A Difficult Summer
Don’t get me wrong — I’ve had a wonderful summer in many regards. Lots of outings to the woods, long cool swims at our friends’ pool, visits from friends, and numerous boarders who keep me laughing and on my toes. Yes, we’ve had to work, but we’ve also had lots and lots of time to play and to romp and even to just hang out on the back porch relaxing in the sun.
Still, this has been a summer of loss. My dear friend Ginger who greeted me such enthusiasm passed away peacefully (see previous post)…
…my big buddy Ben who chased me round and round in circles by the pool died shortly after Ginger passed (see previous post)…
And then the loss of Griffey, the old gal who taught me how to live life to its fullest even at her amazing age of 15…
And now two more.
I don’t know where to begin. Each loss really hurts and everyone keeps telling me that the magnitude of the pain is the measuring stick of how much each friend meant to me. Still, it hurts and to write about that pain is exhausting.
So instead, Gretchen and I (and Momma Ann, too) sort through photos — remembering, laughing, and hugging each other during our grief. I love looking at the photos because they give me courage to find the words to remember them by.
Max – The White Buffalo
Max came into our lives on a cold, blue-gray kind of day. We chronicled his story in Project Max when he came to live with us and then kept track of him through his amazing foster home. I won’t go into all of Max’s struggles — they were many — but instead, I will focus on his amazing spirit. What a charmer. What an old and wonderfully wise soul.
Max was big and despite all the pain and suffering he endured, his heart was as wide open as a prairie and his love of life spread open like arms ready for the best hug ever.
When Max came to live with us, I was skeptical. He was big. He could barely walk. He had all sorts of medical issues. He would eat well some days and horribly for the whole next week. We had to lift him everywhere, but still…
…he was a mountain of white love. He tried and tried and tried to be the dog he was deep inside of him, but his body just wouldn’t cooperate. The woman who rescued him, Suzanne, knew Max had so much to offer the world. She did everything she could to keep him focused on the horizon of happiness and experience pain-free living. She believed he would one day walk and perhaps run — his hunched over body fully relaxed, well-muscled and joyous. Suzanne had to move Max to a rescue organization who had the resources to provide Max with all the best medical attention. Cindy and Janet became his new family along with any number of other rescues at a wonderful house on Vashon Island. Suzanne visited and every day saw how much progress Max was making. Gretchen saw Max too and helped with his swim and massage therapy. He was doing so much better.
No more skin issues. Better diagnosis of his many ailments — partially paralyzed larynx and diaphragm, neuropathy, etc etc etc. They provided him with new and abundant foods, acupuncture, massage, swimming, homeopathy, naturopathic treatments, etc etc etc. He traveled far and wide to see specialists and receive amazing care and treatments. Every day he got stronger, healthier, and through it all kept that amazing Max smile wide and true. Everyone, and I mean EVERY-ONE, loved him, felt his amazing warmth and compassion, and understood that Max was not just a dog with a big heart, but was a wise soul filled with so much love he glowed.
He was happy. He was loved. He lived in the lap of luxury surrounded by people and other animals who cared for him as deeply as he cared for them. True, he still struggled with walking, but he was making progress…until one day, when he developed a limp in his back leg.
Max depended on his back legs. His front legs (due to nerve damage) were getting stronger, but he depended on his hind legs to get around, to hold himself up. So a limp in the back end meant another trip to the vet. Pinched nerve? Muscle strain? Disc issue? No one was certain but after imaging, too much was certain.
Max had osteosarcoma – bone cancer.
Prognosis? Not good. Amputation was the only hope, but you can’t take a two-legged dog and make him a one-legged dog. He didn’t have the strength to pull himself around in a wheelchair.
And the pain. Max was clearly in a lot of pain. Amputation would only buy him a few months and those few months would be excruciatingly painful and exhausting.
And so the decision was made. At 4 years old, Max left this earth and joined the Big Sky of Big Souls. They’ll need to make room for that Big Guy. His heart alone would take up most of the room and his body, now no longer crippled, will need acres and acres of room to romp and play and stretch and run and yes, most importantly, sit with sheep on a large hill overlooking an enormous valley.
That’s how I see Max now — watching guard over all the other souls who have had made this similar journey, who now live in the Big Sky of Big Souls. It’s a responsibility he takes on willingly, no doubt and I, for one, am really glad to know that he is the guardian at the gate.
I have a lot of friends of there now. I’m sure you do too. You can rest assured that Max is watching over them. He was like that.
And when it is my time to make that journey, I will run to the gate, bark at Max, and I know he will stand tall and straight and smile. “Hey little buddy,” he’ll say to me and off we’ll go across the pasture to find all of our friends once again.
