Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Story of Elder: A Thanksgiving Tail

Driving home on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, on my dinner break, I unsuccessfully attempted to stay focused on the audio book playing on my iPod, my mind wandering to the impossible list of remaining tasks that I needed to perform in the little time I had before returning to work. Walking my dog and having enough time left over to cram at least some food down my own throat seemed less likely by the minute. Though normally well within reason, this night I’d thrown a wrench in the works by making an extra stop.

I live a mere four and half miles from my workplace, and on a typical day, with a little cooperation from traffic signals and a reasonable vehicular volume, I can make it to my apartment in fifteen minutes or less. The delay was brought about by my own lack of planning and foresight, combined with poor timing and a desire to, regardless of my less than masterful culinary skills, comfort myself with the tasty meal and the consolatory olfactory illusion of home that I feel is my birthright as an American during the holidays. A Thanksgiving meal, cooked by me, would quell my loneliness and, if I could avoid burning it to cinders, perhaps even swell my pride along with my belly. Not a lot to ask.

I’ve been cooking more in the years that I’ve been separated from my wife and daughter, and have come to take a goofy sort of pride in pulling a dish, successfully cooked, from the oven. So great is my satisfaction, in fact, that I’m often inclined to photograph my work upon completion, as if, during some future party conversation with Emeril Lagasse, I’ll reach into my wallet, whip out a small representation of my piping hot stuffing recipe and casually state, “You see, Emeril, if you increase the amount of the berry medley by, say, even a quarter cup, you get a fuller, fruitier flavor, while adding substantial color to the presentation.” At which point Emeril, totally focused and possibly envious, squints, fully taking in the nuances of what even this small photo depicts as a dish worthy of gods. He begins nodding admiringly, that joyful Mediterranean smile unfolding, furrowing his brows while squeezing his chin over his crossed arms and softly replies: “Ummm. Yes…very nice….” (Being a realist, I don’t presume in my fantasy that Emeril will offer me a full-out “BAM!!”, his subtle acknowledgement plays out just fine.)

I’d waited until the last minute to get the turkey breast this year – typical of me, particularly around the holidays. When I searched the shelves at my 24-hour Wal-Mart, there was nothing but a giant hole where the turkey breasts should have been. Not a single semblance of anything like a plain breast; only highly overpriced, strangely shaped, pre-flavored slabs of what may have been turkey, but some unfamiliar breed, tainted-looking and off-colored with deadly-sounding jelly-like chemical coatings and flecks of something that might have been spices or, given the repugnance of the packaging, fly poop.

Nearly nine in the evening now, my options had become severely diminished. The only hope of an open local grocery store was a Kroger which, thankfully, was directly in my path on the way home. So, fearing that the lines there would entirely consume the majority of my remaining break, I headed toward what I hoped to be the store of my salvation, chanting a mantra of discipline which I hoped would prevent me from falling into my normal diversion: hungrily browsing for other items that I had no need for.

I did well; I shopped quickly, the lines at the self-scan were shockingly small, and I made it out fairly rapidly. Resuming hopeful thoughts of getting some small amount of sustenance after walking Beau, I drove speedily but with relative restraint the straight line road towards my apartment.

As I made the final turn off the main road, my cul de sac now in sight, my headlights fell on the two reflected lights that any driver recognizes as the eyes of an animal, heading straight down the center of the road, at a trot, directly towards me. It was a dog I didn’t recognize from the neighborhood, but it was dark. As is my habit when seeing a stray I hit the breaks in plenty of time and buzzed down my window.

“Hey buddy, c’mere, hey!”, keeping my voice high and sweet and non-threatening, following it with a light whistle, then calling him again. He slowed, looking back over his shoulder, but clearly wasn’t going to stop. I got out of the car, starting to follow him. I’d stopped and my car idling in the center of a small, two lane road, not a good place to park if I was going to have to pursue the runaway. I called to the dog again. He didn’t look back this time, if anything, he sped up, and was now running toward the larger thoroughfare that is Arnold Mill Road.
Good luck, pal, I wished him silently. I’m willing to help any animal that’s lost or in trouble; in fact, my daughter and I have over-enthusiastically given chase on numerous occasions to dogs that might indeed have been in their own front yards. But the circumstances this night were prohibitive, I felt there was probably little I’d be able to do and, rather than abandon my car in the middle of the road and give chase, I turned to get back into my car, when something off to my right caught my attention.

