Thursday, October 28, 2010

One Life That Still Touches Me

I was remembering our old dog, Feliz, the other day after I had found her collar in a box and wanted to share something that I had written to get past the profound sorrow of losing her.

Feliz had passed from this life after sixteen years of sharing her love. And as we knew it would, her death broke our hearts. Grief manifests itself in many ways. We still hear the click of her nails on tile, still see her shadow at the door, and we still linger at the garage, waiting for her to show and claim a biscuit. All of these moments are products of our wishful thinking and old habits are hard to deny, but it’s amazing how well she trained us. And if Stephen King’s story in Pet Sematary were true, we’d gladly welcome her back to this life, even if she were the spawn of Satan. That’s how much we loved her.

Her full name was Feliz Navidog. Yes, she was a Christmas present, but not for us. We had given her to my parents with the caveat that if they truly didn’t want a puppy, they could return her to us. And within two weeks, back she came. In hindsight, she was the best present we ever got. We nearly called her Boomerang, but in Spanish, the word Feliz translates to ‘happy’ and that suited her just fine. She always had a smile on her face.

When she was a pup, she had a dark muzzle, one ear up and one down, a curled tail and an unfaltering bounce to her step. People often asked us what breed she was. In truth, she was a German Shepherd Chow mix, but we lovingly called her a “Somma Dog”—because she was somma dis, somma dat. But one man’s mutt is another man’s idea of perfection.

And Feliz had many admirable skills, despite her questionable lineage.

She was a practitioner of puppy telepathy, transmitting her thoughts to us with a meaningful stare. And she spoke the language of human beings with unfailing accuracy, developing an extensive vocabulary. Balancing a biscuit on the end of her nose then tossing it into her mouth had become her signature move. And in later years, she mastered sign language when her hearing was failing. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

And every morning of her life—without fail—she awoke for the sole purpose of pleasing us. We saw it in her face and felt it on her warm wet tongue. She never tired of the routine or the mundane, even after her joints got stiff and her eyesight grew dim—because in her mind, she was always that puppy with a bounce in her step.

Dogs remind us that love should be unconditional. And in their world, friendships begin with a well-placed and unerring sniff—completely devoid of an ulterior motive or personal agenda. If you pass the sniff test, you’re in. No cover charge and no membership fee. And with a mere wag of a tail, a dog can make you smile and lift your spirits. We can all learn from them—because their love comes from a higher place.

I’d love for you to share your pet stories. Do you have a favorite pet?

18 comments:

  1. My cat, Nugget.

    When he came to us, he was barely weaned and could fit into one hand - he grew to the size of a Thanksgiving turkey. But he never outgrew his clumsy adolescence.

    He was my cat, not my sisters - the only other person he connected to like that was Dad, who originally wanted to give him another home. He knew who he had to impress.

    When I was 26, I'd moved away and he was very sick. He waited for me to come home on a visit, so he could say goodbye.

    I loved that cat.

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  2. mine was feliz navequine....his name was robert...'bob' to me. he was 1100 pounds of furry, nickering wonderfulness. i called him a pig on a stick....he would do whatever one wanted so he could just go back to eating. a gray percheron cross, he was my morning delight. there is no better feeling than cantering in the cherry orchards of northern michigan. i do miss him....he died at 27 years old which is elderly in a horse. i know he's grazing in horse heaven....kathy d.

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  4. I've had 2 special dogs in my life. My first, a Lhasa Apso named Maxwell Smart, and our 'american shelter hound' we call Tigger.

    Max was a wedding present. One we never registered for. My sister called us the night before our wedding and asked if she could bring over our gift then because it was fragile. Sure, we said, never suspecting she'd walk in with this 10 week old ball of fluff.

    Max was a natural clown. The big dog personality in a small dog package. No one left an interaction with Max without a smile on their face--human or canine. His best buddy when he was a pup was this crazed rotweiller that everyone in the neighborhood was terrified by. He was one of those dogs that had to be walked with a muzzle and a choke chain. But he loved Max. Go figure.

    When Max died, at 16 1/2, we were devastated. Like you, we heard the click of his nails on the floorboards and his woof out of the corner of our hearing. We promised the kids that we would get another dog come spring.

    When the snow was gone that april, off we went to the pound. To look, said I. Just to look.

    Then I saw this goofy puppy with too long legs and black and orange stripes. Fell in love and we adopted her.

    When we got her papers, damned if she wasn't born the day Max died.

    Tigger (that's her in my profile pic, tigger-incognito) is now a certified therapy dog and brings her amazing canine love and acceptance to patients in hospitals and nursing homes, and to troubled adolescents.

    (sorry for the deleted first try--darned typos!)

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  5. Jordan, your story about Feliz is so touching. Last spring we adopted a rescued black lab/rotti mix named Macintosh. He was skin and bones when he was rescued from an abusive "hoarder" kennel. He is recovered now, and the sweetest dog. Gentle, loyal, and a couch potato like me. The lady from the rescue organization came by to visit yesterday, and he was so excited to see her. He shot out the door like lightning to greet her. He must remember that she was the person who sprang him from the hoosegow.

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  6. Jordon,
    I related to your post so much. We lost our little dog Boo-Boo in August after returning from vacation. He was 17 and my children now 21 and 18 don't ever remember him not being there.
    It's awesome how some animals always seem to wear a smile. Our Boo did too. Even near the end he had a smile for us when we went to visit him at the vet's office. He looked dead when we saw him in the big oxygen box he was in, but when he saw us he started wagging his tail and smiling. He really was family and we miss him so much. I can't see myself ever writing a story without an animal in it. So much a part of who I am. Have you ever visited the rainbow bridge on line?

