My little lieutenant

Over the years we’ve both shared the loss of two immediate family members, two corgis, a senior chihuahua, one cairn terrier and a hospice cat.

My boy Tuck’s definitely not a kid, but his exact age is unknown.

Thirteen maybe?

Perhaps older.

Tuck was found 11 years ago as a stray traveling country lanes in Missouri,
not too far from a puppy mill.

The pads on his little feet were worn down from his life on the road.

“Probably dumped because he was no longer useful as a breeding dog,” my kindly vet had speculated back then, shaking his head

I’m seeing more gray hairs now framing Tuck’s face with eyes increasingly cloudy as he sits next to me this morning.

Just where he’s chosen to be.

After all, Tuck’s always been my loyal little lieutenant.

He’s also been my anchor in an often stormy sea the last decade.

They’ll likely be a sunset before too long when I’ll have to lift that anchor and finally set Tucker free.

But in the meantime, I’ll be celebrating this courageous and constant companion and the great comfort he’s always given me.

It seems this senior pup finally found his purpose.

How lucky am I?

Cuddling with a corgi

The night after my corgi Maddie passed away, I stopped by a big patio adoption event just to cuddle with the one corgi who was scheduled to attend.

I scratched the sweet dog’s soft ears.

And rubbed her roly poly belly.

Then I gave her one big hug.

I got my corgi fix.

I know it definitely helped with the grief.

I was thinking again about Maddie this week when I came across another very special event.

This time it was a dog event only involving corgis.

Come “pet a corgi and take a picture,” a Facebook post beckoned.

It was a fundraiser for a rescue group I know well.

As my friend and I walked briskly today towards the brewery where the event was being held, we were surprised to see a long line going all the way down the block.

Then suddenly we saw excited corgis and enthusiastic owners everywhere.

Some corgis were in tutus, others in bow ties and bright t-shirts.

One or two were even neatly tucked into back packs.

Inside the brewery there was a party room in back where I was told more than 50 corgis were already assembled and available for pets, paw shakes and photos.

Once inside, my friend and I skipped the packed party room and hung out in front where other corgis ‘on stand by’ were mingling with the crowd along with the occasional Boston terrier, bull dog, or bichon who mistakenly stumbled in.

I was thinking that maybe we just love our corgis like crazy in the midwest, or maybe we know how to warm ourselves up on a cold winter’s day.

But what I do know is if all dogs go to heaven, my girl Maddie was looking down at me this afternoon and definitely smiling.

I know that I was for sure.

The Cat who came for Christmas

“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.” – St. Francis of Assisi –

Even one sunbeam is a gift from above in mid January and I was particularly grateful they were present early yesterday morning.

Mr. Bojangles, my hospice cat, was warmed by those same sunbeams as he took his last little breath.

My heart was warmed some as well.

It seems Mr. Bojangles decided to leave on his own terms.

He passed away peacefully while the car was warming up so I could drive him to our vet.

However, Mr. Bojangles earlier days had been anything but cozy, and were laced with many shadows. He had originally come to the shelter as part of an animal cruelty case.

Yet his days in my home appeared to be happy ones for him. He fit right in with the household and immediately claimed his special spot on a desk near a window.

It was just perfect for catching a sunbeam or two, as well as a quick catnap.

Mr. Bojangles passed exactly one month after he came to us from the shelter.

Though his time here was brief, I will always remember the sunny days we spent together and smile.

And I am at peace knowing the shadows in his life are finally gone forever.

Beauty blooms in January

“Beauty is so quietly woven through our ordinary days that we hardly notice it. Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness there is beauty.”

-John O’Donohue
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Perhaps it was a little crazy to take on a hospice cat over the holidays, or was it?

I was asking that potentially depressing question to a friend earlier this week since my husband passed away in hospice right after Christmas a few years ago.

On this gloomy bitter cold Sunday I’ve been watching Mr. Bojangles curl up on a cozy cat bed right beside me.

And I’ve actually been finding myself smiling.

Mr. Bojangles is holding his head up high, but not quite as high as he did when he first joined me.

Still he does so with grace.

Sure the fellow’s estimated to have only 2-5 months left at this point, but who really knows when our time is up anyway.

Three days ago Mr. Bojangles had stopped eating and didn’t seem to be drinking water. Yet by the next evening, I discovered he was back in the game.

However, it’s clear his appetite isn’t what it once was no matter the type of food given.

I’ve also noticed Mr. Bojangles is moving a bit slower, still every step he takes is deliberate. Though I no longer find him climbing the stairs to join the dogs up in the kitchen for breakfast.

Instead he prefers I join him in his private room and hold him as he tenderly takes in every flake of his tuna meals.

It seems Mr. Bojangles likes this extra one on one time.

I do know that I love providing him the extra attention he deserves along with some extra warm blankets.

Mid January can be especially cruel here in the upper midwest and this week has been no different.

