Friday, December 15, 2017

A Year of Loss and Grieving

Buddy and his sister, Holly, cuddling. They were always wrapped up beside each other. 

I don't know how to explain it. I can't. 

It's been a year of loss. But why it happened this way I'll never know. 

It started with a divorce. Niblet, my ex-husband's 19-year-old cat started pacing the house, howling. He wouldn't eat or sleep, he just kept...searching. Animals don't understand divorce and I've learned that cats have a unique way of grieving, which I will write about at a later time. 

My nephew and his wife died in a horrible accident. I was his nanny while I was in college. They died before I could meet his lovely young wife. 

My 15 year old chocolate lab, Buddy, was poisoned by the neighbors who parked in front of my driveway, barking at my granddaughter and I, taunting us as Buddy died in my granddaughter's arms. He was my service dog. He was gentle, goofy, fun. He never barked. It was an act of cruelty beyond comprehension and it was made clear to me that it was all done because I told my neighbor I would not hire him to mow my lawn. (When we moved my boxes out of the house we found my lawnmower in pieces with the gas tank filled up with water.)

Silly old Bud. He was the leader of the pack. So playful and funny, but always protective and he never left my side--until that one night when I left my home.

Yes, I do believe cruelty to animals should be a felony offense. 

A week later, my Flemish Giant rabbit, Katie, was dead in her hutch, paralyzed, with antifreeze all over her paws (I don't keep any chemicals anywhere near my animals). She was so deeply loved and adored by everyone. 

Katie with her friend, Layla Lou.

She had been to the vet for her checkup the day before. The vet was angry. She knew something was wrong in my neighborhood and said so in her sympathy card, but you cannot force the police to respond when they choose to look the other way.  

Such a loving creature. Katie, you are beautiful. 

My family and friends arrived in the middle of the night, packed their trucks and moved me out of my new home. I had only been in the home three months. I didn't even have time to unpack because I was still painting and redoing the floors. According to a speech made by the local sheriff, crime has increased in this county 90% over the past two years. It would have been nice to have that information before I moved to that neighborhood.

Holly, Buddy's sister, was diagnosed with cancer four years ago. Chewy, my chihuahua, was fine. Then we moved again and everyone became sick. Chewy suddenly developed a previously undiagnosed heart murmur, which turned into previously undiagnosed heart disease. 

Niblet was lighter than he was as a kitten. He was dying. We raced through a hailstorm to get him to the vet and ease his pain. Lightning hit a tree and started a fire. A tornado touched down nearby, but we made it to the vet and my granddaughter and I held him in our arms as he died. 

Niblet was handsome, playful, and huge! He loved his humans. The vet never did figure out why he died in spite of all the tests. He just stopped eating. 

Mama dog, who belonged to my grandchildren, was acting strange after they moved, too. She seemed traumatized. She was also chasing the cats. I had a dream that if she stayed in that house she would die. I asked permission to adopt her since I didn't have a cat any longer. I found a new house and moved. I left the movers with a family member and returned home to pick up Mama dog. There had been a horrible thunderstorm and the animals were already wound up from the moving. 

I tried, Mama dog. I heard you. I really did try.

When I walked through the door I felt as if I had entered a war zone. I couldn't find one of our living animals, but Samson, my daughter's giant cat, was dead. Samson was featured in a post about the "mystery drawer." I tried to take care of him before my daughter saw him. 

We will always love and miss you, Samson.

My son-in-law found Mama dog. I never had the chance to say goodbye to her. He returned and we buried Samson's remains together.  

Then I had a dream. My granddaughter was spending the night, and as she cuddled in my arms we fell asleep watching a funny movie...and I had a dream. I had a dream of a woman on a hospital bed with tape on her eyes. There was a wheelchair beside the bed. I was walking through the room trying to comfort the family. I woke up screaming.   

It seemed like only days later when Chewy died. It was painful and traumatic. I gave him Rieki every night, but could not relieve his pain. 
Chewy was a fighter. He wanted to live. He was also so loving and kind. He could sense when another animal was sick just by smelling their bodies. 

