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This story starts with a dog, and ends with another. It’s long, and touches on sensitive subjects, with raw, open, honesty. The last 10 months have been quite a journey, full of sorrow, shock, a moment of extreme clarity, a lot of contemplation, reflection, unexpected dreams, and then resolution, when the dream became reality.

It started with watching the slow decline of our elderly dog, Kasha, who had a number of health issues. The most difficult was degenerative disc disease, and as last summer turned to fall, she was having increasing difficulties controlling her rear legs.

Then came a shocking phone call, when I found out my spinal x-rays didn’t show the herniated disc I expected, but instead showed that I, too, have, “severe multilevel degenerative disc disease,” on top of everything else.

I was caught way off guard. I had been working on the premise that I am going to get the ME/CFS under control, using all my supplements, and that one day, once I figure out these migraines or get thru perimenopause, I was going to be back to some semblance of myself – I know there’s damage that will always be there, but I think there’s a lot that can be fixed, too, slowly, over time.

But, it’s basically going to be with me the rest of my life. There are a few things I can do, some supplements and maybe some physical therapy, and I’ve gotten a TENS unit that helps. But my spine is very unstable – I’ve been going through periods for two years, where I “throw my back out,” and I can feel the discs moving out of place, and pain and sciatica flares like a bonfire.

After absorbing this news, I walked out into the living room to find that Kasha had lost control of her bowels, and there was a trail of poop leading through the living room and onto the porch. She was lying there looking so very ashamed.

It triggered a moment of extreme clarity, a frozen moment in time, where I knew two things for certain:

Kasha was at her “red line,” the place where dogs with degenerative disc disease are no longer recoverable – it was not going to go away with rest and time, and was going to be the end of her, and soon.

And just as clearly, I felt that I, too, now have a red line, though I’m not to it yet. My mind played it out for me… me with a walker, or in a wheelchair, although I don’t know how I could even use either because of a torn up shoulder, and the weakness and utter exhaustion of ME, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc.

There was the feeling of a door slamming shut in my mind, those images simply shut out. I won’t, I simply can’t, live in a condition where I’m bed bound and need a wheelchair just to get around. And I won’t be that kind of burden on Rhiannon and Ben, either.

I wasn’t afraid.
I wasn’t sad.
I felt acceptance.
And, much to my dismay, I felt relieved.
Relieved, because the long fight would be over. I didn’t realise how very tired of the constant struggle I was.

I didn’t so much as make a decision as have one thrust on me from deep in my soul. Just as Kasha would find her peaceful end, in a beautiful, sacred, manner, when the pain became too much and when she couldn’t rise, I too, would find that place.

I have many friends, fellow patients, who have to use wheelchairs or walkers or scooters, and I have the utmost respect for them.

But that’s simply not something I can accept.
I have been sick for more than 17 years, and almost entirely housebound for 10 years.
I cannot accept any further limitations on my ability to move around.

I am meant to roam mountains and walk through my beloved woods.
I am meant to be a wild thing, and I can barely take the captivity I have already been in for much longer.
I am the wolf, tightly caged, pacing back and forth, going slowly crazy from my longing to be free.

But here was this realization that I wasn’t ever going to go running barefoot again, through the golden autumn woods calling to my Heart that day, because my spine is simply too unstable. That’s a huge and terrible loss, and the shattering of all the dreams and plans I’ve been holding on to… I wanted to get well enough to be able to help some of my dearest friends, my soul sisters with ME, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc, maybe share a house with them, all of us working to heal each other.

I watched each day as Kasha had a few ups and lots of downs, and it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion, knowing it was heading my way…

In the months since that moment of clarity, and through Kasha’s gentle passing, the sacredness of her death, a gentle release with mercy, I’ve spent many sleepless nights, thinking about just what I wanted to do, and how much fight was left in me for this new, seemingly insurmountable, challenge to my health and my life. There are things I want to do, and things I need to do.

And then along came some dreams, and some info about dogs, that had me reevaluating how long I am willing to fight to go on.

Twenty years ago, living in fear from a relationship gone terribly bad, I lay awake in bed at night, too stressed and worried to sleep. I found solace in meditation and visualization (shamanic journeying). Usually, I would “go” to a beautiful forest at night, and run as a wolf until I finally curled up, safe, in my den. I’d fade off to sleep that way.

But one night, instead of being in my forest, I found myself high on a rocky outcropping, in a sea of rippling sand. I could see in every direction around me, see that I was safe. I laid down in the sand, pulled my cloak around me, and felt desert winds deposit a soft blanket of sand on me. For years, every night, I went to the desert to sleep.

I studied the desert as it is today, and as it was. I drove my family crazy with my sudden obsession with the desert. I didn’t explain that the desert had come to me, unexpectedly, but it was saving my sanity.

The decades passed, and I eventually went back to my forest – until my moment of clarity. Ever since then, every night, I retreat to incredible vistas of desert dunes, open caves and hidden chambers. This time, though, there is something else there with me: a lean desert dog, colored the same as the sand, and with electric eyes that look right through me. I know the feel of her soft ears, and my fingers remember the shape of her head under my hand.

