Not Quite Ready, or F*ck You, Rainbow Bridge

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.

Havelock Ellis

 

For some reason I keep thinking that Sparta and Orion are going to live forever.  It’s so stupid, but because it feels as if they’ve always been there, that they’ll always be there.  It’s not like this is my first rodeo, either.  Darwin was a Lab, T-rex mix that I got when I was about 19.  I had him for roughly 12 years before I had to say goodbye to him.  He was very old (he was full grown when I got him), his arthritis was no longer manageable with meds, and we all knew it was time past time to say goodbye.  My childhood dog, Pebbles, a Border Collie mix, was with my family from the time we got her when I was 4 until she left us 16 years later. But just because you’ve done something before doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

Last week I trained with a wonderful dog by the name of Tank.  He is an amazing example of what an Akita can be when given proper exercise and a wonderful home.   Tank is a certified therapy dog. (Hint: Google “Akita disposition” and you’ll see why this is quite the feat.)  Yet I was actually called to Tank’s home to work with his new foster-brother, Red, a deaf, half-blind Chow with some neurological issues to boot.  I’m happy to say that Red is well on his way to feeling safe and comfortable in his new home.

I usually get a pic of the dogs I work with, just for myself.  I’d say only 1/4 of all the pics I take are ever posted.  I happened to get a picture of Tank in all his majestic Akita-ness, but it was dark, fuzzy, and not a wonderful picture.  I didn’t think anything of it, because I knew that Boots and Bee Photography (who does all the pics for the Darwin Dog’s blog) was going to be out in a few days to get pictures, and I figured I’d have plenty of professional pictures of handsome Tank.

Yesterday I got an email.  Tank’s owners had noticed that he was acting a little tired over the past few days.  They mentioned that they were taking him to the vet the following day.  Tank was immediately taken into intensive care.  His diagnosis: leukemia. His prognosis? 3-6 months.  His owners are hoping he can make it to his next birthday.  As Tank’s mom wrote:

“Remember when I complained about how he won’t go to the bathroom in the yard and I get cold walking him in the winter?  Well, I’d like to take it all back!

I originally read your post about 676 weekends back in April.  Even then, I really took to heart your message and we’ve always tried to make the most of our time with Tank, knowing that as a large breed dog, we really weren’t going to get probably much more than 10 years with him.  I read it again today (it took a while because I kept starting to cry).  If he makes it to his 3rdbirthday in December, that means we’ll have had roughly 150 weekends with him. It doesn’t seem like enough and I feel like I’m being cheated out of hundreds of weekends we should get with him.  Nonetheless, we still have for today.  We are putting together a doggy bucket list for him so hopefully we can have some adventures before it’s too late.”

There’s so much that I love about those words.  These are owners who didn’t realize the value of their dog once they had an end-time in sight; these are owners who always knew each day was precious, even when he was a pup.  They understand that they still have a dog (for now), and are being given a chance to slowly say good-bye.  They will make the most of their time together, and that’s what counts.

So yeah, maybe some people have all 676 weekends with their dogs, but only use a fraction of those weekends.  Most are too busy.  Some only see their dog as a burden, just another thing I have to take care of. And then there are those owners like Tank’s, who know that nothing is permanent, and that being given a diagnosis changes nothing. You’re born.  You die.   All that matters is what you did between those two points.  How did you use that time.

I’d also like to say one more thing.  Fuck you, Rainbow Bridge.  You may be the end destination, but I will never take my dogs to you in a funeral procession style.  I will bring my dogs to you with their bucket lists in my hand.  We will laugh at the times we had together, the stupid things they did.  The stupid things I did.  They will be exhausted from living life to the fullest, having been loved and cherished the entire time.  They will go out in a fanfare, starting at the time they become mine, we will chip away at our bucket lists, because we never know how soon that Rainbow Bridge will turn up on a horizon.  Sometimes you can see it in the distance, and sometimes it sneaks up on you.  But one thing is for certain: my dogs won’t be crossing that bridge alone, because they will be taking huge part of me with them, just as part of them will be with me forever.

Tank, the Wonder Akita.

Tank, the Wonder Akita.

