Friday, January 28, 2011

Dog gone love

In remembrance of Alex who we sent to the bridge one year ago today, I share the column I wrote that was published in the Boston Globe Magazine on 4/11/2010.

We made the decision to put our beloved springer spaniel Alex to sleep on a Wednesday. It was a decision we knew we had to make at some point, and that Wednesday morning it became clear it was time. My husband, Ron, and I process grief differently. He reacts immediately with tears and retreats to a quiet space in his inner self. I, on the other hand, go into what-needs-to-be-done mode.

Alex was our first foster dog when I volunteered for a local springer rescue group, and we failed Fostering 101 horribly, or, rather, fortunately: We kept him. Alex bonded with our younger rescued springer spaniel as if they had been friends in another life. They were good for each other. Alex was the calming, reassuring peer that Brittany needed. She was the anxious one, always afraid she would be ditched again. But Brit had much to give Alex as well. Alex came from a home where he was the only dog of an elderly owner with no time to exercise him. Brit loves to play, and after just one day together, I found them bouncing around the living room in a joyous dance with a stuffed animal in their mouths.

They saw each other through some tough times in their eight years together - a lifetime for some dogs. Other foster dogs came and went; various health issues arose for both of them. Each time, the healthier one would comfort the other with snuggles and kisses. Ron and I always exchanged knowing smiles during these times. Alex and Brit were soul mates.

So when Alex's health started the long, slow decline, our thoughts often turned to how Brit would handle the loss. We had taken in an older cocker spaniel in the past two years when her owner, our friend, had passed away. But as sweet as she is, Shawna didn't bond with Alex and Brit the way they had with each other.

On that Wednesday, Ron and I asked our vet when she could come to the house to put Alex, then 15 years old, to sleep. She could either come that day or Friday. Since he was not in pain or in crisis, and we needed time to say goodbye, we decided on Friday.

The next two days were both horrible and wonderful. Ron and I took turns being "the strong one," and I tried to focus on making Alex's last days happy. Ron's grief was almost overwhelming at times as he struggled to cope with the reality that he would lose his friend. They had a special relationship that I had only begun to understand in those last two days. I started to see similarities in their character that I hadn't noticed before.

Ron and I met at a time in our lives when we were both convinced that we would be alone forever. He was the quiet, loyal, bighearted oldest son who was both dependable and sensitive. I was an outgoing middle child who always worried about pleasing others and thought she had to be perfect to be loved. We were both easily hurt because we expected so much of ourselves and, by extension, others. So relationships never seemed to work. Until we met each other on a blind date. We had both sworn off these fix-ups because they always ended in disaster. But for some reason we allowed ourselves to be talked into it by a mutual friend.

Ron was different from the others. He was kind and sweet. A calming presence in my life who embraced me and all the anxiety that came with me. Eventually, a funny thing happened - my anxiety disappeared. I was accepted and safe now. And Ron? Well, Ron let his guard down and even started fast-dancing. One day he asked me to show him some moves so we could dance together.

Years later, when I asked him if we could adopt a rescued dog, he said yes. And when I asked him a year after that if we could take in a foster dog, he said yes. Having dogs was an emotional release for Ron that I hadn't seen until that Friday.

That Friday. The day that Brittany said goodbye to the transforming partner in her life. The partner who helped her feel safe and accepted. The partner who calmed her when she was anxious and danced with her when she was filled with joy.

That Friday . . . when I saw for the first time that Alex was meant to be Brittany's partner, like Ron was meant to be mine. Rescued - all four of us.

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