Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
John Grogan wrote:
“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.“
I find it is amazing how true that is. We have been blessed by some of the most amazing dogs who have each occupied our lives in fascinating ways. They have been lovers, consolers, jokers, and defenders. All had or with our two remaining Papillons, Izzy Bella, and Pierre, have carved out distinct places in our canine-human pack. I live to come home and see them jumping up and down, barking and waging because I am home. In fact they start looking for me even before I get home because they know the routine.
We have been owned by six dogs in our marriage, each with a distinct personality and place in our pack, beginning with our German Wire Haired Dachshund and Dowager Queen Frieda. Frieda could be sweet, but she was cunning and had an attitude. We loved her but it was kind of like Stockholm Syndrome because while Frieda loved us, she was her own dog, and we were the bumbling help. If you have ever had a difficult and headstrong Dachshund, imagine that pup being a 28 pound German standard size one, bred as a hunting dog, with not an ounce of fat on her, big boned, lots of muscles, teeth like that of an Alsatian, and jaws that could lock down. She was incredibly smart and devious, and we referred to her as the Queen. That being said she was incredibly gentle to children and old ladies. Judy and Frieda had an almost psychic bond, it was like Frieda was always inside Judy’s head. We lost her in early 2001 at the age of 16 1/2 years, and three days. She shared Judy’s birthday. When Frieda died I was deployed to Okinawa, mainland Japan, and Korea. Judy did her best to keep her alive for my return but it didn’t work out. When she died, Judy recalled that it was like her mind was alone. However, Frieda never really left our lives, we both had paranormal encounters with her, and sometimes I catch out of the corner of my eye a Frieda sized shadow figure. Go figure.
We got our second pup, also a dachshund but a smooth hair red dachshund designed to American, not German specifications. We named her Greta, and she was sweet, but a thief and chow hound. She was mommy’s girl, completely codependent and attached to Judy. She was sweet, and when she saw little girls when we walked her she would roll over to get her belly rubbed. She was smart, sweet, but somewhat dour in personality, but she could be funny without meaning to be. When we got her Frieda retired from watch dog and patrol duties and handed them off the Greta. Frieda was like someone who retired from the military at 20 years and lived to be 120, collecting retirement and demanding her due. We lost Greta on June 22nd 2003 to cancer, 17 years to the day before we lost Minnie.
Six months after we lost Frieda, we got Molly. Molly was a rescue found of North Carolina Highway 24 in Carteret County. When found she was covered in tar as the highway was being widened and repaved. Judy met the lady and Molly at our vets office and since Judy thought Molly was a dachshund told the lady that we had a lot of experience with dachshunds and to call us if she needed advice. We it turned out that Molly, who was estimated by the vet to be about six months old was too much for this lady’s old dog which suffered from hip problems. She asked if we would consider taking her and I said why not. However, Molly wasn’t fully dachshund, she was a dachshund-papillon mix. She had the long dachshund body, slightly longer legs, the beautiful long fur coat of a long rich red hair.her body was that of a dachshund but her legs, ears and tail didn’t look at all like a dachshund. Being a mix she was fascinating, one day she could be the cheerful Papillon, and the next the “what the hell do you want Dachshund.” But she was smart, somewhat devious and mischievous, but always good for a long snuggle and kiss fest. She was a daddy’s girl, but Judy’s protector during a period where I was deployed or away from home more often than not. In late 2010 I was assigned to the Naval Hospital at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina and I rented an apartment under a beach house on Emerald Isle. While there Judy and Molly would occasionally visit, but in early 2012 Judy had to have an Achilles’ tendon resection surgery. Since our home in Virginia is nothing but stairs, we decided that she should do her first month of recuperating with me, because my apartment was ground level and had nary a step to be found. Molly came down and during that month, decided that regardless of what mommy was doing that she was going to stay. On Emerald Isle she could chase deer, squirrels, foxes, and go for walks on the beach. She also had a daddy who would take her for rides which usually ended up with her being rewarded with a Molly Burger from either Hardee’s of McDonald’s. However, not long before I was reassigned back to the Hampton Roads area in late 2013, Molly went blind from a genetic disorder. One day she was snapping Dragonflies out of the air, and the next she was running into things. But, she adapted to blindness marvelously. We bought her a visor to protect her eyes and she used it like a blind man’s cane, tapping her way through the house without missing a beat. However in early 2014 she developed Kidney Disease and died in May 2015, just over the age of 14. It was a good thing that Molly came to live with me, because in those years I was so wracked with PTSD that had she not been waiting for me that I could have easily driven my car into a tree and ended my life. Molly saved my life more than once.
However, because we loved the Papillon side of her personality, and because if she stayed with me Judy would be alone, I decided to look for Papillon puppy, and I found Minnie. When the breeder sent me the picture of a very tiny yet confident and cocky puppy, I knew that she was the one. Judy named her Minnie Scule because fro what she read she didn’t expect Minnie to get over 7-8 pounds. When we got Minnie she was just 2.4 pounds with tiny little legs and a somewhat oval body. Judy nicknamed her the piglet. However, Minnie took to sitting on Judy’s shoulders like a parrot would do with a Pirate. But Minnie kept growing and at one point she was all ears, legs, and tail, a gangly puppy. But then she started to fill out and for most of her life weighed between 13-15 pounds. She had a huge personality. She talked like Scooby Doo, and was demanding like a Frieda, but much sweeter about it and without Frieda’s armament. I encouraged her worst habits. She was a thief, could be defiant, and was not always obedient unless food was involved. But above all she was mommy’s girl, not that she didn’t like spending time with daddy who would walk her around the lake in our neighborhood and let her chase ducks and geese, and as any good spaniel would do, jumped into the lake in pursuit. But Judy was always first in her heart, she was her shadow and constant companion.
