Memories of the Lovable but Dimwitted Duo

Duffy was a mutt who appeared to be the product of a child’s imagination gone wild — dog parts selected from multiple breeds and merged together in a one-of-a-kind way.  A classic humane society rescue dog.  He had been neglected at his first home, although not abused, as he was always was a trusting soul.  He came to us severely underweight and malnourished, and having no knowledge of the joy of attention and physical love from human companions.

We brought Duffy into our lives when he was not quite a year old, as our first dog Bruce (not yet two years old) came to the premature end of his, suffering from uncontrollable seizures and medicated to the point that his quality of life was no longer positive.  We adopted Duffy, thinking that Bruce would like the comfort of a companion as he declined, and that we would have a companion as we anticipated the need to help Bruce say good-bye and ease his pain.

Duffy
Duffy

We could not have asked for a better companion for our ailing Bruce than Duffy — that goofy-looking mutt adored Bruce.  He gave Bruce moments of renewed playfulness and joy, but could not stop the inevitable decline that was only months away.  Duffy was inseparable from Bruce, until the end.

Duffy plays with our ailing first dog
Duffy brought new energy to our ailing, but still beautiful, first dog Bruce

Tearfully, we said good-bye and soon learned that Duffy needed his own companion now that Bruce was gone.  Duffy cried.  He barked a neurotic, repeated bark after he lost his friend.  We were no substitute for the emptiness that poor dog obviously had gnawing at him inside.  So, off to the humane society we went in search of a friend for Duffy.  This resulted in Snowball (“Snowy”) joining our little family.

The lovable but dimwitted duo: Snowy and Duffy
The lovable but dimwitted duo: Snowy and Duffy

She was not quite a year old when we adopted her; Snowy had been her name while in foster care with her pups.  Her previous owner had abandoned her while she was pregnant.  The neighbors in the rural area became aware of her plight, and cared for her until the pups were old enough to be adopted themselves.  The neighbors told the humane society what a protective and caring mother Snowy was to her pups, digging out a little den under a woodpile on the property.  She obviously had not had a good life leading up to that young stint of motherhood, as her ears already were scarred with frostbite nicks from her first winter.

Snowy and Duffy
Snowy and Duffy in their younger years

Snowy was always somewhat standoffish or even crabby toward other dogs . . . except for her forever friend, Duffy.  They bonded from the moment they met, and became inseparable for the next 14 years. (I admit to tearing up, as I reflect back on the incredible love those two animals had for each other, and for us, their human family).  They were our “children” for several years, before our first two-legged child was born into the family.

Snowy and Duffy
Snowy and Duffy had it rough . . .

My husband and I took Snowy and Duffy to obedience class soon after they joined us, each taking responsibility for one of them during each class.  We quickly learned that we needed to separate ourselves to opposite sides of the classroom, because our dogs otherwise would not focus on the task at hand; rather, they focused on each other.  Even when separated, Snowy would cry and whimper from across the room whenever we stopped our heeling exercises — any extended “sit” or “stay” resulted in her looking longingly toward her buddy, accompanied by her whiny laments.

Snowy was the ring leader of our lovable but dimwitted duo.  Perhaps it was the lack of nutritious sustenance for much of the first year of his life, but Duffy was not blessed with an abundance of intelligence.  If dogs could talk, I am sure many of their exchanges would consist of Duffy saying in a bumbling, excited manner, “what do you think, Snowy, huh? huh? huh?  should we run? should we play? yes? no?”  And as soon as Snowy gave the signal, off they would go, racing playfully together, wrestling, snuggling, loving with a connection that words cannot explain.

From their harsh first year of life, Snowy and Duffy transitioned easily to lives as spoiled and much-loved pets.  And they again transitioned beautifully to the role of children’s friends and companions as our family grew to add two boys over the next few years.

Snowy and our first baby   Duffy and his baby brother

Snowy napping with baby brother
Snowy napping with baby brother
Sharing food with Snowy
Sharing food with a friend
A walk with the dogs during a winter storm
A walk to Lake Superior’s shore with Snowy and Duffy during a winter storm

Those dogs are intertwined with the memories of our boys growing up.  Hikes, imaginary play, wrestling, romps in the snow — Snowy and Duffy were there.  Patient, loving, forgiving.  The unconditional love that animals bring to our lives was exhibited in this goofy twosome time and time again.

