What Matters Most?

In today’s world we have each learned what matters most to us. Life, love, health, and safety are on the top of most lists. At certain times in our lives the priorities of our list will no doubt change. If we were to be diagnosed with a serious illness, health would move to the top of our lists. In times of severe storms, wild fires, or floods, safety can certainly become the most urgent factor in our lives. But for the most part, love will likely always occupy a preeminent place in our needs and desires, and life is the basis for all of these factors.

In our world here at the sanctuary, Rick and I spend a tremendous amount of time discussing the health and happiness of our babies. Each evening we review the positive and negative factors in the lives of our dogs. Did everyone eat? Did everyone take their meds? Does anyone need to move to the top of the vet visits needed list? We also confer about the recovery status of recent surgeries, wounds, stomach upset, depression, and multiple other forms of malaise. If the day has gone fairly well we spend an abundance of time delighting in the highlights of the day. Did you see Bonnie and Clyde spooning in their bed this evening? Didn’t you love the way Dexter had the zoomies again this morning before his lunch? Did I give you the most recent report from Doc Jess about the progress Emily and Sadie are making in their physical therapy?

Each day brings new worries that must be addressed, new developments in yesterday’s topics of concerns that must be talked through, and new triumphs that must be celebrated. Today I decided to share some of the keynote subjects that have occupied our minds and our conversations of late.

Sierra (AKA Sack of Sugar) cannot enjoy her regular mid afternoon stroll in the yard as the heat is becoming oppressive during that time of day and she can no longer make her way back into the house thru the doggie door. She has not figured out how to leave her heart medications in the bottom of her food bowl since I started cutting those tiny pills into even tinier halves that are not discernible in her food.

Otis is having less issues with his arthritis now that the weather is warmer. He has a spot on the east fence that he occupies each evening to catch the last of the sunshine for the day.

Lexi did not give up on getting completely under a blanket this afternoon, even though she was forced to drag three blankets across six beds to get her body completely covered for her nap.

Cashew has found the perfect spot inside the Doggie Room door to watch all the babies in the yard while still blocking me from carrying in the filled water jugs for their watering bowls.

Petey was distraught this morning when he found Pumpkin asleep in his favorite bed. He bounced on the side of the bed which caused a ripple effect that woke Pumpkin and encouraged him to move.

Even though Sydney is overweight and missing one of her back legs she can still put her front feet on my leg while waiting to be lifted to her crate for lunch.

Delilah insists on being in my lap when the dogs begin their evening round-robin to let the world know they hear the sound of a far off ambulance or fire truck.

Maddie has now gone a full six months without having a seizure, but she certainly comes close when the thunder rolls thru our west Texas skies.

Dexter continues to demand anyone brazen enough to get in his favorite bed move with lightening speed or suffer the consequences of his toothless jaws.

Zoey waits with great patience for her heart medication. She knows it comes right after Maddiie has her thyroid meds and undeniably before Cashew gets his heart pills.

Oscar insists on backing away from me while still wagging his tail when I try to pick him up to put him in his crate for his lunch. Ironically, he insists on standing directly behind my feet when I work in the kitchen and moves like a cutting horse in front of me when I attempt to walk past his treasured position.

Zorro is convinced there is a mouse or possibly a monster of undetermined intentions behind the old wood stove in the doggie room. He will squeeze in between that stove and the table beside it far enough that he must put his engine in reverse for multiple steps to come to me when I call.

Butterfly will fly out of her crate after her meal with no concern of being caught before she hits the floor. She has recovered very well from her two bouts with IVDD in the last sixteen months, and it is now a “set in stone” rule that she only eats in the bottom crates so her flight to the floor is only a few inches.

Dasha does not claim an individual bed or a specific spot in the kitchen. But she makes no excuses for snarling at anyone that gets too close to her no matter where she is.

Gilbert continues to be the “keeper of the gate” at the point where the top of the ramp joins the bottom of the bed. He looses his temper quickly and with great fervor when any of the other babies attempt to pass thru his duly assigned post.

Jake makes a much better wall than a door when he lays across the hall in the dark.

Beth can see no plausible reason why she should not be allowed to stand in the middle of the kitchen table while Rick eats his lunch.

