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Life and Meaning > Merle's Door/Blue

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message 1: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 19 comments I just finished reading Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote, and I'm sure I will refer to the book in this post. But I really want to talk about my dog, Blue, who we lost in June 2008.

To all the animal behaviorists and clinicians out there who maintain that dogs and other animals may seem to have emotions, intelligence and the capacity for reason, but are really only acting on instinct, self-interest and conditioned response, thereby fooling some uneducated and overemotional humans who are anthropomorphizing their "pets;" I say, I pity you, because you have obviously never had the privilege of an enduring friendship with a member of another species. And why would an animal exhibit their personality, ego, emotion, reason and humor to someone who is so bankrupt in these things themselves that they see a fellow creature as an object on which to experiment?

I don't believe that we own animals. Pity the animal whose "owner" sees in them nothing but pride in a purebred possession.

Sometimes we are our dogs' guardians, sometimes they are ours. They are our family members, our boon companions, but, most importantly, they are our friends.

Blue, a mix of Golden Retriever and black Lab, came to live with us when she was eight weeks old. A few weeks before we had lost our beloved Golden Retriever, K.C., to lung and bone cancer. Although we only had K.C. with us for four years, we loved her dearly, and she loved us. She had been a breeding dog in a reputable kennel, who "retired" her at five years old and put her up for adoption. She had been well-treated, but she had not been a family member. It was obvious that she "got" the fact that we were her people and returned our love tenfold.

When Blue was a pup, a little flurry of soft black fur and sharp teeth, getting into everything, I sometimes wondered it I would love her as much as I had loved K.C. I soon learned the answer was that, like our family, like our friends, we love each differently. Never less.

Blue as a pup was a combination of nervous hesitation and fearlessness. When I walked her somewhere she hadn't been before, she would cry and beg to be held. The next time we walked that route, she would forge ahead on her leash, head high, ears cocked forward, tale waving proudly, princess of her domain.

She loved almost everyone (except vets, whom she considered incredibly rude) and assumed everyone loved her. When they didn't, she worked hard to make friends.

Our friend, Judith, is not a dog lover. Her husband, Marty, is and, in fact, went with us to pick Blue up. Blue could not understand that Judith didn't like her. She tried and tried. Once, when she was about four years old, we had a party at our house. Judith was sitting on the floor, with the skirt of her dress making a basket in her lap. Blue approached her and was rebuffed. She then fetched her favorite toy, Bunny. Bunny started life as a cute little stuffed rabbit, but by this time resembled the Griffin Dunn character in American Werewolf in London, the ghost who deteriorates with each manifestation. Bunny was looking like him about half way through the movie. Blue proudly offered this prized possession, much chewed and smelling wonderfully nasty,dropping it in Judith's lap. She stood back, tail beating furiously, a "How do you like me now?" look on her face, as Judith screamed, "Get it off me!"

But Blue didn't give up. A few years ago, we went on a vacation where we couldn't take her. She stayed home, cared for by a friend's two teenage sons with our friend Marty stopping by to check on her. One evening, he took her to his house, and left her there while he did some errands. Judith came home in the meantime. When he arrived, they were friends. Judith never offered any explanation other than, "We bonded."

Blue never took that friendship for granted. She never jumped on her or roughhoused. When we would be at their place in the country, sitting around the campfire, she would accompany Judith up to the house for a bathroom break, wait patiently on the porch, then walk her back. Blue worked hard for that friendship, and she obviously valued it. Would an animal who couldn't reason and had no emotion be capable of making a concentrated effort at friendship over a span of years?

Blue loved the country, our friends place by the river or the camp we go to in Somerset County. But she loved home more. At the end of the camp weekend, we would find her in our van, waiting, saying, "Time to go home." She loved the comfort, my husband's and my companionship, the familiar walks and smells. And, more than just about anything, she loved being on the bed with me, reading or napping.

In 2002 I became ill, and was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had trouble judging where the wall was, and could go from 60 to zero, energy wise, in seconds. One day, on a walk, I was feeling okay, when she started pressing me to head back. She was so insistent, that I complied. Fifty yards or so from home, I ran out of energy. She wasn't happy until she got me home and upstairs in bed. I know that retrievers are adept in sensing seizures in epileptics before they happen. I don't know if she read something in my body language or chemistry, but she knew before I did.

At the end of May, 2008, we noticed a swelling on her rear end. I thought she had an impacted anal gland and made a vet's appointment. I could tell by his face as he examined her that it was something worse. A tumor had been growing, hidden in her pelvis, it was too late to do anything about it. He gave us medication for pain and inflammation and said we would know when it was time to say goodbye.

We had a party for her at our friends' place in the country, and her Uncle Al brought a whole bag of football shaped treats. on June 15, my husband was baptized and officially joined our church. We had a luncheon at our house after, and it turned out to be another goodbye party for Blue. Many folks who couldn't come to the country came that day, and she cadged treats and pets and love from everyone, as always, the gracious and mischievous queen of her domain. A few days later she became ill and couldn't keep food down. We knew that it was time, she would suffer if we didn't let her go. It was hard, and sad, but bittersweet. Because only great love can end in great loss.

In late October, I had back surgery. When my husband brought me home from the hospital, I got in bed and immediately pulled my leg up to make room for Blue. Then I looked at the empty space and felt such a sense of loss. For the first time in 12 years, she wasn't there, at least not physically.

I mourned her again as I read Kerasote's wonderful book, full of not only his loving relationship with Merle but a lot of great scientific information on dogs and their evolutionary partnership with humans.
And I was prompted to write this, her tribute and elegy.

When my back has healed, I will certainly adopt another dog. It's one of the last vestiges of magic in this world, the opportunity to have these wonderful souls share our lives.

If you've read this far, thank you for you patience and the respect it shows for Blue's wonderful spirit.
Please respond with the stories of your relationships with the non-human animals of this world.

message 2: by Ed (new)

Ed | 237 comments Mod
We had two dogs: a 90 pound standard poodle named Simon and a 12 pound italian greyhound named Dylan. Simon passed away 2 years ago and Dylan passed away a few months ago. They were the best pair together and both were my first dogs (since my dad is allergic to dogs so I never grew up with a dog). They were definitely members of the family, had emotions, were loving, intelligent, etc. Thanks for your story and in a few months or so I think we will be ready for a new puppy (it's been years--Simon lived past 12 and Dylan to 15).

message 3: by Liz (new)

Liz (hissheep) Such a wonderful tribute to your loyal companion, Blue! I've had to put two dogs to sleep - Emily, a 13 year old standard dachshund, who grew up with my daughters, and Gracie, a 10 year old mini Schnauzer, who was my companion up until 2 years ago ... probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life and the most devastating! They will live on in my memory forever!

Two years after Gracie died, I had the chance to adopt Baxter, a long-haired tweenie dachshund - he's my "little man" and holds the title of official church greeter, since he goes to work with me every day and shares his love with all who enter my office!

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