Sunday, March 02, 2008


A Creature of Kinship

It was the very same night as the night that Miss Bette and I came through the Storm from Hell together. It was the night that left Miss Bette stiff and sore and with spots on her left hip and shoulder where the hide would fall off due to the frostbite. It was the same night that I lost two toenails due to the cold. It was the same night that the moisture in my eyes would start to freeze as I walked from the barn up to the house for a flashlight or more quilts or to drape a wet horse blanket on a drying rack in the living room. It was the night that took time off of Miss Bette’s life. It was the night of 45 to 60 below zero wind chills. All night.

Somewhere in northern Minnesota, way up north of Bemidji where it gets really cold, a little German Shepherd mix dog was under the porch where he lived. He was out of the wind and would survive. But he probably needed to potty and so he wandered out from under the porch sometime in the evening and then it happened. His chain was caught. He struggled to free his chain but could not. Ultimately, this little dog ended up spending this night of 45 to 60 below wind chills out in the wind. Not under his porch.

He did his best to stay as warm as he could, I’m sure. But the end result was frozen pads on his feet and frozen ear tips. These things could heal. The big real end result was his frozen eyes. This little dog came through the same Storm from Hell as Miss Bette with damage to his body, too. But his damage was something that time would not heal. He was now blind.

The local rescue organization attempted to retrieve the dog but the family was attached and so this newly blinded dog was to stay on his chain under the porch. A few days later, the family moved the dog in to the basement of their house. I’m guessing due to the barking and howling and whining. Being newly blinded would be scary. And if you remember, it was cold after that night. Putting all these things together, I’m guessing the little guy was just noisily hollering for some help.

The help came and in to the basement he went. Unfortunately, his blindness caused him to bump in to things and probably tip things over. He jumped up on things and probably broke things. And in this basement, he barked, I’m sure! And he whined and he howled. Scared and uncertain, he was no quiet dog in their basement, on that I would bet the farm!

The community in this part of the world is poor. The work opportunities are non-existent. School is a gift - if it happens. And keeping the kids fed and the house warm is a chore and a task. A blind dog isn’t in the cards. Too much care and not enough time. Too much money to treat him and no money to be had. The owner did what they do in that part of the world when the dog needs to move on. The owner created a situation to take the dog out of this world. To relieve the family of this out of control, noisy, and now blind dog.

Anti-freeze was put out for the dog to drink.

And this little dog tasted the sweet water and so he drank. And then he became sick. The family, still needing to do something with the dog, contacted the rescue that had originally asked to take him after the eyes were damaged. Yes, the rescue would still take him. And take him they did – blind, sick, and all.

Once checked in with a local vet, many tests were run. The dog’s kidneys were failing. Was that because of the trauma of the storm and the blindness? From the antifreeze? From both? His appetite was basically gone. His tummy was upset and his bowels were poor. His blood work showed he also tested positive for lyme disease. And his blood work showed he also tested positive for heartworm. He couldn’t be vaccinated because, at this point, his kidneys were just too frail. But this rescue did not give up on him. No, he was a life to be saved.

Even with all of these medical failures working against him, this little dog remained chipper and loving and giving his caregivers their share of licks and jumps and howls to tell them he was there! A week in the clinic and he was ready for a new home. But who would take a dog that was blind and diagnosed with lyme and heartworm and poor kidneys? A dog with a relatively short expected lifespan?

The email fairly jumped off the screen at me. Sabra had forwarded it to the group of us that she sends all of these emails to and this one actually had a physical impact on me. I felt my stomach turn and there existed an immediate kinship between this creature and me. I had been out in that storm, too! I had felt the knives of that wind! I had felt my lungs hurt from the severe cold! I had been scared – really scared like in the movies - that this weather was going to create death! I could relate to this little dog!

My reply to the email was swift and clear: “I’ll take him. I will care for him.

And so many hands and many hearts went in to motion. People emailed and called each other and the trip from Bemidji, MN to Spring Valley, WI was orchestrated. It was timed to the minute. Handoff places were designated and this little dog moved from loving hands to loving hands. From one warm vehicle to the next warm vehicle. What caring people these are! How grateful I am for their willingness to travel with a strange dog in their backseat on that Saturday! After many legs of the day long journey, a big blue van pulled in at Spring Valley.