Salukis, a beautiful desert Sighthound, have fascinated me since the desert came to me. They are perhaps the oldest of all dog breeds, and the only type of dog who was not seen as “unclean.” Desert nomads have cherished the Saluki for thousands of years. I’ve wanted to have a Saluki or Saluki mix for 20 years.

But now, through chance, I learned that most people in the middle east treat dogs in horrible, horrifying, ways. They do not value them as we do. Many Salukis and other dogs are simply dumped in the desert when the owner tires of them, or if a racing Saluki doesn’t run fast enough. Some racing Salukis have their ears cropped off “to make them run faster.”  The Salukis have bred with the many other dumped dogs, and now “desert dogs” are pretty much a breed of their own – small Sighthounds, usually with short fur and tails that spiral into a curl.

The pictures are terrible to see. Dogs so emaciated you can’t believe they are alive, or who’ve been viciously beaten, or thrown out of a moving car, leaving them with broken legs. Dogs who have been shot by the police, in front of children, when an area has too many strays. Dogs beaten with stones by children, who know no better. Need I go on?

It broke my heart.

The question changed from “when” to give up the fight, to a very simple, “do I want to die without first rescuing a desert dog? Or do I want to hold on long enough to rescue my dream dog, a true desert dog, and experience her life with me?”

Adopting a dog from the middle east can be somewhat complicated, but there are many groups and individuals there, mostly westerners, who are involved in rescuing the ones they can, fostering them a time, then finding them new homes in the U.S. and Europe. Some send the dogs to the U.S. first, and then put them up for adoption, and others work directly with those wishing to adopt.

I began watching the various groups on Facebook in late winter, and the number of dogs needing new homes is overwhelming. But if I was to rescue one, it had to be the one from my dreams…

And then, there she was. A desert dog with electric, topaz blue eyes, just as I’d been dreaming of. I really didn’t think she could exist. But she does.

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Ellie is about one year old, and was found dumped to starve or fend for herself. Despite that, I hear she’s an incredibly loving and gentle dog. She’s not too big, and not too small, either, weighing in at 40 pounds.

After weeks of working on arrangements, my Ellie will be flying from Dubai, in the UAE, home to me on Monday, June 27. What a birthday present!

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For me, Ellie is Hope – hope that I will have improvements in my health, and she is incentive to keep on fighting, keep on going, no matter how hard it sometimes is. By fulfilling my dream of having a desert dog, my motivation and inspiration to keep moving forward to experience her whole life with her is immensely boosted. That’s just how much I love dogs.

I’ve also become close friends with Ellie’s amazing rescuer, Charlotte, and with Marci, who is practically a one woman whirlwind of dog rescuing in Al Ain, UAE. I am completely in awe of what they are doing, and will be forever grateful for all the hours of work, time and money, that went into getting Ellie cleared to fly and come home to me.

I’ve set up a fledgling Facebook page for them, in the hope of helping other dogs find homes. It gives me inspiration, to know that I can still do something with my life, even if all that it takes is monitoring a Facebook page. I’m not completely useless, after all.

I believe everything happens for a reason. It was not coincidence that I learned about the desperate conditions for dogs in the middle east, and it was not coincidence that Ellie showed up in need of a home, the dog from my dreams, one I didn’t think could possibly exist.

Ellie of the Topaz Eyes is the fulfillment of a 20 year long dream. If she can happen, what else might be waiting around the corner? All I know is that I have Hope again.

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Kasha

“Veterinarians deal with death the most out of any medical profession.”

“Does it ever really get any easier, euthanization?” asked the first year student.

“Every euthanization is difficult, but some hit harder than others…”
– from “Vet School” (TV show, NatGeo Wild)

Is there any such thing as a good death? A beautiful, peaceful, passing?

Is there a right way and a wrong way for the owners, scratch that, the human family of a beloved companion animal to act, when they have to free a well loved furry family member from life, because of illness or injury? When the vet is there, administering the fatal meds, is there a proper or expected or normal way to act? Or do they see a whole range of responses?

Strange questions to ask, I know, but you ought to be used to strange questions from me by now.

Our vet cried, along with Rhiannon and I, when we put dear Kasha to sleep, on Nov 2. I’m pretty sure it was my actions that caused that.

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In her prime...

Let me back up, and set the scene… Kasha was 12 or 13 years old, quite old for a giant of a dog, weighing over 100#. She was a shelter dog, rescued from the ASPCA when less than a year old. She had been a member of the family a long, long, time.

Kasha had developed multiple issues, including deafness, a heart condition, gallbladder problems, and then, canine degenerative disc disease began taking a huge toll on her, worsening dramatically in August. She had muscle spasms in her rear thighs and legs, and stiffness, then finally started having a hard time getting her rear legs up, standing or walking. She just couldn’t coordinate her back legs properly.

I watched her those last two weeks with her spinal issues weighing heavily on my mind. I had just been told that my own back pain wasn’t just scoliosis or a slipped disc.