While there is no doubt that our discussions about our day will most likely be very different from anyone else, the common thread is that we all discuss the little things. The things that make us laugh out loud, the things that take our breath away, the things that we cannot explain, and the things that make us shake our head in disbelief. All of these themes in our daily conversations are important to us. They determine our good days, and our bad days. They make us laugh and they make us cry. They make up our lives. They are the things That Matter the Most!

 

Dream a Little Dream

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Our subconscious minds are steeped in mystery even after centuries of consideration from our most prestigious analytical minds. Some renowned physiologists believe that our dreams are the perfect window to our subconscious minds. Personally, I don’t remember many of my dreams. If I do get a glimpse of my slumber induced mirages, they often represent activities or thoughts that are foreign to my experiences. They represent time periods and activities thrown together that were not at all related to each other in reality. We have no real way of knowing if dogs’ dreams follow this criterion that appears to be common among humans. We do, however, have more insight into the dream life of a dog than we once did.

Researchers from MIT have concluded that dog’s dream patterns are very similar to humans. They dream about their day and their memories.  Studies have shown that smaller dogs have shorter dreams and more of them than their larger counterparts. A Dachshund for instance might have four or five one minute dreams during their REM cycle while Saint Bernards would more likely have one four minute dream during the first half hour of their sleep, when dreams are more common.

It has been reported that dogs typically make similar movements, during their dreams, as when they are awake and pursuing their quintessential activities; a Pointer might point, and a Labrador Retriever might appear to be chasing a tennis ball. Makes me wonder if my babies dream about perpetually full food bowls, and soft, warm blankets fresh from the dryer.

The point has been made after much study that puppies and older dogs dream less than a middle aged adult dog. One theory is that their brains are not as active when they are awake and therefore are less prolific in their sleep cycles. I haven’t cared for nearly as many puppies as I have adult dogs, but it seems to me that puppies’ minds are always in gear working out how to tear up the new toy, or to engage their siblings in yet another wrestling match. Perhaps their minds are not fully engaged and they are acting more out of instinct than processed thought. While I have witnessed my senior babies having dreams, it is rare and less dramatic as my bird dog mix that actively hunts everyday. She often runs and whines in her sleep like she is just one tiny step behind the prey that she seeks.

There is also verification that dogs have nightmares about things that worry them. One researcher relayed a story he was told during an interview about a dog that hated baths. The dog apparently ran and hid between his owners legs before and after each bath. This commotion was not part of this dog’s regular “non-bath days” routine. It was noted that after a particularly restless sleep this dog was startled awake and quickly ran to hide between his owner’s knees, thus convincing the owner that the dog had just had a nightmare about being bathed.

My instinct when one of my babies appears to be distressed during an obvious nightmare is to wake them. While this has never proven detrimental to me, it is worth consideration that children should not wake their dog if that dog is in any way prone to protective or fear aggression. Just as we can at times need a beat or two after being startled awake from a horrid dream, before we are fully aware that we are not in any type of peril, a dog that tends to strike out in a situation with perceived danger when awake, might also require a degree of caution after a disquieting dream.

I was often told as a child when my dog was mimicking a running motion during a dream that he was “Chasing rabbits”. I have owned very few dogs that ever had the opportunity to actually chase a rabbit, so perhaps our babies also feign activities during their sleep that are on their wish lists.

It will soon be nineteen years since Rick and I first began this journey with The Promised Land Dachshund Sanctuary. No babies have ever been more exposed in all those years to my helicopter mothering skills than Trooper. I watched over him as if my eyes on him would magically make him safe and healthy. When Trooper slept he often grumbled and pawed at his blankets. Rick and I felt certain that he was chasing mountain lions and we never woke him fearing the mountain lion might escape. 🙂

Now I know for certain that Trooper was also engaging the obstacles to make his most grandiose dream come true. He has most assuredly won that battle. My proof is directly outside my kitchen window in the form of strong, brick walls that are the culmination of tremendous efforts by all that loved him. “Trooper’s Dream”, the new home for PLDS is no longer just a dream. It is is real, and it is coming soon to make a difference in the lives of senior and special needs Dachshunds in TX and LA.

