In the Company of Dogs

Animals have always given me emotional strength during hard times Ė from childhood on. Whether it was a childhood 'tragedy' such as not getting a desired toy, the growing pains and spurned crushes of my teenage years, or the typical hardships of adulthood Ė the company of an animal, particularly canine, helps to serve me as an emotional "band-aid". And when I have lost a cherished companion, the grieving never seems to end. The days of their passing remain fixed within myself, and those that remain help me to move on. Recently, my family experienced the greatest of tragedies, and I both experienced and witnessed miracles of canine companionship. It is my opinion that we can never repay them enough for what they give us.

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I received the call around 2 while at work. I was surprised to hear my fatherís voice, since they usually donít call me at the office, and I didnít think they had returned yet from their yearly summer trip to Minnesota. Within mere seconds I was given the reason for the call Ė my mother had been taken to the emergency room with a suspected heart attack. All composure left me. Thankfully a co-worker called Victor at work and asked him to come collect me. I was completely frantic.

We arrived home and I quickly logged on to the computer to schedule a flight to Houston. I hadnít even glanced at the bevy of Borzoi that Iím usually calling out to upon coming home. Victor began taking care of the turnouts as I looked through the airlineís website. Clothes were thrown into a suitcase and I readied my bookbag with plenty of reading materials, expecting long hours of waiting in a hospital. It was at this point that I encountered Nikki. Normally when I arrive home, her tail and butt are in constant motion, with that familiar Borzoi open-mouthed smile. On this day she stood quietly at the end of the hall, and when I finally noticed her, she took a few steps forward, then sat down. But I was packing Ė that meant a trip! Ė maybe a show! Nikki somehow knew there wasnít a show and that dogs were not to be included on this trip. She also seemed to sense that all was not right with me. I called her to me and gave her a pet. I visited the rest of the dogs in the house, then headed for the phone to reach my father again and let him know of the flight arrangements.

I reached to hospital and he got on the line. Not five minutes before, after 4 hours of struggle, my mother was gone, forever. I got off the phone and began wailing, trying to regain control so that I could call my brother who was on his way to Houston from Louisiana. Nikki came and sat at my feet, and leaned, and looked up. No asking for pets, or treats, she just seemed to be leaning on me for comfort. Usually some of the dogs in our house will bark at unusual sounds, but there was silence, not even shuffling around, asking to go outside. Just quiet. When I look back in retrospect, I believe they knew/sensed my sorrow, the loss of my mother, my "pack matriarch". Some may argue anthropomorphism, but it gave me comfort.

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Several years ago, an employee at the groomshop I managed brought in an oily, dirty Pomeranian 2 days before Christmas. She had found him scrounging in the garbage at a local gas station near the highway. Filthy and hungry, but happy, he was a doppelganger to an old photo my mother had of her Pom back in the 50s. We cleaned him up, gave him some food, and he settled in for a nap.

Acting on impulse, I tied a bow on him and after work the next day (Christmas eve), took him with me to my parentís house, and presented him as a gift. He was instantly accepted into the family. Although he had been truly meant for my mother, over the months he bonded closely with dad. It was so entertaining when I visited to see how the little Pom, now named Dusty, could read my father like a book. He knew when dad was going to go for a walk, and would run through the house behind him, barking, and jumping as high as his waist. When the leash was attached, he would grab it and pull and growl, as if dad couldnít get walking fast enough. Just before bedtime, dad would go and get some crackers, take a bite, then give a bite to the little red dog sitting at his feet who would be shivering with anticipation. When dad would be getting ready to go somewhere, Dusty would lie in his little bed and watch him Ė he knew when dad was going somewhere without him. Mom would give him treats in the kitchen when she was preparing meals, placing them on the rug by the sink. He brightened my parentís days.

I found myself in the den, sitting in an old recliner, watching Dusty now, as life in my parentís home seemed to fall apart with our recent loss. He was so very quiet, spending most of his time lying quietly and watching dad. We were trying to make preparations for the funeral, and people were coming to the door with offerings of food and support. So much activity, and yet Dusty remained fairly quiet (which, trust me, is not his usual routine!).

When things were winding down that first evening, I heard my father speak to the little dog and tell him "No, Dusty, sheís not coming back. Itís just you and me now. Youíre going to have to take care of me now". I felt so lost. I was so afraid of what was to come over the next months and years. You could practically count on one hand the times my parents had been apart. They did everything together. What was my father going to do? Hearing him talk to Dusty just tugged at me. I realized that in telling Dusty this, he was also telling himself. I do it with my dogs as well, but had never noticed it. Maybe dad was trying to prepare himself for a new chapter in life, which gave me a bit of hope.

A couple days later, after the service, I noticed old routines starting to creep back. After lunch, dad had gone and grabbed his hat, which triggered a flurry of activity in the shape of a furry red whirlwind. Dad was going for a walk! "Címon Dusty". It was about the longest walk around the neighborhood, since he ended up chatting with many neighbors who noticed the familiar sight of my father and his little dog. It was the beginning of the healing process. All the love and devotion this little dog had Ė I couldnít believe so much was packed into that little body. For the rest of the week, my father kept to his 2 walk per day schedule, much to the delight of Dusty.

I feel better knowing that dad and Dusty are taking care of each other. Every phone conversation brings a new Dusty story and he lets me know that the little guy is keeping him to his schedule. Between my fatherís network of his church, longtime neighbors and Dusty, dad is well taken care of when my brother and I are not there. My brother told me that that was the best ever Christmas present my parents could ever have received. I agree.

The healing power of the canine heart Ė some of the best medicine on earth.

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Thanks again to all those who wrote to me via the internet or sent cards. I am thankful that Borzoi have not only brought me their company, but the company of other Borzoi lovers as well. I could not ask for better.