Sunday, February 10, 2008

How a Dog Changed Our Lives

This is my baby boy, Flash. Cute, huh? He has a sister, Patches, who's slightly nuts. They're litter mates, nearly six years old, Australian Shepherd mixes, their daddy being the German Shepherd next door who snuck into the yard one day, uninvited. Of the six pups, Flash and Patches most resembled the Aussie breed, leading Amy Dawn (their first mom) to take them home. They came to us, three years ago, complete with records and baby pictures.

Fifteen years ago, the Hunny and I were expecting our first child, and right about January, we decided to get a dog, to test our parenting styles and teach us to work together. A cat, bunny, fish, mice, cockatiel and a snake weren't enough, presumably because none of them were trainable. Certainly not the cockatiel. So we argued endlessly about the type of dog to get (he wanted a Golden or a Lab, and I wanted a mutt - we each had our "very good
reasons"), then headed to the nearest kennel to find the dog of our dreams, a pedigreed dog who would make us happy and listen to all our commands and be a dream to house break. The good, obedient wife that I was (was? did that change?), I agreed to a Golden or a Lab.

There were no Goldens or Labs at the kennel. Lots of little drop ki
ck dogs, which we both agreed weren't an option (my apologies to those of you who know and love and own drop kick dogs), but nothing that resembled what we were looking for. Then we saw her - the four month old Australian Shepherd who'd been there way too long. They were willing to give the buyer a big discount because of her age. We knew absolutely nothing about Aussies, had never heard of them, were told that it was a relatively new breed in the States, not yet recognized by the AKC. Also that there were far fewer genetic issues with the breed, since over-breeding wasn't yet an issue (part of our breed vs. mutt argument). She was the perfect middle ground for us, the perfect size (she was always about 60 pounds), extremely intelligent, gorgeous.

We hesitated, but asked them if we could spend some time with her. Her eyes sparkled with mischief, her nub of a tail wagged, her long legs pranced, and the ears, cocked at a jaunty angle, sealed the deal. We fell madly in love. To
ok her home and named her Clee-o. And learned some of our first lessons in parenting. For instance, never leave a young child unattended for more than 5 seconds. We came home one afternoon, after she'd been in our bathroom, and found the biggest toilet paper and towel mess imaginable. (That's our Tiger cat, checking out the damage, filling out reports to send back to the main office with our claim. The deductible was too high so nothing was covered)

Clee-o was an exceptionally bright dog, training us more than the other way around. We had more towels, blankets and clothing (and toilet paper) shredded than we knew what to do with. She certainly kept us on our toes. And eventually she taught us how to parent, though in some instances, it was after her death. We were privileged to have her for all of twelve years.

Honestly? Clee-o had a triple layer of fur, and was three different colors, making any carpet unacceptable. The dark carpet showed up the white fur and the beige carpet was COATED in black. One of the things I loved about our last home was the tile and my Swiffer, sweeping up that fur every single day, piles and piles of it. Hunny said for years, "We're never getting another dog! Definitely never another Aussie!" I'm not the greatest housekeeper and I'd have had to keep vacuuming round the clock to keep up with her fur, but it broke my heart to think that we might never have another.

The last year or so of her life, I started to pine for another Aussie, knowing she'd be gone. Hunny wanted none of it, so I stopped asking or even hinting. I certainly couldn't promise to be a better housekeeper (been there, done that, bought the lousy t-shirt, failed). Then Clee-o developed bone cancer in her shoulder and the vet wanted to put her down. I took her home on a Monday so we could say goodbye as a family. She was the only dog my kids had ever known.

That last week of Clee-o's life was one of the most intense I've ever known. A very good friend arranged for people to bring meals to us in the evenings. Friends stopped by to say goodbye. The kids struggled with it, but each got to love on her. I cried the entire week, heartbroken that my first baby was leaving us for good, grieving all the ways I'd failed her over the years and could have been a better mom. And the day we put her down, I was at peace. Sad that she was our first and last dog, but at peace.

The Hunny started to crumble a couple of days from the finish line, but the night of Clee-o's passing was the last straw for him. He broke down and sobbed like I've never seen a man do. The regret of how he could have loved her and cared for her better struck home. What it meant to him as a parent, how she was patient and obedient, always expecting only our love and loyalty, willing to always please - it all sunk in at once. It broke his heart. That night he began searching the online Aussie Rescue League in Florida for a new Aussie. About the time I was cleaning behind the furniture and finding piles of hair, thinking maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to leave the breed alone.

The second night we were online we found Flash and Patches. Maybe someday I'll tell you their story, about the neighbor, the gunshot wound, the abuse by the foster parent, how we came to have them. For now it's enough to know that my Hunny is a changed man and wanted not one, but TWO Aussies. And that they arrived the day before Mother's Day. Fully house broken, might I add. And that we love them whole heartedly. Triple fur coat and all.

Until I write again ...

Flea

25 comments:

tuney said...

Dang you for making me sob uncontrollably. So freakin' sweet. I love that you took the time to say goodbye. I always had to make that decision on the spot, way too many times than I want to count.

Geez. Now I hafta go to WalMart with red eyes. *sniff*

Gordo said...

Oh, Flea. I desperately know the pain of having put a dog, my first dog, down. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life and now you've gone and made me think about Toby again. Thank you.

Big D said...

Jeez, Got me too, I am so afraid of the fact that Tucker April and My first dog will leave us it stinks to raise them and then not have them forever but only in your memories like the time I found a pair of jeans in tuckers crate that I looked for, for a month shredded lol...

brneyedgal967 said...

What a beautiful tribute for Cleo. Or is it Clee-o? No doubt they are true members of the family and our children.

