I wake. Disbelief and grief greet me before the light of day. The house feels different this morning. The house was different this morning.
Sorrow strikes me in a routine manner. I start the coffee first thing this morning. Usually I would make sure our dog Cub had his fresh water and food before doing anything else. I glanced over to the tiled floor in the back hallway where for years Cub would eat and drink, but the bowls are no longer there. I empty the dishwasher while the coffee brews. My eyes filled with tears as I can barely breathe while finding the clean and shiny silver dog bowls on the bottom shelf of the dishwasher. They will now be stored away.
Over 16 years ago and probably closer to seventeen we said a sorrowful goodbye to our Labrador Retriever of 10 years, Abby. Lymphoma. We had decided to wait before thinking about adopting another dog. My husband Jon was in mourning and hesitant to put his heart on the line again. I understood.
A dear friend of mine, Fran told me of a young woman named Alana who rescued dogs from high kill shelters in the south. Fran too had recently lost a beloved dog shortly before she had decided to adopt a dachshund from Alana. We both admired Alana’s gallant efforts. A young woman still in college was endlessly devoted to animal rights and protections.
Our son Daniel and I decided to contact Alana just to start a thoughtful investigation of adopting a dog. I emailed her and made an appointment knowing that the ink was already drying on adoption papers even prior to meeting our new family member. We were to visit Alana at her parent’s magnificent home in a very wealthy suburb of Boston. The most unlikely scenario for a dog rescue. An extraordinary experience.
We drove up the long drive to where Alana was standing outside their home with the most at-risk looking dog. Head held low with barely enough energy to stand. Thin and obviously malnourished. Unknown age and unrecognizable breed. Large pink spots made obvious on his sparsely coated body. Blue medical bandages wrapped tightly around his hind legs where a veterinarian had removed his dewclaws. It struck me odd as this dog was obviously straddling the line of living or not. He had been separated from the pack of other available dogs as he also had Giardia and other contagious dog conditions.
Dan and I approached Alana and the gentle dog on a slack leash. He had no fight left in him.My husband Jon would join us after work. He had reluctantly agreed to our adventure but was willing to indulge us. We introduced him to Cub upon his arrival and he looked at me like I was crazy. Alana led Cub back into his private quarters and brought the three of us to the main house. As soon as we entered her parent’s home we were greeted by dogs. Many dogs that were living the dream in their now forever home. Once we were in the designated bonus room upstairs Alana explained to the three of us that she would introduce five dogs at a time to us. It sounded reasonable but it was wild. The door would open, and a blur of dogs would charge in. We felt like we were in an arcade game as we fended off the many ping ponging dogs. We did three shifts of this “meet and greet.” All wonderful. All deserving but my head and heart kept thinking about the sad fellow we had just met outside. I couldn’t get that gentle soul out of my mind, and neither could Daniel. We asked to visit with Cub again and Alana was happy to oblige.
His eyes met mine and that was it for me. His young nine months on the streets and a close call with nearly being euthanized showed in his brown eyes with red lashes. Rescued he was at the nth hour. Jon was still not certain. He asked her for the leash and in his business suit attire he walked quietly away with Cub for a private conversation. He kneeled on one knee on the perfectly manicured lawn and took a moment. As he slowly walked back, he smiled at Dan and I while asking Alana how to formally proceed with adopting Cub.
Dan and I picked Cub up a couple of days later with all his paperwork. A stray and after surviving some abusive months he was fearful of his new surroundings. Humans too. I would carry him in and out of the house due to his weakness and his apprehension. Each day I would work to help him understand he was safe and loved. Over the next many months, he flourished. Working with our local vet we were able to bring Cub to optimum health and wellness. His coat grew in a thick red and glistening white. He was beautiful. He was home.
Never a shoe chewed. Destructive he was not. Loving always. Cub was the dog that many children patted and crawled all over. A tolerant feather bed. Cub was responsible for making dog lovers out of some of our smallest family members.
He barked only once. Dan was in the back yard with him. Surprised by a woodchuck Cub barked a deep “woof, woof, woof “sounding more like a hound than anything else. Shocked Dan called to me that Cub had barked! That was a “one off” for his nearly fifteen years.
Crazy runs around our many acres delighted him always. Us too. A mischievous look in his eyes would be the first sign. He would then crouch close to the earth and soar in wide circles. Figure eights too. He could move freely and happily as he flew across the earth with what we all observed as a smile on his face.
A winter dog. He loved the snow. Regally he would lie in the snow and just take in the landscape. We would try to build a snowman for him to immediately pounce on. He was agile.
He even attended the weddings of both our children. As recent as this year’s New Year’s home celebration Cub stole a chicken wing right off a plate. Our daughter Emily immediately jumped off her chair as I desperately tried to wrangle the wing out of his mouth fearing what might happen to him after consuming the bones. He would have no part of my efforts and he won. He never stole food, but he seized the moment, and I am glad he did…
A Christmas gift from our adult children and their spouses several years ago was a DNA kit to determine the many breeds that made Cub so special. Dan and I often joked about the magical blend of breeds. The cloning secret to be shared with the world. We wanted to always have a “Cub” in our life. An explanation for a full fluffy tail had to be Great Pyrenees we speculated but it wasn’t. Chow, Golden Retriever, Labrador, and some Spaniel were all in the mix.
When our granddaughter arrived just a few years ago, Cub found a new purpose. He was always in her vicinity in his quiet way. We never really knew if he was feeling protective or just loved being in the middle of a family moment. He loved his family.
From Cushing’s Disease to neuropathy Cub’s life slowed down over the recent many months. Over the past number of weeks and days we came full circle. Cub once again needed to be carried in and out of the house but now weighing much more than he originally did Jon assumed the task.
I was at our daughter’s house last week when we learned that our time with Cub was drawing near. My hope was to get home to chat with him one more time and be with him in his final hours. He had always been there for me. Of course, traffic was awful. The drive felt so long, and I just hoped I would have that precious time with him. I called my husband a few times on the drive as if that would keep Cub alive. I found myself holding my breath somehow imaging that would prolong what was deemed inevitable.
I finally arrived home and ran into the house. Immediately I called his name. I saw Cub in his paralyzed position as he lifted his head at the sound of my voice and looked in my direction. Jon told me that this was the most engaged moment Cub had had in many hours. My heart swelled as my eyes welled-up. I cuddled next to him as he rested his muzzle on my leg. His tail no longer wagged. His legs ceased to serve him. He would nudge my hand as a reminder to continue to pat him. I reassured him of our love and thanked him for all that he was to us. We learned from him daily.
Cub always exhibited calmness, endless patience, unconditional love, and grace even in his final hours. At 4:11 am yesterday morning I had what would be my last interactive moment with him. I can bleach the stained sheet we used protectively. Scrub the soiled carpet from his body that deceived him. If only it was that easy to remove the forever pain in my heart…
“I loved you for your whole life and I’ll miss you for the rest of mine.” –Anonymous.