I looked towards the day care center in front of which I’d stopped and saw what looked like a black, four-legged stick figure, cautiously eyeing me from near the buildings entry way. It was a dog, that much was evident. But its proportions were oddly wrong. Exactly what was off, I couldn’t make out in the darkness, so I called it, and it immediately began to make its way, slowly, limping, it appeared, toward me. Hanging its head, almost as if in defeat, it approached, and as it got close to me, I gasped at what I saw.

At first I thought it might have been an Irish setter of the black variety. I’d seen setters that were very lean – in fact my girlfriend Claudia and I, when we were teen-agers, had rescued one from Spanish Harlem that had been abused – beaten, starved its stool bloody with a nearly terminal case of worms – but this dog made that setter look chubby. His ribs and haunches protruded so severely, he looked like a stripped chicken carcass with black fur.

I knelt down to look in its eyes, they seemed to be crying; glassy and spilling tears and the dog licked my face, perhaps in gratitude for the first kind interaction it had ever known. And then the smell hit me like punch in the nose. He reeked of what could only be described as terminal neglect.

Opening the back door, I patted the seat, encouraging him to climb in and, seeming familiar enough with cars, he looked first at the car’s interior, and then, sadly up at me. He was fairly tall, a Labrador retriever my revised guess. A normal dog of his size could have stepped or leapt easily up and into the back of the car. He looked as if had the desire, but nowhere near the strength. Ultimately, he peered once more into the car and then again at me as if to say “Sorry. I’d love to, but, ,. I’m afraid it’s out of the question.”

I picked him up and gently propped him against the back seat rest and he immediately folded down into an awkward lying pose.
By the time I got back behind the wheel and shut the door, the car had filled with his stench to the extent that I became nauseous.

I am a lover of dogs. I have a great fondness for people, kids in particular, as well. But I have always felt a uniquely strong and immediate magnetism to and from the four-legged variety of domesticated canine companions. Whereas people as a whole must pass through the filter of my intuitive scrutiny, having lived through some rough experiences, humans have earned my wariness, at least initially, and occasionally even suspicion. The condition that this poor beast was in was horrifying evidence of the cruelty that some humans are capable of.

I enter into relationships with most dogs with a far greater sense of trust and ease, less suspicion and, more often than not as it turns out, a higher percentage of success than I’ve found possible with humans. (I must un-include children here, because, for the most part and with very few exceptions, they haven’t learned the unfortunate skill set that inclines them toward pretense, suspicion, manipulation and connivery. Dogs are far less likely to hide who they are and rather, tend to show their full hand from the onset. )

Whereas many adults have qualities that can be off-putting, even repugnant, and as a result have engendered in me a sort of cautious reserve, dogs are virtually always who they present themselves to be; what you see is who they are; it’s in your face, immediate and with no propensity toward pretense. Dogs are agenda-less, innocent (though not all are friendly to everyone, at least you’ll know that about them instantly) and usually readable for the type of dog they are. If they are frightened or, for whatever reason, hostile toward you, they will present that to you without reservation or concern for your feelings and in terms that are clear and recognizable. Regardless of your previous experience with dogs (or lack of it) or your ability to speak their language, they are straight forward with all who cross their path, never couching their hostility or withholding their immediate desire to be in a close relationship with you.

Dogs are capable of unabashedly loving or hating a total stranger, without embarrassment or apology (a quality that might serve as a lesson to us all). Sometimes unfortunate for dog companions like me, this propensity on the part of dogs to indulge in immediate, shameless displays of affection will lead some (mine, is an embarrassingly disturbing example of this quality), to publicly practicing sexual deviancies that would result in substantial time behind bars, were they to be practiced by humans and can, at the times and in the locations they often happen, be horribly embarrassing.

