"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Golden Hope

Toby comes to live with us on Thursday. We weren't going to get a new puppy until spring - at the soonest. When Riley died last February, the week of his tenth birthday, we weren't actually ever going to get another dog. The pain of watching him suffer with cancer the last weeks of his life was something neither of us wanted to repeat.

Well, maybe we would get another dog - eventually - but certainly never another Golden Retriever.

My first Golden, Jesse, was the rescued orphan upon whom I could lavish my overflowing mother heart and love while I waited for children that would never arrive. He was my biggest sacrifice in the bid for freedom from the life he cushioned me against.

Just as soon as I was settled into a new life and a new dog became a possibility, I knew I had to have another Golden. Convincing my new husband was easy, and the hunt was on. Once we decided, the search took on an urgency I didn't understand, but had no desire to deny. We found ourselves in a dirty house being shown three scrawny older pups by an equally scrawny man who smelled of mildew and cigarettes. I would have taken all three, just to get them away from that place. The new husband, often the voice of reason in the midst of my emotion hurricanes, said no as gently as possible. I chose the one who looked like she needed me the most.

And so Kelly came into my life. I loved her with an intensity born of fierce guilt and aching hope for redemption and a deep well of unfulfilled mothering. Before she was two she nearly died from a thyroid condition that left her paralyzed for months. A determined vet and my need to not abandon another life that depended on me kept her going until she was back on her feet. Weeks of daily visits to the vet clinic, more weeks of carrying her outside to our back yard and daily baths in our tub, and still more weeks of teaching her how to walk again restored her to a life that lasted for five more years. The medication that kept her going and those months of illness took their toll and her body eventually just shut down, organ by organ. She died in a clinic, alone, on a weekend I had decided to play instead of visiting her.

I was never going to feel that pain again. I was never going to feel that guilt again. I was never going to care that much again.

I held out for three years, then found a perfect solution. Walt, my no longer new husband, was ready for a dog. We had grieved Kelly long enough. He wanted the experience of being the primary person for our next dog, and he wanted another Golden. I was getting the best of both worlds. A Golden in my life to love, but he wouldn't really be mine, so the pain wouldn't be as bad when he eventually died.

Again, spring break was the time. A week home to get the puppy settled, then a few short months until the summer when we could both be home with him. We were going to be strong this time. No rescuing. No emotional decisions. No problem.

We found ourselves in the back yard of a restored Arts and Crafts bungalow in an older Portland neighborhood. I loved the home, I loved the men who owned the home, and I especially loved sitting on their lawn being overrun by thirteen balls of frenetic red fluff while Walt chose his puppy.

Somehow in the ten years Riley lived with us, he managed to become my dog, too. I was the one who took him for long walks in the park. Walks made longer by his love of the river we walked next to. I was the one who had dozens of silly nicknames for him. I was the one who made sure we remembered to give him ice cream on his birthday every year. I was the one who noticed his failing health two years before we lost him, and began grieving his departure long before he died.

When it became clear, just weeks after Riley died, that no dog ever was not possible, we began to cautiously explore our options. We figured spring break in a year would be a good time and far enough away to be choosing a new companion and not trying to replace Riley.

Clearly Golden Retrievers were a breed that were too fragile. We could avoid the pain of a too early loss by choosing a dog that was hardier. We talked about getting a pound puppy. We looked at breeds that looked like Goldens. Flat-coated Retrievers. Irish Setters. Golden Doodles. None of them felt right. The only ones either of us felt drawn to at all were the ones who looked the most like Golden Retrievers.

We finally decided this fall that we'd get a Golden, but choose a breeder very carefully. And we didn't have to decide for a long time. Spring was months away.

Somewhere in the last month or two, I found myself asking Walt fairly regularly whether he was ready for a new dog yet. Not nagging exactly, but not that subtle either. I would point out pictures of Goldens at every opportunity, and suggest online searches for kennels. We had already decided that Walt would be the primary person for our next dog, so he needed to be ready before anything could happen.

Then just last weekend, in a series of events that are nothing short of miraculous, the decision was made. The day after Walt said he was finally ready to have another dog, a friend whose Golden is in her last days called with the name of a kennel. A reputable, long-established kennel only eight miles away with puppies that would be available at Christmas. Christmas. When we have two weeks off, not just one. And this a year with no plans at all. A Christmas at home with nothing special demanding our time.

Walt called. We went to look on Monday.

We were greeted into a homey clean house by a friendly comfortable woman with an air of caution about her. She led us into her kitchen where four male puppies were gated into the dining nook. I had planned to enjoy the experience and the dogs and support Walt in his choice.

All that went out the window the minute I saw the puppies. I actually only saw one. He was redder, bigger, galumphier than the others. He had my heart completely before I had time to remember he was going to be Walt's dog.

I was in the pen, on the floor, with him in my arms before Walt even had a chance to see him. It didn't take much convincing. Walt fell just as hard as I had. An hour later, the owner was showing us to the door, all traces of caution gone, congratulating us on our choice.

