Sunday, July 14, 2013

An Original Cowboy

It's no secret that I love the senior Goldens but I have to admit to being more than a little partial to the boys, they are my favorites.  There are people who will say that there is no difference between the boys and the girls, but I think there is. The girls are always a bit more serious, more focused and sometimes stubborn.  The boys just aren't that way.  I find them to be silly, funny and so often, charming and endearing.  Those are some of the same words that I would use to describe the next senior boy who would become part of our household that I named Cowboy.
It was around Valentine's day in February 2008 and I was asked to foster a senior Golden that was picked up as a stray, and was on his "last day" in a shelter around Charleston West Virginia.  When Carl and I first saw him, he was leashed to a tree in the backyard of a transport volunteer.  When he saw us, he stood up and started wagging his tail, and happily barking at us as if to ask where we'd been. With the leash in hand, he walked right over to our van and put his front feet up on the open side door, a signal for us to help him in and to get on with his adventure! Needless to say, I was totally smitten!!  However this boy that we'd just met had no name and several people suggested we name him something associated with Valentine's Day. But I named him "Cowboy" for a couple of reasons--He had on a rope-like collar, and with bowed-legs bent from age he walked with a slight limp. Along with a few missing front teeth it reminded me of a cowboy, and the name just really seemed to fit.
As we got to know Cowboy, it was easy to see what a kind, gentle and old soul he was. I've no idea what his prior life had been, but I had no doubt that wherever he was, he had to have had a few friends, he was just so charming.  Because he also got along so well with our dogs it didn't take long to decide that Cowboy should become a permanent member of our household; we adopted him that March.
Cowboy was always smiling and when he wagged his tail, it went in a big circle that was like a slow propeller.  He was all I loved about the male goldens; happy, big and really silly and really goofy.  He was also a handsome boy with a deep red curly coat and a totally white face, head and legs.  Cowboy had a little bit of laryngeal paralysis that caused him to have that raspy old dog bark that was always telling me when he wanted something--If his barking didn't get the attention he wanted, he would grab a hand or shirt, or whatever he could and pull you towards what he wanted, which was usually something related to the kitchen. He loved to eat!
My days with Cowboy always seemed brighter. On our walks he was always finding something to roll in, or would just stand there and bark and wag his tail.  His always present silly smile, never ever ceased to put one on my face too and everyone that met him.  
Our time with Cowboy would come to a sad end in March of 2010.  The winter had been a cold one with deep snow.  He'd been having problems with arthritis and he was having difficulty getting to his feet.  Soon he lost his appetite and would lay for hours in the same place. Outside there would be none of his continual tail wagging or barking, and there would be none of his usual rolling on whatever he could find.  Despite giving him pain medications, nothing seemed to help.  I could tell that his spark was fading. I took him to the vet on a cold rainy Saturday, hoping that there was something that could be done.  But it was decided that there was nothing; the kind thing to do would be to let Cowboy go and end his pain.
We had little time for goodbyes...I held Cowboy as he slipped into a deep sleep, leaving this life for the next and taking a big piece of my heart with him. Even now, more than three years later thinking about him still brings a smile to my face. Cowboy was one of those rare and special dogs who come around once a lifetime. Yes, we've had and will have other silly-goofy-male Goldens.  But he was in a class by himself and just like other Cowboys, he is a legend in our lives and there will never be another Cowboy.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cubby--A Lesson in Love

How do you begin to tell a story about a dog that was hard to love?  I guess you start at the beginning, and with an explanation that when you're involved in rescue, your heart and passion becomes saving each and every dog that you can.  And there are a few times this can involve a tiny-little bit of deception for the sake of the dog.  This is how Cubby's story began, with a little white lie...

You may be familiar with Craig's list which is a classified advertisements website with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, items for sale, service offered, etc.  There is also a 'free section' where various things are given away.  Unfortunately animals are sometimes among the listings that are "free."  Knowing what terrible things can happen when animals are given away, thankfully there are people who watch this site for these ads. One day there was a listing for a 'free senior Golden Retriever to a good home.' It immediately was brought to the attention of the rescue I volunteer with.  Someone contacted the person who had placed the ad and inquired about turning the dog over to the rescue.  The answer was an emphatic 'no.'  This was because the couple had been misinformed about rescues, and didn't want this particular dog to be put-to-sleep if he was unable to find a home.  Despite the efforts of the rescue to try and explain to them that this wouldn't happen, they still refused. This is where I came into the picture. The plan was for me to contact the couple and convince them to personally give me the dog--I would then sign the dog over to the rescue and I would foster him--It was a perfect plan!  The only thing that wasn't perfect was the timing which could not have been worse.  We were not living at 'Golden Pines' and our current house was already on the market for sale. So taking in another dog was really not something we wanted to do, but my heart took over and any rational thinking to not do it was totally gone. I contacted them.
I became instant friends with 'Beth and Aaron'  and one of their first questions was if I was involved with a rescue.  My lie to them came when I told them I was not.  I found out that they were devoted animal lovers who had 2 dogs of their own really wanted to do a good deed for a dog they'd found wandering as a stray in Baltimore. The dog they had named 'Manny' was wearing a collar with a name and telephone number, but they had been unable to contact the owner. They took him to the shelter who were able to reach the owner, but they decided that they no longer wanted the dog they knew as 'Brandy.'  Beth and Aaron felt responsible for this old soul, and so they adopted him. With little money to care for another dog, and a move across the country on their agenda, they decided to find a new home for Manny and they decided that his new home would be ours.  The plan to get them to give me Manny had worked!  

