dogs

Spirit animals… could it be time for a new dog?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I lose a pet, they always seem to “visit” from the great beyond occasionally. Eventually, after time has passed, they visit less often.

I understand the rational explanation for this phenomenon. I’m not an idiot– although some people seem to think I am. I know it’s probably all in my mind. I still find it interesting when I get a visit from one of my long lost animals. My pony, Rusty, died in 1993, but I still get visits from him sometimes, mostly in my dreams. In fact, most of my pets visit in dreams, although sometime their spirits seem to jump into my other pets.

Lately, I’ve been getting visits from Zane, who died on August 31st of this year. Zane’s death was different from those of the three dogs who predeceased him. For one thing, his last week wasn’t absolutely horrible. Zane had lymphoma, which seemed to just make him very tired before a tumor in his spleen apparently burst and caused internal bleeding. He had a pretty decent last week, though, lounging in the sun and eating to his heart’s content. Even his last day wasn’t absolutely awful, although the vet told us it was good that we’d brought him in because he probably wouldn’t have survived the night.

All three of our previous rescues– CuCullain (CC), Flea, and MacGregor, all had devastating diseases that were very painful for them. CC had a rare mycobacterial infection that caused abscesses. What made his passing worse was that most vets never encounter Mycobacterium Avian in dogs, and they don’t really know how to treat it. Most dogs are innately immune to that organism, and the ones who do get it almost universally die quickly of the disease. It’s related to tuberculosis and causes painful abscesses, as well as a host of other horrible symptoms. Consequently, CC’s death was particularly bad. We’d even had him on a Fentanyl patch for his last hours, which were spent in a specialty hospital with a vet who acted like he’d wanted to keep him around for research purposes.

Our beagle, Flea, had prostate cancer that slowly destroyed him over four months. He’d been determined to live, so his disease had progressed a lot before he finally made it clear that it was time to let him go. Even then, he hadn’t wanted to die and seemed to fight being euthanized. He was emaciated and, the night before he passed, had lost the ability to walk.

MacGregor had a spinal tumor that was misdiagnosed. The tumor caused incredible pain, but two vets were convinced he’d actually had disc disease. We had him get a MRI at N.C. State University to find out what was wrong with him. The tumor was invading his spinal column. When the vet told me that, I told her we would be letting him go that evening, even though she said we could wait. MacGregor was in a lot of pain and definitely ready, unlike his predecessor.

After their deaths, all three of these dogs seemed to send us signs that they were okay… or, maybe it was just us kidding ourselves. When Flea died, Bill saw a rare shooting star in the early morning the next day. When CC died, he heard an ethereal version of “Fields of Gold” while on hold with the state vet’s office, waiting for the results of CC’s PCR test (to find out what organism had killed him). Immediately after MacGregor died, we heard a lovely, comforting song by Rhonda Vincent called “I Will See You Again”. I was so freaked out by MacGregor’s death that I even read a book about spiritual signs from dogs after they die. Yes… it’s a lot of woo, but reading about the signs and knowing that others have experienced when they’ve lost animals they loved was very comforting.

Besides the immediate signs we got from stars or special songs, the dogs “visited” a lot in our thoughts and dreams, and even seemed to send us new dogs to help ease the pain of losing them. When we got Arran in January 2013, he did some things that were very “MacGregorish”, prompting tears in Bill. MacGregor had been more Bill’s dog than mine. For months after MacGregor died, Arran would do things that were uncannily like MacGregor. It was like he instinctively knew what we were missing. But then he became more of his own dog and we saw less MacGregor in him.

When Zane died, I didn’t get so many signs at first. It took a couple of weeks before he visited my dreams, although he did seem to “show up” when we got a visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s only been lately that he’s been lurking a lot. He showed up in a vivid dream the other day. I was sure it was him, but then when I got closer to the dog, I realized that it wasn’t Zane. I woke up just as I was about to pet the “imposter”.

A couple of days ago, Bill came out of the bathroom with a strange look on his face. I’m sure it was unrelated to the massive dump he’d just unloaded. He said, “I’m a little bit freaked out right now.”

“Why?” I asked.

“You know how Zane used to like to come into the bathroom and nap? I just had the sense he was in there with me.” Bill explained.

There have also been a few times when I could have sworn that I heard Zane’s whine… a familiar sound when he wanted or needed something. Over almost ten years with us, he had become adept at telling us his needs. All of our dogs have done this, although they’ve each had different ways. MacGregor, for instance, was really good at words and would get excited if you mentioned the one he was looking for. If he wanted to go outside and we said “outside”, he’d jump up enthusiastically, his eyes bright. If we mentioned “cookie” or “chewy”, and that was what he wanted (which was almost always), he would reward us with happy barks and a victory dance.

Zane was less like that. He would whine, like a needy old man. It was especially like that in his last year. I’d often find him at the bottom of the steps, waiting for an escort to bed. In earlier years, he’d come up behind me and whine when he wanted to jump into my lap for snuggle time.