 

Compassion Fatigue

 

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I have witnessed great compassion from the people I meet in the animal rescue world. No one can dispute the generosity and kindness of people who give their free time and money to rescue, rehab, and re-home the millions of animals in our country that desperately need a chance at a safe and loving home. Rick and I can personally attest to the strain on our emotional well-being of living the life of rescuers for the past 18 years. No one would be surprised to hear us say how exhausted we are each night, how heart-broken we are on a regular basis, or how discouraged we get with the continued flow of unwanted dogs in our society. But we are so very lucky to have thousands of followers that believe in our mission, contribute to our financial needs, step up to transport babies when needed, and simply say thank you to us each and every day. Our support team is instrumental in our ability to get up each day and face the challenges that come with rescuing senior and special needs dogs. We are truly blessed!

But today I would like to talk about the people behind the scenes, the people that continue to do what they can to help without any expectation of recognition. Recently Rick decided to use a few runs in his boarding facility to help an amazing group of rescuers that are sending babies from the overflowing Texas shelters to areas up north that do not suffer with the problem of over-population of dogs in their communities. We have come into contact with the leaders of this group who make the plans, raise the money, organize the transports, and follow thru on their plans to save as many of these babies as possible. They are the face of the rescue, and they are remarkable members of our society. We have also come to know some of the people behind the scenes, and I cringe when I hear them say, “We are just the peons, we don’t deserve the credit for what our group accomplishes”. I know their leaders would stand with me to tell them that they DO DESERVE RECOGNITION! Nothing happens in the rescue world by one person who sits at a computer and writes posts on social media. The most successful rescue efforts have dozens of people behind the scenes running the dogs back and forth to the vets, processing adoption applications,  pulling dogs from shelters, bathing dogs, fostering dogs, and driving the transports. These people neglect their families, their homes, and their own social lives to do what they can to support the overall objectives of the group they volunteer with.

Shelter workers are another group of essential people that not only don’t receive any praise for what they do, they often bear the brunt of the criticism from their communities because their shelters are forced to euthanize dogs every day.  I’ve walked thru shelters all over the state of Texas, and I often find people who are worn out and almost unresponsive to the battle going on around them every day. Everyday they face dogs that are so frightened that they bite the hands that are trying to help them. Everyday they face being vomited on, peed on, and the task of cleaning up after dogs that have loose bowels. They see dogs that have been run over by cars, torn up in dog fights, or starved half to death. They begin their jobs with high hopes of making a difference for the unwanted and discarded animals in their midst. But as time passes they lose that ambition, they lose the hope they once held so dear, they lose the feeling that their efforts can actually make a dent in the problem. None of those people have any influence on the policies that are set down for them to follow. None of those people have the power to turn their shelters into the ideal holding spot for babies looking for homes. Those decisions are made by the powers that be in their communities who are also faced with problems such as overcrowded and under-funded facilities. They don’t have the luxury of just considering what the dog loving community desires. They are forced to look at the entire communities’ needs and to divide the resources accordingly.

In our experience of rescue one of the most important factors to our success is Doc Jess. (Pictured above with Rick and I at one of our Open House events.) She gives of her time and resources with no thought to her own personal needs. Everyone that reads our Facebook page knows that Doc Jess is instrumental in EVERY success story we post. She makes it possible for me to drop off babies on Monday morning when her schedule is beyond full. She sees to it that I have access to her after her clinic is closed, she even drops off meds at the sanctuary after hours if I can’t get away to pick them up. I could go on and on about what she does not only for PLDS but for several other rescue groups. She also created and manages her own rescue efforts of wounded wildlife, unwanted domesticated birds, and lots of other critters. To her, life is valuable and cherished no matter what form it comes in.

Recently while doing research for this blog post I read an article that brought tears to my eyes concerning veterinarians. I was shocked to read that this is the group of medical care-givers that has the highest rate of suicide. Consider what they go through to care for our babies; years and years of education, astronomical expenses of the clinics they maintain, and the general public that can on occasion be less than gracious. The one element that I had never really thought of is that vets are the only medical doctors that are forced to end the lives of some of their own patients. Think about it. They grow up loving animals to the extent that they make the decision early on in their lives that they want to be a veterinarian. After over two decades of education they begin their practice with joy at the thought of saving the lives of the animals they revere. And then almost on a daily basis they are forced to administer the medication that takes those lives. They know, just like we do, that sometimes that is the kindest thing they can do for any one animal. But what do they see in their minds when they try to relax after long, trying days? I know that I lay awake at night and worry over the babies that I can’t save because I don’t have the room or the resources to save every one that I am made aware of. But I can have hope that someone else stepped up and saved that baby. I know that what Doc Jess sees as she thinks about her days, is much more traumatic and emotionally draining.