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  7. Maggie was the first dog I ever owned, since my parents were never canine fans. I got her from the ASPCA when I was living alone in Manhattan. All things considered, it was a foolish decision- I went to the pound with a boyfriend who was thinking about getting a dog: I came home with one, and he didn't. And I was woefully unprepared for puppy-hood. For nearly six-months I was personally in charge of scrubbing the six flights on stairs in my apartment building, since Maggie never managed to make it all the way outside. Plus I discovered a year into our relationship that she was deaf- I had just assumed she was phenomenally disobedient, since all the sound-based training techniques I employed didn't seem to make a dent on her.

    We overcame a lot of obstacles together, and she became the one constant in my life, until she passed away last March at the age of fifteen. The last few years of her life were difficult and heartbreaking. She developed diabetes, and lost her sight in addition to her hearing. She finally developed an infection in her foot that would have required amputation, and we knew it was time to say goodbye. We spent our last day with her at one of her favorite spots, Chrissy Field overlooking the bay, where she used to tear across an enormous grassy field, playing with other dogs, swimming, chasing a ball. That day we lay her on the grass and sat with her and talked about all the ways that she'd impacted our lives.
    Nearly two years later, I'm still not ready to get another dog.

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  8. In past years I've had two dogs that I can honestly say I loved. They were not work dogs, but friends. Penny was a Golden Retriever/Beagle mix, very loving. Happy was a pure Black Lab, smart and extremely loyal...and happy. She literally saved my children from a charging moose one day. Ran right up to the beast and cut it off from my kids who were on a sled the moose apparently didn't like. Brave dog when needed. A few weeks later though, it was just me and her at home and I let her outside. A cute baby moose was eating some branches by my house and Happy went to check it out. I videotaped them as they sniffed at each other and everything was so peaceful and cool looking. Until momma moose saw her baby nuzzling a "wolf". She charged, and brave Happy instantly ran to me for protection, 1100 lb mad momma moose right behind her. Suddenly I was in between them trying to beat Happy to the door. We both survived.

    Sadly my youngest son was born with a serious allergy to dogs. When we left rural Alaska and came to the city we had to leave Happy behind on a friends farm. I miss her.

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  9. OMG suelder--Your cat story touched me and reminded me of a few cats I have had. Each one is special, but some get to you more. Our little Jackie Chan was a feral cat who we only had for less than a year before he died of a heart condition. He was my kamikaze cat. Fearless. And he waited for us to come home too.

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  10. Kathy--I had horses too growing up. Thankfully I never had to experience one dying in my care. That would have broken my heart. Thanks for your story.

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  11. Wow LJ--Your story gave me goose bumps. The same day. Love that story. And it cracked me up that Max was a wedding present. Either given by very good friends or really bad ones. LOL

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  12. Ah, Kathryn. Love your Mac story. Isn't it amazing how they can remember people? Some experts say they have a short attention span, but I don't agree. I think the ones that need rescue know who treated them well...and they remember.

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  13. Jillian--Thanks for sharing your story. I'll have to check out the rainbow bridge online. My sister sent me the book and it helped a lot. And she also sent a photo of Feliz as a pup laying on the ground next to my sweet little niece who was 4 or so at the time. She's now in college so it reminded just how much time we'd spent with our beloved pooch. I still have that photo on my desk and look at it often. It reminds me how fast life goes by.

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  14. Oh Michelle--you made me cry. I can hardly see to write this, but it reminded me that I used to whisper to Feliz every night as she got older.

    "Go to bed, sweet girl."

    I knew I'd use it the day we put her to sleep for the last time. And I wanted her to feel it was just like any other night and everything would be alright, but it tore me up to say it one last time.

    It took us a long while to get over Feliz too. But it wasn't until I realized that it's not about our grief but more about opening our house to a dog who could use a good home. We finally got a new rescue dog - Taco - and she's been a glorious handful ever since.

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  15. Basil--what a great story. And having lived in AK (10 yrs), I also know what's it's like to be charged by an angry momma moose. I was on a marathon race, about mile 17 through Earthquake Park in Anchorage, when it happened. Not fun. But what an amazing dog story. Thanks for sharing. And look at you, putting yourself in the middle like a good dad.

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  16. Writing that comment, I was a puddle all over again. Hard to believe it's still so painful after all these years.
    Someday we'll be ready again.

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  17. We lost our gorgeous tri-color collie Benjamin almost two years ago and I blogged about how awful it was to lose him. Tears still come everytime I think of him. Now we're in Australia I can't wait to get a collie puppy as I know how much richer our lives were with Benjamin. His favorite thing was to lie out on the couch beside me - as far as he was concerned as soon as the kids went to bed it was all about him! I miss him so much and the boys still talk constantly about him - but I know we're ready to have another doggy soul into our hearts.

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  18. Ah, I love your Benjamin story, Clare. Pets really add to your life, for sure. And when you rescue one and give them a good home, they really know how to pay back the kindness. Our little Taco makes us laugh everyday. She's so different from Feliz, yet just as loveable in her own goofy way. I had been concerned that we would expect this new dog to be just like Feliz and constantly compare her--knowing she'd never measure up. But it didn't turn out that way. Taco was so odd, that she would never ever be compared to any pet we've ever owned. She's like living with a renter. LOL But she's absolutely adorable and she's filled a hole that we never thought we'd fill. Thanks for your story.

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