All Creatures Great and Small

 

“He prayeth best who loveth best, all things great and small.

For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all.”   Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

A guest blog, tonight, from my friend Jackie Widen.

 

I find I really don’t like people who don’t love animals.  There, I said it.

 

I find it very odd and strange that the bonds we share with animals; whether they be furry or feathered, do not far out-weigh all the inconveniences (and yes, destruction) that our pets bring to our lives.

 

When I moved to Northern California in 2001 my fiancée was flabbergasted that I was spending $2,300 to ship my 12 year old mutt Lady, our 8 year old orange tabby cat Leo, and a calico-stray-who-adopted-us kitty we named Amigo until we found out that Amigo was really an Amiga, but Amigo still stuck.  The thrifty accountant such as he was proclaimed that we could have bought “all new” pets for that price.  I looked at him in amazement:  you have never truly loved a pet have you?  He admitted that despite owning many pets he had never loved one of them.  Well, I said, that is going to change.

 

The animals were picked up by a courier at my home in Houston in their brand new carriers, flown at night to San Francisco (this was summertime and it was deemed too hot to fly during the day) and then transported by a hired driver from the Cargo area at SFO to our home 60 miles North.  I admit, the last part involving a hired driver was a bit excessive – but for $100 it sounded cheap compared to the other costs of my move; and besides, the 4+ hour drive round trip to San Francisco was not appealing.

 

So the trio arrived safe and sound and settled in.  The dog and orange tabby immediately claimed the new couch.  Amigo claimed my soon-to-be husband.  He was a goner as soon as the routine was established every night when he arrived home from work.  Amigo would meet him in the kitchen, and lead him to his chair where he would sit down and she would curl up in his lap.  He was enchanted.  And he “thought” he didn’t like cats.  I explained that the only people who didn’t like cats were those who hadn’t fallen in love with one yet.

 

Once we had some dinner guests; the wife was preoccupied during the evening playing with our two kitties.  Oh I love cats, she declared.  Really? I said, do you have any?  Oh no, she said, I couldn’t own one.  Why not? I was puzzled.  Because, she explained, if I owned one and it died I would not be able to handle the grief, so I have never wanted to have one of my own.   That conversation has bothered me and comforted me over the years since because there were certain truths behind it – logical reasoning – but the variable in that conclusion is that the love you feel for that animal sustains you after they are gone.

 

These three pets eventually came to the end of their days.  To that Rainbow Bridge as some call it.   For Lady, she had a series of old age maladies — she was 17 - and she struggled to do ordinary things.   I felt hollow as I sat there in the vet’s office when they gave her that final “pink” shot.  But what a good life she’d had; what fun times we enjoyed and what milestones she marked while my 4 children grew up.  More hound than Lab which the Pound had described, she was nevertheless a part of our family until the end.

 

Amigo would love and love until the cancer she fought was just too much to bear.   My husband was the most torn apart by her decline as her need to curl up on his lap was more to keep warm as she had lost most of her weight fighting the disease and it must have felt nice to be snuggled every evening.  When I called him from the Vet to let him know the “pink” shot  had been our only alternative he wept on the phone.   As devastated as I felt there was a piece of joy within because he finally understood the bond of a beloved animal.

 

Leo had the best cat life, ever.  In 2008 he rode in our car back to Texas.   What an experience!  After living 8 years in Sonoma County, roaming in our vineyard and laying in the vines, he was back to where he started.  He did have a couple of good years.  But then he too reached the end of his rich life and became very sick.  I took him into our Vet who was a very nice young woman, fresh out of Vet School.  She babbled on and on about maybe doing exploratory ultra-sounds to examine the mass in his abdomen that had prompted his weight loss and lack of activity.  Maybe we could do this, or maybe we could have a consult with a Cancer specialist.  I looked at this woman with tears in my eyes and asked “This cat is 16 years old, he has cancer, and he is sick.  If this cat was your cat, what would YOU do?”  She paused and answered “I would put him down”.  I told her that honestly that is the answer most pet owners want to hear – the truth – because making that decision is so hard, and it would be nice to hear the Truth.  She agreed.

 

Later the next year when I brought in some foster kittens that we had found, I talked to her again.  She admitted that she remembered our conversation quite well and it helped her to counsel her pet-owners better.  False hope is useless – and expensive.