I drove around the corner and into my cul de sac, backing into the space in front of my apartment. The nature of my fear had now shifted from my concern about eating in time to what to do with this wreckage of skin and bones. How would Beau, just six months old and all exuberant, joyful and very physically expressive puppy react to this older crippled victim? I felt sure that, in his eagerness to offer an enthusiastic greeting, he’d knock the poor guy down, possibly adding further injuries to his already miserable state.

I left the dog in the car, thinking that I’d walk Beau first, leaving him temporarily clueless about the visitor, at least until I could get some food into him. Naively, I hadn’t realized that the moment I walked in, Beau would pick up the strange scent and start a frenzied investigation to find the source. I leashed him and as he shot out the door and headed straight to get at the car I pulled him around the bushes and behind the building. Once walked, I put Beau back in the apartment, grabbed two bowls, filled one with filtered water, the other with some kibble and fought my way past Beau and out the door.

The dog lay in the back seat where he’d come to rest, not having moved an inch. I helped him out of the car and called to him. He looked up at me with glazed eyes that were sad and hollow and began to follow slowly behind me, head down, limping noticeably. When we got to the spot in front of my window where I’d place the bowls, I guided him to the bowl with the kibble. As he registered the smell of food, he looked up at me with a look that seemed to say “Oh, thank you soooooo much!” and dropped his head into the bowl and gorged. I decided that a short personality test might not be a bad idea, seeing as I was about to bring this dog into my house and possibly my life, for God knew how long.

As he ate, I slowly reached for the bottom of the bowl, out of immediate range of his teeth. Then I brought my hand up to the rim and tugged slowly, as if to take the bowl away. Nothing. He was simply happy to be eating what might have been his first meal in days or longer. Even when I dipped my hand into the bowl and scooped up some of the kibble while he voraciously scarfed the food, he would not evidence even the slightest proprietary hostility. He was as gentle as a lamb.

I grabbed an extra retractable leash from my car and attached it around his neck. opened the front door and brought the handle into the living room, closing the door with the handle resting just inside, the lead fully extended to give him some walking room outside. I stood, wondering how this extra animal might fit into this apartment, already occupied by a cat a large and growing dog and me. As Beau ran back and forth from the window to the door, pleading for access to our new visitor, I tossed a frozen dinner into the microwave, set the timer and stood watching the seconds cooking away as I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. As I looked at the sad, emaciated animal before me, anger began to overtake the pity I’d felt. How, I thought, could a human being let this happen to an animal like this?
After introducing the dog to Beau and my cat, Mao, and blocking off the kitchen with the baby gate I keep for a variety of animal containment purposes, I decided to make a quick video, documenting my find, so that should I be able to locate the miserable wretch who committed this crime, I’d have evidence of what they’d done. Punishing him myself seemed the most rewarding of all possible outcomes, but seeing them prosecuted seemed a somewhat satisfying second winning end result. I used my phone’s video camera and narrated the circumstances as the dog sniffed his way around the kitchen.

I left the new guy gated off in the kitchen with food, water and a blanket to lie on and headed back to work, dizzied by this abrupt turn of events. All I could do was all I could do, I thought, and finished my shift in restless contemplation of what I didn’t know was going to happen.

Upon returning from work, I brought the sad, stinking beast up the stairs, which he negotiated pretty much on his own, and into the bathroom, where I started running warm water into the tub. I’d bought a large bottle of flea and tick shampoo, prepared to encounter all manner of insect life under the fairly long hair of the new roommate. I picked him up and placed him gently in the accumulated three inches of water. I grabbed the large plastic cup that was used for operations such as this and began pouring the warm water over the dog. It ran off, as if he was a huge bony duck. The accumulated grease and dirt that covered him was so thick that I had to work hard, pouring with one hand, spreading hair and kneading the water in with the other, to get him close to saturated. The bath went on for nearly an hour, coating and lathering him - tail to nose as best I could – completely, twice. The water, after draining and reloading the tub for the second shampoo and rinsing, was a dark brown, impossible to see the bottom though the mud-like gunk. And he still stank. But it was a slightly better flavor of stink and at least I knew he was somewhat cleaner and, hopefully, flea and tick free. I dried him off, dismissing my reluctance to touch my towels to his body, and then I looked at the scale on the bathroom floor.

