Hello! Spring was aptly named-all of a sudden, one day, there it is!
Plants awaken with… birds singing the praises of its arrival. Some years our spring sneaks in early, at the mercy of winter. Bulbs defiantly peek up in various yard borders, returning the favor of past work, giving a hint of color and brighter days to come. If looked at closely enough, buds appear on dormant trees showing signs of waking up, some flashing peaks of pink and white flowers. Soon these trees will make a scented canopy over some sidewalks. Lawns begin to wake up and grow erratically, with some darker green fertilized spots. This growth brings about the noisy season of the obnoxious grass cutting and mechanized yard maintenance machines.
One group of prized plants that live with us in our climate, are those called Rhododendrons. These woody plants have evergreen leaves and at varying times of the spring season, flower. They show off with their choice of vivid colors from a rainbow, multi-colored blends or two-tone combinations. Growing up here and thanks to my avid plant-loving Grandmother, “Rhodys” hold a bright annual connection to landscapes for me, Sarrah just liked to sniff’m as we walked by.
Sarrah loved to stand guard in the front yard, sniff the plants and watch the world go by.
This was another favored place of hers to enjoy a little freedom.
At first I was Pissed Off!
Nissa ‘set me up’ with an email link to a sad story. I was not ready for a dog, let alone another Dalmatian, I honestly believed that I would not have another. This caused my mind to race and all of the emotions Hit me, I was completely Consumed by this conundrum, for a couple of days.
The story was put out on the web by Jodie Ray Kelley, who founded and runs the Dalmatian Rescue of Puget Sound organization. This posting was about a dog who was rescued for a financially impacted family in California, who could not keep the five-year-old Shelby and her brother. Seems California has a quick death penalty for dogs without homes so Jodie went down and brought a few back. Two of these dogs had been together since birth, so efforts were taken to find one home for both of them. After a few months of issues, the male was adopted, but not Shelby. Apparently she liked living with Jodie and learned that causing problems… got her returned. The post had a worn tone and a few pictures.
There I was mentally; standing in a deep puddle of thick Sadness, heated by Anger and shouldering a heavy damp blanket of Guilt (for a dog I had never met, but could help).
I went for a few long walks and tried to calm my mind, enough to let me find the best reactions. Later, I did let Nissa know that I was Irritated. We talked and I did some more searching… While trying to sleep on it, my mind worked over the situation.
The next day I decided to let fate decide, a little. I typed up an inquiry and the required application for the possibility of adoption. I sat there and stared at the computer, with damp eyes. I went for a walk and talked to myself a little, came home and much like a; cliff dive, gnarly new ski run, first skydive, bungee jump or other self inflicted adrenalized moments that make palms sweat, I pushed the “Send” button. Instantly it hit me, I asked myself out loud “What did you do!?” Later a reply came back that “Shelby already had an interested family”. I felt some relief and at the same time a little disappointment, but told myself that it was for the best. A few days later I got an email briefly explaining that the family didn’t think that it would work out, was I still interested? I went for another walk and replied, “Yes”. This time I felt better about it, but still apprehensive. We set a weekend day for the first step, to met the dog and go from there. The Friday night prior, I got a call that “The interested family had re-changed their minds and wanted to try again”. This hit a little hard and hurt, but I was still going with fate. Almost a week later, I got another email with a longer explanation about how Shelby definitely was not working with the indecisive family and was there any chance that we might still be interested? This rollercoaster process was excruciating, but I found the energy for one last turn, I replied and another semi-blind date was made. Looking back, being put through these sudden painful ups and downs sort of helped me work things out in my mind and show me that at least in part; I knew that I felt some desire to meet this dog.
Rescue dogs have history, who really knows neither what nor how they interpret it. Shelby came with a reserved mellow attitude, like a foster kid, as if suspicious of the world. We shared a look and she showed a willingness to give me a chance by rolling over onto her back to let me rub her belly. Our meeting went well and while we were in the backyard, Jodie quietly left without a “Goodbye” in an attempt to make it easier for Shelby. I have no idea how she can handle this emotional part of her rescue service, but we are all better off because of people like Jodie.
