Some dogs don’t move you to poetry. Some dogs quietly, slowly, meld themselves into literature’s prose; not flowery, not romantic, not shiny.
Jessie was a dog who grew slowly into a soul mate. He arrived frantic, anxious—a house destroyer, a wreck of rejection, an abandoned teenager who had lost everything he knew in a dog’s world. His canine family had been relinquished to the shelter and one-by-one they were separated—first into separate kennels, and then into different adoptive homes. Jessie’s first two homes furthered his trauma by leaving him alone for periods of time he was not emotionally able to survive. By the time he came to me, he was scheduled for euthanasia. He was to be killed for being a failure in a human world. As a last-ditch effort, a shelter employee asked me if I’d work with him and “see if he destroys your house.”
The first time I laid eyes on him in the behavior department, Jessie was a bouncy mess of impossibly long legs, boney ribs, and gasping pants. He eyed me for split seconds before his wild eyes darted from one person in the room to another—the fear palpable, the innocence thick, and the desire to live obvious. I had been prepared for an older, smaller Lab mix so when I saw this youthful explosion of panic, I almost had second thoughts about taking him. I wasn’t a puppy person. Especially not BIG puppies! I rehabilitated fearful adult dogs—dogs that had had their hearts broken again and again by the humans in their lives. Jessie was obviously that, but was he more?
On the way home, Jessie paced the backseat of my car, darting from window to window. By the time I pulled into my garage the glass on both sides was awash in dog spit. Jessie bounded out of the back door and into the house. Bouncing from one room to another he searched for any open door. I quickly accommodated him—it was clear he had never spent pleasant times confined. His history was that he had been born into a backyard litter and lived in a yard and garage. Both failed adoptions had confined him in houses without habituating him to smaller habitats. No wonder he freaked and tore open doors, ripped baseboards, and shattered window shades.
Jessie exploded into my large backyard and since it was a beautiful day, I left all my doors open for him. Only when he calmed enough to guzzle water did he notice the elderly Tibetan spaniel who lived with me. Buddha was already old when his owner passed away and the chaos of the shelter almost killed him. I spotted him when I gave a humane education tour to children and asked to see him. Also skin and bones by then, the old man had been off his food and mourning for his lost life. I brought him home and promised him a peaceful final year. By the time Jessie arrived, Buddha had been with me two years and ended up lasting six.
I watched closely as Jessie approached Buddha. Amazingly, Jessie slowed and respectfully sniffed the old guy gently. His ability to read and conform to the needs of others was the first sign of the emotional and cognitive intelligence of the whirlwind they wanted to kill for his failure to fit human expectations.
Another fearful dog joined us—a puppy mill survivor Wheaten Terrier, who had been with me for several months before her adoption. Now her adoption had also failed, due to aggressiveness in one of her people. She reverted into her quirky panic and they brought her back. The second Jessie saw Bailey he ran to her. I looked carefully for aggression but instead saw the eager approach and receptive greeting of two long-lost soul mates. Although neither had met the other prior, they seemed to recognize kindred needs. Instantly bonded, the two became inseparable in my home and yard.
Primarily an indoor dog, Bailey helped Jessie adjust because of his physical dependence on her proximity. Jessie helped Bailey face the outside openness and together they romped, chased, and wrestled their ways in and out. I watched, pleased that they had each other, had opposite fears that were aided by each other’s presence, and happy that I could give temporary shelter to such needy and neglected creatures. I found contentment in giving the two dogs peace, a safe home, and my experience in canine behavior. My goal was to rehabilitate them to the self-confidence that would make them adoptable. Once new and appropriate families were found, I would take in new fosters and continue the cycle of saving dogs’ lives.
It didn’t work like that. Trying to adopt out two “special needs” dogs who needed to be together was a challenge. Nobody wanted two crazies. And so they stayed. And stayed. They had each other. I didn’t love them but I was content.
Shortly after their mutual arrivals, they bolted out of my bedroom one night—furious, barking, growling, and aggressive. They threw themselves down the stairs and into the front door. A man froze outside, under the porch light, his tool of break-in in his hand. As the dogs viciously climbed the door in unison, his frozen fear broke and he sprinted off into the darkness of the early morning chill.
I adopted them both. Their loyalty to me deserved the same from me. I told myself I didn’t need to love them. After all, I had loved my previous dogs and was destroyed when they died. Surely it was enough to give them a good home. If I didn’t love them, I wouldn’t be so bereft when they did die.
Eventually another foster arrived and stayed. Little Brillo was the perfect foil to the bigger ones, ruling the roost with an iron paw and dirty looks. Jessie and Bailey accepted the pint-sized dictator and we all lived happily ever after.
Jessie and Bailey spent the next thirteen years together. Bailey passed away first. A year and a half later Jessie died. When I lost them, my unexpected mourning filled my days, my nights, my thoughts, and my actions. The love I grew into with these two amazing creatures was slow, quiet, deep, all-encompassing, and complete. It didn’t start with the jerking heart and brain rush of oxytocin from holding a puppy for the first time. My affection budded out with time, although it did hit bumps with every bizarre misbehavior an insecure dog can manifest. For sure, there was anger, frustration, and fed-up-ness.
But I stuck to my commitments to both. Time passed. They mellowed. I accepted. I nursed them into old age, frailty, and finally, death. I was there for them. I had promised. I couldn’t allow these two friends to be separated when their mutual denouements took my time. I could protect them from panic and disorientation as dog dementia set in. I set up ramps, bought expensive special foods, left night lights on, and bought a baby camera when they couldn’t come upstairs at night. I could give them a safe and stable home where their fears dissipated into vague memories of mistreatment. My home became a hospice. When they died, it was in my arms and under my tears. Brillo remained my tiny buddy and yet the missing of each individual was acute.
The love that grew so silently and slowly wound its way through every fiber of my being. And now that they are both gone, I feel as though a beautiful flowering vine has been excised from my body; all the veins of life-giving blood have been striped. I am nothing more than bones, muscle, and skin. Everything is empty. The days drag on with no barking, fly-by wrestles, fence-jumping, worry, nursing, and exhausting submission to the finality of soon-to-be leave-taking. It is all over. Fourteen years has past.
The sun is out today but there is no warmth. Brillo is elderly too. He’s depressed. I am not enough. He misses his dogs. Our yard is empty. Our house is clean. No more fur-bunnies reside under the couch. No poop or pee or barf spots the carpets. I am a dog person without the dogs who drove me crazy. I am without the dogs who needed me.
Some dogs don’t inspire emotional poetry. Some bring chaos, craziness, messiness. But all dogs bring the raw ingredients for what humans need to evolve. They alone provide unconditional love, acceptance, appreciation, and companionship. They give their lives to the prose of classic literature and their presence lives on forever in the air they used to breathe, the space they once romped in, and the heart of the fortunate human who finally came to love them.