Two weeks later, my younger sister died. As I walked through the hospital room trying to comfort her family I realized I was living my dream. She had tape on her eyes. Her husband was in a wheelchair beside her bed. I cannot explain. The words are in a knot in my throat. 

Two weeks after that, Holly died in my home. She collapsed in my granddaughter's arms. I pulled her onto my lap and she died there. I held her in my arms. 

The vet warned me it would happen that quickly, without warning. She was tired. She had lost her pack. She felt alone. I think she just gave up when Chewy died. She loved him so much. She loved them all. She needed them, and she knew how much they needed her. 

My favorite picture. I love your gray haired face my Holly. So beautiful. Love you forever. 

Some day I will write about my blessed little creatures and say goodbye, one by one. I will write about animals and grieving--I have learned so much about animals and grieving. 

But not now. It's too painful. Too much. 

I still dream about them, though. Nice dreams. I see them together, running through fields, running through the New Mexico desert, chasing each other. I see Chewy smiling in his sleep. I see the dogs following Katie around the backyard, sniffing her, wondering how a rabbit could possibly be so big, then sleeping by her side. I see them all in my dreams sleeping side by side. 

I will revisit them when it's time, but I've been writing this blog since 2007 and it's time to continue on with my stories of the mountains and the birds, the insects, the buffalo, antelope, deer, elk, and everyone else who crosses my path. 

All of my love Christina, Erik, Holly, Buddy, Holly, Niblet, Chewy, Katie, Mama dog and Samson. I cannot say goodbye. I won't do it. Until we meet again I will see you in my dreams.  

Buddy, Holly and Chewy soaking up the Texas sunshine. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Help Baby Dog Walk Again

Baby the night I brought him home. Photo by D.S. Dollman.
Baby was rescued from the New Mexico desert, and like all rescue animals, he rescued me during a frightening, painful time in my life he stayed by my side. His loyalty has cost him the ability to walk. This is his story. At the bottom of the page there is a link to a campaign to help Baby walk.

When I lived in New Mexico I drove Buddy and Holly (my two chocolate labs) and my chihuahua, Chewy, out into the New Mexico desert so they could run free. There was a reason why we went to the desert, which I will explain in a moment. One day I kept seeing this image in my mind, the word "dog." I don't pretend to be a psychic. I have no idea why I saw this word, but I had run-ins with coyotes recently and my first thought was that this was a warning that my dogs were in danger.

Coyote watching us from a distance when I was walking one of my dogs on a street near the desert in New Mexico. 

When I pulled up to our usual spot the image in my mind was so strong that I panicked. I apologized to my dogs and started to turn the truck around. That's when Baby crawled out from beneath a sage brush. He was covered in sage. His ribs were showing, and he could barely stand.

I left the other dogs in the truck, grabbed their water dish and a water bottle and walked over to Baby. I poured water into the dish. He looked up at me as if he was afraid I was going to hit him, then he slowly approached the dish and began to drink. 


Baby the day I found him in the New Mexico desert. So beautiful. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

There is a city ordinance in the town where I lived in New Mexico and people cannot have lawns due to constant drought, so they often take their dogs into the desert for walks. We watched out for each other, keeping our animals in separate territories, picking up "runners" that strayed from their owners and returning them. The desert holds many dangers for dogs, including humans. There was a section of the desert that we always avoided because hunters would go there and I was certain I'd heard them shooting and shouting about trying to hit a "dog" a few days earlier. (Baby has scars on his arm that look like he was whipped, or tied and tried to get away). 

The night I met Baby another dog walker came by and asked if Baby belonged to me. He said he was watching from a nearby hill as Baby approached me and he wasn't sure if Baby was an abandoned animal because he appeared to be familiar with me. 

Abandonment is another problem in New Mexico. Most towns kill animals after two days in the shelter, but it is also against the law to surrender your pet. I once interviewed the employees at the local Humane Society and they said it was an ongoing issue they had fought with the counties for years, begging for more time, trying different ways to discourage animal abandonment, which happens often when the economy goes down and people can't afford to feed their pets--they take them out to the desert and leave them to the coyotes. 

