Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Heart Dogs




I was never much of an animal person. Not intentionally....just never had any...at all. My folks weren't keen on animals in the house...or how expensive they could be. So we just never owned so much as a hamster. My lack of interaction with dogs became sort of a fear of them later in life as much as an "I don't really like dogs" sort of attitude. I recall a friend of a roommate coming to spend the night and she brought her small dog. I used the no-dogs-allowed in our apartment building as an excuse to send her over to another friend's house. Sheesh. I just didn't like dogs.

Then I married a man who from the get-go dreamed of having a dog...a Labrador in particular...a Yellow Lab to be exact. For the first ten years of our marriage, whenever he saw a Lab, this usually reserved- to-the-point-of-being-boring-man would say "Woof!" No matter where he was or who was listening. I sensed that a dog might bring out the best in him.

I'm not even sure what happened to make it finally seem like I couldn't put it off any longer. Maybe if was the fact that I realized he would never want children. I didn't either...if truth be told, so I thought a dog might fill the gap I felt existed in our marriage. I said ok...get a dog...have your Lab...but he's got to stay out in the yard...and no dogs on the bed! I regretted the ok as soon as I said it.

In June of 1992...something amazing happened in my life and I would never even come close to being the same again. He was 8 weeks old, weighed not much... And chewed on everything in sight. He got into the trash, ate my shoes, piddled on the carpet and was a general handful. His name was Buster and he changed my life. I was referred to as Mommy and I was never alone again. It took me a few months to open up my heart to this little, yellow guy, after all I had never loved an animal before... but when it happened the world was a different place from that point on. And limit him to the yard and no getting on the bed? Fahgettaboutit. Never happened.
My first husband was a well-known jazz musician and he was gone 6 months out of the year. I loved my time alone....but I didn't like being lonely. Now that I think about it...even when he was home I was lonely. But Buster was always by my side in a way that only a dog can be....and he taught me how to be a better person. With him came patience, humor, sweetness, unconditional love and puppy breath. I was hooked. I was completely and totally in love with a much younger guy who never kept score, never judged me and who lived for the moment I walked in the door. A year later we got his Chocolate female counterpart and I had a family. Buster and Josie...oh yeah...and what's his name.

With the addition of Josie it was very different experience. I had a year as a dog-mom and I knew what that meant. When we picked up this little brown girl I was in love immediately. Buster had taught me how to do that. I named her after the feisty heroine in the novel I was writing and she proceeded to rule the roost. She was 10 weeks old and she took sticks right out of Buster's mouth, hid his toys (or at least it looked like that's what she was doing) and in general told him how it was gonna be. The sweet, gentle guy that he was....let her have her way. He never got rough with her. The first time we put her in "Buster's Pool" he sat beside it and looked at me as if to say..."Uh...mom...you've GOT to be kidding." They slept next to each other for 11 years. She would whine and look out the window if he went somewhere without her, and years later when she lost her sight, he would get between her and any other dog we passed. Buster and Josie....those 3 words were really one word.

When what's-his-name ran off with what's-her-name I said give me the television and the dogs and be on your merry way. He left for Barcelona and I left the t.v. on for the dogs. During the emotional few months that followed the end of a 20 year marriage...I had my dogs. They slept with me, got me outside when I would have preferred to stay behind closed blinds, smiled at me when I used my Mommy voice and when I cried Buster would actually worry. Even if he was in the other room or sound asleep, if he heard me crying he would literally get in my face. More than once he wiped my tears away....with a big Labrador tongue, his tail wagging telling me it was okay. He was the man in my life now and he seemed to know it. I can't even begin to imagine going through what I did without these amazing creatures by my side. Josie began to lose her sight when she was nine and for the next six years keeping her safe and secure was one of my main goals in life. Even completely blind she was such a happy dog...she was my girl.
Two years later I met Logan and he and the boys opened up their hearts and their home to me and my two dog-kids. You know a man loves you when he takes in you, a slowing, aging old boy and a completely blind girl. He understood they were my children, he understood they were where all my maternal instincts had been devoted for many years...he understood these two were my heart dogs.

Five years ago I lost Buster suddenly. On Sunday evening he was fine....by Thursday he was gone. I was there with him at the Vet and I stayed with him almost until the end and then I got overwhelmed...and scared. I had never experienced anything like this before. Logan took my place. I couldn't do it. Needless to say I came to regret that decision, but it was done and Buster Man had a guy who loved him very much seeing him through to the end...his head on Logan's lap. Josie looked for him for days. My big yellow guy was gone. A week later, on my birthday, I received his ashes. No finer gift.

And just a little over two years ago, Josie, who lived to be 15 years old, told me she had had enough. I knew I would know when it was time and I did. This time I stayed to the end. Logan, Tate and I sat on the floor with her and she went on to the Rainbow Bridge with all three of us touching her and telling her we loved her. That's exactly how I want to go, thank you.

So now I know. Now I know what it's like to receive pure love. Pure. Love. And I know what it's like to be devoted to an animal. To have a place inside me come so alive that it never dies...even when they do. What an amazing gift God has given us with these beautiful, warm creatures we are privileged to spend our lives with. And still they are here with me. Not in some weird, macabre way, but in that way that you are not the same because they were here. Their collars hang casually at the end of our balustrade and once in awhile I touch them and am reminded of the amazing personalities that once wore them. I am so thankful for them. In the last couple years of Josie's life she would find her way to the bedroom at night and search out her blanket. I would sometimes say out loud "Good night, Miss Josie, Mommy loves you" so she would know I was there. Now I say it out loud once in awhile to remind me that she is there.

And so life goes on. I have had moments, though, when I am sad about one thing or another and thoughts of these two come to me and I feel a moment of surprise that I have actually been able to go on without them. But I honor them even today when I teach. In Collage Camp quite a few members chose to do a piece with an image of the dog or cat (or horse) they had loved and lost as their theme image. Such beautiful work was done. And when I teach my "Beloved Book" class we get a chance to create a 6-8 page fabric collage book during a two-day therapeutic workshop. This is an amazing two days that have made a difference in people's lives. And so their legacy lives on.

Thank you Buster and Josie for all you have done for me. I will never stop loving you. And one day when my Father in Heaven welcomes me home and all my family is there to greet me...they will have to wait for their embrace, because Buster and Josie will get to me first. Happy Dogs. Healthy Dogs. Heart Dogs.



3 comments:

Riki Schumacher said...

Hi KC, I just cried my eyes out reading this post. I lost my little guy, Chester, in April and experienced everything you described. I wouldn't have it any other way, they are truly a gift. Come visit me and see my new baby, Maddie. My new love for sure. I couldn't do it before, but I was ready. I have Chester's little ash box near me always, to remind me of his love for me, because my love for him will always be in my heart. Thanks for sharing this, loved it. We met years ago at an Art & Soul, I bought a bunch of your little notebooks for gifts, everyone loved them. I would love to take your Beloved Book workshop one day. Take care, Riki

Lovey said...

Oh my Goodness...KC...with tear filled eyes and a humbled heart I read this post of love, sadness, and a life renewed. My...I know that your two babies will always love you and I believe that you will see them again. I'm almost speechless from reading this heart touching post KC. May you find all the joy and love you deserve in our time here on earth...till we meet in our Heavenly Home...There's a lot of love for you in us too! Never forget that...

Paris Cowgirl said...

Oh K.C....how this brought tears to my eyes as well. I have been to the end of that Rainbow Bridge with too many dogs lately. Each and every one of them hold a special place in my heart and your story puts it into words perfectly!