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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.
Around two thousand four a song by Pat Green “Wave on Wave” was overplayed on the radio and music video channels. I find it to be a nice easy going, feel good kind of song. I noticed that Sarrah also seemed to like this song and one day asked her a line from it “Am I the one you were sent to save?” She gave me a quick wry glance and then that sort of ‘parenting look’, as if to say “You know the answer” (she gave me the same look every time I asked that question). After that day, every time the song played, we made eye contact and smiled. Years later, I downloaded it onto my iphone so we could hear it frequently, whenever the mood struck or the need arose.
Recently I heard Dean Koontz reading his book (on DVD) “A big little life” sharing a similar experience with his dog. He also touched on a belief held by some that dogs contain reincarnated beings, or souls. I, like him am not sure about this, but then I again I do not have ‘the answers’.
As if quietly nudged, the desire came to preserve what I can recall from the life of Sarrah, the cute little spotted dog that invaded, influenced and ultimately improved my life.
A few days ago my work took me out to look at a house in Belfair near the Hood Canal, then to another at the north end of Bainbridge Island. On this long drive I was painfully missing my road trip partner and thinking about how much she would’ve delighted in the adventures of that day. Inevitably she’d have spotted a park, given me “the look” in my rear view mirror, started to use one or more of her many whines, growls, barks or howls from her large vocal repertoire (she reserved snorts for the rare occasion when there wasn’t enough time to stop) and we would have embarked on another new earthen gift, which busy people drive right on by. Around noon I stopped at Fay Bainbridge State Park to enjoy a sun break, walk around the grounds and along the beach with the spirit of my dog. Walking amongst the drift logs on a trail from the grassy area to the beach brought back flashes of choices that Sarrah would’ve made, from youthfully bounding over obstacles to maturely-taken steps of avoidance. Reflections of her dancing with the waterline, inhaling everything and even pawing at decay – played though my mind. But the solitude of this walk on the opposite side of our lobe of the Puget Sound was quieter, colder and lonelier than my memories.
On this day, March Eighth Two Thousand Eleven, while returning on a ferry I decided to write my story about Sarrah recalling and reflecting on our intertwined lives. . I chose a strong craft beer and a hard seat in an empty section. Between sips and glances at passing scenery; words spilled onto my graph paper. Surprisingly, this literary epiphany instantly made me feel a little better. Whether it’s ever finished or shared with anyone remains to be seen and completely irrelevant to me, at least at this time.
Could this form of expression be a sort of therapy?
Or, will it push me over an edge?
I recall hearing a theory that a portion of grief is an unconscious fear or dread of losing one’s memory(s) associated with what was lost. Perhaps grief forces the brain to focus on and emblazon cherished memories in order to strengthen them against the inevitable erosion of time. Wouldn’t it be sweet if the greater purpose of trudging through this dank pile of emotions was actually beneficial?
Like most people in midlife, this is not my first beating from the monster we simply call “Loss”. A couple of years ago I heard the actor Brad Pitt (in an interview pertaining to his efforts in rebuilding New Orleans following the hurricane Katrina) recall an old saying “The Greater the Love, the Greater the Loss.” I don’t recall the specifics of what he was referring to, but I can still hear him saying these words and feel their weight. Our world is full of tragedy and horrific loss, much more than we can imagine, until it pointedly affects us personally. Though my current experience pales to many, to me it serves no purpose to neither compare nor compete (with others or within ourselves) on these differing events. Each of us are affected by many different living beings and in turn, by their matters of mortality.
I think about Sarrah often, throughout each day. And don’t wish to feel worse because of my feelings nor concern others who might fear that “I can’t let go” or “Move on” from my grieving. Some may be worried that I might replace my lost companionship by seeking refuge within the wilder side of life and keeping a bottle nearby as I did in my early twenties while dealing with the young relationship of my daughter, as it withered before it took root. Like plants, some relationships can Miraculously come back to life if one is very lucky and stubborn enough to feed and water occasionally.