Flea, on the other hand, would simply squeak plaintively or bark demands. I still remember when we lived in our first German house, he’d wake up in the mornings and announce himself before coming downstairs. We always got up before he did. He was like a little despot, and he demanded to be waited on like the regal beagle he was. Every day at ten in the morning, rain or shine, he would demand a walk by whining and squeaking plaintively– much more insistently than Zane ever did. Incidentally, I was initially attracted to Zane because he sort of resembled Flea. But then when I saw him in person, he didn’t look so much like Flea. There were times when he behaved like him, though… especially when he demanded food by barking at us.

Well… it’s happening again. Arran is starting to take on some of Zane’s traits. Zane was the king of “dog spreading”. He would get up on our king sized bed and stretch out until Bill and I were pushed to the edges of the mattress. Zane also loved to burrow under the covers, snuggling up to me until he got too hot. He was also very good about going potty outside, and would tell us when it was necessary. He liked lying on the fuzzy blue blanket at the foot of the bed… that was also one of MacGregor’s habits.

Arran was trying his hardest to give us both lots of attention last night. He was especially insistent on getting time with Bill. Bill is Arran’s favorite human.

Arran, by contrast, has always liked snuggling between Bill and me at the head of the bed. He has always curled up into a tight doughnut, above the covers. Last night, he burrowed. Not all the way, like Zane always did, but about halfway. He’s also discovered dog spreading. One positive thing that’s happened is that Arran, who has never been as reliable about house training, has almost completely stopped having accidents. He tells us when he wants to go out and rarely makes mistakes anymore. I noticed when he would make a mistake, it was usually when Zane was sleeping with us. During the last year of Zane’s life, he and Arran mostly took turns sleeping with Bill and me.

Zane and Arran had been friends when we first got Arran, but neither was alpha enough to maintain leadership, so Arran would challenge Zane a lot. Zane wasn’t a fighter, but he would defend himself against Arran and, as long as he was feeling okay, would often win the battles. I think that because of the scraps they’d get into during the latter part of Zane’s life, they weren’t close friends at the end. Arran was always trying to take advantage of peace loving Zane, and Zane just wanted to be left alone. Zane got along better with MacGregor, who was a lot older and didn’t care about who was in charge. In fact, that was what had made MacGregor such a perfect buddy for Flea, who was extremely alpha and would challenge any dog, regardless of its size. Flea needed to be the leader by all means. I think Flea was our biggest challenge, too, while so far, Zane has been the easiest dog.

Usually, by now, we would have found another dog… not to replace the one departed, but to give another dog a home and enjoy another family member. We’ve held off this time, but it’s been difficult. I often feel drawn to certain animals, and there’s been at least one that has “spoken” to me. She’s very young, not a beagle, and bigger than what I’m used to. I worry about how Arran will behave with another dog in the house. He’s loving the attention he’s getting as the only dog, but he’s also getting older himself. I also think that the frequent visits from Zane are reminders that there are other dogs out there who need a home.

Practically speaking, it would probably be better if we waited until we leave Germany before we get another dog. But I don’t know how long we’re going to be here. We could be gone next year, in two years, or in five years or more. I keep thinking that after Christmas, we’ll start thinking seriously about getting another dog for me… not so much for Arran, who would probably just as soon stay the only dog. It still seems like Zane is trying to tell us something, though. He’s still with us in spirit and in our hearts. I know he’d want us to share what we have with another dog. I also think that when the right one comes along, we’ll know. He’ll probably tell us.

By the way… I don’t remember ever getting signs from human loved ones who have passed on. I know people do get “visits” from parents, grandparents, or children they’ve lost. Not me… I only hear from the pets. I guess that says something about the bond I have with my animals.

This was the book I read after we lost MacGregor. I don’t remember what I thought about it, since I posted a review on Epinions and Epinions is long gone. If you choose to buy it through this site, I’d get a small commission. Frankly, though, I’m just posting this for those who are curious. I was so freaked out by MacGregor’s “signs” that I felt compelled to read about them… Maybe it’s time to reread this book, since Zane keeps visiting.

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dogs

Misterjaw Flea…

Yesterday, after dinner, Bill and I decided to take the dogs for a walk. The weather was beautiful. It was sunny, but not too hot, and there was a pleasant breeze. This time of year, the sun doesn’t go down until well after 10:00pm, so we had plenty of daylight. The dogs were delighted to have both of us walking them. Nowadays, that’s a rare treat for them.

As we were walking, we started talking about dogs of the past. I’ve loved all of them, but probably my favorite of the lot was Flea. We got Flea in November 2003, about a month after we lost our very first beagle mix, CuCullain (CC). On October 12, 2003, CC died of a nasty mycobacterial infection. They are exceedingly rare in dogs and our vet had never before seen a case of it in her long career. We ended up taking CC to a speciality hospital in northern Virginia, where we spent a couple of thousand bucks we didn’t have to find out that the situation was hopeless. We’d only had CC for sixteen months and we were devastated to lose him. He was part husky and had beautiful blue eyes.

CuCullain… our first rescue. He was a great dog, but we didn’t have him long enough.

Flea was everything CC was not. Feisty, temperamental, loudmouthed, and vain, everyone in the neighborhood knew him and where he lived. CC, by contrast, was known for being sweet, quiet, gentle, and having startlingly blue eyes. CC also used to shed like a husky.