Compassion fatigue plays a very real part in all of these groups and levels of care-givers. Some nights I look at Rick and the weariness in his eyes is heart-breaking. Other nights he looks at me after a particularly hard loss, and he worries about the accumulative affect that sorrow will have on my insomnia and overall health. And we are the blessed ones! Think about what it must be like to work in a high kill shelter in the heart of Texas. Think about how difficult it must be for the behind the scenes volunteers that missed that special moment in their child’s life because a dog was found injured and afraid, and someone had to go and coax it out from under a storage shed. Think about what Doc Jess goes thru when she has multiple babies in one day that she must help to cross over that Rainbow Bridge.

So here’s my plea to all of you that love your four legged babies. When you enter a shelter try to remember that at one time those people had the idea that their hard work would somehow make a difference. When you grow tired of one of your friends that is involved in rescue being unavailable to you, try to remember that last night they may have been laying in a bed of fleas trying desperately to save an injured, starving animal. When you visit with your veterinarian try to remember they he/she has stresses that you cannot even begin to imagine. If you can, pat them on the back and tell them you are thankful for their sacrifices, take a special treat of cookies or cakes when the holidays come around, offer to help them with an unrelated chore or need they may be neglecting, let them know that you recognize the burden they carry each and every day. Help them acknowledge and deal with the weight of compassion fatigue as it is often invisible, and always heavy.

 

 

Good Money After Bad?

Earlier this week I read an article written by a prominent veterinarian concerning his desire to do something about the over-population of dogs in America. His theory is based on a very valid need in our society to persuade dog owners to spay or neuter their dogs. This hypothesis brings to mind many facets of the situation including backyard breeders,  puppy mills, and the growing population in our country that make their living by selling “high quality” puppies.

But the point that struck me as simple minded about his article was that he feels that rescues are wasting the money that Americans generously donate to help with the mission of rescue. He believes that every penny aimed at doing something about our over-population of dogs should instead go to spay and neuter. While I don’t disagree with the obvious fact that we as a society have got to stop producing more dogs, I believe his axiom is severely flawed.

I know there are a few states that are imposing fines (in the form of higher registration costs) on pet owners that do not spay or neuter their animals. From my point of view as a rescuer with almost 20 years experience, I cannot see that these laws are changing our problem at all. In Texas, the law states that breeders must be licensed and inspected on a regular basis. Because of the lack of revenue and the emphasis of using those resources to fight criminal activity that far outweighs having a litter of pups every few months, those laws are basically useless, and certainly ignored in far too many communities.

So if laws to control overbreeding don’t work, then what alternative is worth pursuing? What will stop the massive amount of senior dogs that end up in our shelters every year because their senior owners passed away or had to go into an assisted care facility? What will stop the breeding of a family’s pet because they simply must have an offspring of that individual dog? What will stop the immoral and massive abandonment of dogs that no longer fit in with the families’ life style? Is there a simple answer to all of these situations?

Education is one answer that SHOULD certainly help curb the activities that fill our shelters with beautiful, intelligent, and loving dogs. Rescue groups pride themselves with the education of the public about our teeming shelters. Our sanctuary certainly makes concerted efforts to educate about the fate of senior and special needs dogs that are left to fall thru the cracks of the rescue safety net. When I did an internet search of the rescue groups in Texas my computer timed out before it could load the enormous list! Texas has one of the worst canine over-population problems in the country. It is certainly not caused by a lack of compassionate rescuers that give their entire lives to the care of the “disposable” dogs in our state, and to the massive imperative of educating the public.

Perhaps this phenomenon of the colossal efforts put forth by rescue groups is part of the reason this particular veterinarian believes we waste our money by supporting these endeavors. If he is indeed correct, what would happen if we all suddenly stopped rescuing and used all of our donations to just spay and neuter every dog we could get our hands on? The theory is that eventually we would have our dog population under control. But at what cost?

The pressure put on our animal shelters from animal activists have persuaded many institutions that are supposed to be havens for our homeless or temporarily misplaced babies to become No Kill. What that really means is that those shelters turn down the dogs that are hardest to adopt. They turn down the seniors. They turn down the special needs babies. They turn down certain breeds that are difficult to re-home. At some point they have to close to intake completely. So what happens to the dogs they turn away?