A few days after we learned of Max’s passing, Gretchen and I were out for a walk one morning when a little white bundle of fluff came walking down the street. I turned to Gretchen and said, “She looks like a miniature Max!” Indeed, the little fur ball was a Great Pyrenees and about as wonderful a puppy as anyone could hope for. I’m usually not very comfortable with puppies licking and sniffing me, but when I saw this smaller version of Max, I let myself be snuggled and caressed and the whole time I wagged my tail. I’m not necessarily one to believe in reincarnation, but I’m pretty sure, a piece of Max’s spirit lives inside that amazingly beautiful puppy!
Quillette – My Favorite Auntie
It’s almost too hard to write about. There has been a lot of loss in my life recently and while each loss is painful, there are some losses that cut so close to the bone, they are all the more difficult to share.
I have known Quillette my whole entire life. She was there when I came to live in my home. She was there throughout my life including the daily walks, the big adventures, and those quiet moments when our moms would all hang out together baking goodies, laughing in the sun, skiing in the mountains, and every drop of life in between. Q (as we called her) was my Auntie. She put me in my place when I was too rowdy, she showed me how to bark at squirrels, and most importantly, she taught me the joy of greeting people at the door.
Quillette was a master of fun and welcoming greetings. She’d sing this song that was part bark and part melody and if she was really super excited, which is what she was when she came to our house, the barking and dancing and smiling would continue for a good 10 or 15 minutes.
She loved coming to our house and walked around greeting everyone and pulling out her favorite toy from my toy box — her blue Kong. She pranced around the kitchen, singing her song, now muted with the toy in her mouth and when she thought others weren’t paying enough attention to her, she’d toss that Kong our way.
True, there were times when Q and I scuffled. Nothing horrible, though Gretchen will tell you how one time, we got into it. Gretchen was on her way out the door and when she leaves, it’s always the same routine. She tells me to go to my mat, gives me some treats, and then says, “See you later” and leaves. Well, she did the routine, tossed me some treats and Q too (Monty as well as he was staying with us). She said her goodbyes and went out the door. Well, I finished my treats, got up to look at Q’s and then all hell broke loose. Gretchen opened the door really quickly, pulled us apart, and reassured Monty that it would all be okay (he had quite the surprised look on his face) and then left again.
We were fine after that and when Gretchen came back home, we were all sleeping nicely without any signs of blood in the house.
We had a few more scuffles after that, but we always got over it and, as Gretchen likes to say, I learned my place. Q was top dog and I had to honor her Aunty status or pay the price.
As Q aged, she became really affectionate with me. She licked my muzzle when she greeted me (even though I didn’t like it much) and she followed me around the yard talking her silly talk whenever she came over for a visit.
Q had always been a slow walker, but when I was around she always picked up the pace. This was true even on the day before she died. We went to visit her and she pranced around the yard like a puppy when I walked in. It made me smile to see her so happy, so much so that I even let her lick my muzzle repeatedly.
I have so many Q stories I could spend weeks writing them all down, but here are some of my favorites:
1) Butter Dog: She came to stay with us a few years back and one night while my moms were watching TV, Q went out to the kitchen and silently got up on the counter and ate half the stick of butter on the butter dish. She didn’t eat it all, though she easily could have, but I think she wanted to fool everyone that there was only a half stick to begin with. The only problem was that the half that she left had clear signs of teeth markings. Nice try, Q.
2) The booty dance: Wintertime and we get a dumping of snow in Seattle (kind of a rarity in these parts). We have booties to wear for our outing. I don mine and stand frozen in the living room because, in addition to the booties, I have to wear my dreaded coat. I don’t move. Q, on the other hand, has to wear booties too and she finds them awkward and clumsy. Does that stop her? Nope, she walks around me (still frozen and grumpy) lifting each paw up high like she’s stepping over a hurdle. Every time our moms watch this video they laugh until tears come out there eyes. I don’t see the humor, but it’s a story I will always remember.
3) River Gal: Q didn’t like to swim. She’d do it, if pressed, but she didn’t enjoy it. Not like me, anyway. I love to swim and given half a chance to jump in the water, I’ll do it. But Q always surprised me and when we went on a trip to Twisp on the Methow River, we hung out in the hot high desert heat and played in the river. When Q got too hot, she’d walk up river and slide into a current and float back down to where we were. It was hysterical. She’d walk back up again and again and float down over and over like a Dog Log floating to the ocean. What a way to cool off, eh?
4) Aunty Q: Despite the fact that sometimes we tussle over food, Q was my protector. If another dog got too rough with me, Q would be right there to fight them off. It was very sweet and though I could defend myself, I really appreciated her help. No one messed with Q, that’s for sure!
Yes, it makes me smile to remember that sweet gal, but it also makes my heart heavy. There’s been a lot of that heaviness this summer. With all this loss, I’ve really spent time reflecting on how fleeting our time is here on this earth. Every dog friend has shown me to live my life to the fullest, not to waste one single moment in regret, and to greet each day as a gift.
Q will be in the Big Sky of Big Souls, too. When I arrive, I know she’ll be singing and I know I will listen for her voice among my friends. And yes, I’ll let her lick my muzzle as much as she wants.
Rest in peace dear friends and thank you for the gift of your lives in mine!
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