Sub zero temperatures, icy roads with 20 car pile ups, and what looked like the loss of my hospice cat 3 days ago was beginning to play havoc with my soul.

Yet as I smell my beef stew now simmering in the crock pot while watching fresh snowflakes dance out the window to the sounds of that hospice cat still purring softly, I know it still is a beautiful world.

Yes, even in January.

Mr. Bojangles

I spent Christmas Eve four years ago in an empty hospital watching Saturday Night Live reruns with my husband, Richard.

It was always his favorite show.

I held his frail right hand in mine, but found myself smiling.

My husband slept mostly, yet didn’t seem to be in pain.

Richard was in hospice at the time and wasn’t expected to make it until Christmas Day.

Though my mind was sometimes on overtime processing a host of decisions and emotions, I still found something beautiful about my husband’s hospice experience.

You see I often found myself living in the moment as well.

Maybe that’s why I found myself drawn to go back to see a special hospice cat I met last week at a local shelter.

This dear man will be joining me for Christmas Eve, and for the rest of his days.

The happy cat’s name is Mr. Bojangles, and it seems he still likes to dance.

At least for now.

But of course, I’ll still be there even when he doesn’t.

After all, that’s what life’s all about.

Isn’t it?

Sweet Passage: Part 2

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
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Clarence, a kindly guardian angel shared those words in the classic 1946 movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.”

And I’ve often found the words ring even more true when talking about our dogs.

As my fourteen year old lame corgi Maddie continued to struggle last summer with various health issues, I was already feeling an all too familiar void coming my way.

While lamenting with a fellow corgi owner strolling by with his own corgi pup, I was advised to adopt another dog before Maddie passed on “to help ease the pain.”

He was speaking from his own experience.

“Thanks for the suggestion,” I said dismissing the advice right after our conversation.

After all, I still had a couple of four legged friends back at home.

Yet I knew the hole in my heart was growing as Maddie’s days continued to shrink.

I suppose it was no surprise that I found myself stopping by a small rural shelter one afternoon while driving out in the country.

I’d been visiting a nearby cemetery where my parents and brother were buried, and was feeling a little blue.

As I first entered the shelter, I immediately spotted a white, five pound dog dancing with joy as he first saw me.

The silver wispy curls shining like a halo on his head reminded me some of Clarence the angel.

And this little fellow was clearly a senior as well.

Estimated to be about ten years old, the dog was a dirty, matted mess when he’d first arrived at the shelter. He had so much hair on his body that the staff could only guess at the breed hidden below.

This former stray was gifted the name Dirty Harry, cleaned up, and had since been shaved down.

A half hour after my arrival a smiling Harry and a smiling me walked together out of the shelter after completing the adoption paperwork.

But I chose to leave the dirty part of his name far behind.

Once back in my home, Harry quickly got to work befriending Maddie as she rested on her cozy plaid dog bed in the kitchen.

Harry would share his sweet smiles and dancing acumen in spontaneous recitals of joy right next to the stove.

Maddie appeared to approve of her new friend, watching every move.

She once loved to dance herself on her short hind legs years prior to her lameness.

Harry seemed to fall in love quickly with his new big sister, joining Maddie in her pet stroller on our trips to the farmer’s market and for outdoor band concerts down by the lake.

And also on that comfy dog bed.

Maddie soon was smiling brighter again herself.

Yet just two months and a day after Harry’s adoption, the music suddenly stopped.

Harry left us while sleeping on my shoulder, just like he did every night.

My vet suspected Harry was much older than ten and detected a heart murmur, though it was still unclear why Harry had died that evening.

But one day a week later it became clear to me.

Earlier that morning Maddie had passed on as well.

I like to think Harry, her new friend and protector, had come back to get her.

He was a special angel after all.

This little guardian and guide granted Maddie the wings to finally move on to a more beautiful place where she could kick up her heels and run free once more.

Yet my heart remains full, just at the thought.

Sweet Passage: Part One

“…So their work is mostly us, their families. They stay close, pay close attention, watch over us, and are always available to us.”

Book author Jon Katz wrote those words in a post last week about smaller dogs.

I smiled as I read it, and I also cried some as well.

My 14 year old corgi Maddie had just passed away last Monday.

It seemed I’d become Maddie’s purpose over the years after a brief stint as a breeder dog.

And she handled her role with grace, love and compassion always.

I often felt she’d become my own unique caregiver over the last decade as I dealt with the loss of both my parents and husband from Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

She’d calm my constant rage with the cruel disease by simply offering her belly for scratching or even a soft ear that would just listen.

Sometimes it was a just a big, wet button nose to kiss.

Maddie’s whole face wore joy so well, even in her final months.

She radiated happiness in her pet stroller as we’d navigate around the lake in the sunshine.

And Maddie looked even happier as we’d stop at the nearby bakery for free sugary smells and fresh samples.