A dog his age, size and breed probably should have weighed in the neighborhood of 75 pounds. After weighing myself, then him in my arms, and subtracting my weight from the total, he weighed a mere 34.5 pounds.

Believing that all creature deserve a personalized title, I named him Elder, as he was now the senior of the animals in the house. Because his physical characteristics were so abnormal, I knew my guess could be far from accurate, but he seemed to be at least two or three years old (a guess that was later adjusted to be a bit older). There was no graying anywhere on his fur. His teeth were an ugly dark yellow and appeared to be rotting out of his mouth, some chipped and a couple clearly already dead and waiting to fall out.

I continued to attempt to feed and water the dog over the next two and a half days, but after his initial enthusiastic gorging, he wouldn’t eat. He drank water as if he was bottomless, lapping up all that as I offered. I later found out that he’d been severely dehydrated for quite some time, partially from the disease he’d lived with for so long, partly due to sheer neglect. I watched his stool on our walks, thinking it likely that he had worms, but there were no such indications, a fact that gratified me, yet left me all the more curious – and worried – about what, indeed had caused his wretched condition.

I’d found him too late on Wednesday night to take any meaningful medical action on his behalf and the following day was Thanksgiving – another no-go for pet care. One frightening aspect of the dilemma was the fact that given this dog’s condition, it was apparent that treating him was going to cost a fortune, if, indeed there was any treatment that could be given. (I’m nobody’s vet, but, to give you a sense of how bad this dog looked – on one walk through the neighborhood on Thursday, I ran into a neighbor I know outside her place, talking to her husband and son. As I told her the story, she looked Elder, hands pressed to her face as if to block what she was seeing. Spontaneously, she burst into tears. Wiping her face, she said: “Oh, my God, it’s just so sad!”.)

Unfortunately, I am not a man of financial means. So, if this dog was going to be saved through medical attention, some sort of miracle needed to happen. Fortunately, I am a man who is always available to miracles.

I made his stay with us as comfortable as possible, allowing him the normally taboo privilege of laying on the living room couch. He’d found it almost immediately, once we’d all awakened on Thanksgiving morning and he was given the run of the house. I cringed when saw him initially, sprawled across the pillows on the couch, thinking of his stench (even after the scrubbing he’d received the night before) seeping into the pillows and permanently ruining the couch. I brought an old blanket out and put it under him, resigned to allowing him at least this small comfortable resting spot.
There he lay, intermittently crying for the next two days. Yet for all the pain that he was in and despite what memories he may have carried of the horrid treatment he’d received from humans prior to meeting up with me, every time I entered the living room, his long tail began to thump, no doubt requiring an effort from his weakened body that was significant. If I bent near to his face, he happily strained to lick me. Occasionally, while I sat at my desk working on the computer, a large, black head would gently come to rest in my lap. Then he’d lose the requisite strength and sink with a knuckle-on-wood sounding clunk to the floor by my feet. It seemed that for Elder, all human sins were forgiven. Dogs, always living in the present moment, let go of the past. We, here in this apartment, were his new family, one that loved and cared for him and despite it all, he seemed genuinely grateful, if not happy, to be with us.

I decided to creat a new video using my web camera, including Elder in all his slightly shinier, cleaner, emaciated glory standing with me at my desk, and posted it on my Facebook page, sharing what I thought was a curiously magical meeting of man and dog, on - of all days - Thanksgiving Eve. I wanted to chronicle this event as a sort of tribute to a lovely creature with whom I shared a debt of gratitude for coming into each other’s lives and giving a far deeper meaning to this day that’s often perceived merely as an excuse to cram food and drink into our bodies, free of guilt.

The response to the video was overwhelming. People were deeply touched by Elder’s plight and the warmth and love and appreciation that came back at me was staggering. Voices from all across the country – and even Europe – cheered us on, wished Elder to recover, even offered to help with his medical bills. It was quite extraordinary and moving, how this dog was touching the spirits of so many.

