Grey Muzzles

My Lucy Annabel. How I still miss you, Goose!
On Sunday night I decided to cap off the evening with a hot bubble bath. P was working and the kid was in our room watching "Ramona and Beezus." I took this opportunity to finish reading "Dog Town," a book about the pooches who live at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. I had been trying to finish the book for weeks, but every time I sit down to read, it seems like the short person who lives in my house has a VERY URGENT need for me to: pour her some juice, get a knot out of her shoelaces, get her a popsicle from the freezer, and so forth. But finally, I had a few minutes to myself.

The last chapter of the book covers the story of Mr. Bones. Mr. Bones was a mixed breed dog who came to the sanctuary from Puerto Rico. He was extremely dog-aggressive (an attitude that had served him well on the rough streets where he was found) and had to live in a run by himself at Best Friends. As is often the case with dogs that don't like other dogs, Mr. Bones had a hard time finding a forever home. The years ticked by and although Mr. Bones had a lot of friends on the staff and even a band of ladies from New Jersey who came specifically to visit him and volunteer at the sanctuary every year, everyone hoped he would find a home of his own someday. Over the years, he had mellowed considerably and didn't have the energy and/or inclination to threaten other dogs quite so much. Finally, it happened. After a dozen years at the sanctuary, Mr. Bones was adopted by a lady from Maryland. By now he was elderly, his face grey and his bones creaky, but he had his own home at long last. Sadly, he died after just four months in his permanent home, but he had his happy ending nonetheless.  Sharon, the nice lady who adopted him, said she did not regret anything and was quoted as saying, "I loved that stinky old dog."

So, here I was, reclining in the tub, surrounded by bubbles, crying my eyes out. I kept looking at the photo of Mr. Bones and his grey muzzle. Just then, the kid came in.  This was actually her third visit because, you know, God forbid I should bathe without an audience. "Mommy, what's wrong?" she asked.

"Oh, I was just reading something sad," I said.  "I can't stop thinking about it." I told her briefly about Mr. Bones. 

"Why can't you stop thinking about it?"

"I don't know how to stop thinking about something.  My brain won't let me. Do you know how?"

She smiled, shrugged, and hopped up onto the toilet to pee (because, you know, using the other bathroom would be crazy). "I just stop thinking about it, that's all." 

Oh but that it were so easy. For days I had been thinking about an article I read the week before.  It would probably be more accurate to say I was haunted by it. The topic was bears in China and bile harvesting. I will not include any details here, but please Google it if you wish. On Facebook people are always posting petitions, supporting this or protesting that. I can't understand the point of it all, really. People commit horrible acts every minute of every day. The very best you can hope for from a petition is to sway public perception in hopes that something that is currently accepted will eventually be frowned upon by polite society (dog fighting is a good example, I think). But as far as I can tell, as long as suffering goes on behind closed doors or in some faraway land, out of sight is out of mind.

I had also been thinking about a Boxer named Cecilia. Cecilia came into our rescue years ago.  She was a cute little brindle girl.  Luck was seldom on her side, though, because she was adopted and returned a couple times over the years. It was never any fault of her own.  She was returned a few months ago because the adopters lost their home and had to move. My friend Kathy was fostering her this time around. I was at her house last month and was amazed to see that Cecilia, who was nine years old by now, had very little grey on her face and was as energetic as a dog a third her age. She bounced around my friend's living room like a nut. That is why I love Boxers - they never lose that joie de vivre. We thought she'd be in rescue for a while, but much to our surprise, Cecilia was adopted rather quickly. She was adopted by an older couple who had a Rottweiler. They weren't too picky - any dog who got along with their Rottie could have a home with them. Cecilia fit the bill. And they adored her.

Sadly, however, her luck ran out again. Almost immediately after adoption, her new owners found that her lymph nodes were swollen. Cecilia had just been to one of our rescue's veterinarians for an exam, and he hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary. So either he missed the lumps in Cecilia's neck or they formed very quickly. Either way, the diagnosis was devastating: lymphoma. It was fast-moving and fatal. Just two weeks after being adopted, Cecilia was gone. Blinking back tears, I read an email from the adopters describing how they adored her and how they would see her again someday, in another realm. On behalf of the rescue, I sent a flowering plant to them in their girl's memory. 

Senior dogs are hard to place. We've had quite a few pass away in rescue while waiting for their forever home.  This is not the worst thing, because they do live in foster homes and are dearly loved. But it's always nice when we can find each one a home of his own. I had Fritz for a solid year before he landed a loving home. Fritz (Fritty Cent, Fritzenheimer) is still doing well and is adored by his mom. He will be twelve in January and I sure hope he is immortal. Although most of our applicants are looking for young dogs, there are a special few who happily take in the seniors. They can look beyond the grey muzzle, the cloudy eyes, the stiff gait. They know the time will probably be short and will ultimately end in utter heartbreak, but they never regret the decision. Just when I think I can't take one more email from someone wanting to surrender a dog because they "just don't have time for him," I remind myself about all of the amazing adopters I've met over the years, the ones who are heroes to dogs in need.

A few months ago I received the following email from an adopter whose Boxer had just passed away (they adopted him in 2010 and last him about a year later). I had written to her to express my condolences.

Thank you very much Claudia for your kind thoughts. I know every animal owner dreads this time in a pet's life. We are taking it day by day. Knowing that our Ozzie had lived fully and was loved completely until his last moments helps. (Having other dogs to comfort us helps too, though they are mourning in their own ways. It even took them 2 days to lay on "his" couch!  )

What a wonderful experience adopting was for our family!  I truly feel though that he adopted us.  I'll never forget seeing his picture and saying to Joe -  "that's the one" and he was. He brought such a sense of humor and balance to our family. Yes, he was lumpy and bumpy, but I never saw any of that and no one else did after they met him.  He was actually an ambassador for diversity and acceptance!  

Years ago, I bought a book for my children called Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed.  The last page always sticks in my mind -- "So in this world of the simple and odd, the bent and the plain, the unbalanced bod, the imperfect people and differently pawed, some live without love...that's  how they're flawed."

I would do it again in a heartbeat! What we gave to Oz was returned ten fold! Thank you for all your hard work with all these beautiful boxers. 

As you can probably predict, I did indeed shed a few tears when I read this email. Many times I've wondered why I am sentenced to a lifetime of wearing my heart on my sleeve, why I am hard-wired to feel everything so deeply. Is it a personality flaw? I don't know. In software development there is an old joke: "Oh, that's not a bug. It's a feature!" 

As I watch my sweet, goofy Gideon slowly turning grey (his eyebrows are well on their way), and as I think about Mr. Bones, Cecilia, Oz, and Fritz, I know that, at the end of the day, a grey muzzle is worth so very much.