Or that I will delve into another endless labyrinth of excessive work to fill my void, as I did in my late twenties after my brief marriage disintegrated. The lyric from my favorite song by The Eagles “Desperado” comes to mind “….Don’tcha draw the Queen of Diamonds boy, she’ll beat you if she’s able…”
A seemingly hidden gift out of this immeasurable loss appears to be the unveiling of a new series of coping tools, unused in this way, by me, prior to now. A yellowed old fat dictionary, relic tape-recorder, worn mechanical pencil, new smooth flowing pens and cool computer keys will be my companions as I wade thru and attempt to let this out. It seems that a special dog can teach an old boy, a new trick.
Like before… I will work hard through the pain and hoist a few glasses to celebrate the survival of yet another day, but plan to lean most heavily on these writing instruments for balance. Hopefully crafting something stronger than time and worthy of pride.
As feelings flow and memories surface I’ll attempt to capture them by starting with “Brain Droppings” on paper. Over time sweep them into piles like bits of sea glass and arrange them into sentences while watching them mosaic…into paragraphs. Eventually shuffling paragraphs into chapters sprinkled with a few treasured pictures, creating a record of Sarrah’s life with me. My main purpose of collecting these moments on paper, is to preserve some of my many fond (and a few less than wonderful) memories of her for solace, as I try to move forward in my life without her, here. Maybe I can repair myself through gradually wrapping the shards of my fractured heart back together, in layers of weathered paper softened by tears and covered with words from reflections of brighter days.
Perhaps I am grappling with a bout of depression, but I have a level of peace with this probability knowing that Sarrah deserved a person who would struggle in a world without her. If nothing else, spending time with this self-imposed writing assignment gives me an excuse to let my mind wander in the past, while trying to stumble along in a fog as I seek a path into my future.
Lately, people often ask “Are you going to get another dog?” and I struggle with this issue each time I hear it. Initially I wanted to strangle people who asked me that, especially while Sarrah was still alive, failing… but alive. Now, each time it’s just another Punch to a wound that won’t seem to heal.
For many reasons I make myself walk on our old usual route, most days. The obvious motivation for me getting outside and walking is a feeble attempt to retain some fitness, mental and physical. After all, if one doesn’t over think it, walking is good.
As the seasons change I encounter more “fair weather” people out walking who’ve noticed that I’m alone and many ask “Where’s your dog?” These questions feel like slow Scratches to my wound, some deep, others faint depending on their chosen words and reaction(s) to how I answer their painful question.
One warm day an elderly lady, who lives about a half-mile to the south, asked the dreaded question.
She replied, “Oh I am so sorry” and then proceeded to tell me how she’d recently lost her poodle.
“He was ready, he just stopped eating.”
As I started walking away after saying, “Sorry.”
She surmised, “Maybe people should learn from their pets.”
I half-smiled and replied, “Perhaps.”
I know that all of these questions come from good people with simple curiosity, but interestingly it also makes me wonder how often a few quick words out of my mouth have inadvertently touched others, with a sore note. Perhaps we’d all benefit from more pause-induced thought and fewer spoken words.
Despite the overwhelming crushing feelings of late, I would never go back and undo having her in my life. So these are logical questions, but logic and feelings…collide. I do not know, can’t even think about, having another dog in my life at this time.
Dean Koontz, in his book “A big little life” wrote that “It took he and his wife eight month’s to ‘have the courage’ to get another dog.” In my case it’s probably strength, or lack of. Another emotion could be fear that a new dog would chase away my fond memories and the spirit of Sarrah. Regardless of whether or not another dog ever enters into what’s left of my life, this story is about the wonderful spirit that lived in a little dog and the gifts of life that she shared with me and others.
On Sarrah’s last morning here, I freed her from the collar that she loathed and placed it on the head of my cement gargoyle that resides on a cedar stump in the backyard. It remains an evolving contrast – a shining chrome chain becoming a halo of rust.