Friday, October 15, 2010

Life lessons from a dog

Polar's Mom started following my blog a bit ago...and when I finally got off my happy butt to visit her page, I saw that Polar was the name of her dog...a Great Dane.

Seeing his picture - especially one where he's curiously looking at the leaves on trees - made miss Chassis more acutely than I have in the recent past.

Polar's Mom wrote a post today - about everything that she learned from Polar...and it's beautiful. If you're a dog person, I encourage you to read it. 

It got me thinking about my own dog and what I can learn from her.

I've said it before, but Chassis was 2 when she started being really unstable on her feet.  At first, we thought it was Wobbler's (which is what Polar suffered from), but after thousands of dollars of tests, we found that she had a neurological problem.  It started with her trembling as she would lay down.  Then she wouldn't sit...she'd go from standing up to laying down pretty quickly.  In fact, once I realized her reluctance to sit, I never encouraged her to do so again...and that was three years before she died.

She wasn't very healthy ever.  Oh, she had the heart of a champion, but she was just accident prone like no other dog I've been around.  You'd think this would've slowed her down - somehow dampened her zeal to live life to the fullest, but no.

One spring day, she was running at the dog park and I saw her limping after other dogs.  We had been at the park for about 5 minutes at this point.  I went over to her and found that the padding of three of her paws had come off.  There was new paw padding underneath, but it was so raw and tender...and that's what was making her limp.  I took her to the vet immediately and after antibiotics and ointment, they gave strict instructions to wrap each foot and try to get her to not bite at them.  Because she was so tall, she could have the "cone of shame" on and still get to her feet...  The only solution was to wrap her feet and then put a little paw bootie over them so she wouldn't get to them as easily.

So I did that.  And then we visited my mom for Easter...where my sister's dog also was.

My sister's dog is a pit bull mix - weighing in around 40 pounds.  the picture above shows them together.  Yes, that's how big she was.

Anyway, my sister's dog didn't like Chassis playing with her as much as Chassis liked she'd run out a little dog door and stay outside.  Chassis wanted so badly to play with her that she started sticking her head through the same dog door - hoping that miraculously she could shrink down to the size that the little dog was.

Obviously, it didn't work.

It was just Chassis and me for almost 5 years of her life...but then, when we moved in with Joe in April, it became the three of us.  We lived downtown for about the last two months of her life - and during that time, I saw her spirit rise up again and again.

She couldn't run and her endurance wasn't what it used to be.  She'd long since stopped sitting and she shook 100% of the time.  People walking by thought she was cold or scared, because she trembled so much.  She couldn't help it.  But she loved the walks downtown.  She got to smell all the good spots and got to meet literally hundreds of people.  Everywhere we'd walk, jaws would drop and people would approach us to pet her.  She was 42" from her shoulders to the ground - a tall dane for sure - and the comments of  "That's not a dog, that's a horse!" followed us more often than not.  People asked to take pictures with her and asked if they could pet her.  I'm sure that at first it was due to her size, but after the initial shock wore off, they'd inevitably comment on how soft her ears were or how kind and sweet her eyes were.

The thing is, I've never seen homeless people react to anything the way they reacted to her.  Maybe I could've been scared about it, but they'd come up and she gave them the respect that they didn't seem to get from anyone else.  Homeless people are people too - and she seemed to understand that eye contact is something that they didn't get often.  She'd lean on them just as she would a Wall Street banker...everyone deserves a little affection.

One day an old man came up to me and asked me a lot of questions about her.  He eventually disclosed that he was a photographer...or at least that he used to be...before his Parkinson's made it more difficult to hold the camera steady.  I explained that that was kind of what Chassis had - a neurological problem that made her shake all the time.

The man got tears in his eyes, leaned down and hugged her - saying "See Chassis?  You understand what it's like, don't you?"  She looked at him and wagged her tail.  I like to think that she did know exactly what he was going through.

He wrote down his name on one of his old postcards and offered to take a picture of her - a dog that touched his heart.

I never called him.  It's one of my biggest regrets.  I thought I had time.  I thought WE had time.

I can't imagine another dog touching me how Chassis did.  She was amazing, patient, and loving.  How often do I exude those characteristics?

She was limited by her medical problems, but she did what she could.  

I'm sure she was uncomfortable...but she sucked it up.  And even at the end, when her eyes were so bloodshot from having not been able to relax, and her muscles so fatigued, she still crawled into my MINI and took the last ride to the vet.  She didn't want to, but I asked her to trust me one last time.  And so she did. 

I think that this feels so powerful to me because the last week or two, I've been so uncomfortable.  I'm cramping pretty much all day long.  And I'm bleeding.  I'm fatigued.  I'm worried.  I'm so ready to get this stupid uterine fibroid out of my system.  I've started to pull away from a lot of social situations...I just don't feel up to it.  Sometimes I feel that this fibroid is draining me more each day.

When I look at Chassis' pictures, I realize that she did what she could.  She embraced each new adventure as a chance to see or do something she hadn't before.  She loved people and pets alike. She never snapped at anyone.  Not once.

I can do that.  I may not be able to do much socially the rest of the year - I certainly won't be able to run.  But I'll do what I can.  And I don't have to take it out on others.

When I need to rest, I will.  When I need comfort, I'll lean on others.  And in the meantime, I'll be optimistic about the future - I'll trust that things will get better and that I'll be taken care of.

And when I get my strength back, I'll make a conscious effort to run the routes that she couldn't.  I'll bake cookies or put together winter care packages for the homeless people in our neighborhood.

And I'll stop to smell/enjoy all the good stuff.


Polar's Mom said...

Wow. Thanks for the kind words, you're a sweetie. But thank you more for sharing your lessons and inspiration from Chassis-I think that is the true testiment to her life-what she left behind.
I like to think of Polar and Chassis running around like jackasses, awkward limbs flying everywhere, ears flopping in the wind-having bodies that didn't fail them.
A perfect respite for some perfect creatures...

Vb said...

you should put a warning at the front of the post- because anyone that doesn't have a tear come to their eyes reading this isn't human.

Dogs are the best.

Jennifer said...

What a beautiful story and such a loving partner! I too am a dog lover and right now taking care of one who has cancer. The journey is so amazing with dogs, they love so unanimously!

turleybenson said...

I'm not a dog lover but I'm still crying like a baby. Great post, my friend.

Shauna said...

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story of a truly courageous and remarkable fur-child. It's certainly brought tears to my eyes, as I have an older dog who was abused and abandoned at the local humane society, we've had her for years, but still her ghosts haunt her. She's in the last years of her life, now, and I don't know what I'm going to do when we lose her. I'm enjoying every moment that I'm able with her.

foodmasochist said...

You made me cry. she is gorgeous.

Elizabeth said...

Lovely. Makes me think of my 2 loves & how much better my life is with them. Animals do give us great perspective. Thank you for sharing :)

Margie M. said...

Sniff, sniff. This was a beautiful post. I love my dog so much, and I can relate to your love of Chassis. May she rest in peace always.

Sam said...

You are such a beautiful woman. Every time I read one of your posts I am amazed at your strength! Thank you!

Jen said...

Anne, I am tears! Seriously a beautiful post! Chassis was a beautiful dog, both inside and out just like you!! I am sorry you're not feeling well. I hope these next few weeks go by smoothly and you can get that deficit out with no problems!

Charger is 11 years old and I am really starting to see him age now. It breaks my heart even thinking about the time when he's won't be with us anymore!!

Love you!!

Dani said...

that was fantastic I cried I love my dog I have always had one and hate when they get hurt or seem sad. They are amazing

TinaM said...

Such a beautiful post.
I think we can all learn a lot from Chassis.

Take it easy, and take care :)

Charlotte said...

So touching! Made me think of my lost fur baby too. I do think it's remarkable that we humans can learn so much from our canine family members. We can be better people by seeing them just being themselves.

Lala said...

What a truly beautiful post. Your posts about Chassis always make me cry a little! Chassis has such a heartbreakingly sweet face, I think that it's wonderful that you are taking the lessons from such a beautiful and sweet-natured soul.