I had planned to arise early Friday morning and attempt to get my Christmas shopping done. I had clipped some ads from the fliers that had jammed my mailbox for the last week and planned on taking advantage of the Black Friday sales, the 5 a.m. blood lust driven crowds competing for the deals of the day. My motivation was saving a few bucks and being done with shopping, but my reluctance was nearly insurmountable.
Thursday night came and as I listened to Elders whimpering coming from the living room, it dawned on me that Friday would be the only time I’d likely be able to find a vet for Elder and that I’d better commit to getting that daunting task done with more than a couple of hours of sleep.

Friday morning at 8:30, I warmed up the computer and hit the online Yellow Pages listings, driven by the sounds of a crying dog in next room. My first couple of calls were wasted, and left me angry. I was hoping to be led to either an inexpensive practice or hospital or, better yet, one that would take a hard luck case like Elder on a humane, pro bone basis. Okay, I am known to be occasionally na├»ve, but based on the belief that if I was a vet and heard this story, I’d make a damn house call. This kind of thinking, however out of touch with reality, did wind up leading me to the perfect veterinary clinic with the finest team of compassionate healers in the entire universe.

I finally located a woman named Debbie at a local veterinary clinic, who answered the phone with some cheer in her voice and who, after hearing my case, told me that I could bring the dog in and for $45 they’d at least look at him. I almost fell out of my chair.

I had, for gong on three days now, been stuffing a truckload of emotions deep down and away from where they could get the way of rational action. When Debbie told me that they would at least look at Elder, those emotions, like leaves clinging to their branches after a hard fall wind, began to shake loose. Now, I was going to have to face the truth of this dog’s condition, and honestly, I really didn’t want to. I somehow knew, deep down, that it was going to be bad.

I went into the living room and looked at Elder, sprawled on the couch and whining told him, cheerfully as I could, liquid now fighting its way towards my eyeballs that we’d found someone to help. I told him we might not be coming back, but that, all in all, whatever might happen, it would be for the best. I gave him a dog treat and called Beau over to say goodbye.

I raced into my clothes and, thinking as little as possible about the possible outcome of this outing, slipped the spare leash around Elders neck, lifted him into the car and drove the short distance to the vet’s office.

By the time I’d closed the door behind me and attempted to introduce myself to Debbie, who’d stood to greet me, I was already crying too hard to be understood. All the sadness, the anger, pity, frustration – it all fell from eyes as I unsuccessfully tried to expain the reason myself and Elder had come there. It was unnecessary, as it turned out. Based on our conversation and Elder’s immediately recognizable profile, Debbie knew who I was. Things momentarily seemed to have turned upside down - me, appearing to be the patient, being hustled into the only available treatment room and Elder, having accompanied me here, escorting me to the room in which I was to be treated. A sad pair, we were.

Elder and I sat in the small, cramped room, looking at each other, both wondering, I suppose, what was coming next. I found a box of tissues and wiped the tears and mucous from my face, hoping that I’d be better at speaking during the next round of conversation.

And then, as if emerging from behind some hidden celestial partition, two angels appeared in the small treatment room in the form of pajama clad twenty-something interns, Tiffany and Shelby, who immediately turned their healing attentions to Elder, getting down on the floor with him and “Ohh, poor boy”-ing and “Hiya, sweet thing”ing him, stroking his frail body and soothing him into a calmed prone state. I tried to explain Elder’s situation and my own state of pathos to the extent I was able, occasionally formulating words peppered with sniffling sounds broken syllables like “wuh” and “nnhg”. Finally, due to their patience and interpretive skills, they nodded and smiled, indicating that they sort of grasped the gist. I was grateful for their willingness to humor me and I set about pulling myself together.

