All Dogs Go To Heaven

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When I bought my house, (with generous aid from my parents, to be honest,) it seemed pretty well perfect. A well-kept block of homes, easy walking distance to the center of the small town I live in, a fenced yard and a property that was large enough for a family of three without being too much for one person to maintain. After all, the kids will move out someday. I think.

I didn't expect any trouble, but trouble was what I got. Within a month of moving in, the trees had been T.P.'d and some cute prankster had turned on the outside water faucet while I was at work; a water bill I would not care to repeat. Worse than that, I began to suspect that at least one neighborhood urchin had a key to the front door. Nothing ever disappeared from the inner sanctum of hearth and home, but when you come home to a door that is–shall we say–ajar more than once, you have to chalk it up to something other than sheer forgetfulness or poltergeist activity.

I had the locks changed, but that didn't resolve the feeling of danger or fear of invasion. Believe me, it's no joke for someone of my nature, (cowardly) and stature (wimpy) to go from room to room, checking closets and the basement for an interloper. When the kids were here, it was easier to tap into the bravery gene. Mother's instinct and all that jazz. But on the days and nights when they stayed with their father, my cute little house seemed a lot less welcoming. The neighborhood seemed a lot more hostile. And lacking a significant other, I decided to do the next best thing.

Time to get a dog.

For years and years, I'd had a fascination for whippets. As a teenager, I'd briefly worked for a woman who had a few. They were sleek and athletic looking, but generally quiet and companionable. Whippets, however, are prohibitively expensive for the convenience store flunky budget. My fantasy of eventually becoming the crazy old whippet lady of Portage was not to be realized.

Besides, in the matter of deterrence, I had criteria that needed to be met by my prospective canine companion.

1. I wanted it to be large.

2. I wanted it to be good natured. After all, I had kids of my own. Cujo need not apply.

3. I wanted it to have a nice big bark.

With that sleek whippety silhouette in mind, I web-searched out greyhounds and hit the mother lode. Wisconsin had a few active greyhound racetracks and therefore there was a ready supply of retired hounds needing to find couches to call their own. I did some research and found pretty much everything I was hoping for in the breed description – including the good news that greyhounds are not heavy shedders by any stretch of the imagination. Bonus!

I sent in an application to the Wisconsin chapter of Greyhound Pets of America and waited. This led to a home visit by two group representatives and a humongous boy-hound with a cast on his leg. The reps were actually a little nervous because poor Red's injury had brought him off the track only a short time ago and he was still new to the idea of house breaking. Despite this, he was friendly, happy and very quiet. Though he was not destined to be ours, I was sold on the breed.

Relying on the expertise of Becky, the adoption rep I worked most closely with, I let her choose the greyhound that she felt would be right for us. Dressed to the nines and late for a Christmas party, she dropped off . . . well, she dropped off the anti-Red. It was brindle. It was wild. Its name was apparently Kurt.

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Within two minutes of entering our little family circle, Kurt promptly counter-surfed across the stove top, then ran down the hallway and decided to try out the bathtub. (That was the first and last time he ever jumped in voluntarily.) I swear Becky's SUV left skid marks on the street while she was making her getaway.

She and I still laugh about that.

Not particularly liking the name Kurt, and since he didn't respond to it anyway, I renamed our new hound Simon. Over the course of the next few weeks, he growled at the kids, snapped at yours truly, shedded like a yak in spring thaw and steadfastly refused to bark at anyone who wasn't small, squeaky or featured on Animal Planet.

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Simon and I came to an understanding. Eventually. In fact, these days he is my shadow, my constant companion and an immense source of comfort during those sleepless nights when the brain just won't quit chewing over problems which certainly can't be resolved at 3am. Sometimes you just need to hug your dog.

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Anyway, because greyhounds are like potato chips – you can't stop at just one - I began fostering other greyhounds for GPA-WI. Fostering offered Simon, (who at the time had developed a hint of separation anxiety when the hand-that-fed went to work,) some fraternal companionship. It was also a nice non-commitment way for us to find out for ourselves whether the household was big enough to contain two greyhounds.

First was Lonnie, a sweet three year old girl who was fresh off the track, yet smart enough to discover that a greyhound can fit very nicely into the big blue recliner in the living room. Simon, clearly impressed, quickly followed her example. The recliner has been Simon's turf ever since. I get a folding chair.