Baby playing in the sand in the desert. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The other dog walker told me he saw Baby the day before and was fairly certain Baby was abandoned. He felt relieved when he saw me. Then, of course, as he came closer he realized I was trying to help Baby, so we spent the next four hours making phone calls, trying to earn Baby's trust, and discussing different ways we could convince him to climb into the back of my truck--I already had three dogs in my back seat and he had four.

It was growing dark in the desert, but I refusesd to leave Baby there alone! 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

We stood in the desert debating our options. No one likes to make decisions about strays in New Mexico. There are so many illogical laws when it comes to animals. For instance, if a dog even looks at you in a strange way you have the right to shoot it in self defense. In many states, compassion, caring, and random acts of kindness toward animals are discouraged.

We decided to call the Humane Society and find out if Baby was reported missing, and if he wasn't, then one of us would take him home and try to find his owner to avoid having him killed. I discussed this policy in depth with employees at the local humane society once and they disagree with it completely. They said it is heartbreaking for them to collect animals because they know that most of them will be dead within a few days, and the employees will be the ones doing the killing. Most humane society employees in New Mexico are actively fighting for more "humane" treatment of animals in shelters.

Do you see the coyotes? I didn't, either, until I downloaded the photo onto my computer. There were four coyote standing in the sage brush, watching me take this photograph. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

The man in the desert tried to convince Baby to jump into the back of his truck and Baby refused. I had a spare collar and leash in my truck that I slipped around Baby and the man drove slowly to the road where the desert meets the city roads with his arm out the window leading Baby along as Baby walked beside his car. We finally reached the road where we were told to wait, and we waited. 

The man had to leave for work so I volunteered to stay. I called animal control again. Dispatch said they were still coming and I should wait. I explained that I was now alone, in the desert, in the dark. I waited until 11 p.m. They never arrived, leaving a woman and four dogs alone on a street corner across from where the open desert begins. 

I finally opened the door to grab my phone and check in again and when I did Baby jumped into my truck and sat down on the back seat between Buddy and Holly, my chocolate labs. Buddy looked down at Baby and Baby looked up at him then they both looked at me as if to say, "What are you waiting for?" I knew then that they would be best friends, and they were best friends to the day Buddy died. 

Holly and Buddy. Photo by D.S. Dollman.


So, this is where Buddy enters this story. Baby saw Buddy as his protector. Every animal in the house considered Buddy their protector. All of the animals considered Buddy their protector. When he got into trouble, Baby would actually run for Buddy and try to hide behind him. 

I took Baby home that night and he climbed onto the dog beds. He later moved closer to Buddy and Holly and slept by their sides. I went to my room and turned on the television confident that the dogs would be just fine until I found Baby's owner. Needless to say, I never did find his owner. He is still my fella. 

Buddy, Baby, and Holly. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

Evan Almighty

That night, Evan Almighty was on television. If you haven't seen the film--spoiler alert--at the beginning, Morgan Freeman, who plays God, is trying to convince Steve Carell, who plays Congressman Evan Baxter, to build an ark. At the beginning of the movie, Carrell moves his family into a new home and a stray dog walks onto the lawn and pees. 

As I watched the dog I thought of Baby lying on my lvivngroom floor, and how he so confidently walked into my home as if he had been a part of our pack for years. What would I do if I couldn't find his owner? I thought. I already had the two labs that we rescued from a farmer that had nearly a dozen dogs in the back of a hot pickup truck, and a chihuahua that someone abandoned on our property in Texas. As my ex-husband used to say, I don't rescue animals, they literally seek me down, and on that night I was already one animal away from my limit. I walked each animal every day, paid the vet bills, licensing, vaccinations and insurance on my own--it wouldn't be easy!  

Morgan Freeman, Photo by EJ Hersom. 2016. Public domain. 