Monday, was sad day in our household, Judy and I lost our Minnie Scule to Kidney failure and probable sepsis this evening. Over the past few months she has been battling it, but over the past couple of weeks she would have good days and bad, some days she would eat and other times not, and and her weight went down from about 14 1/2 pounds to by today less than ten.
But it was last week when things started to get really bad. She stopped eating and no matter what we tried we couldn’t get her to eat. So we began to make daily visits to the vet where we would drop her off for tests, IVs, medication, and really everything the vet could try to attempt to reverse the course of the disease and to try to get her to rally. On Saturday it seemed like she might be rallying but Sunday morning she was worse. While at home we did everything the vet had us do and more, but even had she staged a rally, she might have just lived another couple of weeks or months.
Last night was weird. She usually sleeps next to Judy or between her legs. About 3 AM Judy got me up because Minnie wasn’t on the bed. We looked everywhere and couldn’t find her and she wouldn’t respond to us. I finally found her curled in some clothes in a pull out bin on my side of the bed. I have heard the stories of dogs who knew it was time to die by leaving home and going into the woods, but since she couldn’t get out and was really too week to go anywhere else in the house she went to that spot. I got her back in the bed, and we both petted her for a long time and told her how much that we loved her.
Today we took her in for a last ditch effort, but I could tell that her breathing was labored and heartbeat too fast, and she was pretty much skin, fur, and bones. Not long after I got out of my latest set of knee injections at the Naval Medical Center I got a call from the vet who has been seeing her since she was a 2.4 pound puppy. He was not hopeful at all but gave us some options which included taking her to a 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital where she could receive round the clock care, but I didn’t expect that to do anymore and asked if at the end of the day we could take her home and see how she did. He was agreeable to that and agreed to meet us in the morning as he had to leave early, leaving her in the care of another very good and experienced vet who we also really like. About 4 PM, the other doctor called and said that she had gotten significantly worse. So we made the decision that it was time. We got to be with her and the doctor who had been hers since the beginning came back to the office to be with us.
Minnie was on Judy’s lap, completely limp, With no energy at all, and her breathing worse than in the morning. She lay completely limp in Judy’s arms as we petted and talked to her, then mustering whatever strength she had left she shifted her body in order to be in a place where she could see both of us, and then collapsed again in Judy’s arms. She Expended her last ounce of strength to see us. She knew that it was time. She was so weak that the injection took just seconds to put her out of her suffering. She died in Judy’s arms with me beside her. Despite, that her face looked calm, and she never lost her beauty. It was hard to believe that she was gone.
We had dinner and Judy went to bed with Izzy going up to be with her while Pierre, the daddy’s boy that he is came downstairs with me as I tried to answer the hundreds of condolences and heartfelt messages that we received in less than a couple of hours. They were all heartfelt and genuine. I could just barely reply to a few because I was just trying to hold the tears back. So I went through my email I had a really kind message from Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. When I read it I burst out crying. It was one of the kindest, most considerate notes on a personal loss I have ever received from anyone. He found out through a mutual long time friend that Minnie had died, and his words had the depth our soul, character, and spirituality that are lacking in so many Christian churches and other religious organizations.
Mikey is a friend, and his organization defended me when one of my retired parishioners at my old chapel attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon that I preached, in which he made bold faced lies about what I said. But the command conducted an investigation and I lawyered up with the best, the MRFF. The attorney handled the investigation well, and the investigating officer interviewed over half of the congregation present that day. None corroborated the lies of my accuser and the investigation was dropped. What was interesting was that one of the questions asked was how each parishioner viewed me. Active duty personnel, a tiny minority in the congregation had no problems with what I preached on that day, and regardless of their race they defended me to a person. The retiree population was another matter. Blacks viewed me and my preaching favorably, one even saying that my words that day “sounded like the voice of God.” But the Whites, though not backing the accuser, all said that they thought that I “was too liberal to preach in a military setting.”
I found that perplexing because when I preach I use the texts from the lectionary and apply basic Catholic theology and social teaching to them and couple them to what is known as the Anglican triad, of Scripture, Church Tradition, and Reason. Then I preach a sermon firmly grounded in these. As well as history, since I also happen to be a historian, but I digress. The point is, that Mikey came to my aid when most Christians, including some members of the Chaplain Corps would have thrown me under the bus. I respect him, and I love him.
His note meant so much, not that the other expressions from so many others mean anything less, because I appreciated all of them, and as I said I was fighting back the tears when I read them.
Mikey noted something else in his reply to my reply on his first email. He noted how much his dogs were like family, and that they tended to be better friends and more loyal than most people. I have to agree with that. Others, going back to the Greek philosophers have said much the same thing.
Charles Darwin noted: “Man himself cannot express love and humility by external signs, so plainly as does a dog, when with drooping ears, hanging lips, flexuous body, and wagging tail, he meets his beloved master.“
When I think of Minnie, and our other pups, I think of that. She was a joy, I shall never forget her and I will always miss her. If I get to heaven, I know that she will be waiting for me, with Molly, and maybe Frieda and Greta, and providing that if I outlive them, certainly Izzy and Pierre.