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.


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.

Dignity, with a dose of joy

Grief is a funny thing.

Or maybe not.

You think you’ve got proper protection then something bites you in the backyard.

Just like a big old mosquito.

I was outside playing with the dogs tonight when I got stung.

There laying on the freshly cut grass before me was my loving corgi Maddie. My girl’s close to 14 now and she was looking lethargic with her head down on the ground.

One of Maddie’s backlegs is lame, and now the second seems to be slowing down as well.

I joined her on my stomach anyway right next to her, and started snapping pictures.

But that usual magical spark was missing in Maddie’s eyes which was bringing me down even lower.

My girl’s expression reminded me of the words my paternal grandmother shared with me in her eighties.  “It’s hell getting old,” Grandma would often say before she passed from Alzheimer’s a few years later.

I stopped and thought for a moment about about those I’ve lost in in my life, particularly in the last 3 or 4 years.

There once was a mother, one husband, and three sweet senior dogs.

Mom, my spouse Richard, and even one of the dogs had dementia. And yet they all managed to keep happy in spite of their illnesses.

Perhaps even happier than my late corgi Mariah and chi-doxie Greta who held on to their cognitive skills till the day each of them passed on.

I began to scratch Maddie’s soft belly for a while to calm her and to calm me.

Suddenly a mourning dove began to croon on the weathered fence post behind us, but it wasn’t a sad song at all.

Then a monarch darted and danced right past Maddie’s black nose demanding her attention before taking off for the barbecue next door.

Soon I saw joy and dignity return to Maddie’s face.

And I felt a growing smile on mine as my camera hooked just the shot I was looking for.

It’s definitely a keeper.


Christmas story

It was five years ago this week when I drove through a snowstorm to meet Grandma Greta, a soon to be 11 year old chi-doxie mix.

She was signed up for a holiday event with the local rescue group.

I’d noticed her image on the masthead for the group’s website. Those jet black airplane ears taking half of the width of the page definitely caught my attention.

I was about to retire from short term fostering at the time.

My husband Richard’s rapidly declining memory loss had made conducting home visits and attending meet and greets with foster dogs unrealistic.

I’d been thinking instead about becoming a permanent foster of a hard to place black senior dog.

I had no particular interest in 4 pound yippee pocket dogs, but there was something about Greta’s gray muzzle and those big black ears. And also her life story. She’s spent the first 10 years on the road with a trucker who was ill, then a family with young children who terrified her.

After dropping off my husband at his adult day care center, I finally arrived at the busy pet warehouse that chilly Saturday.

I wandered inside, past the line for Santa to the back of the store, where I immediately recognized little Greta.

Instantly, I was smitten. I knew she was going home with me.

Against my better judgement, I decided to bring her over to Santa for a picture. The challenges of my husband’s dementia had been bringing me down and I thought a photo would put me in the holiday spirit.

Greta wasn’t exactly thrilled as I placed her in Santa’s lap. One photo was taken and she jumped on down, slipping and sliding forth on rows of shiny linoleum and underneath ceiling high shelf units.

A store employee and I finally trapped her.

Santa never even got Greta’s list.

But I still bought Greta an extra small snowflake sweater and rawhide, even though I was thinking she probably deserved coal in her stocking.

The first couple of weeks, Greta was very icy towards me. I saw those tiny teeth a few more times than I would have liked.

Yet she seemed to warm up to Richard.

I would place her in his lap each night. Though he no longer spoke more than a few words, Richard would always instinctively stroke her back and Greta would peacefully doze off.

As Greta loved food, I was finally able to bribe my way into her heart as well.

Not long after Greta moved in, it was necessary to transition my husband to a group home. Greta loved it there and would twirl in her 25 cent garage sale tutu for the residents.

And she’d continue to nap in my husband’s lap on visits until he passed away two years ago this Christmas.

Yet afterwards Greta reinvented herself again.

She was now my lap dog.

And she was also my social butterfly. Greta loved to go to dog friendly coffee shops and bookstores. She’d be in her glory on long road trips or even short jaunts to McDonalds. And she was a big fan of pet friendly church services, where she’d always try and steal my communion bread and wine.

Greta also finally found she was no longer afraid of young children in the area, who all believed she was still a puppy at sixteen because of her tiny size

I like to think she was flattered, as she was a little diva after all.

Yesterday, I wrapped up my little diva in her favorite red velveteen blanket from the couch.

And we took a drive in a snowstorm.

This time it was to the vet, as she hadn’t been feeling well.

The vet told me it was time for Greta to move on once again.

Crying some, I agreed. And I let her go.

Afterwards, I bought another red velveteen blanket at the store. And last night, my dogs Tucker, Maddie and I watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on TV, sitting on Greta’s favorite couch.

I dozed off a bit, and awakened later to the sound of a train whistle from the tracks that run by the depot where my husband’s memorial service was held.

I smiled, thinking Greta was helped up to that holiday train and found her way back to my husband’s lap, wherever he may be.

The thought gave me great comfort, and I slept like a baby.

And Grandma Greta, I hope you are as well.