Snowy showed a great deal of patience
Snowy showed a great deal of patience
Fishing off the dock with the dogs
Fishing off the dock with Duffy and Snowy
The love between a boy and his dog
No better love . . .
Snowy enjoying the pontoon
Snowy enjoying a sunny afternoon on the pontoon

Time at the cabin and on the lake were times of bliss for those two (not to mention the rest of us).  They were with us for the first few summers we camped on the raw land (and Snowy was with my husband and son during a thunderstorm when she bolted straight through the zippered door of the tent, because she did not want to be left alone in the tent in the storm when my husband went to the car to retrieve something . . . . that neglectful first year of life resulted in some needy, neurotic tendencies on both Snowy and Duffy’s parts, but can you blame them?).

Napping on the pontoon
Napping with Duffy on the pontoon

Swimming with the boys, fishing off the dock, enjoying pontoon rides on the lake.  The memories of the first few summers when we enjoyed time at the lake were inseparable from memories of the dogs enjoying time at the lake.  As our boys grew, the dogs simply aged.  The pace of hikes had to slow and shorten in distance, as Duffy was the first to remind us that they would not be with us throughout the boys’ childhood years.

Pontoon bliss
Pontoon bliss!
Hanging at the cabin
Hanging at the cabin on a chilly fall day

As is often the case with older dogs, they lost muscle tone and layers of fat, although Snowy’s Samoyed-Husky fur kept her cozy on the coldest of days even as she reached the end of her life.  I made Duffy a little polar fleece jacket for late fall nights at the cabin, before we had a heat source to keep the interior toasty warm.  My husband would take Duffy onto the cots we slept on at the time, tucking him into the sleeping bag where Duffy would sleep with a happy sigh (after first repeatedly grunting for more tummy scrubs).

Duffy turned 14; we knew it was probably his last summer with us, as he began to lose control of his rear legs and mobility significantly declined.  One of the most difficult things about owning a pet is knowing when it is time to help them say goodbye.  The answer rarely presents itself in black-and-white, and no matter how many furry friends you have been fortunate to know over your lifetime, it never gets any easier when it comes to helping them .

Duffy's last summer
One of the last pictures of Duffy at the cabin

We had a family wedding to attend mid-summer, and so we left Duffy and Snowy with the same caretakers we had used (and Duffy and Snowy had loved) for the prior 13+ years.  One morning, only a couple of nights into our week-long vacation, I received a tearful call from the woman caring for them.  Duffy was at the vet and he had tummy twist (bloat).  Why it happened, no one will ever know, but given his already fragile elderly state, surgery was not advised.  Our vet and vet’s staff stood compassionately in our stead as they eased Duffy across the “Rainbow Bridge.”  To say that tears were shed by us during that day, and on and off throughout the remainder of our vacation, would be an understatement.

The next morning, I woke up with the most vivid dream seared into my mind.  I told my husband that Duffy came to me that night, looking healthy and happy, leaning into me as I ran my fingers through his cinnamon-colored fur.  I could feel his fur, feel his presence — it was not the typical feeling or memory one has when trying to recall a dream from the night before.  My husband had an odd look cross his face as I told him this, and he said quietly, “Duffy came to me in a dream, too.”  He had the same sensation of petting him, feeling his fur, and that sense that Duffy was at peace.  My oldest son claimed he dreamed of Duffy that night, as well, while my youngest son burst into tears because he could not recall having seen or felt Duffy in his dreams.  We assured him that Duffy would not have missed visiting him as he made the rounds to all of us, letting us know that he no longer was in pain, and that we need not worry about the fact he passed without us being there to say our goodbyes.  He came to us to say goodbye instead, just another example of that purest of love that sometimes only an animal or child can seem to share.

