A year ago yesterday marks what became the last three-weeks of my dog Yeager’s life. One can find on this website articles I’ve written about some of that experience (with links below). So much of what proved to be a poignancy of passing time, gratitude for the way he died, and epiphanies associated with the last eight months of “my very old dog” (about 108 years old based on weight, size and numerical age) remains fresh with me.
We all lose beloved non-human and human companions; that’s surely the most challenging aspect of living Such loss inevitably changes our internal values and realizations, often inspiring us to do more with the recognition that each passing day is a matter of “use it or lose it.” We may risk a healthy emotional evolution if we hold too long and tightly to the memory of those no-longer-living-beings we’ve loved and lost – yet one can also risk that evolution by refusing to process such loss in a way that integrates into our present reality.
Even entertaining the idea of another dog since losing Yeager feels like some sort of dog adultery. Yet remembering how desperately sad his own losses had left him before I adopted him from Friends for Pets led to remind me that there is never a lack of sad, lost dogs in need of companionship, for however long or short a time. You can see some of these dogs and more about the organization at http:www.friendsforpets.org.
And that recognition led me to perhaps offer some hope and change to three very different unadopted Weimaraners who seemed to be permanent residents at the FFP shelter by foster-caring them. Two were senior dogs and one is a special-needs fellow. In the parlance of the animal rescue world, all three were deemed “unadoptable.”
It was Diane Monahan, the FFP founder who continues on in dedicating herself to these abandoned, neglected and abused dogs who put me on this path with a simple, short email in October, asking if I was ready to help.
There was an 11 year old fellow by the name of Paddington who lived with his long-term girlfriend Sadie. He had some lumps and bumps, thankfully all benign. She, however, had a spinal degeneration and was losing her ability to stand. She barked and carried on quite a bit, while Paddington tended to remain quiet and entirely understanding of her condition. Diane sensed that Sadie’s time was limited, and that Paddington not only needed a break but would also have to adjust to being alone for the first time in his long life.
There was not so much a shyness but a resignation to Paddington when I first met him in the offices of FFP and he was led from the enclosed run he shared with Sadie. He smiled politely when we met, but he looked up at Diane for reassurance.
As we drove off, Paddington stared out the window for practically the entire ride to my home, resting his head against the glass. At a few red lights, other motorists smiled when they saw him and called out. But he just kept daydreaming. I don’t know how long and deep dogs may think. It is anecdotally claimed that dogs have no sense of how much time may be passing. If that is true, it seemed like old Paddy had been longing for Sadie, for an eternity.
And then, with that peculiar intuition that I’ve found common among all Weimaraners, it was just two blocks from my house that Paddington finally, suddenly turned away from the window and broke into a broad smile. I was already worried about disappointing him: even if I wanted to adopt him then and there, I couldn’t and so this could not prove to be his forever-home, but only a taste of that life which, given his age, was unlikely to be a chance he would ever get. But then again, that’s the wisdom and superior intelligence (with apologies to my own species) of dogs: what a waste of time it was to think an hour ahead. The absolute truth is that no being knows what will happen then. All you have is this moment. Why not enjoy it?
For over a week, while sharing my space and time, Paddington never dropped his sweet smile. Every so often he just stood between two rooms and stared around at everything. Unlike Yeager and the other other foster-care Weims yet to come, when Paddington laid down after a long walk, he didn’t fall asleep. He didn’t even close his eyes.
When it was bedtime for me, then he went to sleep. Otherwise, he just stared into the air. Also unlike Yeager, he didn’t startle or anticipate a walk or drive every time I yawned or turned my chair. Or blinked.
In fact, this old boy would position his head in what looked to me like the most uncomfortable-possible against the hard wood of a living room bench, knocking away the soft pillow I kept trying to offer him. And he just stared at me, or stared into another room.
He did seem to be thinking.
Clearly, if even by her increased stumbling and irritability, he had sensed some change in Sadie. Did he know that he was on the verge of losing his lifelong sweetheart?
I think he was thinking – but what he thought is really all that mattered.
I suppose for me that’s why every dog and cat is something of a Buddha, quietly aware of far subtler realities, seemingly all-knowing to us yet ultimately mysterious, even within the unique, non-verbal language we develop with them alone.
And that is when it instantly hit me.
Whether or not Paddington, or any dog, could ever possibly realize the ways they teach us about ourselves, I realized that good old Paddy and I shared something already: the imminent loss of a loved one and the inevitability of change that loss brings on.
And that when we are on the verge of such loss and then beginning to experience those first hours and days without our loved ones, its not such a bad thing to sometimes just sit quietly and look out, doing nothing except being.
And perhaps he and I both learned that when being on the verge of loss leads to that inevitable loss, which it did for Paddington when, shortly after his return to FFP, Sadie was gone and he was alone, that time soon enough moves on, into another period. And that period also brings change.
For Paddington, remarkably and joyously, in that next period the seemingly impossible became possible. David, one of the shelter’s dedicated volunteers and a man capable of handling many a dog, adopted Paddington at age 11. All reports are that the old boy is young again, enjoying a home with new Sadies, two other dogs and having all his lumps and bumps removed.
Diane credited the chance Paddington had to adjust, through closer human socialization and familiarization with life in a human home, as helpful to him making the transition to a new life. I believe it was time well-spent.
Not just for him.