We have a local Humane Society shelter that is No Kill. They turn down dogs everyday. Those dogs end up in our county shelter that has to euthanize up to 30 dogs a day to keep their facility from overflowing with discarded pets. Our sanctuary, just like all rescue groups is No Kill. What happens when we turn down a dog because we have been surpassing our capacity for over a year? They end up on the streets or in the local shelter, or at the very least they end up in someone’s back yard who has no desire to care for the animal. They are basically abandoned to their fate.

Is this the price we must pay for neglecting these precious lives that God has gifted to us? Is this the best we can do for these loving souls that depend on us to protect and care for them? Is this the final result of our fast paced society that values their new car or their fancy computer more than the four legged creatures that love us more than they love themselves?

I would bet everything I own that if the vet that wrote that article were to spend two hours here at the sanctuary loving on and getting to know my babies, he would rethink his ultimate answer to the devastating situation we have created as a society. I would bet he would realize very quickly that the money we spend to care for the old, the time we spend loving on the ill, the efforts we make to provide for the forsaken would not, COULD NOT be classified as throwing good money after bad!

 

Happiness is an Inside Job

As a young mother I had many of the same worries that we each have when we begin to raise a family. One of my main concerns was did I have what it would take to raise a disabled child. I feared I would fall short of the necessary skills to help a child of special needs meet their goals and live a happy life. God blessed me with two healthy children, and I am grateful each and every day that I was not faced with the challenge of raising a child that had extra obstacles to conquer. But when we began to rescue senior and special needs Dachshunds my ability to help these priceless creatures placed in my care was challenged every day. I learned very quickly to take each day as it comes. I tried not to worry so much about the long-term outlook but to concentrate on what I could do for my babies today.

Xera (blind and deaf double dapple) provided the first real test of my abilities to deal with afflictions that were life altering for her. She came to us from a background where her inabilities proved more than the former owners could overcome. Those of you who have read my book will recall the harrowing first twenty-four hours where my  endeavors failed to comfort her. But as time passed, and we began to get to know this little spit-fire, our practices began to produce positive outcomes for her life. We taught her to go thru the doggie door by blowing on her thru the opening. Once she realized she could push that flap up there was no keeping her inside. Soon after that we discovered her love of plastic bottles. Before long she could run full force toward the doggie door with a gallon jug in her mouth and clear both sides of the opening as she took her new toy out to play.

Xera’s nose took the place of her eyes and once we began to contour our reactions to her needs by her olfactory prowess, we found very few things that we could not teach her. Her deafness was much more of an obstacle, and even after she had been with us for years I would still once in awhile call her out to stop an undesirable activity. Most of our special needs babies that are deaf did not live their entire lives with this affliction. Most of them could tell when we spoke to them thru the eye contact. Because Xera could not respond to the eye contact with us, many situations with her depended on physical touch. The lessons we learned from her helped to prepare us for the many challenges we were to face with other disabled babies.

Lexi came to us as a senior who had already lost her vision. Once she realized that her name was Lexi she responded quickly to our vocal commands. We had no way of knowing how long Lexi had been without her sight, but we soon discovered that her intellectual capacity is exceptional. She learned where the doggie door is by listening to the other babies use it. She learned when it was time to eat by the excitement and noise from the rest of the pack. Teaching Lexi has been a breeze.

But many of the babies I am asked to give advice for have just recently lost their sight, and some will no doubt try to shut down. They fear what was once familiar. That trepidation often causes inactivity to a level that is detrimental to their overall physical and emotional health. As doggie parents we try to compensate for the loss of one of our babies’ senses by doing more for them. We carry them more, we make sure that nothing is ever out of place for them, and we try to keep them from any situation that might expose them to difficulty. We take away the bewilderment, the contemplation, the need to study and discover new aspects of their lives.

Let’s stop and think for a minute what makes our healthy dogs happy. They love new sounds to bark at, they love new smells to sniff, they love new textures to roll in, and they love new environments with clues to the past that only they can decipher. When the variety of their lives is absent, their desire to live wanes.