No, nothing is ever that simple with me. Instead, I have “severe multilevel degenerative disc disease” of pretty much my whole spine. And Kasha had the canine equivalent.

So the question on my mind that last few weeks was, “is she in as much pain as I am?” Because I was in a lot of pain, with sharp pains in my spine, feeling discs moving around, sciatica in my hips making it hard to get comfortable, no matter what position I tried.

Did she feel that way? I don’t think so, at least not until the last few days, and I dosed her with pain meds then, while we waited for it to be Monday, and the vet able to come…

Books on grieving pet loss all say when you have to be the one to make the call, that so-dreaded and very final decision, that everyone feels guilty to some extent.

I didn’t. It couldn’t have been any clearer, watching this beautiful, still so-very-loving, old friend, drag herself around with her front legs, unable to stand her rear up without assistance. How affectionate she was those last few weeks, relishing all the extra attention she was getting…

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A young Kasha, right after her adoption...

We were lucky, and a local vet has just started doing house calls. She had known we were almost there, and was waiting to get the call… and then it was clearly, so clearly, time.

The vet was running late that day, but it turned out to be for the best, I think. We had moved Kasha out into the yard, and as the sun fell and the light began to die, we brought candles, many candles, outside.

For an hour or so, Rhiannon and I sat beside Kasha, lavishing her with Love, expensive treats, and cheese. We told her how much she meant to us, swapped stories about what a good dog she’d been, shared the funny stories, and commemorated her life.

We were ready, when the vet arrived. She quietly asked questions, to understand the situation better. We managed to stop crying long enough to answer them. I suspect our tear-streaked faces told her more than enough.

The vet was gentle and patient, and Kasha was soon sedated, nearly asleep, her head in my lap… the vet waited until we were ready, to give that final injection.

My forehead rested on Kasha’s, one hand cradling her head, the other in Rhiannon’s tight grip, as tears streamed like a river over Kasha’s head. I whispered to her that it was okay, that she should fly free, my beautiful girl, away from the pain, and that we’d be okay.

Kasha’s nose against my leg told me when her breathing slowed, and stopped.

I don’t know how it is for other people in the same situation.

But as deaths go, this one was peaceful, reverential, sacred. An act of mercy, a setting free, done with so very much Love. I can only hope my own passing, when it comes, is such a gentle one.

And maybe that’s why the vet cried. I don’t suppose it’s every day she sees a sacred passing, a silently sobbing owner, forehead to forehead, eye to eye, with her beloved companion, as their soul takes flight.
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You’re in the arms of the angels, now, Kasha.
We Love you.
Now, forever, and always.


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There is a lovely little book called “A Little Dog Like You,” by Rosemary Sutcliff, that sits always on a shelf above my bed. As one customer-reviewer writes:

If you’ve ever loved a dog, this book is for you. This slim volume is written and illustrated so that even a very young child could appreciate hearing it read, but any adult who considers himself or herself a dog lover will be enchanted with it. The book follows a dog through its life and, sadly, to its end, but the story doesn’t stop there. There is so much love between the author and her dog that the author is certain she hasn’t seen the last of her pup — and she’s right. You may need some Kleenex tissue for the final pages of the story, even though the book ends on a decidedly high note.

I believe we are all – animal and human animal as well – the combination of not only our environment, and experiences, and genes, in this life, but that even more, that an eternal soul lives in all of us, animates us, and gives us life, and contributes heavily to who we are.

It’s pretty easy for me to believe, to know, without a shadow of a doubt, in reincarnation, because I have always, my entire life, had past life memories. My earliest memories are not of this life – they are of a very horrible death in a previous life. That shaped my childhood in many ways, as I tried to sort out who I was, what had happened, and why no one else seemed to remember anything. (Had I been born in Tibet or India this would have gotten figured out much quicker, as no one doubts a child when they talk of past lives there. But I wasn’t, was I?)

Through my life – this life – I’ve been blessed with some wonderful experiences, often coming out of the blue, of connecting and re-connecting with soul-family, spirit-family. I think we are often reunited with those we have spent previous lives with.

When it comes to animals, that means that, given their short lifetimes, and humans’ long ones, we sometimes have the chance to re-connect in this life with those we’ve loved and lost.

Which, having been said, leads me to Kasha & Kyla, and our new pup, Kodi, and Shunka.

Longtime readers will know of the connection I had with my beloved black German Shepherd, Shunka, who passed away two years ago. I always knew he would come back into my life, or rather, his soul in another form – it would be him, but not him, because while the soul would be the same, he would have had experiences in this life that would lead him to be his own unique individual self.

Kasha is a very good example of that. When we found Kasha, in the Richmond ASPCA, I wasn’t looking for a dog – my eldest daughter, Terra, was. But there she was. I felt what I described as “the soul tug” when I told the story of finding Kodi.

Kasha seemed to know me, desperately wanted to see me and be with me, just as Kodi did, and I felt, looking at her, that she was the reincarnation of one of my wolf-dogs, Kyla. In the first days of having her, she exhibited some of Kyla’s unique canine characteristics, like sleeping in a particular position with her head hanging off of the bed – one of Kyla’s preferred sleeping positions.