Update:
This post was originally written on Tuesday, Sept. 29th.  Prior to the posting, I contacted Tank’s owners for permission to utilize the message they conveyed to me in their email.  Their response broke my heart:

“That is fine. We just actually left the vet, he is in peace now.  We piloted him to the end. I just hope he knows how much we loved him.”

Tank,  you will always be the standard to which I compare any other Akita.

EPILOGUE

A few weeks after posting this article back in September, Red crossed the Rainbow Bridge to join his foster brother.  While this wasn’t quite the shock that Tank’s passing was due to Red’s many health issues, it was still a huge blow.  I’m happy to post this pic of Hulk, the new puppy who has come to help fill the void that losing Red and Tank left in their passing. While no dog can ever replace the memory of a beloved pet, Hulk is sure to bring much fun and laughter into a great household.  But don’t take my word for it… take a look at Hulk yourself.

All that sass...

All that sass…

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland Ohio

New Normal – Coping with Loss

“It always is harder to be left behind than to be the one to go…”
― Brock Thoene, Shiloh Autumn

Dog-Sad-Depressed-SickThere’s a reason why “Fido” is a popular name for dogs:  it means “Faithful” in Latin.  I’d be hard-pressed to find anything more faithful than a dog.  Their definition of loyalty is beyond the scope of most humans, which is why losing a pack member can be particularly difficult for them.

When my Darwin was about 11, I adopted a very young dog, Sparta.  Sparta grew up pulling on Darwin’s ears while he patiently tolerated her puppy antics.  Sparta was the annoying little sister, best friend, pack member and mutual protector of the house for Darwin, and in Sparta’s eyes, Darwin could do no wrong.  He was her confidant, her ally, her security blanket. Yes, I was the pack’s Pilot, but Darwin was definitely next in line.

When Sparta was a bit over a year, Darwin finally succumbed to his age.  He had lived a happy life, but now it was time to say goodbye.  I still miss him, and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, walking into the vets office him following me like the good dog he was.  I walked in with my best friend and walked out alone.  But at least I understood why Darwin’s bed was empty that night.  Sparta knew something was wrong the moment I came home without Darwin – my body language told it all.  Sparta was spiralled into a deep grief right beside me.  She wouldn’t eat for close to a week.  My normally very active young dog would go outside only to relieve herself, and then come back inside and bury herself with her grief in her little corner.  She was grieving hard.

A dog feels the loss of a pack member in a much more profound way than we do.  We miss our friend. Sparta missed the security of one of her Pilots.  The pack was smaller now, meaning less secure in her mind.  She lost a hunting partner.  For a dog, it’s more than about the love and friendship: it’s about survival.  In a dog’s mind, the pack is less likely to thrive with the loss of a member.  The only comparison I can possibly give is the grief a blind person must feel if their seeing eye dog dies suddenly.  Of course they miss their best friend, but it is so much more than that. It is a bond very few of us will ever understand, myself included.  I am not dependent upon my dogs for my day-to-day lifestyle.  Of course they enrich my life, but I could easily get along without them.  Dogs require each other just to survive.  The loss of a member is catastrophic on so many levels, and even more so if the pack member was a Pilot.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

You can help your dog get through this grief, though.  Resist the urge to act any differently than you usually would around them.  Don’t baby them.  Don’t talk to them in a whiney voice, telling them everything will be all right.  They don’t need baby talk; they need a Pilot.  Calmly hang out with them wherever they are grieving (I frequently hung out in Sparta’s little corner with her).  Take them for walks.  Exercise does indeed boost moods, for both of you.  You don’t have to pretend that you didn’t lose a pack member, but you do have to move on.  Slowly is fine.

Sparta worried me profusely when she wouldn’t eat for several days, but gradually she started eating again.  While I did give her a few treats during that time, which she refused, I did not offer her any different food.  We are trying to normalize a new situation, not change everything she was accustomed to. Sparta slowly picked up her regular meals.  Pretty soon she was bugging me to go for a walk instead of my having to retrieve her from her corner to take her.  In other words, we found a new normal.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Of course I still miss Darwin. Sparta does, too.  But our Pack has changed now, and includes Orion and two cats, Pixel and Echo.  Our Pack would be stronger with Darwin’s calm nature helping to lead it, but he’s gone.  Our Pack would be enhanced by his presence, but that won’t happen.  We find a new normal, and we make it work. And it works well.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio