Charley was already nine the summer Mr. Detroit came into our lives. We were doubtful about him tolerating this skeletal, battered pup, or any dog for that matter. A dominant male, neutered late in life, Charley had always been an only poodle, and although Barb campaigned from the beginning for Charley to have a friend, we agreed that the only future possibility would be a female. Little did we know…
Mr. Detroit was rescued from a dog attack in inner-city Detroit. His age was unknown, but he was a young dog. When he arrived at Detroit Animal Control, it was obvious that he had been on the street for awhile. It was obvious that he was badly injured and starving. It was not obvious that he was a Standard Poodle.
The story goes that somebody at Detroit Animal Control recognized him as a standard poodle and called Barb at The Michigan Standard Poodle Rescue. Transport from Detroit was arranged, and within hours he was on his way to a better life. He desperately needed veterinary care to treat his many injuries, but the long, filthy, matted hair precluded anything but a cursory medical exam, so Mr. Detroit went straight to the groomer. I’m told he cooperated quietly for over two hours while Santana transformed him into a poodle – a skinny, frightened, injured, beautiful standard poodle.
Mr. Detroit was treated for his injuries and needed substantial after-care. When asked, Jeff and I agreed to foster him. We had the time and experience to give him the care he needed, and I was curious to see if fostering poodles could be my calling. From the beginning, it was agreed that if Charley couldn’t tolerate this interloper – an intact male, to boot – Mr. Detroit would have to move to someone else’s care. We certainly didn’t want Charley to hurt him; he’d been through enough, and Charley had a spotty history with other dogs.
By the next day when Mr. Detroit arrived at our house, his name had been changed to Romeo. It fit, because it was impossible not to fall in love with him. He was eager to please, stood quietly for his hydro-therapy and wound treatment, and quickly learned to take food from my hand without trying to take my fingers, too. He didn’t need a leash, never once pottied in the house, didn’t chew, counter-surf, or get into any kind of trouble. He learned quickly and was eager to please. Romeo would quietly “sneak” into my arms or my lap, any time I settled down for even a moment. Also, he had an unusual and endearing way of expressing affection. Standing on his hind legs, he put his front legs around me in a “hug.” He wasn’t really jumping; it was an embrace. It wasn’t dominance, because he stood quietly and rested his head against my chest. I had never seen anything like this hugging behavior. I wouldn’t allow it, because a habit like that would not endear him to people. I wouldn’t allow it, but it was adorable. I immediately began to teach him his name by calling him “Ro.” He learned it in one day.
From the beginning, it was hard to keep him in check. With each meal, his energy grew, and he exhibited what can only be called joie de vivre. He ran circles around Charley, and lapped our property long before his exercise restriction was lifted.
Charley didn’t know what to make of this unabashed upstart who rolled around on the ground and tried to gnaw his legs. He found Ro alarming, but although Charley had no idea how to play with another dog, he tolerated even the most outrageous behaviors. When Ro sashayed over and helped himself to Charley’s dinner, it was surrendered immediately and peaceably.
In the beginning, Ro would occasionally just walk away from us. It happened three or four times. He would start down the driveway, determined to leave. He wasn’t running away, exactly. He was just leaving. If I chased after him, he didn’t run, he just ignored me and allowed himself to be caught. At these times, he was oblivious to recalls, and early on Barb wondered if he was deaf. She and I agreed it was likely, since we’d never before seen this odd behavior. We soon realized that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Ro’s hearing, and Jeff and Mary still mock us about that, today. Privately, we roll our eyes and laugh at our own folly. To tell the truth, from day one he minded better than Charley. He always came instantly, the first time he was called – unless he was intent on a walkabout.
Despite overdoing it, Ro took his medicine, tolerated his hydrotherapy, and improved. He began to put on weight and his hair began to grow so that it could be fashioned into an (almost) poodle cut. We had him neutered. He chased squirrels endlessly, lapped our property easily, and he gave Charley the wonderful gift of play.
