staying cool, but Jessie was nowhere in sight.

For weeks, we went everywhere looking for her, posted signs on telephone poles, visited every animal shelter within a twenty-mile radius.  Finally, we figured that Jessie was on her way back to Vermont since she really didn’t know her way around Florida.  She had lost most of her hearing, making it difficult for us to walk the neighborhoods calling her.  How could she hear us?  

One night, we took Josh out and walked a different route around the neighborhood, letting him do his “boy thing,” urinating on every pole and bush we passed.  Josh wasn’t much of a walker.  If we took him out with Jessie, she led the way and he plodded along behind.  Lazy was a good way to describe him.  He’d much rather mope around the backyard than go out on the leash.  But we thought that Jessie’s olfactory sense was still in good shape.  Might as well see if it would bring her home.

The next morning my husband went to the front door because he heard a noise.  He cried out Jessie’s name, which I thought was a cruel way of teasing me, but he wasn’t teasing.  There she was:  bloody paws, ribs showing, but her tail wagging as if proud of herself that she had found us.

She was never the same after that and we lost her about six months later, but she had found her way home.

I told that story to the woman who trained Izzy when she lost one of her Huskies over the weekend.  Postings on Facebook were almost frantic.  She formed a search party to comb Duke Forest in Durham where the dog had last been seen.  I told her to take her other Huskies out in the neighborhood, walk each of them in a different direction, then go home to wait.

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The good news is that Winter, the Husky, came home Sunday morning, greeting his pack early in the morning, bringing them all to full howls that woke up the neighborhood.  He had found his own way home.

I only hope that if Izzy ever gets away from me, he won’t make my nightmare a reality.  I hope that he can find his way home, too.

Question of the Day: Cava-Poo-Chons, are they perfect?

Okay, I understand why some of us want a dog who’s absolutely adorable, smart, friendly, hypoallergenic and not yappy.  I understand that because Izzy is one of those dogs.  When I started looking for a pup to keep me company and to replace my recently departed and very old cat, I wanted one that would be all of the above.  There were several breeds that fit my criteria:  Cavachons, Shichons, Shipoos, Cavapoos.  You get my drift.  They were all what could be considered hybrids.  Poodles, Cavalier Spaniels, Bichon Frises, and Shih Tzus in various combinations/iterations, all creating the same little ball of fluff with personality, smarts, friendliness, and a tendency to be less yappy than other small dogs (like Yorkies or Chihuahuas).  And who could resist their teddy bear-like appearance?  (Shichons, especially, which is what Izzy is).

There are positives and negatives to this type of dog breeding, and depending upon whom you talk to, you’ll get bits and pieces of both.  One of the positives is that people who might be allergic to dogs can actually own one.  That’s a huge point to make.  On the down side, by breeding these “designer dogs,” lots of shelters aren’t seeing people walk in to adopt the dogs that fill those kennels to the brim regularly.  Negative to the nth degree.  Nothing is more heartbreaking than the numbers of dogs who are euthanized because they are not considered “adoptable.”  Pitbulls, once considered the American dog, are currently the breed that is least likely to be adopted — and cities/counties don’t help that phenomenon by allowing regulations that allow certain areas/cities/housing developments to outlaw owning a dog from the Pitty family.  

Ironically, designer dogs are garnering higher and higher price tags, normally reserved for those purebred dogs that are never inter-breeded with another species.  Dogs like the German Shepherd are now selling for less than the hybrid dogs like Cavachons.

Yesterday, I read an article from the Huffington Post entitled “Is the Cava-Poo-Chon the World’s Most Perfect Puppy?”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/20/cava-poo-chon_n_4311387.html  Naturally, there’s a photo of an absolutely adorable pup, and the article extols the virtues of the mix of breeds, even commenting on the breed’s long life (though I don’t know how they can know the lifespan since this is a new hybrid).  What amazes me is the price this breeder is asking for her pups.  This is basically what we used to refer to as a mixed breed . . . translation:  mutt.  But because it’s cute and well-behaved, it’s also more expensive.

I don’t know about all this hoopla about the Cava-Poo-Chon, but I can tell you one thing.  Izzy’s a Shichon (Shih Tzu, Bichon Frise mix), and I think he’s pretty perfect.  But I might be just a tad prejudiced.

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