I was still watching the movie, Steve Carrell tells his children repeatedly to ignore the dog and refuses to even offer the dog a drink. Finally, Freeman, or God, appears and convinces Carrel that he is truly God and that Carrel must build an ark. Carrel refuses. Finally, God pours water into a dish for the stray dog and the dog begins to drink, just like Baby in the desert.

Well, that was it for me--no more questions. I left the room to check on the animals. They were huddled up as if they'd spent years together. I stood and watched them for awhile. They were so comfortable together. Baby acted as if he hadn't slept for weeks, which may be true. 

Dog pile. Buddy, Holly and Baby snuggling up for the night. Photo by D.S. Dollman. 

The veterinarian told me later he was amazed that Baby survived the coyotes in the desert. I asked the vet why Baby insisted on relieving himself on my scented herbs. It didn't make sense--his stomach and the inside of his thighs were scratched and bleeding. The vet said Baby used the scented herbs, like sage brush, while he was abandoned in the desert to hide his scent from the coyotes. He is a very intelligent dog.

A Bowl of Water as an Act of Random Kindness

I returned to the movie. I was in the living room much longer than I thought. The film was almost over. Toward the end of the film, God prepares to say goodbye to Evan, and of course he leaves Evan with a message. The entire conversation suddenly became a metaphor for my situation. 

God: How do we change the world?

Evan Baxter: One single act of random kindness at a time.

God: [spoken while writing A-R-K on ground with a stick] One Act, of, Random, Kindness.

At that moment, I knew Baby was mine for life. With a bowl of water and a simple act of random kindness I changed his world forever and he changed mine. He is sleeping at my feet now with Holly. They sleep together every night, cuddled up tight the way Buddy and Holly used to sleep as puppies. Holly lost her brother, and gained a new protector. Perhaps it was all part of God's plan.

Still too Painful to Explain, but I'll try... 

I recently experienced extreme, organized harassment, or what is also called "mobbing" in my neighborhood. Tyrants always lose eventually, but this one man and his friends, who psychologists refer to as "flying monkeys,"(a reference to The Wizard of Oz and the flying monkeys who don't think for themselves and do what they're told),  became bored by the fact that I continued to ignore them, refused to make eye contact or speak to them, kept a smile on my face to show they could not change me and instructed my grandchildren--who knew what was happening and refused to leave my side--to do the same. 

"The monkeys caught Dorothy in their arms and flew away with her"—illustration by W. W. Denslow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).

The instigator was violent from the start, pouring toxin all over my garden and the children's playset when I told him I would not hire him to mow my lawn (I wasn't trying to be mean. I owned a lawnmower and the day after he asked me my daughter arrived at my house to mow my lawn. The instigator spent the day drinking in his garage and kicking the walls--our driveways were connected--then pounded on my door that night, accusing me of hiring someone else for "his job." Then he suddenely stopped in the middle of his tirade and asked if my animals ever eat my plants. I told him that was a very strange question and he left. The next morning, my plants--over $200 in garden plants-- and the playset were covered with orange toxin. 

The night Buddy died my granddaughter and I came home and a group of young men, including the son of the instigator, were parked in front of my house barking at us, shouting "How's your dog?" and calling me "Dead Dog Darla!" a phrase the instigator's youngest son continued to shout at me until the day I moved out, three months after I moved in, and all because I said I would not hire him. 

That night, as they shouted at us, I wasn't sure exactly what they meant, but I knew it wasn't good. My granddaughter and I ran inside the house. Buddy was sick. My granddaughter held him in her arms whil I called the local emergency clinic. I was unable to convince the vet tech to wake up the veterinarian. I called every half hour until around four in the morning when the veterinarian arrived for her shift. She chastised me for not bringing him in earlier and forcing her staff to call her. "Seriously?" I asked her. "If I stormed into your office your staff would have called the police and had me arrested in front of my grandchild!" 