In July we had to put down our 14 year old shih-tzu, Mike. We got him when he was 1 and it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to him. I still don't think I'm over it. A month later we got Chappy.

Thanks for your story - yes, they change us for the better and are here to teach us lessons.

Marguerite said...

I miss Gerald. (Yes, we name our pets with people names.) I've been not-so-patiently waiting to get out of this apartment so I can have a dog again after all these years and now you post this. :(

Keri said...

I said goodbye to my best friend of 12 years this August 24th. It was the hardest decision i've made and the one i struggle with the most.
I still feel like i should have loved him more, let him on the bed more, walked him more, gave him more pasta... more anything and everything....
i miss him so much. The pain is still so raw. Iread that getting new friends helps, but i'm not sure yet...

Tammy said...

What a sweet and sad story. We have two dogs and if anything happened to them I think it would crush us.

Smitty76 said...

Geez, thanks for making me well up like crazy over here! I just had to blink back tears! I totally understand the love you had for your first baby...they each have a special place in our hearts. I don't know what I'd do w/out my pups and kitties!

Huckdoll said...

Flash is darling! What am awesome name as well. Pets are family members too - just like the kids, and I definitely understand you and your hubby's grief.

Beautifully written!

Thanks for the comments today!

Christine said...

What a heart-wrenching story of your baby. So hard to put down your 4 legged kid. Sounds like he had good last years though with such a loving momma and dad. Thanks for sharing your story.

Flea said...

Oh you guys! I'm so sorry I made people cry. I was just going to post pictures of Flash because he's pretty and I finally got a decent shot of him (photographing black dogs is difficult).

The vet wanted to put Clee-o down that very day, but I begged to keep her home and he gave me heavy duty pain killers. I still call Patches, who looks a lot like her, Clee-o. Clee was a mutant Aussie, with short, sleek hair.

Karen said...

I love Aussies but refuse to own them. Their superior intelligence and inherent drive require that they get tons of exercise or work. I don't have time for that. I love watching my dogs amuse themselves in non-destructive ways. And I'm with you on the drop-kick dogs. Our corgis may be small but they've got heft to them.

Flea said...

Corgis were really our only other option the second time around. And the training of the Aussies? I LOVE having rescue dogs which came fully trained! And a dog door. And a big fenced yard. They run all they want. And having two means they play with each other. It's not as bad as it was with just one. But I hear ya.

dlyn said...

I can't think of a harder thing to do than having to put down your kids' childhood dog - one of the wworst days of my life, I can tell you. I can't wait to hear about the newbies.

pam said...

Through tears I'll tell you I have an identical story. After much cajoling I convinced Mr Sweetypants we needed a pup, specifically a Sharpei. Mr Spoiler wrapped himself around our hearts like a rubberband. When he died SP said no more ever, can't stand the pain. About 8 mos later, why don't you get online and try to find a pup, a Sharpei! How about a brother and sister!!!' Then here comes Bobo and Meja. Two sweeter dogs have never been.

Then SP died leaving me with two joyous bundles of love that refuse to allow their Momma to stay sad any length of time. And in doing so save my life every day.

Mental P Mama said...

Can't. Stop. Crying. We had to put my first baby down 3 years ago, and I still haven't recovered. Boomer was a bichon-with-a-plan, and I had him before my children. I still miss him so very much.

Mostly Sunny said...

Thanks for sharing for all of us dog owners, or should I call us "dog-owned?" They sure steal our hearts, don't they? We have 3... one stray, one from PAWS, and one from Furry Friend Network. Their mix of personalities keeps us laughing at times, and shaking our heads at others.

Colleen said...

you made me cry at work, lady! I just had to put down my cat George in September, after a 18-month battle with cancer. It was truly the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life...I kept praying that God would take him in his sleep, but that was not to be the case, at least not without George suffering before his passing (I couldn't get him to take the painkillers).
I miss him every day and still hide things I knew he'd get into out of habit (mint gum, christmas bows, tape, etc.). Amazing the pawprints they leave on our hearts, huh?

Susie said...

Way to make me cry--get all teary right in the middle of starbucks--just when people were staring at me from laughing so hard--now they really want me committed.

I'm sorry you had to go through that but it sounds like you have amazing support and the neatest Hunny in the world.

my pup-jackers-- will live forever btw

Flea said...

You guys all make me cry, with your stories of loss and love. Thank you for your overwhelming response - to the animals who touched all of YOUR hearts.

Weezee said...

Oh my gosh you did me in. What a touching story.

Tanya Brown said...

This was a touching story. This is one of the gifts dogs often give us, teaching us how to love more fully and unabashedly.

I've only known one Aussie, and he struck me as quite smart. My folks put him in their bathroom the first night he was home, to give him time to acclimate and get used to the other dogs.

The next morning they found claw marks around the doorknob (evidently he'd had a try at opening it), the window somehow opened, the screen popped loose, and the Aussie outside with the other dogs. Right! Message sent and received.

Mary said...

I have one thing to say, Flea. Cockateils are positively evil things. How do I know this? Because the one you had in Florida tried to eat my face every time I came to visit. Evil! Eeeeeevil! Shuuuuunnnnn....


Anyway, the picture your mom did of Clee-O is beautiful, and I'm so glad the she did the one of Shelby before we put Shelby down last fall. It makes it mean so much more, because it is so terribly hard to lose them.

Around The Funny Farm said...

I love your blog Flea. This story made me choke up. I can relate. I'm going to be in HUGE trouble when either of my two Aussies or Fluffy, our cat leave my life.

I'm glad you had that week to love on that dog.

**hugs**
Beth

Around The Funny Farm said...

And.. no exaggeration about that triple coat... I think that triple coat DOUBLES during a PA winter... lol