Before long, Dr. Evans, a somewhat stern, fit-looking veterinarian entered the room and introduced himself. I stood to shake his hand, knowing that if things continued as they had been, it would be the one controlled act I’d manage before falling apart again. He looked up at me with a minor smile as he firmly clasped my hand. “Let’s see what we’ve got here”, he offered in standard, doc-speak. I lifted Elder up onto the shiny steel table in the middle of the room, the sort of table I imagine pet nightmares are made of. I apparently missed the part where he used the stethoscope to check heartbeat and other vital functions within Elder’s chest cavity, and, once done, the doctors voice was neutral as he related that Elder’s chest sounded not-too-bad, though there was wheezing and that a blood test would reveal with more clarity the nature of Elders condition. Then, after a brief pause, as he contemplated Elders ribs, out of nowhere, the doctor stated:

“He’d make for a really interesting skeletal study”
“Wow, doc,” I responded, shocked at this left field statement. “Your bedside manner totally underwhelms me.”

Realizing that what might have been, to him, an innocent and reasonable thought had struck me as less than sensitive, he apologized for the abruptness of his comment.
His initial diagnosis was that he thought there was more to Elders condition that was apparent to both the eye and stethoscope and that drawing blood would reveal far more precisely what was happening inside Elder’s body.

Elder lay patiently, the prick of the needle probably nothing compared to the pain he was already in. As the doctor left the room with the vial of blood, Tiffany approached me.

“Listen, my family rescues tons of animals, horses and dogs mostly, and I was thinking that if he’s treatable, maybe I could take him while he recovers and then we can find him a home.”

My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t quite believe what I’d just heard and flew the two steps over to Tiffany and embraced her, the tears, good ones now, back. I thanked her and then mentally stepped back into that larger picture that, since finding Elder two nights earlier, I’d been drawn to again and again. How awesome, I thought, that this dog, having persevered on his own long enough to find someone to help him, has touched people so deeply that he is, time and time again, being given the help he needs to make it down the road to a better life. Hope was being delivered.
Upon viewing the blood test results, the doc apparently saw a red flag. There was cause to believe that there were “other” issues and that a scan was necessary to pinpoint exactly what it was. I looked to the faces of Shelby and Tiffany and couldn’t make out the level of concern that I saw. Just trust that it’ll keep going in the right direction, I thought. I lifted Elder back down onto the floor and they escorted him into the back for the scan.

As they filed back into the treatment room, the faces of all three told the story before the vet uttered a word. Their expressions clearly showed that whatever the scan had revealed wasn’t good.

It all came down to that news that no friend or relative of any patient – human or animal – ever wants to hear; the singular word that has broken so many hearts and erased so many dreams, the future-killing diagnosis that induces the most hopeless and heartbreaking fear of all. Elder had cancer.

According to the vet, the severity of the disease that afflicted Elder was far beyond that which might, even with the most advanced medications, high-tech treatments or under the most optimistic of scenarios, allow the presence of hope. The doc said that he’d never seen so much cancer in an animal and that the only treatment for Elder was a swift and painless inducing of permanent sleep. I agreed to the recommendation and the doctor left to get the drugs
My emotions flip-flopped again, now from hope back to sadness and I recall having the thought that I was almost used to it now.

Shelby, in an attempt, I think, to snap me back from my misery, said: “Elder found some home fries in the back and he really loves them. Hang on.” She once again disappeared into the back hallway and momentarily returned, now carrying in one hand a small mountain of hash browned potatoes and in the other a large chunk of icing-topped cake. Shelby and Tiffany proceeded to stuff the now ecstatic Elder with all of both items, causing his tail to drum the side of the steel table in a fit of happiness that was wonderful to behold.

Then, the party over, the two interns and I sat Elder back on the floor in a little circle of loving support and stroked and talked to him as they shaved a spot on his arm, making his vein available.

I flashed back over the decades to the previous occasions, fortunately few in number but spiritually shattering every one, that I’d had to bring pets that I’d known and grown to love over many years, the most loyal of companions, to face their final moments with me in virtually this same cold and sterile, brightly lit execution chamber. Of course it wasn’t death row or an evil extermination chamber, but at these sad times the difference seemed negligible. For one who loves a friend of many years, those last moments, looking into that living expression of love for the last time, the sadness of saying that final goodbye, having to accept the reality that the memories will no longer be manufactured but only recalled, the love no longer exchanged face to face, nothing softens the harshness, nor the tearing of one’s heart to lose one so loved, and worse, losing them through one’s own decision, no matter how compassionate the roots of that decision may be.