Our vacation ended and we picked up Snowy from her caretaker, bringing her home alone.  As she ran into our house, we realized that she thought Duffy must be waiting for her at home.  She frantically searched from room to room, whimpering in an increasingly panicked manner, which brought a new round of tears and feeling of helplessness on our part.  Once she realized her faithful friend was not waiting for her, she sunk into the deepest of depressions and appeared to even suffer a seizure at some point.  She stopped eating, withdrew, and was inconsolable.

We made a trip to the humane society and we hoped that perhaps Snowy would find some solace in another dog companion.  Perhaps it was the taking of interest in a new friend, or perhaps it was just that Snowy was a tough old bird who was not going to give up on life that easily, but remarkably, Snowy was like the phoenix, rising again and enjoying life to the fullest for another three years, exceeding the ripe old age of 17!

Sneaking s'mores
Caught red-handed — in a group photo of family roasting marshmallows over the campfire, a background zoom revealed this old girl digging in the marshmallow bag! (no worries, she ingested no chocolate!)

When she turned 16, we had “Snowy’s last birthday” party at the cabin, as she was increasingly showing her age and we figured it would be her last.  The next year, we had the second annual “Snowy’s last birthday” party!   At her second “last” birthday party, on her 17th birthday, Snowy started marching slowly down the hill toward the lake, zig-zagging to minimize the strain on her arthritic and weakened joints.  Over the previous couple of summers, she had voluntarily wandered down to the lake less and less frequently.  My husband would carry her to the pontoon a few times each summer so she could enjoy her favorite boat ride and a paddle in the lake.  She was determined on her birthday, though, and celebrated turning 17 by taking herself for a swim, joined by her new furry friend and my youngest son.

We all watched in awe as she swam and enjoyed wading in the water.  No one had to say out loud what we all knew — that this was likely one of her last ventures down to the lake to enjoy some of the activities she enjoyed most in life, with the people she loved most, who loved her right back with all of their hearts.

Snowy's birthday swim
Snowy’s 17th birthday swim

That fall was her last with us.  On Thanksgiving Day, we ventured out for a short hike.  In the past year or two, when heading out for longer or more strenuous hikes, we would reluctantly leave Snowy behind, knowing she no longer had the strength or endurance to join us.  It was a holiday and no one was in a hurry.  We just wanted to wander leisurely through the forest and enjoy our family time together.

Snowy enjoys her Thanksgiving hike
Snowy’s face says it all

As I look back at these photos from that hike, some of the last that we have of Snowy, I see that happy grin on her face as she and our lab wait for the boys to catch up.  Once again, she surprised all of us, even galloping exuberantly on the trail for a brief time, always with that dog grin, barking playfully as the boys ran past.  The joy she so obviously experienced that day was infectious.

With another Thanksgiving holiday approaching, and that often frenzied holiday season already nipping at people’s heels, perhaps we can take a cue from our animal friends as we did on that Thanksgiving several years ago.  We all slowed our pace to enjoy the day with Snowy, and were reminded of one of the important things in life — that in this finite time we have together, we should always try to find joy in the moment  and enjoy the simple things in life.

Enjoying the simple things on Thanksgiving Day
Enjoying the simple things on Thanksgiving Day

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.  It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” ~ John Grogan, author, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog

Ciao! ~ Kat

Weekly Writing Challenge: Sleepwalking in Winter

In the continuing attempt to challenge my creative self (or rediscover my creative self, as the case may be), I am picking up the gauntlet thrown down by the WordPress Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge and trying “something completely different” by just writing a story about a walk down memory lane, without the “crutch” of my photos or quotes as the primary focus!

When I was young, I had a tendency toward night terrors and sleepwalking.  I cannot say I remember much from most of my sleepwalking adventures, but I do have some vivid recollections of night terrors, even 40 or so years later.  I would not wake up whimpering about the scary monster and ask for a drink of water to make things better.  No, I would scream bloody murder from my basement bedroom in our 1960’s split-level style home; it was enough to wake the dead.  My mom apparently had moved to the undead stage by this point, and usually was able to sleep through it, while my dad was rudely awakened from his slumber and ended up trooping downstairs to deal with a daughter flailing about in her bed as if trying to exorcise a demon.  I remember one night, after my dad came downstairs and turned on my bedroom light, I was certain I could still see in vivid, full-color detail, playing like an action-adventure movie across my closet doors, a mob of angry people chasing me with knives!