 

About a year after Leo passed away I was ready for a new animal.  It was time.  On a cold Sunday in December, my birthday actually, I dragged my husband to an Adoption Event.  I had decided I wanted a Lab.  What God picked for me, instead, was a black Belgian Shepherd who was christened Zoey.  She is the love of our lives.  It is a remarkable thing,  this loving animals.  The colors of life seem richer.

 

So for all of those folks who have avoided the expense, the inconvenience, the mess, the destruction, the fur on the baseboards and poop and puk on the carpets, for all of those awful things that come along with the joy of owning a beloved animal, I say too bad for you.  I’ll take the chaos anytime.  How lucky for us.

The Most Wonderful Dog in All the Land by Jackie Widen

 

Sunday, December 18, 2011 in Austin, TX was overcast and cold.  It was the kind of day that encouraged hot cocoa, a warm robe, some channel flipping and being lazy.  But it was also my birthday, so I knew it was my Day to Plan.  I announced to my husband:  Today is the day we are going to adopt a dog.   No response.  We had lost the last of our cats to cancer months earlier, and we had decided to find a rescue dog when we were ready.  Leo, our burly orange tabby, lived a long good life but at 17 he went downhill quickly.    Making that “pink shot” decision is never easy, but it was the right thing to do.  Our Leo had given us so many great years; he traveled from Texas to California and back to Texas again. He loved sitting in our California vineyard, thinking we could not see his 20 pound fur frame among the vines.  My husband had agreed in principle that getting a dog was a good idea, but when the principle turned into a plan of action, he caved.  He had never fallen in love with a pet the way I had – the way my family had.  We had married later in life and our animal experiences were very different. He never looked at an animal like an extension of family, a furry ball of love who usually knew your thoughts before you did.  He was skeptical, but agreeable. He had a fondness for Leo and knew it was time.  After all, it was my birthday.

 

Off we went to an Adoption Event nearby.  Only two dogs. I was disappointed from the parking lot, because I had fantasized about aisles of cute dogs waiting for my selection.  I was daydreaming about the spring and summer adoption events I had seen.  But it was a week before Christmas, a cold dreary Sunday.  We walked up to the pens.  The first dog was a Mastiff.  Holy Cow, he was dear and sweet but his paws were like footballs and he was taller than I was when he stood to give me kisses.  My husband walked over to the other pen.  Here was a year old Belgian shepherd, black with white markings, with a red coat tied over her back.  She seemed to smile when he pet her, and he was smitten.  I had thought I wanted a short hair Lab mix, but this long hair black female was sure cute.  I walked her, and she was quiet and timid.  After playing awhile with her, but still not sure – my husband announced that we needed to get this dog.  I agreed.  We signed the papers and agreed to a telephone “interview” the following day and went home hoping that no one else beat us out.  I couldn’t sleep that night.  My husband even made a list of potential names for her!  I was falling in love with this adorable girl and knew she was the perfect match.  We passed the interview, she was spayed and cleared for pick-up at a local vet a few days later.  Christened Zoey, she became our new baby.

 

I learned later that black dogs are the hardest to place through rescue groups.  The shelter that fostered her told me that she was on the schedule for euthanasia – they didn’t keep dogs very long as their facility was small.  Her days were numbered.  Some of the other local shelters actually discount their black dogs and offer complimentary obedience classes to “sweeten the deal”.  I felt like she was destined to come home with us.

 

Tomorrow is our One Year Anniversary of owning Zoey.  I cannot imagine our life without her.  Every morning we are out walking.  She is friendly with everyone, dogs and people.  Her only vice is chasing squirrels, and she tries valiantly but so far she has been unsuccessful in catching one.  They chirp at her, taunting her from the trees.   Her bed is beside our bed and every night she gets a story, which she expects around 10:30 PM.  It is “The story of Zoey, the most wonderful dog in all the land”.  Her eyes close, she sighs, and I repeat every night the story of how she came to live with us.  It’s cheesy I know, but that’s what animals do to us.  They allow us to be honest and funny and silly and goofy with wagging tails and loving eyes.  My husband only grumbles occasionally about the shedded fur – oh my how long haired dogs shed in the summer.  I watch him patting her and rubbing her and behaving the way I never knew he could with an animal.  Totally in love.  But that’s how it’s supposed to be; and he never would have known about this love if we hadn’t found Zoey.  December 18, 2011.  A good day.