In our day to day world, it is extraordinary rather than the norm when people offer a kind word or gesture. If they do, it is often in response to something that we did for them, be it simple or extraordinary. But in the dogs world, his day is comprised of a continuous stream of those acts of kindness and reciprocations, disproportionately ebullient gratitudes for even the smallest displays of our affection and outpourings of love that is not required of them but nevertheless doled out in heaping portions as if there was a quota they had pledged to themselves to make on a daily basis. These affections are given freely and based on nothing more than what appears to be their desire to please, seems to run through the species as if it was a genetic attribute, one that we hope for when we choose a dog and are rarely disappointed.

Elder displayed no exception to any of these qualities, though he was unable to express them with the fervor with he once was able. His relentless, though efforted tail wagging, the licks he appreciatively bestowed on my face, and that smile that appeared behind his filmy, sad eyes told those of us who were with him at the end that he was all of those things, possessed every one of those best qualities that we hope for in a human’s companion.

Elder and I and the many people he touched at end of his life seem to have been brought together, on the eve of the day of national Thanksgiving, for what may have been a simple and touching learning experience. Despite the tremendous sadness that we all felt at seeing what this lovely animal had been subjected to, we were touched in a way that moved us to think, perhaps with a more than fleeting concentration, about far more than just the case of a pathetic, abused, neglected dog. The circumstances that brought all the players in this tale together, the timing of events – all of the seemingly random, serendipitous pieces of the puzzle - from the moment that Elder and I locked eyes until the doctors’ stethoscope registered the final beat of his heart, indicated something almost in the domain of magic, some inexplicable purpose at work, a lesson to be learned, some unseen voice to be heard.
I was a mess in the end. But there was an aliveness that I felt that was undeniably real, one that I’ll never forget nor regret. If I was religious, I could rant on endlessly about God’s work being done, a miracle of sorts performed. Being relatively spiritually awake, I can only say that Elder and I seem to have been meant to meet. The staff of that wonderful animal hospital was given the opportunity – and they took it with such enthusiasm, noble purpose and grace – to offer their highest levels of both medical service and human compassion. My friends all over the world were given a glimpse into the life of a dog that seemed to move them from great distances to send their feelings of empathy and love to both an unfortunate young dog and their friend who adopted him.

And, on a Thanksgiving that otherwise might have come and gone with some superficial thanks given and whole lot of turkey and stuffing eaten, Elder and I were given the privileged gift of living in each others' lives only temporarily, but surely in the deepest and most meaningful of ways.


  1. My nine year old son just did his first paper on labradors because we have one. His conclusion was - Animals help people and people help animals. The world needs more animals to help people and more people to help animals. Your story proves him right for you and Elder helped eachother.
    This world needs more people like you!

  2. Kerry,
    This is Joan, Ihor Charischak's wife. It's been over 25 years since we've met and talked. Shame on us for not staying in touch. But, because I was writing our Christmas cards tonight, and going through our address book, I said to Ihor, Gee - what's Kerry doing these days. And, so he found this blog. It brought me to tears many, many times over. It broke my heart at every turn - even though it is many years old. It also makes me wonder how you are - wishing that you are well. Bless you for your experience with Elder. You made his last days comfortable and loving. Dogs know love - they really do. And they express it so simply and beautifully. Thank you - on Elder's behalf for giving him love , compassion and warmth in his final hours. Thank goodness for you and Elder that you found the beautiful people to help you both. Elder truly knew love before he left this world.
    You write so beautifully - so effortlessly, and with such emotion. Thank you for that. Ihor and I have been cat people for all our years together... and have had to face this heart wrenching choice over a dozen times. But, it doesn't stop us from bringing more of these wonderful creatures into our lives. It just takes time for us to mourn and then search for another who needs our love. (At the moment, we have 6.) I don't know if you will get this message, since the blog is so long passed... I hope you do. We send our love, and invite you to respond. We'd love to hear from you!!! Joan and Ihor (joanangela@verizon.net or IhorC@me.com)