The night terrors where I was able to emit a blood-curdling scream or two were more comforting, however (at least to me), than the nightmares where I awoke frozen in fright and unable to move a muscle or emit the slightest noise, due to the overwhelming fear permeating my body.  I do vaguely recall, as I dig into the foggy recesses of my memory banks, that on more than one occasion the immobility was due to the certain presence of someone or something lurking under my bed.  I suspect that on most of those occasions, I finally fell back into an exhausted sleep.

Nightmares, night terrors — nothing too unusual about those experiences while growing up.  As I noted, though, I also had a habit of sleepwalking quite frequently in my pre-adolescent years, and while I cannot remember most of those incidents, one does stand out in my mind — the time I left the house in the middle of winter.

Growing up, one of my neighborhood friends was Debbie.  She lived about a block away, just around the corner from my house, our homes connected by the city sidewalk.  We would ride bikes to each other’s houses in the summer, walk in the winter, and spend many an afternoon playing together inside or out.  Perhaps I was dreaming about getting together to play, but apparently, exploring the play adventure in the dreamworld was unsatisfactory, and my dream transformed into action.

At approximately 1:00 in the morning, Debbie’s parents were summoned to their door in response to the doorbell.  They opened the door to find Debbie’s friend (that would be me), standing on their doorstep in footie pajamas with no coat, eyes open, and asking, “Can Debbie come out and play?”  I suspect it soon became apparent to them that I was not awake.

Debbie’s parents sat me down in their kitchen and placed a coat around me.  They then called my parents to let them know that little Kat had chosen an inopportune time for a playdate — could we play another time instead?  My dad walked down the street to retrieve me and carry me home.  I was probably about seven years old.

Snowy South Dakota Day
A snowy South Dakota day ~ a few years before I tackled that sidewalk in my footie p.j.’s in the dark of night.

Reflecting back on this sleepwalking adventure, I have to ask myself, “what do I independently remember, and what do I think I remember because of the numerous times we have retold the story within the family and to others?”  As I sit today, I cannot recall leaving the unlocked house (our house was rarely locked during the day or night if we were in town, as was the case with most residents in a small town at that time).  What is amazing is that my dad did not wake up when the front door opened and the screen door shut behind me, because he was and is such a light sleeper on almost all other occasions.

I do not remember what must have been a shock of cold air to my body, clothed only in footie pajamas, having just emerged from a burrow of warm blankets in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter.  I did not wake up during my walk (or run as the case may have been) during the one block journey to my friend’s house.  Thankfully, I did not slip on the icy sidewalk with the plastic-like coating on the bottom of my pajama feet.  The first fuzzy memory I can recall from that night is waking up in Debbie’s kitchen, with her parents both looking at me.  I also can vaguely recall holding on to my dad as he carried me back home again.

I believe that night’s escapade prompted a more regular habit of locking the front door at night, although I never tried a midnight sleepwalking excursion again (at least none of which we are aware!).

Do you have a childhood memory that is a blur between what you think you recall and what is the repeated telling of the story of that memory?  Do tell!

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

P.S. Had to do a quick edit on this post, as I almost forgot the last step of the challenge:

At the end of your post, take a minute to reflect on the experience of creating it. Was it easier than you thought? Harder? Did you learn anything useful? Will you incorporate the new style into your repertoire? Would you try this exercise again with a different style?

I discovered it was fun to simply write!  Not write based on the stories a photo told, but to simply write.  It has been years since I have done that type of writing, and may actually consider responding to another DP Writing Challenge in the future, in addition to those fun Weekly Photo Challenges.  Thanks to WordPress for continuing to help some of us bloggers rediscover some of the creativity that often has been buried or suppressed over the years!

Until One Has Loved an Animal

Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.                         ~ Anatole France

until one has loved an animal

Decided that my reflections of gratitude need not be limited to once a week . . . this is one of my favorite photos of one of my sons from years ago.  I could say more, but I think the picture says enough.

Ciao! ~ Kat B.