A Pause: Four Paws.
Week Six: Beginning Again…
Post-transplant, Gerry, Buster and I moved back to our Carmel home. It was quite the endeavor getting there…We had business interests in La Porte, tenants (who mutilated our Carmel home and yard), ongoing doctoring, and my need to experience independence after a dependent, interdependent HILDA experience. So much of my being and doing during my 14 years with CLL had been responsive and reactionary. The solace, the peace of positivity, the ever-consistent, unconditional physical representations of divine, unconditional love for me were our animals.
From my first pet at age 9 to our beloved 2-year-old Micah (my age today of almost 60), canine and feline family members have brought me home to the holiness, the unconditionality, the ever present, always trusting nature of God. GOD. Maybe, Dog spelled backwards or the mystery of mysteries in the wonder of a cat? Animals are spirit in the purest incarnated form because they grow, change, adapt, adopt, maneuver, maintain, cuddle, and remain—gifting who I choose to be with a sense of who I can be as seen through their eyes. Our animals’ models of living through their senses, their intuition, their loyalty, and their hearts remind me that animals are mirrors for me, just like people are. My loving, learning, gifts and growth from every animal I’ve loved has taught me who I am and who I want to be.
My most profound experience of loving, learning, and God came from Buster Martyn “Peanut Butter” Brown. My affinity with Buster has been such a light in my life—from my first dream about him, to the adoption of our border collie/lab, Micah, two years ago. Even now, I feel almost guilty preferencing that Brown brother puppy above all the others—it really wasn’t that way. Buster brought me home to myself. He helped me believe I could heal. He taught me that everything good is possible—through his example, his grit, determination, and love.
Buster inspired my healing adventure throughout HILDA. He also entertained all of us by the creative manner he mischievously maneuvered my sister’s kitchen when he was at her home and she wasn’t. Buster used to find ways to steal food and never show guilt or remorse about it (although his witnesses, Charlie and Barkley always showed shame and chagrin for the unremorseful imp that Mr. Brown Brown was!). In his almost 13-year-old life, Buster survived 2 TPL surgeries, infections, complications, and infinite cones of shame; however, it never seemed to dim his luster and joy at being alive. We called him the world’s most expensive dog because of how he defied expectations, reinvented protocol and emptied our wallets with his shenanigans. I admired his pluckiness, his creative adventuring mind, and the fact that he always overcame the odds, the rules, the whys, hows, and wherefores. He was fearless (except for fireworks and loud booms), and I always felt that a part of our first Roth dog, Katie, had incarnated in him. The way his leg stuck out and he needed surgery like Katie did. The way he’d come to my side of the bed in the morning, like Katie did. His beautiful brown coat and his joyful, loving spirit, just like Katie.
Protecting myself from the pain of losing the pets of love by assigning them titles like inherited, belonging to another, or transferred/transplanted didn’t remove the pain of their deaths. Death hurts because I love. Animals’ lives may be shorter than humans, but all of us get to die, to begin again. The unknown. The not knowing is tough, and it’s true for all sentient beings. We never grow courage from knowing, and we never learn to love without loss. Buster allowed me to be fully present with him—my happiness, despair, sorrow, excitement, pain, fear, questions, and celebrations. He was the joy dog because of every emotion I know, JOY is the center. Joy is the presence of God. DoG.
Buster would eat anything and everything—All the poisonous things known to kill dogs and humans—we adventured through his imbibing, recovering and surviving ( with great aplomb!) all of it. The time he ate the wrapped-to-be mailed box of Christmas presents, including boxes of Fannie Mae, (dark chocolates, milk chocolates, mints, cashews)and a bag of Starbuck’s Christmas blend coffee, we were really worried. He had chewed his way through every single one of of the wrapped packages hidden in the bedroom at the cottage, devouring their contents. When we returned home late in the evening and discovered what remained, we called the emergency vet and tried for several hours to follow their protocol to help purge him of the harmful contaminants he’d consumed. Finally, we decided to travel to the emergency clinic twenty miles away to get more treatment. On the way, he finally expelled what he’d eaten, all over Gerry and the backseat of Gerry’s pristine Prius. Needless to say, we never bought Fannie Mae again, nor did we leave wrapped packages within Buster’s reach.
Buster’s tail was wagging. He was none the worse for the wear. A whole plethora of Buster stories could fill a book of survival stories from on the brink, at the edge adventures. He was joyful throughout.
As Buster aged, his spine degenerated. Our vet told us that Buster was in constant pain.
Buster got his leash whenever he wanted to go for a walk. He ran out to get the paper every morning. His tail wagged no matter what, and he greeted me every morning by coming to the side of my bed with kisses and happy hellos.