There was also the matter of her “telling” me her name was Kasha – we had adopted her, and since she had been picked up as a stray, were trying to figure out her original name – trying out a slew of female dog names on her to see if she would come. But she didn’t. Until I sat down with her and stopped thinking about it, and she looked at me, and I heard the name “Kasha” in my head. I tried it. She came. And has come reliably to that name ever since!

But Kasha is, and isn’t, Kyla. As the days passed, she stopped sleeping with her head hanging off the bed. Some of the other traits unique to Kyla also faded away, as I accepted that she was, and wasn’t, Kyla.

Enter Kodi. Who seems to be, and not be, Shunka.

I really didn’t think he’d come back to me that fast. I thought he’d find someone else who needed his help. I knew, in a way I cannot really explain, when he was born into another body – Shunka’s spirit still came when I called, but it was slower, more distracted, and I could “see” that he was linked into a body.

When I felt the soul-tug with Kodi, I tried hard to not compare him with Shunka. Not to look for Shunka in him. To just accept that he was Kodi.

But then yesterday happened, and what an interesting day it was.

First, Kodi became convinced there was something under a pile of plastic tubs and a stuffed duffel bag in a corner of my room. He was going to excavate it himself, so I helped avoid general destruction, and then when I’d moved enough things, he stuck his head into the mess and pulled out a plastic squeaky ball that had been Shunka’s, a present to him on his last Yule (and which had likely been in the same place ever since he passed). Kodi carried it around the house and played soccer with it and generally enjoyed it for hours… this dog who didn’t even know what a toy was when we brought him home just over a week ago.

Then a couple hours later, Rhiannon came into my room, literally speechless. Kodi had been playing with his ball, but when it landed by a large rough quartz stone in her room, he chose to pick up and chew on the rock instead. Shunka was renowned for his love of rocks, and we still find rocks he dug up outside and brought in scattered in dusty corners.

Rhiannon and I had a talk, then, on the “forbidden subject:” about things Kodi had done that were so uniquely Shunka-like. The way a dog who didn’t seem to have had much time with humans reliably knows the command to sit the particular way we do it – with a hand signal instead of saying it. Wrapping himself around my head on my pillow. Seeming to know where everything was in the house. Seeming to know Kasha, and Kasha seeming to know him (she who really couldn’t stand my grand-dogs when they came to visit). Even the way he treated me as a canine, wrestling me, and the time he bashed his head into my lip, causing my teeth to cut the inside of my lip. Shunka did that many times.

There was only one way to really tell. And I hesitated to do it. I didn’t want to be disappointed. I didn’t want to expect too much.

But as Rhiannon and I sat talking about the two boys, who look so different, Kodi started barking & pawing at the door, because he likes to lay in the doorway (any doorway). I called him. I shooshed him, Cesar Milan style. Told him “no,” a word he doesn’t seem to respect a lot. Told him “stop it,” words he does seem to respect. And still he stubbornly continued.

So I did it. I said it. “Shunka.” One time. Not loud.

His response was instantaneous. He stopped his pawing, whipped around, a slightly quizzical expression on his face. He came, looked into my soul with his big brown eyes, and sat, looking up at me.

Tears ran silently down Rhiannon’s face, and swam in my eyes.

He is.
And he isn’t.

I feel very blessed. Twice blessed.

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How do you pinpoint the moment you know you’ve finally found the right dog to add to your family? How do you pinpoint the exact moment you knew? The moment you fell inexorably in love?  Perhaps it was one of these – or all of these – moments:

We walked through the kennel at the animal shelter, leading Alpha, the very nice dog we’d come to see, towards the outside door & the outside dog yard. The cacophony of dog voices was overwhelming – 15 kennels on each side, each with either an adult dog or a litter of puppies, all screaming for our attention. Rhiannon was already out the door as I passed the kennel with the gold & red dog in it, and felt the tug at my soul, the one that said “Stop!” I motioned to her to come back, but she wasn’t coming back into that racket.

We returned Alpha at 4pm, the shelter’s  closing time, and I followed the tug to the gold-red dog, whose shelter name was Maverick. I knelt in front of his kennel door, and brown eyes looked into brown eyes. He licked my face energetically, then proceeded to throw himself at the door, trying to sit in my lap, jump into my arms, despite the chain link that separated us. He rubbed his body so hard against the wire mesh that shedding fur billowed out in a cloud.

Rhiannon looked on, and asked me, “Is he The One?” I struggled to answer. How could I know, so soon?

But I had almost tried, without thinking about it, in those few moments, to lean my forehead down to his giant chestnut head, to touch my forehead to his, in a greeting known throughout the world: Namaste, the Divine Being in me sees & recognizes the Divine Being in you. Shunka was the only dog I’d ever done that with, and Manitou the wolf-dog before him.

There were many dogs there, all dogs who deserve a good home, a family to love them. But this one dog, he caused me to feel a tug at my soul, at my heart, that I hadn’t felt for any of the others. Not for Loki; not for Keegan.

