Zeke and I kept walking despite an increase in the frequency and duration of his seizures. He was a handsome dog, black and white, curly haired with long ears and incredible gracefulness. He could really run and he could leap over tall stonewalls with ease.
But life had changed yet again. I remained vigilant about his health. Armed with medications from the vet, I knew how to take care of him, oral meds, rectal meds, a tablespoon of vanilla ice cream after a seizure (yes for the sugar,) and so on. It didn’t go unnoticed that after a terrible period of caretaking my terminally ill husband and burying my beloved, I was caretaking his dog (well our dog, but really his.)
One Sunday we took our really long walk all the way up the steep road past the horse farm, past the duck pond, past the wooded lots. Zeke showed no signs of weakening. But it was on our way down that the Herb hawk appeared. As usual, the hawk wasn’t being particularly birdlike. It hovered quite low, around the height of the telephone wires if not below, and faced us.
Then while we were walking down the hill, past the wooded lots again, past the other landmarks, the hawk stayed overhead, just like that, hovering. It frightened me that it followed us down the road. That was too unusual. Birds don’t do that.
So finally when we got to the place where we turned into our road, I had to speak. I called, “What is it Herbie? What do you want? You want the dog?” And with that, the bird took off.
Zeke’s big seizure started late one night soon after and continued into the next day. There was nothing the vet could do. Zeke had suffered too much brain damage. So lying there on the floor at the vet’s office, lying in a pool of dog pee and tears, I said good-bye to my darling Zeke, my best buddy, my dear sweet friend.
The vet said he wasn’t sure what it was, maybe a brain tumor or maybe he just died of a broken heart having lost his Herb. After all, he’d been by Herb’s side throughout his illness. And I’d brought him to the funeral. He’d crawled on his belly up to the hole in the ground while the casket was lowered and he’d cried so loud that everyone wept for Herbie, for his dog, for our loss.
I walked by myself for a while after losing Zeke, trying to find my pace without my sidekick but it was too hard. I would have to get another dog and hopefully my broken heart would heal. I just didn’t know how much more drama I could take.
7 – I continued to walk despite not having my pup. I tried wearing headphones for a while, but as much as I love music, it just didn’t feel right walking that way. I needed the sounds of the wind and birds, the crunching of the leaves under my feet, not songs, not even Leonard Cohen. I also didn’t know how to pace myself. I walked too fast and wore down quickly. Sprinting wasn’t going to work. So I tried walking really slowly but felt unbalanced and ungrounded. I needed a pooch to set the pace.
I looked online and found a one year-old Labradoodle in Maine. As much as I wanted a puppy, I just couldn’t see how I would train it while working forty hours, so after much consideration, a friend drove me north to meet the dog, a beautiful guy, white with brown splotches, a parti, they said.
When I stepped out of the car after the long drive north, the owners opened the door of the house and dropped the dog’s lead. I knelt down and the dog rushed into my arms. It was a sign, they said. We were connected. Felt like it to me, so without much discussion, I paid for him and took him home. I called him Pasha.
He seemed fine in the car on my lap while my best friend drove, calm, quiet, adorable, but he was very nervous when I got him into the kitchen. Something felt off, wrong, but I didn’t want to believe it. Any dog would be scared the first day, right? Still, he was shaking. I phoned the breeder but of course chose to keep him. We were connected remember? I would never give up on a frightened pup. I would help him. I would love him. We’d be great together.
We had many good walks. He was happy outside and energetic. He easily ‘got into the zone’ and kept a good pace. This was a good idea. I already loved this dog.
We walked on the beach a lot. He was good at that, at staying with me and going long distances. And he was such a good-looking dog!
I started dating around the time I got Pasha and I walking was an important part of my day. The guy, Pasha, and I were walking up the dirt road one day. Pasha stopped a few times to sniff the weeds, to pee, to sniff some more and the guy became impatient. He didn’t want me to bring the dog. He liked to walk fast! He didn’t feel like stopping all the time. The dog was a real pain. Leave him home he said. Um, no, seemed to me the guy was the pain. I kept walking with the dog and ended the relationship for lots of reasons. Pasha and I moved on.
8 – As time went on it became clear that Pasha had some sort of serious health issue, something that included an irritable bowel. He seemed weaker and he frequently needed medication. I was caretaking again, but I never gave up on love. I just took care of him. We were pals. I was committed.
Still we walked. But Pasha grew more and more nervous. He guarded his food, his toys, he snapped at me. He snapped at my friend’s daughter’s toes when she stood too close to him. I worked with a trainer but the dog wasn’t happy. He had frequent trips to the vet. I consulted with behavioral experts at Tufts. I was consistent with Pasha. I took away extra toys and gave him one at a time. I did everything they suggested.
Still I was surprised when I came home from work one day and called Pasha and he didn’t respond. I looked across the kitchen and saw him standing facing the distant corner. I called his name but he didn’t seem to hear me. “Pasha. Pash!” Nothing. When I approached him I could see that he was trembling, shaking all over, really vibrating. “PASHA!”
I led him into the bedroom and lifted him onto my bed. “Don’t worry, Pash, I’ll help you. I’ll stay with you. Pasha,” I whispered, but when I reached out my hand he jerked into a strange position. It was something I later learned they called, ‘tapping out.’ (Look it up.) His head was turned hard to the side, one leg was straight, the other bent. He looked rigid. And his eyes seemed glazed, angry. “What is it Pash?” I asked, sure he was hurting, but when I put my hand on his belly – the way he usually liked it, soft, rubbing him in gentle circles – he showed his teeth and lunged right towards me.
Oh my God! I cried out for him to calm down, but again he came after me. Pasha was crazy. He was trying to bite me!