Buster started to need help going up and down the stairs. He couldn’t maneuver getting up in the infamous red leather chair (the one chair that every Roth dog, post Katie, was allowed to sit in). We could barely walk around the block. At one point, on one day, when he got his leash for me, we barely made it to the end of the driveway.
His appetite remained great. His cast iron stomach survived throughout his entire life. Truly amazing!
In February 2015, I saw he was in such pain that I called our vet to schedule our trip to the rainbow bridge for the following afternoon. Andrew and our neighbors came to say good-bye to Buster. I cuddled with him all day and night.
By the next day, I looked at him and asked, “Are you really ready to go? It’s your call. I want to honor you.” Buster rallied and we had some really good months before I heard him crying in the middle of the night, far away from our bedroom where he usually slept. I heard him moan and walk in pain, trying to get comfortable.
The next day, we escorted beloved Buster Brown (the guy who inspired me throughout my transplant, before, after, and even today) to the rainbow bridge. I knew it was the true and honorable choice, and I felt at peace, grateful for his life, and sad for my loss. The love-gratitude and grace I received from Buster carried me over some extraordinarily rough places for one of the toughest journeys of my life. I am forever grateful to Brown Dog.
After Buster died, we reinvented a new life without a family pet. I finished and published my first book. We could leave on a trip at a moment’s notice, no animal tying us down, needing to be fed, walked or attended. Sometimes my grief was an indescribable ache, and yet the freedom was pretty amazing, something we’d never really known before in our adult lives.
Every day, however, I would look at the want ads in the paper, looking at the puppies available for adoption with a wistful yearning and then an admonition to stop what I was doing immediately.
When I daydreamed about puppies, I imagined a rescue dog, a puppy who really needed our love, our care, our home. As it was, I only knew AKC Labrador Retrievers. I kept coming back to the made-up thought that Katie was my one dog, Charlie was David’s, and Buster was Andrew’s. The only other member of our family who hadn’t had his personal puppy in his adult life was Gerry. A seed was planted.
One mid-September morning, the paper’s pets for sale section included an advertisement for a border collie/lab mix. The puppies for sale were located at an Amish farm in Milroy, Indiana. The ad appeared for over a week before Gerry and I discussed it. He had noticed the listing just like I had. Memories of our trips to Canada fishing at Dryberry Lake included the fishing camp where we stayed as a family, and the owner, Louis’ marvelous border collie/lab mix named Roscoe. Roscoe was the smartest, fastest dog we’d ever seen. He led us where we needed to go and independently navigated the wilderness and wonder of a fly in fishing camp. Gerry always remarked that he’d like that kind of dog. A seed was sprouting.
One weekday afternoon when we were between adventures, Gerry suggested we travel to the Milroy Amish farm to check out these puppies we read about in the paper. Who knows? Maybe I suggested it first…Anyway, we decided to go, but at the last minute I got cold feet, removed my checkbook from my purse and a puppy sized box from the car. I told Gerry, “We’ll just go look. No need to purchase today.” A seed was watered.
When we reached the barn where the puppies were, it was almost like a fairytale. Budweiser Horses in a stall, goats standing up with their hooves on fences, smiles on their faces; chickens and roosters, kittens galore, and the cutest litter of little black and white puppies wagging around the dirt floor of the barn. The mother of the pups was a yellow Labrador retriever, and the father was a neighboring black and white border collie. A sweet little boy puppy kept looking up at me, his mother beside him, also looking up at me. The rest of the puppies kept their gaze before them or on each other. The mother’s look almost implored me to take her boy. Her black dog son was endearing and special.
I asked myself, “Does this meet our criteria? Is this a rescue dog?” The food fed to the animals was Alpo (the one food our vet admonished us never to feed our dogs!). The disgruntled Amish mother just wanted to get rid of the pups, not even remembering the date they were born. My questions led me to an affirmative response. The amount they wanted for a puppy, I had in cash in my wallet, and our vet was right on the way home. This seed couldn’t be ignored. It was already blooming.
I cradled a precious black puppy in my arms as we drove north to our vet and then to our home. Gerry suggested that because of his Amish origins, we gift our puppy a Biblical name. We named the new addition to our family, Micah, after one of my favorite old testament scriptures in Micah 6:8. Basically, the scripture says that God made everything good. What does God require in return? That we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. Great advice for a puppy, his dad, and for me. Scripture I savor as a learner/lover of life, writing this pause, always beginning again and again.
Life unfolds, and life goes on. It’s ours for the choosing and through all of the changes, we always get to begin again.
Throughout our lives, teachers, mirrors, beauty, and synchronicity light our ways to growing fully into who we are created to be. Some of our greatest teachers of beginning again are the pets we call family.
Thank you, Life. Thank you, God.
Thank you, Buster. Thank you, Micah.