Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Where squirrels are slow...

A couple of weeks ago, I said goodbye to my best friend.  Granted, she was short and furry, but she was my buddy, my confidante, and my solace when things weren't going well.

Her name was Vanessa, and she was a Border Collie and Sheltie crossbred dog that was rescued from a hoarder who had about fifty dogs on the property.  The dogs weren't mistreated, but had little human contact.  She and her mother, Piper (also rescued by Great Lakes Border Collie Rescue) were both placed in foster homes.  With so little human contact, Vanessa was very shy and wasn't available for adoption right away.  At the time I found out about her, she had been in foster care for nine months of her year and a half lifetime.  So many people had wanted this beautiful dog, and just were not a good match for her, with her shy nature and high sensitivity to noise and motion.  I was fortunate enough to have a lifestyle and quiet environment that the foster caretaker wanted for Vanessa to recover and learn to love being a pet.

At first she was so timid that she wouldn't get close to anyone unless they had a treat for her.  This was the only dog I've ever had that was so motivated by food, that she'd do just about anything to get it.  Made her delightfully easy to train, and she was so intelligent!  I could watch her figure out problems - important things like "there is food on the table, how can I get up there to get it?" and "how can I get the thumbed one over here to open the refrigerator?"

She loved the farm, the ability to run loose and chase the cats, rabbits and squirrels that populated the great outdoors.  Lightning fast and graceful, she was a joy to watch.  She was independent and smart, and her training went quickly and well.  She went through obedience classes and then beginning level agility classes and passed both with flying colors.  Competition was suggested, but with my work schedule and her skittishness with strangers, I never pursued it.  When I moved into the city a few years later, she was by my side.  The open farm was replaced with trips to the dog park, where she loved to run and chase mice and gophers.  Once she caught a toad, which was amusing to me, but must have tasted bad to her because she flung it away and drooled for a while afterward.
As she got into doggie middle age - about six in this case, I decided to have a photographer do a shoot of us together.  My thinking was that I'd rather have photos of her while still in her prime than to wait until the end of life and have only the pictures of an old dog with no sparkle.  I'm so glad I did.  These pictures are from that shoot in June of 2009 with Konopa Photography.  They have since moved to Alaska and I bought the rights to the pictures, which I have enjoyed greatly.  Black dogs are notoriously difficult to capture on film, and I think they did a marvelous job with Vanessa.  We had a lot of fun during the shoot, doing both indoor and outdoor shots.  She was a lovely model and the pictures were so much fun!  She was willing to do all her tricks for the photographer, and he was able to catch a few of them, as well as creating some fabulous images with the both of us together.

As she got older, the visits to the dog park involved too many dogs that wanted to pick a fight with her.  She was so selective in her choice of playmates, and that seemed to frustrate some dogs into aggression when she ignored their invitations to play.  It didn't take too many instances of that kind of agressiveness for me to pull the plug on that situation.  She didn't need to be attacked for wanting to be left alone to run. 

So we took walks at home and played in our own yard as she slowed down.  She still loved to try and catch the squirrels that populate the oak trees and the small woods.  Sometimes she'd get a few feet off the ground going after one of them up a tree.  She took her squirrel duty very seriously, and never missed an opportunity to run them back up their tree, and then looking wistfully after them.  I could almost hear her say "almost got that one!" before we'd turn back for home.

Last April, her annual veterinarian visit turned up a decline in kidney function on her blood work.  I already knew she had a heart murmur, but this was something that there really isn't a treatment for that is reasonable for a dog.  As she started dramatically increasing her water intake, I knew her time was growing shorter.  I started coming home from work for lunch so she could get outside more frequently.  That lasted quite a while, and I actually enjoyed our time together during those breaks from my work day.  Then I noticed that she was less interested in her rawhide treats, and played with her toys less and less.

There comes a point where the quality of life trumps nostalgia.  I knew she couldn't get better and that the end was coming for her.  I did not want her to suffer - she'd given me so many years of companionship and joy.  I made the most difficult call of my life when I contacted the vet for her final appointment.

About a week later, she got in the car and we made the short trip to the vet.  Dr. Jan brought in a padded blanket and spread it out on the floor, we had the conversation about how the medicine works.  Vanessa didn't even need to go up on the table this time.  Dr. Jan gave her a sedative shot, and Vanessa wobbled over and laid down on the blanket with her head on my feet, so I couldn't go anywhere without her knowing.  She always did that when she wanted to rest, so that she wouldn't miss anything exciting.  Then Dr. Jan gave the shot in Vanessa's foreleg that let her go peacefully away, and she was gone.

Vanessa was a beautiful story of success from her difficult beginnings, through rescue and the fabulous people who donate their time, their homes and their love for the dogs that they help along the way.

Goodbye my beautiful friend.  I'll always remember you, my dear Vanessa.  In time, we'll meet again in the place where dreams come true, and squirrels are slow.
6/2003 to 3/13/2013