Fate reminds me that work can and should be fun. She reminds me not to take myself too seriously, to put my own stamp on things, to not be coerced or nudged into something that is not natural. We make our own fun, find our own joyous signal to the world.
Red is doing well with his arthritis, he will be around a good long time. But his pain and discomfort were acute and startling to me, and they made the idea of losing him one day surface. It is just not something I think about too often. For a few days, Red barely moved, he looked uncharacteristically miserable, he is normally the most cheerful of dogs.
He must have been hurting pretty badly. Red, like most border collies, is so vigorous I never think of him getting old. And border collies are so stoic they work uncomplainingly through pain and sickness. It is quite common to take them to a vet and find out they are seriously ill, and be amazed.
Rose, my third border collie, worked until the day she nearly collapsed from a brain disorder, probably a tumor. I saw her struggling a bit, but just wrote it off to heat and age. She went rushing out for the last time that morning to herd sheep.
Red is my companion in the most literal sense of the term.
He goes everywhere with me. Above, he came with me to get a massage this afternoon. When he comes, he lies down under the table and doesn't move until we are finished. If you didn't see him, you wouldn't know he was there. He comes with me to the dentist, to the Round House Cafe, in the car when I food shop, when I stop to get gas. He comes to my writing class, and is so quiet I sometimes almost leave without him.
Red is by my side when I write.
We work the sheep together, he walks in the woods with us, comes along on photo shoots. This week, I considered the possibility that like all dogs, he would one day be gone. That will be a large hole in my life, one I have experienced many times before.
I wrote a book about animal grieving, it was called "Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die," I talked to a lot of vets, therapists, social workers, animal lovers. Animal grieving is considered a serious public health issue in America now, many people grieve for years over their animals, some have very serious trouble letting go. I take animal grieving seriously.
On Facebook, I see whole pages and sites devoted to the memory of dogs and cats, and I see grieving without end or boundary. It makes me uncomfortable. I want to do it differently, and so far, I have.
I remind myself that if you love dogs, you will know grief, and for me, perspective is important. That is the nature of it, no one can avoid it. I do not understand people who say they will never get another dog because they loved one so much. What did they expect, eternal life? I am never surprised when a dog dies, and the most healing thing I ever do is go get another one.
Dogs are not people, they can be replaced. There are always a thousand good dogs out there, and many ways to find one. I don't mean that to be cold, but it is a stark difference with grieving for humans – you can't go out and buy and rescue another one.
We lost Frieda and Lenore within a few months, we have Fate and Red. I have nothing to complain about, no laments to offer, I do not feel the least bit sorry for myself. I do not know or recall the anniversaries of their death, I do not get the point of it. If I'm going to do that, I ought to record the dates of the many wonderful times we had together. Dogs will never be a misery to me, living or dead.
I believe that dogs like Red are spirit dogs, they come when they are needed, they leave when they are done. Their task is to mark the passages of our life and accompany us on our journeys. When a dog like Red leaves, it is very said. But I celebrate the lives of my dogs much more than I mourn them.
I am lucky to have had a dog like Red, even for a month, let alone years. Death and life are siblings, brother and sister, one cannot exist with the other. If I reap the glorious benefits of life, I accept it's companion death. That is the deal, the nature of life. It is never true than in the lives of dogs and pets, who come into our lives and become extensions of us.
Animal grieving is about letting go, and it is never too soon to remind myself of that. Love and meaning requires us to accept loss, in our own time and way, and move on. I respect the individual process of others, it is not for me or anyone else to tell people how to grieve. I can only talk about myself.
I am grateful that Red is recovering, and I will not dwell on the idea that he will one day be done. We have a lot of great days and years ahead of us.
I think it is good to be reminded of loss once in awhile, and to think about it. As with all grief and death and loss, people who think about rather than dwell on it – fare much better than those who don't. This week made me appreciate Red all the more.
I met this grand old tree the forests. Some biologists say that trees recognize people, not in the way humans do, but in the way trees do, from the sound of their footsteps and from their voices. The bark on this tree had great character, I was happy to know it.
This is the first day of Red's treatment for the arthritis that has been hurting him and affecting his movement and work. He's on anti-inflammatories, getting laser treatment, taking advanced joint medications. We're doing this for three weeks and then re-assuring. I was impressed by Dr. Suzanne Fariello's modern and balanced approach – Red had one laser treatment yesterday, three more to come.
Then we'll step back and see where we are. Frankly, I did not expect so much improvement so quickly. The challenge for me to keep a balance – resting Red and still giving him the movement he needs to keep from stiffening up and because he is a border collie, which complicates everything.
Vets who tell you to keep border collies quiet are just making noise. Dr. Fariello knows better. I believe in vets, they are not in it to make money, they love animals. I got scores of advice online about Red, that is not a way to diagnose a sick dog. There are no miracle cures, Red, like me, will have arthritis for the rest of his life.
But I think we can make him much more comfortable and prolong his working life for some years. A good start. Come and see how he's doing.
Fate loves to crawl up on a chair and touch noses, Maria gave her a squishy hug this morning, they cuddle every morning before Fate shrugs off the squishy stuff and gets to work.