We agreed to have her stay for the required “trial period” of a couple weeks, to see if living together would work out. She did not bring whatever issues had kept her moving and homeless. Maybe Shelby found a sense of belonging, or a purpose that the other places lacked. As I suspected, she chose to keep us and we eased forward. It turns out that Shelby and I made a good pair; both worn down by realities of life, skeptical and unenthused. We drew some energy from each other and got a little better, we continue to get better.
Sharing with cats is never easy for a dog, let alone later in life. With a little quick feline toughness, stubborn human guidance and canine willingness, in time… our animals friends learned to live together. Again, Rah occasionally tests his game, but in a much appreciated awareness of the noticeably greater risk.
Shelby did not find the first beach weekend road trip and stay to be special; she seemed a little on guard. Perhaps, thinking that she was being handed off, yet again. Her first few walks out to the beach surprised me a little. She acted aloof, as if to be wondering, “What’s the big deal?”
Eventually the persistent magical powers of the ocean and its beach took over, suddenly. on a sunny walk Shelby’s eyes lit up and she launched! into a full speed gallop. It felt good to observe this shared passion come alive in her.
To my relief, Shelby and Sarrah have little in common other than obvious similar instinctive traits, looks and a bond with me. Where Sarrah was a smaller version of “perfect”, Shelby is a much larger version. Shelby’s additional twenty five pounds give her much more power and torque, pulling me forward. Shelby is mostly quiet. She does not have the range of vocal expressions, and would rather quietly observe with silent strength. She fiercely feels a need to protect me from, well, the rest of the dwellers. It is as if she senses that I am distracted by damage and commands respect for our space.
I am certain that they would have not liked each other on the same life plane, but maybe a Spirit Dog has an advantage, a power to overcome. Perhaps Shelby had help holding out to find me.
This life experience reminds me of another lasting question, “?Who Saved Who”.
If you see a guy walking a Dalmatian, talking to two, he may not be crazy.
We continued to discover and frequent gems of common interest. A favorite was a park, nearby. We became regulars to Salt Water State Park, a nice mile plus round trip walk from home. Here, the small public beach is choked by privately owned beaches, sea walls, rock cliffs, logs and rules. The semi-sandy beach is about forty yards by twenty at high tide. Currently it’s more than half covered by the naturally occurring, growing log pile gifted by storms and kept in place by law. In the summer months the tide recedes further and if lucky enough or planned you can carefully walk out another fifty yards or so on the Barnacle covered rocks amongst the tide pools. Here at an edge of the Puget Sound, where the ocean’s water works its way around the San Juan Islands, the small waves are more like swells. These tired waves sort of heave themselves, splashing, thudding and pounding against the rocks. Despite its shortcomings, Sarrah loved this place instantly. She would often insist on going there by taking a hard right, instead of the left turn on our usual daily trek down Marine View Drive. I am certain that my occasional “giving in” further fueled this action, but making time to enjoy small victories is good for all. We probably hoofed that all terrain trek at least five hundred times over the years, and around one hundred shorter versioned, driven in stops.
Sarrah loved the Puget Sound, especially all of the creatures and smells that come with it. She happily stole bits of clam, crab and mussels from harassed crows and seagulls, who had dropped them onto the paved pathways to break them open. We walked the beach in search of sea glass (to collect) and sand dollars (to throw back), along the gurgling creek looking for fish, around the grounds and trails for less crowded nature.
Sarrah seemed to have an affinity for salted air, in all of its forms: warm and strong, crisp and bright, cold and damp or even the bone soaking driven by wind. She led me to find and appreciate the less popular versions of marine air, which are highly addictive and ultimately better.
* * *
On her last day here I carried her down to the beach, sat on a log and held her so she that could see the view and smell the air one more time.
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Saltwater Park was one of Sarrah’s favorite places to taste some freedom.
A steep winding road drops from our plateau down around an interesting earthen grassy funnel-shaped field and on into the Kent Valley. I drove this cut-off route many times and never stopped, over several years… I never stopped. Until I had a speckled co-pilot, I never stopped to visit this place.