We had to leave him, after ten minutes of stolen time. The shelter was closed. It was also full – at or over capacity, I learned that night, through Facebook. Our quick decision on Maverick or Alpha could save a dog’s life. I put in a pre-application through their website that night.

We spent time discussing Alpha & Maverick. Well, the discussion of Alpha was short. He’s a nice dog, but not for us. Maverick was not at all what I had expected, or, where I had expected, to feel the soul-tug. A Rottweiler mix of some kind, with the shape of a Rottie, but a glorious chestnut & golden coat, with black guard hairs on his back. And no tail – it appears, like most Rotties, that he was born without one. Silky-soft floppy ears completed the Rottie look.

I wanted a dog that was medium sized, with prick ears, and it would never occur to me to even look at a dog without a tail. I’m all about canine body language, after years living with wolf-dogs. And a male dog – the bonds of a woman with a male dog, and a man with a female dog, are just different from the bonds of same-sex canine/human. There is no need for instinctual canine sex-related dominance issues, so they can be equal partners. (You must remember, my spirit-shape is a wolf, and I often think like one!)

Rhiannon wanted a large dog with floppy ears, a soft coat with lots of fur. She liked Alpha, but rationally knew his energy level was too high for us. She loved Maverick, too, who had spared a few moments of time to gaze into her eyes & give her doggie-kisses. Rhiannon had felt the tug, as well.

We were back the next day. We took Maverick out to the dog yard, and watched, played, and petted him for an hour. We were also liberally covered with doggie-kisses. But we also did things gauged at testing his temperament.

He was having his belly rubbed, when I picked up one foot, to see if he was used to having them handled. He yanked it away, and my hand was on his neck instantly, a low growl rising in my throat. I’d done this with many wolf-dogs, and wolf-dogs only speak wolf – canine signals are all they understand. This was an alpha-roll, establishing my place as dominant over him. I could only use one hand, because of my torn shoulder, but I only needed one. He struggled momentarily, my fingers, acting as surrogate teeth, digging into his neck, while the growl filled my throat. It took only a few moments before his instinct kicked in, and he went limp. Test passed with flying colors.

A few minutes later, I was sitting in the grass, when he approached & gently took my chin & bottom jaw in his massive mouth. My heart melted. Rhiannon watched with wide eyes. It is a wolf thing, the acknowledgement of the dominant, or alpha, member of the pack. Some dogs never do it. Shunka never did, though he was very willing to offer kisses. Kasha will barely even offer a quick lick.

The last time I felt canine teeth close gently on my bottom jaw in respect was when Manitou did it. Manitou was one of my wolf-dogs, my soul-mate, and long gone from Earth. But it was Manitou I had dreamed of all night long.

If there was any doubt left in my mind, that this big, golden chestnut Rottie-mix was meant to be with us, it was soon dispelled, as I put it to the ultimate test.

The shelter has horses, and the dog yard sits in a corner of the horse pasture. Rhiannon walked over to see them, and was pleased when Maverick trotted along beside her to go see them closer. I sat on the lone chair, and did what I was most afraid to do: I opened my heart, or heart-chakra, fully.

There used to be a time when I could – and would – open my heart, open my soul, and reach out and touch an animal’s soul. I loved doing it when riding my beloved horse, Cherokee, dropping the reins, riding bareback, horse & rider becoming one being, if only for a few minutes. I loved doing it with aggressive guard dogs, quieting their growls & barks with a touch of my soul, and walking up to them, usually staked out on a short chain, to be greeted with kisses, while their owners stood by, slack-jawed with bewilderment. They often were abused, and rarely loved, and I lavished them with love as long as I could. It is my Gift.

But somewhere along the way, between the abusive marriage & divorce, the chronic illness, I stopped trusting myself, and my Gift. I closed up my heart except for a chosen few.

Now I sat under a tree, and opened my heart & soul wide, and took in the world around me. I felt Rhiannon’s bright spirit, with Maverick beside her, though they were behind me a good ways, and my eyes closed. I felt the manic energy of the dogs & cats in the shelter. The horses. And then I called out, with my soul. I felt Maverick turn his attention from the horses & Rhiannon, felt him head my way. I followed his path with the eyes of my soul. And then he was there, his head under my hand as Rhiannon would tell me his head had been under her hand.

Rhiannon came back & I shared the experience with her. Her eyes swam with tears. Yes, was the answer, he is The One. A warm, peaceful, serenity filled us both.

I know it will not be effortless. He will need to learn manners. But he passed his cat-aggression test, so at least we can feel that Dusty will likely be very safe. He hasn’t met Kasha yet, but in about 4 hours we will bring him home.

We found The One. After so many months of searching. Now to figure out his name…

Maverick or CODY!

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Shunka, Looking Into My Soul

“… he looked into my eyes just like he was looking into my soul to make sure I was all right. I have never forgotten how I felt. I had never had anyone look at me like they cared that much.”

