As many of you know, our beloved Bailey, the Rescuepoo, the Boo of Boos, The Little Smackeral, left us on the morning of February 9, 2023. His passing wasn’t exactly unexpected, but we didn’t expect it at that moment. We had arranged with our vet, the wonder Kim Weisner at Caring Hearts Animal Hospital, to have her drain some fluid from his chest that morning. We hoped this might make him comfortable enough that we might have a few more weeks with him, but this was not to be. The night before, he took a very bad turn. It was quite awful, and I won’t go into details, but he couldn’t even settle on the bed (his favorite place), and first Ron lay on the floor with him, and then I did. He coughed and coughed and gagged as I held him, then finally sighed and slept, or passed out for a little while. I felt this was the end and told Ron I didn’t know if we’d be bringing him home.
When we arrived to see Dr. Kim, Bailey was resting in my arms, but he was no longer, I felt, completely with us. Would the procedure help? How much time would it buy us? Dr. Kim, ever-compassionate, said it wouldn’t buy us much time. Maybe days. Not enough to justify putting him through it.
The time had come. The moment we had dreaded since last April, when Dr. Kim told us to begin preparing.
Dr. Kim, knowing how afraid he was of vets, came out to the car and gave him a wee shot to put him into a twilight sleep. We carried him inside and then did all the things we could, said all the things we could, and cried all the tears we couldn’t suppress until he was gone.
I don’t remember much about the next three days. I refer to this period as The Howling, since that seemed the only sound I could make while conscious. I howled. I screamed. I slept. Repeat. Repeat.
Friends called and sent emails. Chewy (bless ’em) sent flowers. Everyone was very kind. Very supportive. Many had been right where I was now, and so they understood this terrible rending, this horrific loss of a dog I have loved as well as I have loved any person (and to be truthful, more than many). I could process none of it. I couldn’t stop feeling Bailey’s weight in my arms, seeing his face, how his eyes opened one last time and met mine. I swear I could see him leaving… Ron was grieving too, of course, and he took remarkably good care of me.
One thing became clear: if I was going to survive this, I had to get out of the hollow, empty, echoing house. And so we found a house to rent on Long Beach Island a strange, ersatz Italianate Rococo monstrosity, saved from being a complete horror by enormous windows that looked out on the sky and sea and dunes. When we arrived, I rushed to the downstairs bedroom and began howling again. Ron held me in that strange, dark, below-dune room and together we sobbed and howled and then, with juddering breaths, began, tentatively, to remember joy, delight, all the funny, endearing things he did, and was.
We talked about the time he found a baby bird, protected it between his paws and wouldn’t move until I came to rescue it. (We took it to a wildlife refuge where it grew big and strong and was happily released.) Or when he did the same with a tiny bunny and waited there until I placed it back in the nest its mother had made in the big flowerpot. Or the wild box turtle he befriended. Or the squirrel a hawk had dropped and was dying. Bailey sat beside it until I came, shooed away the already-working green flies, placed it in a shoebox with a towel and took it in the house, Bailey trotting closely beside me, watching, bearing witness until the little thing passed. There was something both so joyful and so gentle about Bailey, and yet he turned into a terrified, frenzied barker around most other dogs unless and until they took their time to get to know him, and then he was a life-long pal. Tobie, the big black lab from around the corner was his girlfriend, and we had to visit her every day on walks. (Tobie’s mum wrote and said she was quite sure Bailey and Tobie were together again. Ah, more tears.) He also bit three vets, but best not to talk about that, I think. No one’s perfect.
After a while, talking this way, I crawled up to the main room. We moved a chair in front of the windows, and I spent hours and hours looking out at the ever-changing sea and sky, the shifts sands, and began the work of grieving, which will, no doubt, last a long time. I do not exaggerate when I tell you I felt held in heaven’s arms.
On Sunday, I spent the morning in prayer and meditation and the afternoon walking along the beach — that liminal space — with Ron. As Wendell Berry said, “the seed is in the ground, now we wait.”
That night I felt strong enough to read an email from Douglas, a friend in Scotland. In it, he talked about the loss of his beloved dog, Juno, the first dog he and his husband, Aidan, had together. He was the center of their home, as Bailey was the center of ours, and when he died Douglas and Aidan were left in despair. This is part of his letter:
“… we were both so sad every morning, so bereft; after 5 weeks of this I realised we had somehow to fill this terrible gap that had opened up, and I went to look, just to look at some puppies that were apparently 4 weeks old and all sold. When I got there, they were actually 8 weeks old and three unsold, and I heard myself say before I had even made the decision. – “ I will take that one “ and so Hero came into our lives. No discussion between us, Aidan just accepted it, but we had turned a small corner. She came like a tiny lit matchstick into the darkness of our lives. Did I love her from the start, No, I cared for her and cuddled her , how could you not? But she was not Juno, could not be Juno, we still grieved…but she did slowly, gently, pour her tiny life into ours, in her own very different, very gentle way and though we still talk of Juno and Gussie ( their portraits hang as guardians above my bed) and mourn them both from time to time Hero is totally ( as they were) part of our lives, we are three not two. She is an absolute joy to us.”