My advice to all dog lovers who deal with a baby who has lost their eyesight is to continue to make their lives full of mystery. If they must be confined more to keep them safe, put an old shoe or a t-shirt that came from a friend in their pen with them.  Confine them in an exercise pen rather than a crate. The pen can be moved to different areas to add to the variety of their days. In nice weather they might even be placed in a pen in a shaded area of the yard where they will still hear the birds, smell the grass, and bark when an ant farts! Hide their treats under another toy or a blanket. Put them in the car with the window down a bit and drive thru the countryside or around the dog park. Take them to the pet store and let them wander the isles where they will no doubt be flooded with smells of many other dogs that have walked those floors. Expose them to something new as often as possible

Bottom line is you have to work a little harder to fill their days with contrast. They will discover that the thrill of detection is still present in their world. They will unearth new reasons to be excited by their environment. They will learn that they have not lost their ability to be happy, active, and fulfilled. The old adage that a tired dog is a happy dog is so very true, and it especially applies to one who has suffered the loss of their eyesight. By adding variety to their lives we will see that their happiness truly will be an inside job.

 

 

Good Grief

Each month I receive dozens of emails and messages from followers who are worried about their senior babies. Some of those questions are way above my pay grade, and I simply refer them to their vet. Others are common questions that I have answered many times over the years. My experience with so many senior and special needs babies over the years often comes in handy. I can talk at great length about getting an ill dog to eat, or teaching a blind dog how to deal with their world. But one question that I struggle to answer concerns the grief process we all go thru when one of our babies takes their final trip over the bridge.

Since we first opened the sanctuary in the summer of 2001 we have lost several hundred babies to a multitude of maladies. Most conditions that affect our silver faced loved ones are familiar to me. I always try to make people understand that there is no substitute for an excellent vet, and we have certainly been blessed in that area. But I am willing and honored to share my experiences with anyone that is searching for answers.

One question that I am most commonly asked is, “How do I get over the loss of one of my precious babies?” The answer to that is most often the same. I tell everyone that for us, with as many little ones that depend on us each day, we don’t have time for an extended period of grief. Our babies need us to be on top of our game each and every day. Sometimes, however, that is harder than others.

The heartfelt answer to that question is personal. By personal I mean that each of us deals with grief in a variety of ways. Growing up my mother always believed that the best way to deal with that grief is to get another baby right away. She would say, “Have a place for your love to flow.” I lived most of my life with that as my standard. Rick, on the other hand, needed more time in our early years together to process his feelings before he could even consider getting another dog. Our situation now is very unique in that babies come to us on a regular basis and we can’t wait till our hearts have healed to bring another family member into our home.

We often fall in love with our new babies from a picture taken in a shelter or in a previous home. We love them before we ever hold them. What a blessing it is that each of our furry friends brings enough love with them to fill our hearts. There is never a break in the cycle of love when you care for as many babies as we do. Much of the time our grief is quickly quenched by the love of another dog that needs us. This is not the answer, however, for everyone who deals with the same loss.

I would never say that I love any of our babies more than another. But I am honest enough to say that some babies, for many reasons, fill a larger spot in our hearts. Part of that reality is that the baby that needs us the most is the one that gets the most. So when a younger healthy dog comes into our lives it is not difficult for us to let them go on to their forever home. We fulfill the mission to alter their lives rather quickly. But when a special baby like Trooper comes into our lives, we spend days, months and sometimes years watching every meal, every action, every sign of change, and every dose of medication.

At this point I can’t imagine another “Trooper” coming into our lives. Trooper needed us more than any other baby we have ever rescued. And immediately our entire world of friends and followers fell in love with him just like we did. The grief from that loss does not go away. It changes from day to day, but it never fully leaves our hearts. Some days it weighs us down, other days it holds us up. The morning our sweet little man took his last breath will never leave me. But neither will the first time I saw him bark at the top of his lungs for his dinner. His front feet bounced off the ground, and he got louder and louder with each burst of his gruff, old-man voice. The first time he stood between my feet with his nose resting on my shoes while I washed dishes produced a feeling in my heart that is still there. I feel the comfort he felt at knowing I was so close. I feel the satisfaction of doing everything in my power to meet his needs. I feel his gratitude for being safe and cared for. I still feel all of those things. So Trooper is not gone. He no longer needs insulin shots, or a special diet, or a watchful eye over his every move. What he does need is for me to continue to be the same person that held him that first day when he was so weak, the same person that held him and relished the soft whisper of his breath when he was at the top of his game healthwise, and the same person that held him that last day when the feeling of my arms holding him close was ALL he needed.