I loved that Beau’s behavior contrasted Charley’s. Charley wants to be in the room with me; Ro wanted to be in my lap. Charley would easily surrender some of his rightful attention; Ro could not abide anyone else getting petted. Charley is independent; Ro was dependent. I had my lap dog and my friend, and it was a perfect balance for me, so I began to worry about surrendering him to a “forever home.” I wondered how I was going to give up this dog who stole my heart. It was a perfect match and after all he’d been through, I was fiercely protective. I never considered changing the deal with Jeff, though. He had bargained to foster in good faith, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting him in the position of the bad guy. Then, one beautiful summer morning, Jeff put himself in the position of the good guy. It is one of those life moments, where you remember exactly where you stood and how the world looked and smelled. I was standing in the yard, watching the dogs play. Ro would streak in a wide circle around the yard, then dive-bomb Charley and they would wrestle and growl “fiercely.” Jeff stepped out of the garden shed with a cup of coffee and we stood, watching. Quietly, Jeff said, “I really don’t see you giving up this dog.” Magic words! Jeff and I bargained about care and guidelines of a two-dog household and agreed that the name Romeo wouldn’t do, so “Ro” became “Beau.” I called Barb and gleefully announced that the foster had failed.
Throughout the next year, when Barb and I talked, our conversation would usually include some marveling at Charley’s transformation since Beau had arrived. We had been worried about Charley accepting another dog, yet they were always together, and they were becoming a team. Beau was shy and tentative in any new situation; Charley was self-confidant and fearless. Beau taught Charley how to play, and Charley became the instigator of wrestling and tag. Beau loved the hunt, but had no interest in the kill; Charley loved the kill, but couldn’t manage the chase. Outings in the car are Charley’s favorite pastime; Beau was never comfortable in the car, but would do as his buddy did. Beau breathed new life into an old dog, and Charley gave Beau the self-confidence he needed to enjoy each day worry-free.
Jeff thinks that Beau displaced Charley. I see it differently, though I can understand Jeff’s point of view. In the beginning, Beau required a lot of time and care. He was always very demanding of affection. The way I see it, Beau took the heat off Charley. I’m a snuggler and Charley is not. Beau was a fanatic snuggler, so Charley didn’t have to put up with it so often. (Charley likes cuddling first thing in the morning, and that is non-negotiable.) Actually, I think Charley displaced me a little, so he could connect to another dog.
One thing those poodles had in common was their love for an outing to the groomer. They knew the route and grew excited when we neared Pet Pals. They loved Becky and loved being groomed by her. Poodles living in the swamp can be a messy business. Every five weeks I would deliver stinky, tangled poodles to her, and she would magically transform them into beauties. It is of note that on the last day of Beau’s short life, we dropped Charley off to Becky on our way to the vet. Bless his heart and Becky’s, as ill as he was, Beau wanted to go with her.
The months passed, and the poodles bonded more and more. They began to occasionally share a bed. They traveled together, ate together, slept together and played together. Beau’s life was playing, hunting, eating, sleeping and cozying up to anybody who would pet him. His only dark moments came during thunderstorms or fireworks, and the vacuum cleaner was his own personal demon. In quiet moments, Beau could be found on his corner of the couch, or draped over me, wherever I landed. He had a knack for lying in walkways, so we would have to step over him. His preference was to sleep in my arms, in the bed.
One day, a little over a year after Beau came to us, I noticed he had a nasal discharge. He had no other symptoms, but in all my years with all of my dogs , I had never seen anything quite like it. We high-tailed it to the vet, and thus ensued nearly four months of the slow and steady decline of my beautiful standard poodle. Despite antibiotics, the mucous turned to blood. Despite steroids, his nose ulcerated. Despite anti-fungals, he stopped eating. He sometimes tripped on the stairs. These were weeks and weeks of worry, guilt, indecision, financial stress, and dashed hopes. He’d be better, then he’d be worse. He wouldn’t eat, then he would. He wouldn’t run, then he would be seized with a burst of energy. He would curl up, oblivious to the world, then he would chase a squirrel. We would try a new medication and we would wait to see if it would work. Gradually, he lost his spark and even stopped playing with Charley.
Charley’s behavior gave me a sinking feeling, early on. Uncharacteristically, he began jumping up on the bed to sleep with Beau and me. Then, he began sleeping in Beau’s spot on the couch whenever Beau wasn’t there. If Beau was in his spot, Charley would join him. It broke my heart to see Charley try to engage Beau in play. He couldn’t understand why his buddy avoided him.
I regret the last two weeks. I think Beau was suffering, by then. We were trying one last medication and it needed time to work. It didn’t. There was a final trip to the vet where Beau was at last released from his misery, his head resting quietly in my lap.