Yet she was also very content just keeping an eye on me from her cozy dog bed in the kitchen in her final days.

After all, she still saw it as her job till the end.

Those big round eyes were so full of soul, yet often they were mixed with just a little mischief.

No wonder everyone loved Maddie, both man and beast.

The morning after Maddie passed, my Chi pup Rex was blue and refused to eat for the first time.

And my Yorkie Tucker, hid under the bed.

He’s never done that before either.

Yet this week we all seem to be moving on.

I know Maddie’s in a good place. And as I told the rest of the canine clan this morning, “Don’t worry, she’s still watching over us.”

I like to think they agreed as we looked up at the sky while walking out the door into the beautiful day before us.

Finding the sunshine

“I’m crabby,” I told my pup Rex early yesterday, but he wasn’t listening.

He seems to know when Sunday’s rolls around again, and that day is his fun day.

Rex wasn’t going to let my foul mood and gray skies get in the way of his plans.

He knew an extra long walk was already on the morning agenda for just the two of us.

Just like we do every Sunday.

With my senior canines softly snoring in some kind of post breakfast bliss, Rex and I quietly snuck out the back door.

As we got closer to the lake where we typically walk, my mood was still heavy.

The heat and humidity generated during the week hadn’t come from just the weather.

Ignoring his usual stop to smell sweet cinnamon bread cooling from the oven at the bakery, Rex’s nose instead led me to a display of flowers on the steps outside an old church across the street.

I found myself taking a picture, but it wasn’t one of the typical pretty nature shots I try to take on our walks.

It represented the ugly horrendous side of human nature.

An act of gun violence.

Before us stood a makeshift memorial for a beautiful woman, and one of great peace.

A yoga and meditation instructor who had taught in the rooms inside.

She was shot accidentally by whom some call a trigger happy police officer last weekend.

Yet there were other victims as well, including:

-Our Somali community, as that police officer was the first Somalian officer in his precinct.

-Our police chief who was soon fired in the aftermath.

-And perhaps soon our mayor, who’s still directly in the line of fire from all the finger pointing.

I also believe many members of our police department and their families are suffering from the often unkind discourse on social media.

I feel too for the children in the community and their parents. How does a mother or father even begin to explain an accidental police shooting to a son our daughter?

Our city continues to grieve.

Rex and I stood for a while on the church steps looking at the brightly colored chalk drawn hearts surrounding us and small animals displayed next to the flowers.

It seems the woman who lost her life was also a trained veternarian and animal lover.

I read a sign written by the spiritual community that she was a part of inside the old church.

It spoke of “recognizing her message of love, peace and non-violence.”

Rex and I stood a minute longer in reflection and continued down the hill to the lake.

As we walked we found some serenity in the boats sailing by. And later a peace garden provided some comfort for our weary souls and feet.

As we turned to go back home I spied a patch of sunflowers and blue skies across a field.

I smiled and I like to believe that Rex did too.

Before we finished our walk, we decided to stop at the neighborhood Farmer’s Market.

I saw many shoppers carrying single white roses with their radishes and arugala.

As I turned the corner a smiling couple at an unmarked table ask me to take a rose “for Justine”, the beautiful woman who was killed.

They told me they were her neighbors and we peacefully spoke of the pretty day unfolding and the wonderful market.

I smiled again as well as I recalled from my days working in a flower shop that a white rose represents hope for the future.

As Rex and I left the market with our white rose and red radishes, I noticed a Laughter Yoga session was still scheduled down the street for later in the afternoon.

Perhaps life does goes on as it should, but we never forget.

Though I did choose to forget about that yoga class.

Maybe next week I thought, as I carefully placed the white rose in my most elegant vase at home.

Commited to Love

“You could divorce your husband,” the young man on the other side of the desk told me sporting a somewhat pained expression.

I sensed it wasn’t his favorite option.

Mine either.

I’d made an appointment to gain advice on how to survive an approaching tsunami of expenses involved with caring for my husband’s early onset dementia.

That conversation with the professional is like many other heart wrenching memories of caring for a middle aged 200 pound man whose memory was fading fast.

Fortunately I find the toughest recollections have now faded a bit as well, stopping by for brief interludes on holidays like Valentine’s Day along with the very good ones.

I said hello to a little photograph in the red frame this morning of my late husband and me.

It was taken the night before our wedding at my parents’ home.

They’ve also since passed on from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

But I smiled as I held it.

It was a great celebration filled with love.

And today I will celebrate only my good memories.

In addition, I will honor the new ones I am making this Valentine’s Day.

I’ll be coloring bright red and pink paper hearts shortly with some little ones.

Then spreading sweet cheer later on with some very special seniors.

And finally, I will rest well this night with my loving four legged furry friends at my feet.

It seems anyway I look at it, love is still a wonderful commitment.