Monday morning blues.
With fresh snow they choose to snooze.
Dreaming spring might come.
“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?”
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.
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Since the moment those deep soulful eyes first met mine, I knew the 6 year old corgi resting before epitomized grace.
And I sensed her grace would help lead me through the journey I was on.
Much like a spirit animal, I thought.
I’d brought my husband Richard along for the long ride to meet Maddie.
“We’re going to drive north and we’ll just take a look,” I’d told Richard earlier that morning eight years ago as I hurriedly entered the interstate to beat the heavy rush hour traffic.
But I doubt he was even listening.
Richard’s early onset dementia had also been rapidly accelerating, as was my stress. And my mother’s dementia seemed to be on the same fast track.
When we arrived at the animal shelter four hours later Maddie spotted us, sporting a smile. She soon rolled to her back, begging for a belly scratch.
I quickly felt my stress melt in spite of the chilly weather.
Maddie had been a former working dog.
“She’s was from a very questionable backyard breeder,” the volunteer told me frowning.
Living on a back porch in the frigid winter months producing litter after litter must have been miserable, I remember thinking.
Yet looking back it seemed Maddie did learn resilience, and fine tuned her nurturing skills while there.
Maybe I have as well through all she’s shared with me over the years.
Today my caregiving responsibilities are gone with the death of my husband and my mom a few years go. I’ve retired from being a caregiver, at least for now.
Maddie and I have become seniors ourselves though she’s outpacing me some in that race.
My girl’s 98 in dog years, and is totally lame.
She’s getting tired, but is still happy most days.
“You need to start thinking about Maddie’s end of life, and her quality of life,” the vet told me recently.
“I am,” I replied with a look of resignation as I walked out.
I was in desperate need of a good cry.
It quickly became my purpose that day to see the controversial movie, “A Dog’s Purpose”.
In the film I knew there was a well loved corgi portrayed who passed away.
My sobbing started as soon as that corgi appeared on screen.
And my tears were quickly creating a waterfall.
They blocked my vision as I stumbled out of my seat, past the buttered popcorn, and then blindly entered the mens’ room in search of more Kleenex.
I apologized profusely to the three gentlemen in there who were staring at me.
Now that my tears are finely gone, I’m watching for more signs that it’s time for Maddie to move on.
This morning she smiled up at me when she spotted me, just as she has so often.
I’ve been blessed to witness plenty of those warm smiles on the sometimes bumpy journey we’ve shared together.
Yet I’m also starting to pay attention to what Maddie has to say as well.
Unfortunately there are no carefully drafted end of life wishes for our aging canine friends.
“Are you ready to go girl?” I ask Maddie if she’s looking a bit down sometimes at night.
I’m not hearing an answer, at least yet.
Author Jon Katz has written in his book ‘Talking to Animals’, “If we listen, they can tell us.”
One day soon I know that Maddie will.
And I’ll be there to help her along, no matter what path she decides to take.
I only hope she can run again like the wind.