Of the five dogs we’ve rescued so far, Flea was the closest to being 100 percent beagle. He was someone’s hunting dog before he was rescued, half-starved, afflicted with Lyme Disease and heartworms, and covered in fleas and ticks. A lady spotted him standing on the side of a road in Chester, Virginia. She picked him up– actually, Flea was very good at hitchhiking, and he was gorgeous and charming. The lady nursed him back to health, though she neglected to have both parts of his heartworm treatment done.

Flea and MacGregor in 2oo8. MacG is the one looking at the camera. Flea hated having his picture taken.

When we went to Richmond to pick up Flea– she had named him Fleagle after the Banana Splits’ beagle– he was obviously trying to overtake her busy household. Although he was much smaller than her other dogs, he would regularly challenge her large male shepherd. He adored the lady’s toddler aged son. We took Flea for a walk/test drive, and he surprised us with his energy and boldness. His rescuer told us he needed to be “top dog”, and live somewhere where he could “be a star”. She was definitely right about that. Flea was the smallest of our dogs, but he was also the most alpha. Sometimes I wonder how Arran would have reacted to Flea. I think Flea would have kicked his ass. One of our former vets hated Flea’s name and said we should change it, but I think it actually suited him perfectly. He was just cool enough to pull it off.

MacGregor was an adorable puppy when we brought him home to keep Flea company. Flea terrorized him at first, but then they became best friends.

Flea was a bit blue when he became our dog. He liked having other dogs around, and got really bad separation anxiety when he was alone or not the center of attention. He also missed the little boy. He would have loved it if we’d had a son for him to play with. Flea loved kids– especially boys. I remember he would bugle for me if I so much as left his sight. After a few months with us, we had him tested for heartworms again and learned that he was never fully treated for the disease. We got him healthier, then picked up our dog, MacGregor, who is probably Bill’s “special” dog– although Arran runs a close second. Once we had MacGregor, Flea totally changed. MacGregor was perfectly happy to be second banana, and that was just what Flea needed. Once he had a sidekick, he was a lot less anxious about being left alone. He turned into a great family dog who was super protective of me and also liked to play canine pranks.

As we were walking last night, Bill chuckled and said, “I remember when Flea used to purposely sneak up behind you and startle you.”

It’s true. Flea was just like Misterjaw… “Gotcha!”

Flea had the personality of a shark. He liked to sneak up behind me and scare me out of my wits! This episode is actually not unlike Flea’s story, only Flea was a dog rather than a shark.

I’d be sitting at my computer, hard at work writing something. He’d saunter into my office, silent as a church mouse. He’d sit down and watch me for a minute. Then, just when I was in the middle of a thought, oblivious to his presence, he’d let out a sharp yelp. I’d jump, then turn around to give him a dirty look and a sharp word. Bill watched him do this many times in the six years we had Flea. He thought it was a riot. I’m sure Flea was amused, too.

In the summer of 2009, Flea was diagnosed with prostate cancer. We were living in Germany and our former vet in Herrenberg– same one who treated Zane and Arran for the past four years– told Bill that Flea had cancer. We took him to Stuttgart, where they did an ultrasound and x-ray that confirmed the presence of cancer. It was July. Ever since then, I’ve kind of hated July. It seems like the worst things happen in July. I’m always relieved when July is over, and I generally dread its onset, even though July is also the month my dear husband came into the world in 1964. It’s also the month in which Bill will become a grandfather again, when his daughter has her baby girl. She chose July 9th to be induced… the fifth anniversary of my dad’s death.

A couple of days before we lost Flea to cancer. We lived in Georgia. MacGregor was standing guard. Three years later, Zane would do the same for MacGregor when spinal cancer overtook his body.

We managed to keep Flea going for another four months after he was diagnosed with cancer. He made it back to the United States with us and died on November 18, 2009, two days after our wedding anniversary. The night before we had him put down, he’d lost the ability to walk. Even still, he didn’t want to die and made it very clear to us, although it was obvious he would not live much longer as the cancer turned him into a skeletal version of himself. Of the dogs we’ve had euthanized, Flea took the longest to give in. I was beside myself with grief when we lost him. He was such a little character– full of self-confidence and spunk. He reminded me of a canine version of George Jefferson. Flea was also instrumental in our getting to know our neighbors in our first German neighborhood, when he fell in love with the next door neighbor’s little boy, Robin.

Flea only visits me in my dreams now, with the occasional “Gotcha!” Flea’s successor, Zane was born exactly one year prior to the day we lost Flea. He’s going to be eleven years old this year. I worry about him all the time, especially as he gets lumpier. There are times when I would swear Flea jumped into his body to visit us down here on Earth. I feel the same way about Arran, who sometimes behaves a bit like MacGregor used to. So far, both of our dogs have had mast cell tumors, but they’re both plucky and fun loving. Zane isn’t quite as spunky as he used to be, but his eyes are bright, his coat is shiny, and he still loves to take walks. And sometimes, when he’s feeling especially jaunty, he’ll sneak up behind me and bark “Gotcha!”, just like ol’ Flea used to, back in the day.

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