Shedding the Past

The garden was thick with fog this morning – too wet to do any real work in the ground. So I set about removing the last of the apples from our little orchard.

This used to be the work of a dog named Bones.

With lumps and bumps and infected ears that left him deaf, he was left tied to a tree and abandoned. When he was finally found, he was literally skin and bones. Rescued and made well again, he was a favorite of our volunteers.

Despite his poor treatment, he was full of trust and love for all people.

He visited the garden daily, but his favorite was fall when the apples were ripe. He would pick them off the tree as he passed –

a joy that continued long after he was adopted until he passed recently. His people wrote to share the news. “Every day, he had a short walk and enjoyed an apple. He had an apple the day he died. Bones loved everybody and everybody loved him. He brought so much joy to our lives, thank you for letting us adopt him. He will be missed every day, he made such an impact on our lives.”

Photo Courtesy: Rob Kessel

Now Frida, the garden cat, keeps watch over me and the apple trees.

Dogs have an amazing capacity to shed their past and move on. On Thanksgiving, I went to the garden and rescue planning to spend a few hours getting the tulip bulbs planted and doting on the seniors. I wanted to get a photo, as well, for the kennel card of the dog that arrived the previous night: Duke.

A pet can offer true benefits to a person living with dementia: companionship, reduced anxiety and agitation, an excuse to get exercise, and increased socialization among them. But when the person lives alone and can no longer cope, it’s important for others to step in. Duke came to us when his human dad could no longer cope. Sadly, it took a human emergency for someone to come to his aid.

This boy was literally covered in mats the size of small animals from his neck to his tail. The weight of them, and his curled toenails, made it nearly impossible for him to walk. His tail had disappeared in a long, flat, felted mess to the ground. The pain of these things tugging at him and bending under him must have been terrible. And the filth and stink: oh my.

Before he could be bathed, he had to be freed. With clippers in hand, we set about the task.

It can be risky to put a dog you don’t know through such an ordeal but Duke sat patiently as we uncovered the body beneath and clipped away the petrified nails. He didn’t show that he needed a pause so we kept going. Did we read something into his look? It seemed like he was grateful.

After the ordeal, we took him to a yard to relieve himself. The boy that could not walk suddenly ran and danced – with joy.

A bath removed years of dirt and smell and made him shine.

Amazingly, our vet found nothing that quality food, regular exercise, and good grooming wouldn’t cure. He will get lots of that now as he is in a loving home.

Duke has a new job now: bringing joy and laughter to a home that had been filled with sadness over the departure of too many beloved dogs.

This decline did not happen overnight – to the man or his dog. It is the toll of human aging that we see too often. Duke shed his past and has moved on. His Thanksgiving began when he took the first gleeful step toward a much happier future. Hopefully, his person has found his way forward too.

Needless to say, the tulips did not get planted that day.

4 comments

  1. Heartache and sweetness, both, in the stories here. You reminded me of the rescue we took in at least 30 years ago. An older neighbor approached me and asked if we would consider adopting a little terrier that was already an “old” dog, named Foggy. Foggy’s mom was going into longterm convalescence and my neighbor thought we’d be a good match for her friend’s special pet. A memory that came back to me was the little pup’s resilience. She definitely mourned her former home, but she did respond to the attention of a big family, all of whom loved her. I hadn’t remembered the circumstances until I read about Duke. I think of those of who must give up their companion, and the grief that runs through both.

    What a wonderful outcome for dear Duke. A happy future.

    And dear Bones…what a love!

  2. Oh, the stories you can tell. They are so humbling and in most cases have such wonderful happy endings even if only for a short time because of age. The tulips will be fine waiting a few extra days, and we’re all better humans for reading this.

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