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I have been blessed in my life to have a great number of canine companions. Not all of them have lived with me, some belonged in the home of a friend, or were dogs I just met along the way and got to be friends with in some manner.
Most of my dogs had voices. That is probably more reflective of my imagination than their actual voices, yet all but one had a voice. Those voices, honed to a very sharp edge, formed the basis of my first major commercial contract as a voice over talent. None of those voices was that of a soaking wet Sheltie, but I wish one had been.
One did not have a human voice that was easily heard. Only one remained effectively mute for all of her days. Only one did her pleading with her eyes, almost never vocalizing her pleasure, disgust, anger, or needs. Only one was an occasional barker at worst. Only one died silent in this regard: Stormy.
For those of you who have followed the blog for many years, you will find this to be sad news. God knows I’m working very hard not to start sobbing while I write these words, because I sure loved that dog.
Stormy came to us as a rescue in the eighth year of her life. She was a two-time loser in the rescue game, and that surprised me. She was neurotic, but anyone that lives with me is liable to wind up that way. But outside of an extreme fearfulness when she came to live with us, she was one of the most gentle creatures I’ve had the pleasure to know.
She had a very “soft” mouth” and would only take food if it was tossed out on the rug or gently handed to her. She never snapped at it. Come to think of it, in the 6.5 years she lived with us she never growled, snapped, snarled, or expressed anger of any sort. Except for airplanes, squirrels, hose water, and birds – she hated everything in the sky, and the picture below was a common sight at our house: Stormy getting ready to shoot down an enemy. Other than that, if she didn’t like something, she just left the room. Kind of like Friday when she left the room for the last time.
Always a finicky eater, she would go days without eating and then polish off two bowls in 8 hours. Almost always she quit eating when a dog-sitter came to take care of her on our trips out of town. After a few days she’d resume eating, but only once her protest about our absence had been logged.
Recently, my wife and I took some road trips. I left first, and so it was only after my wife left on her trip that the dog quit eating. She went a week without much at all. Upon my return I bribed her with french fries and cheese, and she began eating a little, but not much. She was still very sad about my wife being gone – yes, she loved my wife more, and that’s okay. I love my wife more as well.
In any event, Stormy never really went back to eating well after my wife returned, and this past Friday it came to a head: she was having output issues, and hadn’t eaten her beloved biscuits for two days. This was noticed by a slim margin, because I’d spent a day in the hospital for an emergency issue, and it became “Joe-centric” for a few days. (I’m fine, thanks for asking.)
My wife took her to the vet hospital, and I decided to leave work and join them: bad feelings and a nudge from God told me I needed to be with them both. I arrived just before the test results came back: kidney failure.
No matter how big an optimist you are, the prognosis for a 15 year old Sheltie is not positive when the kidneys go. They can do a sort of flush to clean out the system, but this requires hospitalization, and Stormy hated being gone from the house. When we took family trips, she refused to eat, poop, or pee for days at a time. She didn’t even like leaving the house for a walk. So that was out. It would only make her miserable, and prolong her life for our benefit, not hers.
And so, with great sadness, we held her in our arms while the shots were given. She didn’t struggle. I think she knew it was time to leave the building for the last time. She wasn’t in great pain, but that was coming. She left loved, soaked in tears, and leaving two shattered old people in her wake.
I learned a lot from Stormy. I learned about overcoming fear. I learned about unconditional love. I learned about always checking the back yard for monsters before she would go outside. I learned to laugh about having to stand on the back step in blistering sunlight, -20 cold, and driving rain while she did her business – always with an eye toward me to make sure I was watching over her.
You see, she didn’t trust me at first. And then she did. Whether she came to me for protection during thunderstorms, or hid behind me when the pizza was delivered, or simply came to me to tell me she loved me with those big eyes and her silly grin, she trusted me. I was finally, in just the last months of her life, able to look her in the eye from inside arms length: she no longer feared that a man would beat her if he could grab her. I take that as a great honor.
In her last days she did some other unusual things. She actually stayed in the room while I recorded an audio book chapter, instead of fleeing to the bathroom (forever to be known as her office) and hiding from me. She came by more and more for just a little bit of contact, or put her paws on the couch to be hugged.
My greatest missed item was that in 6.5 years she never licked my face. She couldn’t risk it. I could see she wanted that kind of closeness, but it was a bridge too far. I often wonder what she would have been like if we’d had her as a puppy. I don’t regret it since I don’t have a time machine, but she was such a good soul that I wish I’d been there to love her from her first days.
Kip and I loved her deeply. And we’re proud to have given her a forever home where she was safe, loved, and treated well. We talked to her a lot, and on Sunday I went through all my photos for the last 7 years. She was in the vast majority of them. And the best ones were taken from the steps in the back yard where we spent countless hours of joyful communion of souls. I will probably cry tonight when I get off work and she’s not there to join me on the back step. I spent that time with her every day I could for all those years, and usually prior to laying eyes on my wife. Not because I loved her more than my wife, but because that was “her time” each day just like when we got up early and laid on the rug for a few minutes. She met me in the hallway when I woke up, and at the back door when I got home.
Bless you, Stormy, you were an awesome friend.
I put in a bunch of photos for you if you’re of a mind to look. They cover the very first photo I took of her until the very last one at the vet. She was even a cover-girl for a rescue calendar a few years ago. Some of the photos are special, and I put them in despite the blurry image. There’s one in the car – first ride together, and that ride led to Petco, where we got a stranger to take our photo. Others are taken next to Lake Superior where she refused to poop – it wasn’t home – and still others catch her sneezing. She had a great sneeze, usually followed with a blob of green snot that she wiped off on me.
And, before the gallery, a couple of my favorite videos from the years. The first is the one that makes me laugh and cry now. I miss that joy she would display when she felt safe. And on that day, soaking wet and heart thumping, she felt safe and able to express her joy. Today, my heart is simply broken, but the joy of her gracing our lives is right there under the surface.
I’m hoping another rescue dog will come into our lives. It’s incredibly rewarding to save a life, improve a life, and share a life of one of these beautiful creatures. I’m going to stop now, and dry those tears that are blurring my vision. It’s suddenly very dusty in here.
Adios, Stormy. See you on the other side.