Autumns come and go.
Though gone a while, we’ll still smile.
This one’s bittersweet.
“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 truer when talking about our dogs.
As my fourteen year old lame corgi Maddie continued to struggle earlier this summer, 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, but dismissed the advice right after our conversation.
After all, I already had a couple of little four legged friends back at home.
Still I knew the hole in my heart was growing as Maddie’s days continued to shrink.
I guess it was no surprise that I found myself ‘just stopping by’ a 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 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 of Clarence.
And this little guy 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. He had so much hair on his body that the shelter couldn’t safely guess at the breed buried below it.
This little fellow, named ‘Dirty Harry’ by the loving staff, was cleaned up and had since been shaved down.
A half hour after my arrival a smiling Harry and smiling me walked together out of the shelter after completing adoption paperwork.
I’d chosen to leave the dirty part of his name far behind.
Back home Harry quickly got to work befriending Maddie as she rested on her plaid dog bed in the kitchen.
Harry continued to share his sweet smiles and dancing acumen daily in spontaneous recitals of joy right next to the stove.
Maddie appeared to approve, watching every move.
She once loved to dance herself on those short hind legs years prior to her lameness.
Harry quickly fell in love with his big sister, joining Maddie in her 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 was soon smiling brighter again herself.
Yet just two months and a day after Harry’s adoption, the music suddenly stopped.
Harry had left us while sleeping peacefully on my shoulder, just like he did every night.
My own vet suspected Harry was much older than ten and detected a heart murmur, though it wan still unclear why Harry had died that evening.
But one warm day a week later it became clear to me.
Earlier in the morning Maddie had also passed on.
I choose to believe Harry, her guide and protector, had flown back to get her.
He was an angel after all.
Maddie’s guardian and guide granted her wings to finally move on to a more beautiful place where she could kick up her heels and run free once more.
My heart is full again, just at the thought.
“…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.