I could see the silhouette of his head in the van and I resisted the urge to open the door. I let him stay right where he was for the time being. My guests wanted to meet the horses and so we wandered out to the barns. Finally, it came time for me to meet this creature and give him The Three Promises. He received them with sleepy eyes and a lick of my face. He was home. His journey had not been an easy one in his four short years, but it had landed him here with me. I now had a dog of my own and he was safe and would be loved. We both won on this one.

We came in to the house and since that day, it has been quite an adventure! Little Man, THE FARM’s dog, has taken to him quite well. Although, Little Man isn’t so sure he likes giving up his kennel for this new guy. And when I pet one I must pet the other! But there is no fighting and no snarling. Just two boy dogs dragging this one Human who keeps screaming “Whoa! Don’t pull so hard! Oh, no! Don’t go that way! Yikes! You guys! Watch my legs! Oh, no! We all need to go the same way! Oh, I’m too old for this!!!

This little dog has discovered that there are cats in the house! And cats are something you chase and hunt and woe be unto the cat that you catch! And the furniture that happens to be in the way! So the house cats are learning to wander around the house when the dogs are out in the kennel. Or at night when both dogs are sound asleep and the “hunter” is in the dining room kennel so he can’t get to them!

This little dog is doing the very best he can with what his body has been dealt. We have meds twice a day – entire regiments of pills for his kidneys, the lymes, and for what we think are ulcers in his stomach and upper intestines. And we’ve developed a routine where he lays on his back and tucks up his front paws and awaits his medicines. He gets tons of love between pills, but he still hates his pills! He can smell the cats, you know! And chase them he must!

Last Tuesday, this little dog spent the day with Dr. Brian. His bowels were very loose and I was having trouble keeping food down him. And his tummy was upset enough that he really wouldn’t eat anything that I offered. Dr. Brian read all of the reports and did his best to explain to me that a dog that has been through this much turmoil and trauma “doesn’t have a good prognosis. We treat them as long as we can until we just can’t treat them anymore. I’m sorry, Sandy.

And with those words, reality hit me. This little dog would come in to my life and I would love him and care for him and alter the routine of my daily life for him. Little Man would accept him and we would teach him to play! And to feel safe and loved and secure! And then, relatively soon – way too soon - we would be asked to help him cross over.

I look at this little dog sleeping now in the kennel, and I see life and energy and someone who barks when there’s a tap on the door! I see someone who eagerly eats his boiled hamburger and rice with a little yogurt mixed in. (He doesn’t like the yogurt part, but he’ll eat it as long as I don’t get carried away and add too much to his meal!) I see a dog who has learned to meander through that maze of a garage to find the way outside! And I see a dog who has learned to sit quietly in the kennel while I do chores in the mornings and evenings – not howling any more, but waiting for my return.

And then when he hears me coming, he explodes with joy! Barking and howling and jumping and the tag wagging so hard it hurts your legs! All this with Little Man joining in to create a chorus! I really do need to stop at the neighbors and explain the noisy outbursts to them, don’t I?

And so what I see is the lesson to be learned, I think. My dental appointments and new blue jeans can wait. I don’t need a haircut and I’m not renewing any magazines. We need to take care of this little creature right now. I’m doing these things because he is teaching me every day. To take each day for where you are. This little dog doesn’t fret about the future. He lives for today. For when the kennel is opened and he has, again, another chance to try to hunt down one of those cats! He lives for his dinner and his breakfast. And he lives for the love that comes several times each day. And he lives for the new safety he feels. He listens to the wind and takes a deep sigh. He knows he is staying inside. No more winds to battle.

I’m struggling with the comment that Dr. B made last week. This dog looks so good on the outside - so perky and so alert and alive! It’s hard for me to believe that the prognosis is not good. That I can’t fix him somehow. Yup, I’m struggling but I'm also trying to be like this little dog and live in the moment and enjoy every day and give him the best I can give him. He doesn't look ahead. He only sees right now. That is the valuable lesson for me to learn from him. To not look to what is coming but to see him now and treasure him now. And what a good teacher he is!

So I have a dog of my very own. For now. A dog I have called Keller.

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