6 Years Ago Today

Six years ago today, Speckles and Morey came into our lives. My significant other at the time and I had gone to Pet Co. to see the dogs that were being adopted out by Homeward Bound. This organization sounded right up my alley because they took in cats and dogs from all around the country that would normally be euthanized; then they found these dogs and cats their forever homes. Ever since, this day has been designated the day of their births. It’s the day they both got the chance to start anew with a family who loves them unconditionally, and it’s the day these incredible pups changed the lives of everyone they’ve touched for the better. Today we celebrated six years together as a family. Every day I wonder how I ever got so lucky!
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Prior to September 6, 2008, I had been heartbroken for months. My forever dog Samantha had suddenly died on May 8, and my grief was absolutely unbearable. Every part of my body ached, and I couldn’t stop crying; I just couldn’t believe this would be the way she would die at the young age of 6 1/2 years old. Her symptoms began four days before her death, and on the day I had to make the toughest decision of my life, the MRI found she had hydrocephalus. Normally, dogs get this excess fluid in their brains when they are puppies, and they die within the first few months of their lives. But Sammy’s life was a gift. She lived with me for 6 1/2 years until that fateful day when I came home, and she collapsed in my arms.

I cried for hours, days, weeks, months…I read every book I could get my hand on regarding pet loss and mourning. I wrote letters to the MN Veterinarian Council and anyone else I could think of to complain about the lack of care she got at Central Ave. Animal Clinic, whose incompetent “vets” and staff made her health even worse. Yet, they continued insisting she was going to be “just fine”. Luckily, I figured out their incompetence and moved her to the University of Minnesota, but the damage had already been done. The guilt I felt for taking her to that first clinic for a couple days was something I definitely had to work on by going to any support group I could find. I went to the Humane Society Support Group and the University of Minnesota Support Group as often as they held meetings. It helped to be with other people who understood the intense sadness I was experiencing. My heart was filled with so many tears, and I couldn’t move forward.

It’s mind-boggling to think about some of the insensitive things people say when you lose a furry member of your family. “It’s just a cat! Get over it!” or some such nonsense is often said by people who have no compassion and no idea how much love is involved in having a family that includes furry family members. It was typical to hear participants in the support groups say that they cried more when they lost their animal companion than when they lost a human being family member. It’s not surprising! They are with you throughout the day and each night. They know when you are depressed and will give you a hug or cuddle by you, just to let you know they are there for you. They’re your best friends, and you can tell them anything without the fear of being judged. And they are the ones who motivate you to get up every day because someone needs to let them outside and feed them. They need you to survive; you are the beloved caregiver. Some people will never understand the amazing effects dogs and cats have on every person they come into contact with. They are irreplaceable!

Speaking of which, replacing the animal seems to be another thought that comes out of the mouths of those who don’t understand what a loss this is, as if I could tell them to run out and replace a child or parent who had suddenly died. When I finally started thinking about the impact my baby girl had on my heart and my life throughout those 6 1/2 years, I realized she had prepared me to open my heart to others who needed to be rescued. Instead of spending all of my time and energy grieving and feeling guilty for things that were beyond my control, I knew she would have wanted me to give other dogs who needed homes the same kind of family she and I had together. While four months didn’t seem like a long time after losing my forever good girl, I just felt drawn to this adoption event at the Pet Co. up in Fridley.

How do you choose just one dog who needs a home? I really struggled with this because each and every one of the dogs at the event obviously needed a home. What draws you to one dog and not another? These were the questions going through my head as I looked into each cage at the sweet faces of these scared and anxious animals whose greatest wish was to find their forever homes. After I took Morey out to be with Steve, I thought to myself, “I just have to go back in to see if there is anyone else who needs us.” As soon as I saw Speckles, I knew. The challenge would be convincing Steve this was the right thing to do. However, we both knew we were an instant family when we were lying on the grass with both of them, and they just melted in our arms. We hadn’t planned on adopting two dogs, but I’m so glad we did. Morey is a black lab/corgi mix who had obviously come from an abusive family. Even now, he will still cringe when you lean down to pet him because he was so used to being hit. And young Speckles is some kind of Australian shepherd mix, who was a stray dog they found in Kentucky.

I never thought I could love anyone else like I loved my Samantha, but I feel so much love in my heart for my boys who help me deal with my disability every day. One blessing I’ve received as a result of my disability status is that I get to spend most hours of the day with them. This gift of time will always be cherished because most people don’t have that opportunity. Truly, Speckles and Morey are my saving grace. As they see it, their job is to protect me, which they do around the clock as they bark at strangers outside the window, rabbits, fox, the Northeast wild turkeys, cars that pull up in front of the house…I know I am completely safe when they are with me.

But they protect me in more ways than I ever could have imagined. If it wasn’t for Speckles and Morey, I really don’t know how I would get out of bed most mornings. But every morning, at some point between 6:30 and 8:00, they run into my room and jump on the bed to let me know it’s time to go outside and also prepare breakfast. When I awake for good, they motivate me to go outside with them. They love lying in the sun, and I love watching them evolve into their calm zones as they feel the cool breeze blow across their faces. We go outside at least 10 times a day; such a great way to get me off the couch or out of bed so I can revel in the fresh air too!

Ultimately, they know what is going inside my body, and they perceive my emotions. Morey will sleep under the covers with me in the winter, not only warming my body but also warming my spirit. During the other seasons, he will crawl his way down to my end of the couch so that we can lie side by side, with both of us on our backs. That’s our cuddle time, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Speckles will put his paw on my arm when he knows I need that little extra pick-me up; this happens at least twice a day. He’s also known for wanting lots of attention. So if I stop petting him when he’s lying next to me, he will usually bark or make a snapping sound with his jaw. Then he’ll contort his body so that he’s curled into a semi-circle, awaiting his tummy rub. I don’t want to even imagine what my life would be like if they weren’t in it.

HOPE: My hope for people living with chronic pain and mental illnesses is that you will check into adopting an animal who needs a home. Many research studies have shown the various benefits people receive when they have an animal companion in their lives. Plus, you will be helping them. Did you know that there are so many animals without homes that, in order to solve this issue, each person in the U.S. would have to adopt 7 cats and 3 dogs? In fact, my hope is that anyone and everyone will open your hearts for the purpose of inviting these animals without a home into your lives. I once heard that “Dogs leave paw prints on your heart forever.” It’s so true. I have paw prints from Hooter, Champ, Samantha, Speckles and Morey. Our hearts grow bigger because of their presence in our lives. Finally, my hope for me is to continue to make a difference in their lives, so they feel safe and loved 200% of the time. Eternal blessings is what they are. Happy birthday, Morey and Speckles! I love you with all my heart!

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