Two years ago today, I lost my boy, my constant companion & guardian for eight blessed years, The Black One,  Shunka.

Last year, I wrote about the anniversary of his death, but I didn’t post it until much later.

Since then, much has happened, internally, emotionally, and spiritually.

In December, He Stood Beside Me, and gave me a great gift. I invite you to go read about it.

The process of taking the physical gift from him, a tooth, set in action an emotional chain reaction – one long delayed and much needed. As I wrote:

I needed to understand, not just with my head, but my heart, that I had done the right thing, that he understood, and that he had never left me. That it was okay to cry, to mourn, without feeling guilty. That it was okay to look at his pictures again without the heart stopping grief & guilt. That it’s okay to look at them and smile.

He stands beside me. And I tell him I understand now.
He did not die, he does not sleep.

The greatest gift of that day is knowing with absolute clarity & confidence that what we are, who we are, does not end when our “life” here ends.

Our spirits never die.

Sometimes, when bad things happen,  we wonder what the reason is, or what good could possibly come from such a painful thing. But I learned so much through the experience, as excruciatingly painful as it was, that I am thankful for having had it, and for having the time with him – 8 years – that we did.

Shunka was more than just a dog to me – he was one of  the once-or-twice -in-a-lifetime dogs. Taking care of him through his final months, as the brain tumor got worse, tested the limits of my love & compassion: he had seizures, lost control of his bowels, became uncoordinated. There was a lot of cleaning up to do. A lot of fear with each seizure that it would not end.

Sick as I was, I focused every ounce of energy I had on him, on keeping him going. In the process, I didn’t save any energy or time for Rhiannon, and unintentionally hurt her very badly.

I felt, somewhere deep inside, that if I could only pour enough love & energy into Shunka, that he could beat the brain tumor. I’ve had extremely ill animals before that have had truly miraculous recoveries. But it was not to be, not this time.

Getting to the point of letting Shunka go, and arranging to have him put to sleep, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. I didn’t want him to die in fear. It took every drop of love, courage, compassion, and determination I had to be with him every step of the way. As his spirit passed from his body, I was nose to nose with him, gazing into his eyes. I owed him that much.

Having the experience of his illness and passing, I grew in my ability to love and care for another.

I learned how to let go.

I gained in emotional strength and courage.

I learned where my emotional limits were, and surpassed them.

Shunka In The Snow


Today, Rhiannon and Ben and I sat on the big rocks by Shunka’s resting place, and talked about how much we missed him still, but also how we’ve began to heal from the loss, and what we learned. And we remembered him:

How completely safe we felt with Shunka around; he would have died protecting us if necessary.

A Silly Boy

How my big brave boy would get so scared during a thunderstorm that he’d get on my bed, on my pillow, and wrap himself completely around my head.

How he was so funny when he’d go into the dog yard and dig up a rock, and then throw it behind himself with his front feet so he could chase it.

A Silly Scared Boy

How he’d bring rocks into the house: through the dog door, up the stairs, and then would drop them all over the house. Some of them were bigger than his head! And we still occasionally find one.

How we’d throw snowballs off the deck to him as he waited down below, to catch them and eat them.

How when he was a puppy, and losing his puppy teeth, we’d find the little sharp teeth, usually by stepping on them.

How much we loved him, and love him still.


A Young Shunka

My mother wrote some very kind words about Shunka:

He was different then any dog that I have known. I will never forget how he changed after you had the seizure. The way he was with me too. The one particular time that I was back in Rhia’s room and I coughed. He came running down the hall to me and stood right in my face and looked in my eyes just like he was looking into my soul to make sure I was all right. I have never forgotten how I felt. I had never had anyone look at me like they cared that much. I can understand why you feel like you do about him.

It was an experience I had often, with Shunka, but rarely with any other dog.

He was a very special boy.


Marietta, Ohio, 2002

Shunka In My Bed

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My brain has been running in endless circles.

Dog. Dog. Shoulder. Dog. Dog. Ouch that shoulder really hurts! Dog. Dog. I have GOT to see a doctor. What doctor? Dog. Dog… you get the idea.

Our new family member is still up in the air. There have been hours of discussion. Both dogs have been debated, behavior analyzed, debated again, over and over. There really is no debate anymore.

If Loki is available, he is the dog we wish to add to our family.

On one hand, we have Loki, who Rhiannon & I both fell in love with. But Maggie is a bit uncertain about giving him up. As well she should be – when someone offers to take your dog from you at a Petco, I would be awfully suspicious, too – especially when you really love that dog.

On the other hand, we have Keegan, who I liked, based on his picture, but who was not interested in us. Rhiannon felt no interest in Keegan at all. She’s willing to give him a second look, a second chance, because she loves me a lot.

We were supposed to be seeing Keegan again today, but we’re not. I spoke with our adoption counselor & explained our situation, and she was very understanding & supportive of our desire to help another dog if possible. I need to talk to Maggie, see if she is willing to bring Loki up, let him meet Dusty-Cat, see where we live, see how Loki responds. If it goes well, I hope she’ll let us give Loki a try, see if he likes it here. She can always come visit him to check up on him, and if it doesn’t go well for some reason, she’s local, and we can just give her a call.