He concluded by saying he hoped that one day Ron and I might be able to open our hearts again.
I read this at an interesting moment. It was Sunday evening, and I was more or less coherent again, at least briefly. His description of how Hero appeared and how through loving her, she became a small lit matchstick in the darkness of their lives struck a deep chord. Would it ever be possible, I wondered, to love a dog again, to have that delight in our lives once again? Maybe, one day. But not yet. Of course, not yet. After all, Ron and I have agreed to go traveling after Bailey’s passing, to take some time to perform the necessary kintsugi on the broken bits of our hearts.
Still, after reading his email, I found myself online, looking at adoptable dogs, and I was surprised to find my heart opening just the tiniest wee bit. Hardly at all, but something. And there was this dog. A female. A year old. The same rumpled, raggedy, scruffy sort as Bailey, known as ‘cockapoo mix’ in the rescue world. Something plucked at me. I read her description and was relieved to hear she was very popular, that there were several applications, and at any rate, she hadn’t even been transported up from the high-kill (shudder) shelter in Texas yet and wouldn’t be available for anyone to meet for at least a month.
“Don’t put in an application,” said Ron when I showed him.
“Of course not,” I said.
And then I put in the application, without quite knowing what I was doing. It didn’t matter. There were others before us, and it was at least a month away, which would be the five weeks mark Douglas and Aidan had lived through. It was all done much in the way Douglas said he’d take Hero home before he’d consciously made the decision.
Well, surprise, surprise, a woman from the wonderful Matchdog Rescue organization messaged me the next morning. Yes, the NEXT bloody morning. Could we come to meet “Velma” this coming Saturday? The transport was moved up because so many dogs are in need. She’s been in a foster home already for two months down in Texas, and they were anxious to get her into a good home for her sake and the sake of other dogs who could be rescued. Transporting dogs is expensive, and they try to make as few cross-country runs as possible, but there are so many dogs! (Strays, post-covid many of them.) A woman had been going to adopt her but, at the last minute, couldn’t because she needed a much smaller dog. Our application, while not the first, was certainly appealing they felt.
I picked up my phone, thinking to call my friend, my aman cara, Sr. Rita, and have a good cry because of course I couldn’t consider really adopting “Velma;” it was too soon. However… and I swear I do not know how it happened, but there was Bailey’s photo, full close up, nose practically on camera, as the screen saver. …
This had not been the screensaver on my phone just a few minutes before. That was another photo, which had been there for months, and I hadn’t changed it. I could feel Bailey pawing my leg in encouragement. Truly. And inconveniently.
Sr. Rita said, “You might consider listening to Bailey.”
Good lord. More tears. A long conversation with Ron (who really is a saint), and it seemed we were going to meet, and most probably adopt ‘Velma’ on Saturday which, was the day we had planned on returning home anyway and, and as it happens, the adoption center was on the way home. I kid you not.
The rest of the week I cried, and waited, and walked, and prayed, and cried… I let the sea and sky and sand begin the process of mending my heart, and then Saturday came.
This is such a bizarre turn of events, and such a strange both/and place to be in, full of both grief and joy, that I hardly know what to say, except, well, meet Maggie, (Miss Maggie McWiggles) who told me her name is absolutely not Velma, and I believe her.
Some people might think it’s too soon, that we’ve rushed this and haven’t grieved properly. I assure you we are as shocked as anyone, and also… of course, we’re still grieving. Grief and joy, it turns out, can exist in the same heart. Here is what dear Douglas had to say when I wrote and told him we were, indeed, considering bringing “Velma” home:
Dear Fragmented pair,
It seems that Glue is coming! I do hope so, and it comes probably in the most unlikely form. When I claimed Hero, the words really did come out of my mouth before a decision in any normal sense or usual sense had taken place in my brain ( did you know quite what you were doing when you started looking at rescue dogs and defying Saint Ron’s advice? I think not, but on you went ) and lo and behold a small animal parachutes insouciantly into your life, a minor miracle, and Life has changed. Let us know of course what you decide and of course, I hope she wins your hearts, if she does, very slowly the dog-shaped hole in your lives will diminish. I promise you that much.
It has taken me years before I understood the power of a dog – you have made all the decisions ( haven’t you? ) along this path, and yet somehow it doesn’t feel quite like that, does it? Velma just looked at you, she said something, she could not see you, but you heard something, something happened. And now look where you are. Bailey has played his part.
After Juno died about three days later we had a sunny rainy day, it couldn’t make its mind up, and we had a triple rainbow arcing the house. We drove down the drive and the end of the smallest rainbow finished at the end of the drive, I am not joking, and as we reached it and stopped the car you could see it right beside the open car door ( no gold but hey)- we both saw this. Iris the goddess of rainbows is the messenger of the Gods as you will know – – Juno must have made a hell of an entrance…we are careful what we say about her. Obviously.
So now you know. Dogs are powerful.
Yes, now we know, and look forward to having Miss Maggie teach us more, and Bailey as well.
We brought Bailey home yesterday. How we love him. How we miss him. How grateful we are for his final gift.