Sobbing, I called the vet who told me something was very wrong and I had to bring Pasha into the office. He was a danger. He would hurt me. He didn’t mean it. He was sick, maybe a brain tumor, something horrible. The vet had seen it only once before, but Pasha was too sick to be alone with me.
He had, meanwhile, settled down. I put his lead on, got him into the car and sobbed all the way to the vet.
“I’m sorry Pasha. I tried so hard. I love you so much. I’m so very sorry….”
They had to put him down. He was too sick to live with people. I fell to my knees in the parking lot, raised my arms and cried. “So what, I can’t have anyone? Is that it?”
Okay then. I was done with dogs. Done with companionship. Done with love. I would be alone. The pain was too intense. I couldn’t take anymore. And so I walked alone again.
9 – For the first time in my life, I was alone, really alone, just me, no kids around, no man, no puppy. Even the last of the 13 outdoor cats the children raised were gone, as was my dear cockatiel that keeled over at age 21, two weeks after my husband died. He was a good bird, that Fred. He whistled with me, things like Michael Row Your Boat Ashore, and Midnight All Alone in the Moonlight…. He called my name. Now there was just silence, no other life in the house. Very strange indeed. I like silence, but not that kind, not absolute stillness. I prefer peaceful company and no drama.
Anyway, I kept walking. I had to. I needed fresh air to clear my head and I loved being surrounded by Nature and the chance that something might move, some chipmunk or cardinal, some creature, something alive.
But it was weird being so alone, coming home from work to perfect quiet. Nobody met me at the door. No puppy nose was pressed against the window. Nobody followed me around the house or acted like everything I was doing was important.
And it was strange driving around without my sidekick, coming back to the car after doing errands and finding it empty. I missed companionship. I missed the kind of unconditional love my dogs gave me.
I walked in the rain a lot, something about the way it touched my face reminding me that I was alive, that I had skin, breath, a beating heart. But walking was difficult. Walking with friends meant talking. I liked talking but it changed what walking did for me.
Still, I kept walking by myself as much as I could and with each step I remembered why I missed having a dog, really missed it.
10 – I dated a lot in those days, but somehow in my heart I remained alone. To keep myself sane, I walked as much as I could. I liked walking on the beach, listening to the sound of the tide turning the stones on the north shore, or the waves crashing on the south. I liked the glint of the sun off the water, the boundless sky, the fresh air.
Regardless of the beauty around me, it was strange not having my four legged companion at my side. Pasha was never great at the sea. He was too nervous and excitable, but Zeke was a wonderful beach buddy. He ran fearlessly into the waves and rode them like a little body surfer. I loved his strength and he was such a handsome dog, bred to be a show dog, curly-haired and long-eared, perfect, but never shown.
Zeke was best at ball retrieving. No matter how far I tossed that tennis ball, he always brought it back, in the field, in the yard, on wooded paths, on the beach. I worried sometimes that he seemed disoriented if he swam out too far chasing a ball, but he always figured it out and came back to me. I missed that little guy, missed him terribly. And Pasha…despite his problems, he was my friend and I missed him too.
It was strange that even though the dogs were gone, I sometimes ‘saw’ them on the beach. I remembered everything about them, like I remembered Herb. They were memorized, a part of me that I carried. My grief was enormous. I felt it inside my chest in a very physical way, a hot heavy weight pressing against the inside of my heart. I worried about it, how a body could sustain such despair.
I knew another dog would help me feel better, but Murray was liver and white, Zeke was black and white. Any Springer would remind me of them, them but not them. So I thought about getting a puppy, something different, something big and loving and connected. I kept walking and I kept thinking about it. Maybe…. But I couldn’t bear the thought of losing another love.
11 – I tried walking with different men I was dating. There was the very tall guy who talked about sports a lot, who acted like he was in good shape. I parked the car in the beach parking lot and we walked down the sandy path to the beach. The beach grass was bending in the breeze. It was a lovely day.
There before us was the ocean, gorgeous and wild with rows of cresting then crashing waves. The sandy coastline stretched literally for miles and I was excited about taking one of my longer walks by the sea. That was when my date declared that it was a beautiful spot and he was glad we came. Then he turned to go back to the car. Wait! What about our walk? Oh, he thought the walk was from the car to the beach. His hips were killing him and he couldn’t take another step on the sand. Ugh.
There was the guy who could hardly get out of the car. Medical issues with his legs. No walk.
And the well-built man who could lift just about anything but who had to sit down on the side of the road four times just to make it through one of my typical afternoon walks.
No, walking with men wasn’t a substitute for walking with my dogs. I would have to think about this.
12 – It was springtime when I decided to do some research and seriously consider getting a puppy. I had a boyfriend at the time, but I made it clear that if I got a dog, it would be mine. Not sure why, well probably because I knew the dog would be my forever love and I wasn’t so sure about the guy.
Anyway I found Berkshire Hills Labradoodles online and spend weeks looking at pictures of the dogs, the girls, the boys, the puppies. Finally I phoned Sunny and told her my story. I cried about my losses, my loves, my grief and said I needed a strong dog, a faithful loving friend, a dog that would stay healthy and be by my side through thick and thin. Sunny breeds therapy dogs. Yes, I needed a dog with that sensitivity.
And then I explained that I saw a dog on the website, a white female, Eleanor, and I wasn’t sure why but I really felt I had to have one of her puppies. Turned out Eleanor’s puppies were conceived the day that Pasha died. Imagine. It felt meant to be and Sunny agreed that I could have one of Eleanor’s pups. I waited for them to be born and felt the love for my new puppy growing inside me.
Thank you, thank you dear Sunny, because we both knew the moment one of the pups crawled into my lap during that first puppy meeting, that he was my boy. Leo. I called him Leo, and long after that boyfriend’s departure, Leo is still my best dog, my faithful love. God I love him and guess what? Leo loves me right back.