We haven’t passed Keegan up entirely, though – he does need a home, and if things don’t work out with Loki, we would give him a home.

Loki

Loki’s pros/cons: We both adore him. He allowed us to touch him & pet him & scratch his chest & offer him love, although he is usually very shy. His body language said he was nervous about being in the store, and he didn’t care for the vaccine the vets put up his nose. He’s amazingly gorgeous. He triggers us to want to care for him:  he’s very thin; his lack of confidence makes me feel like I should help him; and knowing that he’s had a tough life so far does, too.

Kasha also loves Loki – she even kissed him! (And she was very entertaining at Petco when she was put in a “down” and then tried to crawl towards Loki – she really showed a lot of interest in him.)

There is not a lack of love & care in Loki’s life right now: Margaret is clearly deeply in love with Loki, very attached, and wants the best for him. But right now, he has to be crated when she’s gone sometimes, is in very tight living quarters, and she’s not really at a place in her life where she can provide the best surroundings for him, no matter how much she loves him. That’s hard – I’ve been there. I know how hard it is.

Oddly enough, even though Loki is a German Shepherd, he never once reminded me too much of Shunka. We saw another dog previously who was a black GSD-mix, and that dog was too much a reminder – his face was too similar, and made my heart hurt for missing Shunka. But Loki is very differently proportioned, and has beautiful silver highlights, whereas Shunka was all black.

Keegan

Keegan Pros/Cons: Most importantly, Rhia didn’t feel any connection to him at all – in fact, she makes faces when I mention him. There have been arguments, stress, and tears shed as a result of that – and we hardly ever argue about anything. I liked him from his picture – there’s a look in his eyes that makes me feel for him. But when he came in to meet us, he wasn’t interested in us at all. The adoption counselor said he was nervous about being up front in the “showing” room, especially as there was a lot of noise coming from the room next door. She gave us a pretty steady supply of treats, and he took them, very politely, but never looked at us. I was only able to touch his back briefly by holding his lead. The counselor says everyone there loves him, and he is affectionate with people he knows. That’s about all we know about him.

Every dog deserves a home, a yard, a bed to sleep on, people to love them. Keegan has been transferred at least twice, and is in a no-kill shelter – and a very nice place at that! Kind of like a dog & cat country club! If we don’t take him, they will keep him until he finds his fur-ever home.

Then there’s my shoulder. Which is driving me out of my friggin’ mind. It hurts. A lot. Still. After 10 weeks. And it’s become very weather-reactive; if there’s rain within 100 miles, I know it. There’s been a lot of rain. It seems to be getting worse, instead of better.

I decided yesterday I can’t wait any longer – I’ve lost patience with the “see if it heals on it’s own” business. I’m going to my PCP tomorrow, and requesting an MRI. If there’s a full-thickness tear of the ligament, it will need surgery. Not at all thrilled with that idea. But if it stops the constant pain that the pain meds aren’t covering, I’m all for getting it figured out & moving forward with it. It’s making me very irritable.

Part of the problem could be the meds I’m on, and especially the Valcyte which is helping so much, but may be causing slow healing from my low platelets. They aren’t that bad, 135,000 two weeks ago, which is below the normal range of 150,000 to 450,000. It’s up to my PCP to decide.

That’s what’s up in my neck of the woods. More than you wanted to know, probably, but part of the purpose of this blog is to keep my family updated, and they tend to want all the “gory details.”

What’s up in your neck of the woods?

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UPDATED MAY 20TH:

I have a unique relationship with dogs. I can’t explain it, not really. Either you know, or you never will. Maybe it’s the Aspergers, that I form a stronger bond with animals – canine in particular – than I do with humans.

Dogs are essential to me. As essential as air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink. Dogs and the relationships and bonds I forge with them are food for my soul.

For a long, long time, I always had multiple canines – up to 11 when I was doing wolf-dog rescue. But almost always more than one. For the last year, it’s just been Kasha, since we lost Shunka & then Dart.

It’s just plain weird, to only have one canine in the house. And I don’t think Kasha is all that happy about it either, since she’s taken to eating the trash when we’re gone, even for a little while, over the last year, since we lost Dart. She had always had canine companionship to fill in the blanks, for when we went to my mom’s, or just away for a grocery run.

Shunka was special. Very special. If you are a dog person, you know that in your life you may have many dogs, but there are a few, a tiny few, one or two, maybe three if you’re lucky, with whom you forge a very special bond. Shunka was one of those dogs for me.

Last week, I was on my way into the neurologist’s office, when I noticed the hospital volunteers with their therapy dog in the lobby. A black cocker spaniel mix, I’d guess. The owner, an older woman, silver haired, said to her companion, “You can always tell the ones, can’t you? The ones who have dogs, who love them. By the way they approach, can’t help but touch them, go for the ears and give them a rub?” I told her “Of course, yes, I have a dog, and I love dogs very much.”