After weeks of lamenting, “Poor Beau!,” there has been an abrupt switch to, “Poor Charley!” My heart goes out to Charley; he has had some pretty devastating losses in his life. Charley’s best friend, the elderly man who raised him, died. Then, Charley was moved with the man’s wife to a new home in a new state. After a few months, he was surrendered to the standard poodle rescue, losing the only people he had ever known. Almost immediately, he came to live with Jeff and me. I feel so sad for Charley! Another loved-one disappeared, and this time it was one of his own. Am I anthropomorphizing? Maybe, but as I write this, it has been exactly a week since Beau died. Charley is bored and needy. He won’t let me out of his sight and he is underfoot. He had brought a beat-up old bear with him when he came to live with us, which he would stuff in his mouth as a soother for sleeping. Once Beau arrived, that old bear began to make his way to the bottom of the toy basket. I hadn’t seen it in months, but he has fished it out, and he comforts himself with it, again. I had worried from time to time about how Beau would react when Charley, his rock, got old and died. I wondered if Charley would grow old enough to give that little guy the self-confidence he would need to be an only dog. It never once occurred to me that Charley would be mourning Beau.
I know Jeff is anxious about the probability of me broaching the subject of another poodle. It hangs in the air between us, the elephant in the room. I know he thinks one dog is enough, and the thing is, I don’t disagree. Right now, I feel like it would be a replacement poodle, and Beau is irreplaceable. The problem is that I have learned that standard poodles need each other. I spent sixteen months watching a developing relationship that I could never be a part of. I saw Charley get a new lease on life when Beau came into our lives, and I see him now, bereft and adrift. Maybe I owe it to him. I wonder if the right dog would give Charley more time with us. Charley is an old dog, so maybe it’s better for me to have one in place in my heart when Charley’s time comes. I know that Jeff and I will eventually have a conversation about getting another dog, but right now I’m worn out and I just want the one I can’t have.
My friends have comforted me by reassuring me that Beau’s life was at its best during his time with us. I have no doubt about that, but when friends tell me that I did the best I could for him, I wonder. I don’t know if I did right by him. I don’t know if I did right by him, at all! Where did my responsibility to him begin and end? The truth is that I may have been able to save him, had I spent enough money, and while the guilt of my decision tortures me, I guess I wouldn’t do it differently. The diagnostic procedures would have run in excess of $5000 with no guarantee of a diagnosis. Even with a diagnosis, I can’t imagine the cost of treatment – financially for Jeff and me, and physically for him – if there was a treatment. Would it mean surgery on his face? What suffering would that entail? At what point is pursuing treatment for my pet, actually for myself at the expense of my pet? How do I balance hope, practicality, effort, suffering, selfishness?
If my child were ill, I would know what to do. We do what it takes for our children, no matter the cost physically, emotionally, financially. But as much as I loved this dog, he was not my child. I was not his “mommy” and he was not my “baby,” and that people vehemently assert the notion that their pets are their children, doesn’t make it so. To go deeply into debt or to financially bankrupt a family, in the hopes of saving a pet, seems irresponsible. Just because I could, doesn’t mean I should. And yet…
Many years ago, my dear cousin Brett died of a rare disease, the name of which I had never even heard: AIDS. When I found out that Brett was dying, I called my aunt, his mother. I was beside myself, but she told me something that she had learned from caring for her dying son. I have never forgotten her words and they have shaped my world view and have influenced many grave decisions I have made. “Nancy,” she said. “There are far worse things than dying young.”
Beau, of unknown age and background, was easy, eager to learn, and eager to please. He was well-behaved and obedient. He was filled with joy and gentleness. He was soft. He was beautiful and affectionate and athletic, and if he had a bad habit, I don’t know it.
It is odd that at our house we have already returned to some of our old ways – how it was before Beau came. Charley and I go about our day together, quieter, a little sadder, a little needier. In some ways it seems like Beau was never here, and yet something is definitely missing. I guess the joy is missing, because the imp is gone; the jester, the clown, the comedian. I can almost see him wading in the pond, or “attacking” Charley, or flying through the grass with his ball. Such a happy guy.
Barb was wonderfully supportive through the whole long ordeal of Beau’s illness. She never once second-guessed me. When I told her that he was gone, she immediately made plans to bring over her dogs, Coach and Molly, for a “cheer up Charley” romp. As we walked along in the woods, I talked so much about Beau that I began to feel guilty about Charley. For some reason, I felt the need to assure her that even though I grieved terribly, the loss of Beau, Charley was the love of my life. “Of course!” she said. “Charley is your dog. Beau belonged to Charley.” And although it really doesn’t feel that way, I guess that’s how it was.
The Rainbow Bridge
There is a bridge connecting Heaven and Earth.
It is called the Rainbow Bridge, because of all its beautiful colors.
Just this side of the Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows,
hills, and valleys with lush green grass.
When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this place.
There is always food and water and warm spring weather.
The old and frail animals are young again.
Those who were sick, hurt, or in pain are made whole again….