For anyone who loves and loses a special friend and family member I have a very important message that comes from my heart. Be the person after they are gone that you were when they were with you. You all know that is what they would want. They desperately needed for you to be happy and healthy while they were with you. The tables turn when they leave us though. Then it is about what we need. And that is certainly different for us all. I believe that we require a period of grief, whether that is long or short is not the point. But I strongly believe that we do our babys’ memories an injustice if we don’t eventually move forward with our lives. We don’t replace our lost friends, but we give ourselves a place for the love to flow. That, in my opinion, is Good Grief.

 

The Mirrors of Their Souls

Because our canine babies can’t actually speak to us, we read their body language, their tail wags, the way they hold their heads, and the messages that come from their eyes. Over the years we have seen happy eyes, sad eyes, angry eyes, fearful eyes, shameful eyes, and exhausted eyes. Sometimes we see the entire spectrum of emotional eyes in the same baby.

Andre’ was our first official rescue and as you can see in the pic on the right above, his eyes were sad and fearful when he first arrived off the streets. His body told the story of neglect, and his eyes reflected the angst that consumed him. After a few short weeks of care and attention, Andre’s eyes glowed with love and happiness. He blossomed physically and recovered quickly from the anxiety that sought to destroy his self-esteem. Andre’ was our Alpha Male for over 14 years and his eyes were proud, clear, and playful throughout his life with us.

Very soon after we opened the sanctuary I have found myself in different shelters all over the state. Most of the eyes that look back at me from their concrete stalls are conspicuously full of fear. But they also manifest a deep and oppressing shame. That look haunts me in my dreams as there is no justification for dishonor from these creatures of God that had no control over their situation. We all know that the breed we dearly love is a proud breed. We’ve all seen our Dachshund babies hold their heads high and look at the world as if they are completely in charge. That extreme expression of pride in their eyes tells us they are happy and secure. But when they are subjected to the horrors of street life or the panic-stricken sounds of the constant barking and crying from shelter dogs, their pride is replaced with a denigration that tears at the hearts of all of us who would love each and every one of them if we could.

Occasionally, we rescue a dog that comes from an abusive situation. Those babies that have not been allowed to activate their flight response from abuse, turn to the ardent aggression that is their last resort. Their eyes are distended and glassy. They watch for any opportunity to strike out at anything and everything as their confusion disallows any realization that they are finally safe. These unfortunate souls, that need love the most, are often the last to receive the tenderness and sympathy that is their only saving grace. As humans we also activate a fight or flight mode and when confronted with a snarling, snapping canine we are predisposed to escape. Most of these dogs are condemned to never leave the shelters alive as there are never enough avenues for their rescue and rehabilitation. I have personally received a very special gift from having watched Rick take several of these ostracized babies and turn them into the loving, cuddly, sweet babies that they were meant to be.

Because we rescue so many seniors we see earth shattering grief in their eyes more than the emotions that can control the younger babies. Our old babies have lived long enough to put aside any predisposition for overwhelming fear or aggression. They have the wisdom to forgo the shame or helplessness we see in the shelter babies. But they know grief. They walk hand in hand with sorrow. Their heartache devours their every movement. They are broken, and sadly they often accept that state of mind as their final destiny. These eyes are the ones that carry a heavy burden of a lifetime of experience. These eyes will never emanate playfulness or hubris. But what they can achieve over time is a dedicated look of eternal love and greatfulness that fills our hearts with joy.

Another result of our dedication to rescuing the old and the ill is the exhaustion in the eyes of a baby that has struggled long enough. Rick and I, along with the expert guidance of a dedicated vet give everything we can to these senior citizens. When the look of weariness and debilitation cannot be corrected, we make the hardest decision we are ever faced with in the care of these fragile beings. We take away their pain and illness through the only avenue left to us at that point as we hold them when they take their final breath.

How totally blessed we have been to watch the eyes of  countless rescue babies change with time. Love, acceptance, tenderness, and care always triumph. Obviously, some recover more than others. A few babies will hold on to their pain longer than others. But with very few exceptions, we have experienced the joyful transformation that we seek in the eyes of the babies we so dearly love. Their eyes always tell us what they need. Their eyes always reflect what they receive. Their eyes allow us to listen to their hearts and look into the mirrors of their precious souls.