Saturday, November 1, 2014

Grappling with Goodbye

The last week has been tough for me and I've been struggling to figure out why.

I didn't think it was the impending fall, although I dread it.

For a while I thought it was the fact that my birthday is coming up in a few days, but it's not like my son normally remembered and sent a card I wouldn't get this year, or called, although there was always the off chance he might. I know every "special" day will be burdened with an extra dose of grief, so there is a chance that's been contributing to my sudden spells of weeping.

It took a Facebook message Saturday morning about my long-term rescue dog Pedro for me to say "Ah ha."

A teenager who just started volunteering to work with rescue dogs and help out around the kennel -- something I and the rescues need tremendously -- said it was too quiet without Pedro.

Suddenly I realized that was probably the reason for my way too frequent bouts of crying this week.

Pedro is gone. Moved on to the next phase of his life. Hundreds of miles away where he's greeting someone else with his questioning bark, giving his kisses to someone else, looking into someone else's eyes to see if he can love and trust them. Going to adoption fairs and living in a home and looking for his forever family in ways he couldn't do while staying with me.

And I'm broken hearted.

Of course, your first question is likely to be "Well, why didn't you keep him?"

It's a fair question because I loved him and he loved me and he is a totally awesome dog that I trusted with dogs of all sizes and my grandchildren.

But there was a sticking point -- I have a nine-year-old Labrador retriever who detested him. I have a prior commitment to Rebel and it broke Rebel's heart for me to have another large male dog in my life. I could see it in his eyes and the way he carried himself when I had Pedro out for a walk. Occasionally he'd snap and I'd be struggling to separate two large dogs locked in combat and someone would wind up hurt -- usually Rebel. I had dealt with trying to keep and separate two small dogs who for some reason beyond comprehension other than their basic similarity hated one another. One dog wound up with the short end of the stick and died before her time as a result. I couldn't do that to Pedro or Rebel.

It wasn't fair to my still struggling emotions, but to be fair to Pedro I had to give him up when the opportunity came along.

I know he'll be fine because Pedro is beautiful and loving and young and has overcome abuse and neglect and learned to let all that go. He's also never really known life as a pet, since he went from bad to the vet's office to kenneled with me. So his life is only going to get better and I know he'll be happy.

But I had to say goodbye and it hurts.

Pedro came to me in early October a year ago. He was a frightening dog to take on when he emerged from the back of a rescuer's vehicle, lunging against the leash and ready to fight any dog who got close. He was probably 60 pounds of underweight bulldog mix who didn't know a whole lot of good in his life. He was heartworm positive, had spent his whole life tied out and occasionally beat up by other male dogs, and was food and dog aggressive. He also didn't like to be confined and had scaled a six-foot dog lot at a previous residence.

Enter me and several weeks -- make that months -- of tough love. There was too much dog to get by with babying. We had to have respect first and that meant tough rules to be followed. Even at that he managed one dog fight in the kennel and I got bit when I reached to move his food bowl after I thought all those issues were behind us. Of course, he immediately knew he'd done wrong, released my hand and dropped to his belly, and I knew I'd done wrong as well to too quickly forget who he used to be. We adopted a very regimented feeding routine and, if necessary, I could remind him and touch his bowl, but we both recognized the line.

There were times I wanted to strangle him, and then there were tremendous breakthroughs. He learned to play first with Willie, my male Jack Russell terrier who is probably as lost without him as I am. Then female dogs of any size, and finally males. He learned to walk on a leash, going from a prong collar to a chain collar and finally just his vinyl, without dragging me down the road. He learned not to nip at a small finger or knock down little bodies, instead eagerly pressing forward for love, or dodging them. I trusted him with Yorkie puppies, a 100-lb. Akita, my little Es who would sneak into the kennel to pet him in his cage or stand near a wall as he raced by in a wild game. He learned to drop when I yelled "NO!" even if a particularly obnoxious guest was pushing every button trying to start a fight. He was treated for heartworm and finally tested negative.

When visitors came he was overeager, jumping on them in excitement, wanting more love, more affection. With me he was well behaved, standing gently on my shoulders to look in my eyes, lying across my lap to have his stomach rubbed, giving me a guilty look when he was caught destroying something he knew he shouldn't have.

When Ethan died, he had gone to stay at the vet's for boarding because we had planned a weekend trip out of town. He stayed away a week and the rescue group asked if I needed more time. I told them I needed him and something to do.

So for more than a year, Pedro has been my project. They told me time and again I saved him, and I know there were times I looked at him and wondered why I could save him and not my own son; why I could reach him with love and discipline, when my son couldn't respond to the same to beat addiction and live his life. There were times I held Pedro and cried into his fur because in some ways he became my atonement for Ethan, my canine troubled son. I dreamed of him finding a home before Christmas, of him finally achieving his potential and the happiness he deserved because both of us had worked so hard to put his past behind him.

When the rescue group called and told me he had a foster in New York, I cried. I cried several times during our goodbye walk the morning he left -- an hour long trek to the river with the neighborhood dogs. I cried as I sat on the ground and loved on him one final time.

Then, once I saw pictures of Pedro at an adoption even in New York that same weekend, I thought I was OK because he was, but I wasn't really.

Every time I go outside, I miss his questioning bark. His doggy ears would hear the door or my car, and I'd yell a "Hello, Pedro," whatever I was doing. When I go to the kennel, there's no big white dog eager to come out and play and be loved. There's not 70-plus-lbs. of packaged energy needing a walk or a game.

There's no surrogate for my son any more, even if I didn't realize it until today. Even if I had gone so far as saying it was like sending a child off to college and waiting to hear how they were doing. Even if I know that several of the dogs I keep have become surrogates for children moved away or gone like my son. I had not really recognized how strongly Pedro had played that role for me.

I'm glad he's gone and living his life, just as I would have been if he had been Ethan. I want him to be happy and healthy and loved and I hope I'll be able to keep up with his progress, at least for a while. I hope that he doesn't leave a new hole in my heart to join the gaping wound left by Ethan's death. I'm glad I could save him, even if I couldn't save Ethan. I wish it could have been the other way. Because I'll get over Pedro in time, but I'll never get over Ethan.

And I think I've learned that I may always struggle with goodbye.


  1. Goodbyes are never easy. Even when they are going on to something good. Sigh. Just know that he is better because of you!

  2. A belated birthday sentiment...sharing with you my own thoughts on "Saying goodbye."

    May this little gift of words bring some form of comfort or peace to your heart, my friend... <3 and hugs...

    1. And, where is that sweet boy Pedro in NY? Wondering if he's close enough that our paths might one day cross!