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

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Elegy for Iris

Last week was a difficult one for my friend Denni. She had to make the heartbraking decision to end the life of Iris, her miniature Daschshund. Iris was diagnosed with a neurological cancer back in the early summer. Although treatment extended the duration and quality of her life, Iris eventually succumbed to the effects of this deadly disease. And when it became apparent to Denni that life brought Iris no joy, she gave her beloved companion the final--and most difficult--gift a human can give a canine companion.

Atlhough I can't ease Denni's pain or fill the void left by Iris's death, I can pay tribute to this little dog's life by sharing her story as Denni wrote it for my book A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet. It expresses better than I ever could the impact Iris had on her human mom's life.

I is for Iris

Iris came into our life with her sister, Lily, her constant companion and protector. In 2000 I was asked by Hearts United for Animals to foster two miniature dachshunds from an abuse case in Pennsylvania. The two sisters had been starved, beaten, and locked in a basement and left to die. They’d then been held at a shelter for two months as evidence in a cruelty case and were relinquished when the abuser was convicted. Of course I said yes. My heart hurt just looking at the tiny dogs, trying to imagine their horrible first two years. I wondered if my daughter, Kelly, and I would be able to help them overcome the pain of their past. But we knew we had to try.

When I took Lily and Iris in, I never asked myself, “What if we fall in love with them?” much less “What happens WHEN we fall in love with them?” But as applications began to come in, I realized that I'd grown to love these “damaged” Doxies a lot; they were such sponges for affection and they gave it back doubled. I was so ambivalent. I worried about handing them over even to a great new home and wondered if anyone else would love them as much as I already did and if they’d be allowed to sleep in their new owner’s bed. Kelly and I already knew they needed to stay together and I felt we could provide the love and attention they so badly needed. So we became “failed” fosters…and a five-dog family!

Despite, or maybe because of, her tough first years, Iris is an upbeat, happy-go-lucky soul. We often watch her wandering the backyard and laugh about “Iris in La La Land.” Her nicknames are Boo (for Yogi Bear’s sidekick, Boo Boo) and Stinker (when she hides under the sofa to escape going outside). Her favorite activities include licking you until you just can’t take anymore, sleeping inside pillowcases, hanging out with Lily, and sitting in the sun. It’s a quiet life—with an occasional outbreak of infectious barking—but she seems happy. Her special skill, according to Kelly, is, “knowing how to make you smile even when you’re upset.”

When Iris was four, she ruptured a disk (a fairly common Doxie problem) and required surgery. When I told friends how much her operation was going to cost, several told me I was crazy, but I just thought about how young Iris was and how big a part of my daughter’s and my life she was. After the surgery, I took her to an acupuncturist. (Now all my friends were sure I was nuts). Just two sessions later, she’d regained her normal sunny disposition and once again wandered—albeit with a little hitch in her gait—in La La Land.

Despite the occasional chaos of a multi-dog household, neither Kelly nor I regret making Iris and Lily part of our family. Both girls have the ability to make us smile even when we’re upset, and, according to Kelly, “Iris has shown me that even in the face of hardship, pain, and suffering, you can pull through and still be an amazingly loving and caring creature.”


Friday, January 13, 2012

Love Song to Sweet Baby Ray

Working and volunteering for animal rescue and welfare organizations, I meet a lot of animals, particularly dogs. Virtually all of them are nice, highly adoptable animals, destined to make some lucky people great canine companions.

But every once in a while there’s a dog that has that “something extra”…at least as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’s the way they cock their head or a certain look in their eyes or the cute way they place their paw on my hand; whatever the reason, these special canines just strike a special chord in me. I find myself caring deeply about their future. And if circumstances allowed, I’d readily welcome any one of them as permanent members of our “pack.”

Take Sweet Baby Ray, for example. This 5-year-old treeing Walker coonhound is one of 10 hunting dogs rescued from a rural property in Virginia during an investigation into illegal moonshine production and placed into the care of the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Like his canine companions, Baby Ray bears the physical and psychological scars of an unsocialized, neglectful life. The edges of his ears are rough and ragged, he’s missing a couple of teeth, his muzzle and paws are scarred from running through brush. He’s timid and uncertain about the world around him; ascending and descending a flight of stairs yesterday took a fair bit of gentle but enthusiastic encouragement…probably because he’d never seen stairs before. He doesn’t understand toys; no surprise since he’s probably never had one before.

But in my eyes, Baby Ray is beautiful.

Those big, brindled, raggedy ears are soft as velvet, and as I stroke them, he tilts his head back and turns his big brown eyes—eyes that can look surprised, interested, or soulful—upward in an expression of quiet ecstasy. A scratch along his back elicits a similar pose as he stands completely still…as if afraid to break the spell of pleasure. And when I sit or lie on the floor and encourage him, he curls his long-legged body like a corkscrew, head downward, until he rolls onto his side for a tummy rub and places a scarred paw gently on my arm.

Like I said, beautiful, both inside and out.

I’m not quite sure why Sweet Baby Ray has not yet been adopted. All that means, however, is that you still have a chance to make this special boy your very own canine companion. Come meet him at the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Update: Sweet Baby Ray was adopted on 1/20/12!