When there’s heavy news to tell, a surprising number of diversions lead me to safer ground. This blog was intended for dog rescuers to share ideas, but I also wanted to give readers post-memoir updates on Petey. I wanted to show how brave and resilient he continues to be, and to relay anecdotes on his latest shenanigans. And I wanted to show how he continues to inspire me, and shape my identity.
But now, there is nothing more to write about him other than to say he is gone, and to say how terribly I miss him.
And it’s taken me three months to say just that.
In the past few years, I spent more of my time with Petey than any other living being. I ground up his pills, and mixed them in a variety of tasty foods. I changed his diapers. I made lean hamburger and rice for him when he could no longer eat anything else. I helped him out the door, in the car, and back up the steps for his laser therapy appointments. I changed his diapers. I picked him up when he fell, and kissed his booboos. I rubbed anti-itch ointment on his paws, put eye drops in his eyes and glued Dr. Buzby’s Toegrips on his toenails so he would have more traction.
Did I mention I changed his diapers?
But I liked caring for my elderly dog. It was my honor to continue showing him how much he was loved. After he had gifted me with my identity of an animal welfare activist, helping him in his old age evolved my identity as a (gasp!) nurturer. Even though I never had children. I learned I could step outside myself entirely and love for no more reward than the sway of his tail, and the knowledge that I was the only one he would not bite when fastening his harness around his prone body to help him to his feet.
His death was gentle. He had been giving me the “it’s time” look for weeks. Maybe even months. His eyes had always held the profoundness of survivorship, and the wisdom that comes from it. And the skepticism. So maybe I held on too long, mistaking his stoic, meaningful gazes for … well … stoic, meaningful gazes.
He passed with his bearlike head in my lap. I sang his special lullaby one last time, the one I made for him when his nightmares regularly woke us from our sleep. I felt the softness behind his ears, like a baby blanket trimmed in satin. I took in his fragrance wondering if I could hold onto it forever - to summon it when I needed to face life with the same courage that he used to heal himself.
I miss that smell. I miss seeing his scrunched up polar bear face when he slept. I miss the gentle sway of his tail which always made me feel special. It had taken him a year to trust that I was not responsible for the pain and damage that had been committed by others. After a year, I had finally earned that tail wag.
But all that is detailed in Petey: A Story of Mutual Rescue. My intention here is to turn my grief into something useful for you. And because I have no words of wisdom, I’d like to use it as a platform for sharing.
Recently, two friends lost their long-term fosters in palliative care. Not long ago, I placed a dog that was so much like my Petey into an excellent, foster-based rescue. Bella died a couple weeks later of liver cancer. It was like losing Petey all over again. These furry lives, which are far too temporary, are always leaving us prematurely. Whether it be a special foster, or one of your own, how have you coped with the loss of a beloved friend? What rituals have helped your grieving process?
The day Augie decided to pass the torch of the responsibilities of Petey’s emotional well-being, was the day he discovered his super power. I’d taken the wire-haired mutt to the shelter with me on assessment day because Petey had become too old to be much fun for the younger dog. Augie had learned how to play with the ninety-pound, severely-abused, emotionally-detached Petey out of necessity in our house, as there were no other dogs around. And for two years both dogs were content with their pack positions, Petey being the fatherly alpha, and Augie the adoring son.
Sheba, a skittish German shepherd, was on the shelter lawn and Augie struck a bow in hopes of enticing her to play. Instead, she leaped back in fear. I actually saw the moment that my little dog’s tender years of innocence came to an abrupt end. He leaped again — and again, remarkably, the much larger Sheba bolted. From that day forward, my little terrier became the household alpha, and no amount of scolding him for being rude to Petey was going to change it. In short, he became his full terrier self.
We adopted Liebchen in April 2016 to be Augie’s playmate, and the two got along famously because she bought the story of Augie’s self-proclaimed superiority immediately. Never mind that she is forty some pounds heavier and could squish him like a scruffy bug. What we did not know was that Liebchen would snuggle with the damaged Petey through the night, warding off his nightmares that had become less frequent under Augie’s former care, but none the less terrifying when they occurred. In the mornings, she kisses Petey on the nose, and is sure to give him affectionate pecks throughout the day. Liebchen is the household diplomat. Both dogs adore her for her sweetness, and when we added a fourth several months ago (a champagne cork of a coonhound saved from the auctioning block) her warmth immediately extended to Petunia as well. When we adopted Liebchen, one of the volunteers who was handling her at the adoption event remarked that she would be a great therapy dog. Who knew she’d end up being exactly that to two dogs who badly needed it. And who knew she’d live up to her German name “little sweetheart” so perfectly.
For those pondering the question of “Should I adopt a dog for my dog,” the answer for us was yes. I would encourage anyone who is seriously considering this to say yes if your dog gets along with other dogs, if you can afford another, and especially if you happen to have a traumatized dog at home who could use a little encouragement coming out of his or her shell. We see it at our shelter time and time again. When dogs do not trust people, they will often trust other dogs. Sometimes we have even used well-adjusted dogs to encourage fearful ones to come out of their kennels. Like people, dogs are social a
Wow, wow WOW! We are so honored and thrilled to be the recipient of the ASPCA’s 2017 Be-the-One Story Contest. Now, Petey’s story of redemption will be told even before the memoir, Petey: A Story of Mutual Rescue, is published.
“As we work with rehabilitated fighting dogs frequently, we were extremely touched by Petey’s story and by your enduring patience and love for him. You truly have a very special fur family, and on behalf of the ASPCA, thank you for your dedication to animals in need.”
--Amanda Bova, ASPCA Member Communications Coordinator