Somehow upon first glance of this site Sarrah knew that we should stop. Pressing her moaning howling head against me and thumping her tail wildly against the truck interior until I laughed, said “OK” slowed down and turned into the lot, then whimpering filled the cab. Excitement exploded out of the bouncing black and white blur of fur, into the sea of green.
This former gravel pit turned into park is an aggressive walk, making it typically less crowded. The steep stairway into the labyrinth of spiraling lateral walkways is a hip grind in and a calf burner out. In youth Sarrah would run up and down the hillsides between the paths and with age mellowed into staying close.
I doubt Sarrah really noticed much of the view as she was typically so excited running and sniffing, perhaps when time slowed her some of the surroundings became more apparent. On clear days Mount Rainier can be viewed to the south, on foggy days the over-developed valley disappears.
This maze of a park became a favorite place to enjoy some freedom.
One day at the Beach House while participating in yet another round of Jack-Assory with Roslyn, Mike and Libby’s young dog, Sarrah slipped on the smooth floor and yelped. She got up trembling a bit, favoring her hind leg. In an instant the mood and her life, changed. I massaged her leg and we kept them mostly apart for the rest of the weekend. Sunday afternoon I took her on our last walk to the beach, for the weekend. She was a little wobbly and I sat on a log, held her and wept. I took her leash off (in violation of the law) and let her walk on her own, with a spark of energy from the added freedom. She enjoyed the stroll, but was in pain and dragging her feet. Looking back I was scared, afraid that Sarrah was near the end of her life.
Back home we immediately cut back on the distance of our usual walks from over a mile per day to just few blocks, as Sarrah was dragging her toenails and was (depressingly) happy to do less. I was looking into all options like dogcarts, surgery, and whatever might be a cure or any method of preservation for my friend. I desperately needed to find a cure for what time had done to her, to replace what was Stolen. Around this time Sarrah and I had bodies of approximately the same age and condition.
I decided to try Acupuncture for her, as I’ve found it to bring much relief. In some ways it would be easier for Sarrah to gain from it, as animal’s don’t have to ‘turn off the human preconceived mental junk’ in order to have an open mind. Over the last couple of years I had read a few news articles about the growing practice of animal acupuncture and the successes with it. Fortunately, the progressive culture in the Pacific Northwest is open to many forms of alternative care for people and animals making these treatments readily available. Fortunately, I found a veterinary clinic nearby that offered acupuncture and began the effort to restore what could be, for Sarrah. Initially she was nervous, a little scared and not trusting the surroundings of this new place that had similar sounds and smells of the vet clinic that she absolutely hated. Shortly after arriving we met the acupuncturist. This wonderful veterinarian, Darla Rewers was the first one that I recall meeting who seemed genuinely delighted to be with the patient and openly passionate about caring for them. Sarrah picked up on this faster than I and seemed to trust her. It was determined that hip dysplasia, common for Dalmatians’ and probably a tear of some tissue was the cause of Sarrah’s loss of stability in her leg. The initial treatment of just a few general points and a couple specific for her hindquarters was sort of an easing into treatment with needles.
Sarrah initially trembled and hated the session, but noticed improvement almost immediately and tolerated the treatment. We went frequently and with each session the quantity of treatment points increased, she improved with each visit. Soon she stopped dragging her toenails and regained most of her abilities, with the exception of having a trick hip and a need to avoid slippery surfaces. We both, through error and trial, discovered many little things that Sarrah either needed help with (such as climbing into the back of the car and rug runners for slippery floors) or had to avoid completely (no more beloved games of tug-o-war and going down stairs, so I carried her). I used to whisper in her ear while lifting and carrying her “Us old dogs, Gotta stick together”.
I shared some of Sarrah’s acupuncture experiences with my acupuncturist. We talked about how gains in health and pain relief with animals prove that it is not merely just in human minds. Occasionally, I also ‘stood on my soapbox’ and preached the proof based experiences that I have witnessed with this ancient method of healing, for animals and people. It was a miracle at least to me, that the clock was turned back a bit for Sarrah. A huge gift!
I started playing Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” for her visits, too.