Toby comes home on Thursday. He'll be seven weeks old. He'll be
our dog. He'll be loved with open eyes and open hearts. Hearts that know what they want and won't be denied.


Lola said...

I have been lurking and reading your amazing story-you are so honest. You bring me both to tears and to feelings of elation. I relate and I celebrate with you on your writing, your healing and your life now.
BUT it's taken the puppy and the sharing of your dog sorrows that has brought me out of the woodwork. I too have had my heart broken by a golden gone too soon....There are no guarantees in life but it is a risk we must take if we are to love and experience joy:)
Good luck with your new puppy.

contemporary themes said...

Crying here. Weeping, actually. Beautiful story. As you've read, I have a great deal of grief about Henry. I have cats now because I live in an apartment. I learned during Thanksgiving break that my sister had a REALLY DIFFICULT time getting a dog for her boys because of Henry and our childhood loss. She SO MAKES SURE her family's new dog, Shep, is loved and cared for!

Congratulations. Enjoy. Love.

Mark Lyons said...

I loved your post...and the pics. Little Toby (soon to be big Toby) is so lucky to be going to a loving home. You definitely treat your dogs like the children you could never have. I'm so happy for both of you...no, all three of you. Merry Christmas.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

What a day brightening post! What a DARLING puppy, and how cute are you and Walt? BEAMING! Happy, happy!


Anonymous said...

Toby is the cutest puppy I have ever seen. Those beautiful,expressive brown eyes and adorable face.......I wanted to reach through my computer screen and cuddle that bundle of total joy and love.

Your story was beautiful and had me tearing up. You captured perfectly the unconditional love, pure souls, healing powers and the overwhelming pain of their loss. Yet, it is so worth the pain, in the end, to have another dog in your life! I can't tell you how much this post touched my heart. As I write this, my beloved Sadie is laying at my feet.
What a wonderful Christmas gift for you and your husband!!

Deb Cushman said...

Toby is SOOOOOO adorable! And he is so lucky to have you and Walt for parents!

Oh, yeah, before I forget …
TAG, YOU'RE IT!!! Come to our blog to find out the rules for posting and then tagging 5 other people!

Ask Me Anything said...

A perfect time for a new life in the house!

Writer said...

oh he is soooooooo cute!
We just got a dog too! Any tips on potty training??

He thinks the Christmas tree is where he should go pee! Ugggh.

Hope you are having fun with him! He is so cute...I can smell his puppy smell from here in Minnesota!

My Own Woman said...

I can't tell you how hard your post hit home. I have two Yorkies; a 6 year old female and a 5 year old male. They are the love of my life and have done wonders to bring my father out of his depression after my mother died 7 years ago.

I have just learned, by my oldest Yorkies's behavior, that she probably has kidney disease. This of course, has been verified by the vet. I am devastated and am a basket case instead of enjoying the time I have left with her; which may be months or years depending on how much I will allow them to do to her. I don't want her to suffer, and I want her quality of life to be good; she deserves that.

I love when she snuggles under my chin and her and I take a nap together in the afternoon. Something I will never forget.

Reading your post gives me hope that there is joy in another animal that can be shared without detracting from the one that is so close to my heart now.

kario said...

Okay, how soon can I come visit again? I'm embarrassed about the squeals of delight I made just looking at the photos on your blog. Please, please, please let me come meet Toby!

Merry Christmas to you all - the three of you!

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, we love puppies!!! Toby is obviously a smart and sensitive young boy, clearly exceptional, I mean ... look-a-that-face!

It is so wonderful seeing you so happy. While you're celebrating with Toby and Walt, I'll be whooping it up with my furballs, Miss Kitty and Madonna. Oh yeah, and Jim Henry :)

Happy family, happy holiday! xo tg

Jess said...

What a beautiful puppy!! How exciting. Great story.. I totally relate to all of it though my stories are cat stories. When do we get an update? Is he there yet? He must be... :)

Nancy said...

He's beautiful and so is your story!

Wander to the Wayside said...

I've never owned a golden, but have 'rescued' two at different times in my life and sent them on to families that appreciated that their exuberant play was balanced by their gentle nature and need to be with their family IN THE HOUSE, not chained on a dog house in the back yard! Your boy is handsome and hopefully will bring you many years of love and joy.

My animals have always been my family, replacements for what I didn't have in my youth and later to fill the void of not having ten kids like I originally wanted! I could never imagine my life without at least one. In 2008 we lost three cats and two dogs to old age - the worst year ever. It had occured to us early on that they would all grow old together, but I don't think it ever crossed our minds that so many would die at one time. The pain was surreal, but two remained and one would follow.

Our boxer, Eva Jean, was paralyzed for a while as a puppy from sepsis, and still suffers from health issues as a result. I was working at a vet's office and did water therapy in the big old bathtub!