Even though I needed to get to my appointment, I still spent a few more moments with them. I explained to her that we’d had three, until one died of old age almost exactly a year ago, and the other I had to put to sleep because of a brain tumor, almost two years ago. I had a hard time getting it out. I think she could tell.

A long time ago.

She looked at me, and said with knowing eyes, “So recent. Oh… he was the one, wasn’t he?”

I smiled, understanding just what she meant, and said “Yes, he was one of only two, out of many dogs, one who touched my soul.”

She said “I call those Spirit Dogs. The ones like that. And I don’t believe they’re ever very far away. We’ll see them again. I’m sure there are dogs in heaven.”

Chills ran up and down my spine when she said those words, “Spirit Dogs.” The same words I have used on many occasions.

Here was this woman I had just met, spoken to only a few minutes, and yet it was like she was looking inside me. Someone who understood. I told her what he did, when I had the heart-related seizure, how he alerted Rhiannon, who was small then, how he was biting my arms, licking my face, trying to save me. How he changed after that, was always alert for any odd noise, was very (overly) protective of me, always by my side, usually touching me. She said that kind of dog should be written up in a newspaper. I could only agree.

I looked for them on my way out, but they had moved on, I suppose.

Dogs in general, and when to get a companion for Kasha as well as me & Rhiannon, have been the subject of many conversations in our house. Many.

You don’t want to get one too soon, after you lose one. You have to allow yourself to grieve first, when you love them as much as we do.

It has to be the right time. But when is the right time? That is the question. And what dog? Not just any dog, but a special dog.

Rhiannon & I have been watching Petfinder for a while now. But without having my Disability benefits yet, is it fair to bring another dog into our household? Is it fair to my mother, who is paying  many of my bills? I asked her today, and was surprised at her answer: She’d always thought we’d be getting another one soon. She understands me more than I thought – and understands that Kasha needs canine companionship.

Last year, for my birthday, an amazing & dear friend gave me $200 for my birthday, from an unexpected inheritance. I’ve been sitting on it. She said for me “to use it for whatever brings you the most happiness.”

If you know me at all, you know that other than my girls, the thing that brings me the most happiness is having a canine by my side. And for all that Kasha is a wonderful, giant polar bear sized dog, and follows me around, and loves to be brushed & petted, it’s lonely without a dog that can come on the bed (she has incontinence issues), without a companion for her to play with.

So what to do? Certainly not wait too long. Kasha is 7, we think. And she’s a giant breed dog, whatever she is, and they often don’t live as long as smaller breeds. If something happened to her… being without a dog is unthinkable.

That’s one reason you always, always, have at least two.

I’ve spent much of today contemplating all this.

This is the pic that captured me.

And, contemplating one dog in particular. We went to see him on Sunday. He stood out to me on Petfinder, and I have looked at literally thousands of dogs on Petfinder. When we saw him, we were surprised, because he really didn’t look all that much like his picture. I think perhaps the picture was washed out some, color-wise (but I’ve fixed them here), and he was likely shedding his winter coat when they were taken.

His name is Keegan, which is Gaelic (of course), for “fiery one” or “small fire.” He looks to me like he might be part Basenji – he has the ears, and is currently very sleek coated – touching him is like touching satin. And then there’s his color. He is brindle, which is brown, black, and in his case, a rusty orange, in stripes on his side. He looks almost like a little, well, 45#, tiger. He’s a year and a half old. He’s smaller than we expected – built very muscled & solid. The perfect size for curling up with on the bed.

Keegan the Tiger Dog

Entirely exotic.

To me, he looks like a lost wild dog of the ancient past, or the desert, and I think he’s amazingly beautiful.

Rhiannon thinks his coat is far too busy for her liking.

And to be honest, we don’t know if he’s still available – another family saw him before us, and they were at the top of the list, but I haven’t been able to find out for sure if they want him or  not, but the shelter thinks they don’t. I will find out for sure tomorrow.

When we saw him, he was very distracted, by the tremendous storm outside, and by the incredibly noisy people in the room next to ours who had small children, and were visiting another dog, who also barked. It was only the second time, in two months, that anyone had wanted to see him.

My heart is sad. I want to see him again, if he’s available still, to see if he is more interested in us. To see if he likes Kasha, and if Kasha likes him. And to see if Rhiannon could handle having such a wildly exotic – and not big & fluffy – looking dog in our household.

To see if he could become part of our family.


Post-Script:

After thinking about it, I’ve decided the bottom line is this:

Living with chronic illness, especially CFS/FMS, is intensely isolating. You want to do more, but you can’t. You want to watch TV, but with a migraine, even that is out of reach. Going out anywhere is hard: draining, and exhausting.

Is it any wonder that the dogs in my life, especially the ones that come on my bed, give me attention and their so special unconditional love, and accept my attention, love, and training in return, are such a source of peace, happiness, and tranquility, in an otherwise unproductive life?

I leave you with this:

“We are alone, absolutely alone on this planet; and amid all the
forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog, has
made an alliance with us.” -Maurice Maeterlink

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