Aaron and Beth brought Manny to us from Baltimore on a hot rainy day in June. Along with them in their old Honda were their two dogs, whose names I don't remember. None of us had any idea how old Manny was, but he was old, thin and frail and there was no question, he'd had a difficult life.
Manny had numerous medical issues; anemia, tick-borne illnesses added to that he had laryngeal paralysis, he was hard of hearing and nearly blind. Manny also had little control over a bowel that was very irritable. Added to all that he was reactive around food when the other dogs were near by--But with his age and being so feeble, it was hard to take him seriously--Manny would snap and try to bark at the dogs and stumble to the floor from the energy it took him to protect his meal.
~The Gang in 2007, Cubby is the 2nd on the far right~
Manny's personality could best be described as aloof, and looking back at it, I suppose he could have also been described as senile.  Often he seemed in a place far away.  And then there were those moments when Manny would try to wag his tail and he would rub his head up and down my leg and when our eyes would meet and I could feel a connection with him.
Despite all the health and other problems Manny had, I was of course quite fond of him and came to care for him very much.  And as you know when that happens, nicknames are given.  For whatever reason I started calling Manny, 'man' which turned into 'man-cub' and eventually became Cubby.  The name stuck and 'Cubby' became who he was.  We officially adopted him from the rescue at the same time we adopted  Logan.
~Cubby, (front) and Logan~ 
Cubby's health issues continued, and he was never able to control his bowels. He was still painfully thin, and was on a vet-prescribed diet.  His blood-work still indicated some kind of infection or what was thought to be leukemia.  But one day a discussion with someone at the shop where I buy dog food, and I changed Cubby's food from the prescription food to a limited ingredient kibble.  Within a couple of months, he had put on weight and his blood-work was normal.  There was no question that Cubby felt and looked better and we were thrilled!
We used to say that Cubby was like an old car that we just wanted to keep running. He would periodically become ill, and because of his age, he easily became dehydrated and so he would spend the day at the vet receiving IV fluids. Afterwards he would be just fine.  On one occasion after he'd spent the day at the vets office when I returned home, I left him in the van while I went inside to get the other dogs settled. Cubby was exhausted and was laying in the back and seemed to be sound asleep. When I came to take him inside, I found that he'd eaten half of a king-sized milk-chocolate bar that I'd left on the front seat!  Thankfully he was just fine, but I never left him alone like that again!

Cubby found peace and solitude at Golden Pines and thrived in the quiet routine. We let him set his own pace and decide what he would do and when.  When he seemed like he needed help to find his way back to the house, we helped him find his way.  When he wanted to come inside, we helped him up the steps. When he was looking for water, we would place the bowl in front of him. Cubby ate his meals alone and he could take an hour to eat, but we gave him all the time he wanted. When he had his 'accidents' we cleaned him up afterwards. It was his routine, and his life and we loved that he was part of our lives.
~Part of the gang in 2008, Cubby is 2nd on the right~ 
Cubby's time with us would end August 21, 2009.  The very same day that our boy Sam came to live with us.  He'd been fine that evening, but in the early hours of the morning I woke up to find that he was having problems breathing.  As I rushed him to the emergency vet, the song, "Heaven" by Los Loney Boys' played on the radio. The words  "I've been lost in my own place, And I'm gettin' weary, How far is heaven..." really stung my heart because I knew what was to come. An exam from the vet and I was given several options to try and save Cubby, but because he was so fragile, I felt it would be too much for him.  He was tired, and it was time to let him rest and say good-bye.  As I drove home afterwards it was just getting daylight, and once again, the song 'Heaven' played on the radio.  To this day, I never hear that song and not think of Cubby.

It is said that love is one of the greatest gifts we can share with our dogs.  In those quiet moments we truly shared and felt that from Cubby. For that, and for all he taught me about love, I will always be grateful.