Random Musings on Dogs, Photography, and the Vagaries of Life

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Complete Package

Although I don't consider myself a superficial person, I admit I can be swayed by a pretty face...especially when that face is furry, is framed by fuzzy ears, and rests on a four-legged, tail-wagging body. And I readily admit to finding some dogs "prettier" than others.

I also realize, however, that good looks don't always mean good--or psychologically stable--dogs. There are plenty of canine Sylvia Plaths hiding behind Audrey Hepburn facades and Charles Mansons masquerading as George Clooney. But still, it's hard not to be influenced by appearances.

So how wonderful it is to discover Mother Theresa in the doggy equivalent of Giselle Bundchen or Bill Gates behind the fido face of Daniel Craig.

Yesterday, I met such a dog. His name is Patrick. He's a 9-month-old Plott hound/Boxer mix currently residing in a foster home of the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County (PGSPCA). I had the pleasure of sharing a car ride with him on his way to a TV appearance on WUSA-TV9's "Petline Nine" segment.

Patrick was a perfect gentleman. Although I'd never met him before, he hopped on my lap (yes, he thinks he's a lap dog) as soon as I sat down on his foster family's sofa, ready for a quick cuddle (typical male!). He went willingly with PGSPCA adoption coordinator Sandy Twigg and me to the car and positioned himself on the floor where he could occasionally stick his head up between the front seats for a scratch behind the ears.

Once at the station, Patrick went about making friends with staff, even endearing himself to an on-air guest waiting to film her segment on mint juleps. He sat and shook paws with anyone who asked. And once on air, he calmly received the attention of the news reporter.

What amazed me most about the whole experience was the fact that here was a dog about whose early life we know almost nothing, who was found as a stray, and ended up in the county animal shelter. Yet he exhibited a more adaptable, accepting, good-natured personality than many dogs I know--including my own--some of whom can trace their ancestry back several generations. Like I said, wonderful!

I expect that Patrick's TV appearance will result in lots of adoption applications. Still, if you're looking for a handsome, medium-sized dog who gets along well with dogs and people of all ages, you may want to check him out. If I were in the market for another dog, he'd already be home.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reflections on Cruelty, Kindness, Love and Loss

Several incidents involving animal cruelty that appeared in the news during the past couple of weeks have truly tested my faith in human beings:
  • Patrick, the pit bull starved and dumped down a trash chute in Newark, NJ.
  • A stray dog, now called “Ducky,” whose muzzle was bound with duct tape in western Maryland.
  • Bear, a 5-month-old pup found wandering the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, who was born deaf and who is now also blind as the result of human cruelty or neglect.
  • And even the notice of the return of two adult dogs adopted several years ago from an animal welfare organization with which I work because their people have decided to voluntarily “change” their lives and move across country.

Fortunately, there have also been examples of love, loyalty, and kindness toward animals on this earthly ark that go a long way to balancing this karmic cruelty:

  • The maintenance worker who cared enough to investigate the moving bag of garbage that contained Patrick, the employees and volunteers of the Associated Humane Societies, the committed staff at Garden State Veterinary Specialists who are giving Patrick the care he needs as he reclaims his life, and the hundreds of anonymous donors who have contributed to his care.
  • The volunteers who not only searched for Ducky but also provided tips and other information that lead to the identification of two suspects charged with animal cruelty.
  • The people associated with Boxer Luv Rescue, who took in Bear, gave him medical treatment, and are caring for him in a loving foster home while qualified potential adopters are reviewed;
  • And my parents, who serve as shining examples of how strong, fulfilling, and lasting the human/canine bond can be.

Abby was more than a pet to my parents; she was their youngest child. She helped ease the impact of “empty nest” syndrome when my younger sister moved out. She introduced them to new people and new experiences on the walks they took…on suburban streets, mountain trails, and sandy beaches. They developed new friendships with the human “parents” of her canine pals. In short, she enriched their lives by her very existence.

That’s not to say Abby was perfect. Unlike my parents’ previous Lab, Samantha, who was gentle and mellow and “sweet” from day one, Abby was, as a puppy, headstrong, willful, and rambunctious…a real handful. There were times during their first weeks together that my mother—who was home with Abby all day—was sure she couldn’t handle this canine “wild child.” My father, who saw Abby primarily in the evening, when she was worn out from her day’s “activities” (You know the saying, “A tired dog is a good dog”) couldn’t understand my mother’s reaction.

Fortunately, they all stuck it out. Abbyand my mother—received one-on-one training lessons, Abby matured, and their relationship blossomed and thrived. And as she grew older, she did become gentler and sweeter but never lost her sense of fun. She seemed to know that she was loved utterly and completely.

But such love comes at a cost.

Abby was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma (an awful, aggressive canine cancer that took the life of my Samba just a year ago) and had her spleen removed the first week in December. Following an initial chemotherapy session, which left Abby feeling sick and lethargic, my parents decided that that was enough. They would continue to monitor her status, baby her, feed her the best food possible, walk her as often as she liked, and just “be” with her for as long as they had her…which turned out to be almost four months.

On Tuesday morning I learned via email that my parents had made the agonizing decision to let Abby go. They were blessed to have her for more than 14 years, but as those of us who have loved and lost animal companions know, it’s never long enough.

To ease her grief, my mother turned, as I often do, to words. Sharing one’s thoughts and feelings can be a cathartic experience and allows others to remember and reflect on their own lost loves. And I think we are often most eloquent when our emotions are full engaged, as my mother’s obviously were when she shared the following message with family and friends after Abby’s passing. (I don’t think she would mind my sharing her special tribute.)

“After suffering a major seizure last night and another one this morning, and receiving results of a recent blood test indicating anemia (from an undisclosed source of internal bleeding) and a significant elevation in liver enzymes, we came to the agonizing decision to release her from this world to a more peaceful one to avoid the pain and suffering that was inevitable. I was always determined to protect her from a life severely diminished of joy, which she so generously gave to us! And so we decided to send her back to God, who surely had "a hand" (with Kerry Kaster's help) in sending her to us! She brought us energy, enthusiasm, challenges, LOVE and laughter, enriching our lives in countless ways that cannot be replicated—and we won't try, but will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to share our lives with her! Thank you all who enriched her life with love and care and friendship. Abby was our gift and you were hers! We will never forget.”

My mother also wrote to me a couple of days later that “I guess pain comes from loving too much—what a paradox!”

After giving that statement a lot of thought, I’ve decided that it isn’t a paradox at all but rather part of the natural yin and yang of things. I’m not sure you can ever love too much, and the pain we feel at the loss of a loved one is a reflection of—and tribute to—the strength and value of the relationship we shared. How much sadder it would be if such a loss inspired nothing.

As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem In Memoriam:27, 1850:

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.