The next foster was Lucky, a sweet old girl who sure never lived up to her name. Her health problems were legion, up to and including a missing toe. She was an exercise in patience and somewhat eroded veterinary-related skills on my part. She also knew how to smile, the only greyhound I've hosted who could do that. Past nine years old and special needs, I was under the impression that she was a lifer as a foster, but she was adopted by a woman who fell in love with her hard-luck story. I was sorry to see my Lucky girl go, and devastated a few years later when I learned that she'd died. Of cancer.

We had a short term foster dog after that, a perfectly amiable fellow named Johnny, who occasionally and without provocation launched into poor Simon with snarls and teeth. To this day, Simon has the scars from Johnny's assertion of male domination. I wasn't unhappy to deliver him to his adoptive home.

And then came Flower.

After Lucky, I didn't think I'd ever run across a more needy foster hound, but Flower was the embodiment of neediness. My understanding is that Flower and another greyhound, were owned in Texas by a person who, for health reasons, could no longer take care of them. After an undetermined span of time of living with sub-standard care, they were shipped to Wisconsin with a load of chihuahuas. The recipient was expecting the little dogs, but not the large ones. When the new owner attempted to send the greyhounds to the local humane society, GPA-WI was called and Flower eventually ended up with me.

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She smelled just about as bad as a dog can smell. Her ears were full of gunk. She was wormy. She was thin. She was absolutely terrified and completely disoriented. But my God, she was so sweet. During her first full day with us, she guiltily crept up onto the couch–she clearly remembered couches–and stayed there for the next week, leaving it only to eat or to go outside and do her business. She seemed, if I can anthropomorphize a bit, to be of the opinion that the couch might disappear if she didn't maintain her vigil.

She broke my heart.

Eventually she learned that the couch was a permanent fixture in the house. She learned that food was ample and that cuddles were freely given and lovingly received. She discovered our crate full of dog toys, and as though she thought she was doing something naughty, she played only when she thought no one was looking. But she did play, her half-amputated tail a helicopter rotor of delight that threatened to lift her right off the ground. She snuggled and wiggled and loved us as strongly and fiercely as a dog can possibly love anyone.

The inevitable call came, just before Christmas, that a family had indicated some interest in Flower with an intent to adopt her. I spent one sleepless night watching the lights flicker and dance on our somewhat dilapidated Christmas tree. I studied the back end of a fuzzy squeaky toy that had somehow been ballistically and enthusiastically lodged in the upper branches.

I sat on the couch with Simon at my feet and a blissfully sleeping Flower beside me, her head pillowed on my lap.

I thought about sending her to a home that undoubtedly offered more than our measly little one-income, low-income household ever could. I thought about sending her away from the couch, from security. And while I know, to this day, that she would have adapted, it was not within me to strip her security away ever again. Not for any reason.

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I called the adoption coordinator and made Flower an official part of the family.

She bloomed with us. She adored the kids and worshipped the ground Simon walked on. Not exactly a canine Einstein, she was silly and goofy and sometimes downright dumb. She crept up onto my bed every night and displayed no respect for personal space. Often I would wake up and find a paw draped chokingly across my neck or feel greyhound snot being lovingly dribbled into my ear. You couldn't get mad at her because she was so sweet and clueless. She was even mugged by a squirrel once.

We had her for almost three years of unconditional love.

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In September of 2007, my daughter and I held Flower and loved her as a veterinarian administered a fatal dose of barbiturates. Flower did not want to go.

I will never, ever forget that she did not want to go.

To this day, I have to remind myself that the decision I made was made out of compassion and a desire to spare her prolonged misery from an out of control, wickedly suppurating tumor. I have to remember that her fate that would have been no different if we'd put her through more surgery or treatments. We could have kept her a little while longer, but at an unfair cost to her.

Cancer again.

How ironic is that?

The sappy anthropomorphics among us like to talk about the Rainbow Bridge, a pathway to the Other Side, where our dearly departed pets wait for us to join them. I believe in Heaven, I don't know if I believe in the Rainbow Bridge.

But when I think of Flower these days, I see her on a grassy lawn, patting her front paws wildly up and down in her distinctive dance of joy. She looks young. Not a puppy, but there's no tell-tale white of aging on her face. Her tail gyrates wildly and she looks up at me with absolute delight that I am still paying attention to her, still loving her, not ever forgetting her.

I am, in many ways, a practical person. The image I have of Flower dancing on that green grass is not something I would intentionally fabricate. I'm good at guilt. I hold it tight and I don't let go of it. I don't ever try to duck it, or make light of it. I wallow in it. I marinate in it.

But Flower simply came. And when my thoughts turn toward her, she is still there, still delighted and still loving me.

It's enough to make you believe in the Rainbow Bridge.

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