I called everyone I could think of to try and get help lifting Buddy into my truck--I have a spine injury and Buddy was huge. My granddaughter and I together could not lift him. Buddy raised his head and looked at us, and all the animals around him, let out a loud sigh, and as he did so the animals became frantic. He closed his eyes, dropped his head onto his bed and died. I later verified through his records that he was 15 years old when he died. He gave me 15 years of love, affection, complete dedication, never left my side, and died a slow, painful death at the hands of my neighbors because I politely explained that I couldn't afford to pay someone 160 dollars a month to mow my lawn and could mow my lawn myself. 

When we took Buddy into the vet, the veterinarian claimed I only called their office once, but I had a list of the times I called on my phone. She finally admitted that she had refused to come in because she didn't realize it was serious. She said, "It's always hard on staff when an animal dies." It was hard on her? It was hell on Buddy. 

When I brought Buddy in I told the vet I wanted an autopsy and she agreed, then she had me sign a paper for his cremation. When my daughter and I returned for the results of the autopsy the veterinarian claimed I "signed away the rights to an autopsy by agreeing to a cremation." Did she think we were going to take Buddy home after the autopsy? It was one lie after another and the stress was unbearable, knowing these sick, cruel people got away with murder, literally, over a lawnmower.  

There is so much more to this story, but it's stuck like a ball in my throat.

The "pack" waiting at the door when they heard my ex-husband's truck. They were all surrounding Buddy when he died, along with the cat. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

Since that night I've read many articles about animals and grieving. When Buddy died, Chewy the chihuahua howled and jumped on Buddy's chest. Holly lay down beside him and wrapped her paws around Buddy's, the cat curled up against his back, but Baby was in a panic, frantically butting Buddy on the head, trying to wake him up, crying, crying real tears. After Buddy died, the cat developed a strange disease (the vet never could figure out why he died), Holly developed cancer, Chewy developed heart disease (now there's a metaphor) and Baby, who was afraid to go outside again, developed a tumor beneath his arm preventing him from walking. 

Baby's tumor. The link for the fundraiser to have Baby's tumor removed is at the end of this post. 

Buddy died in his bed surrounded by his family. He was the gentlest, kindest animal I have ever known. He lived a good life, a happy life, never barked or growled or showed a mean moment toward anyone, but no animal deserves to die at the hands of an abusive bully and his flying monkeys.

Buddy a few days before his death. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

Veterinarians will claim that dogs do not cry real tears. They will also admit that they learn they are wrong about one assumption or another every day. Dogs cry real tears. My dogs cried that night. They changed that night. They were all deeply traumatized. 

The Mental Illness of Bullies

Sadly, the person who poisoned Buddy will never shed a tear. People who kill animals are psychopathic or sociopathic. They are mentally ill and studies conducted at the University of Chicago have shown their brains are wired differently. They feel pleasure when others feel pain. I pity their families--they will never know true  compassion or love, and the people who pretend to be their friends, their flying monkeys, are friends of fear--they already know the instigator is mentally ill, but they're afraid to admit it, and even more afraid to stand up to him. They know he is capable of doing anything to harm others.

Big-Nosed Kate, the Leader of the Bunny Pack

A few weeks later my rabbit, Katie, was also poisoned. She had seen the vet the day before and that night my granddaughter woke me up to tell me she was certain someone was walking around in my garage. The lid to her hutch was open--something I'd noticed often in the last few weeks before her death--but I knew that if I called the local police to ask for help they would do nothing. The dogs alerted me to Katie's death by howling and scratching at my legs. Chewy jumped on my chest, crying. Katie was paralyzed and there was a green, gooey substance in her cage--antifreeze, something I never keep in my garage. 

Katie and Layla Lou. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

All of the animals adored Big-Nose Kate. She was the bunny version of Buddy. My rabbits, dogs and cat all get along and spend warm summer afternoons together in my yard.  I had moved the rabbits inside when I became aware that a neighbor was watching me through the slats in my fence. There was a mysterious fire in the garage and I took the rabbits in to the vet to make certain they were okay. The vet ran a series of tests and took x-rays, so we know she was fine when I took her home that night. All night long we heard banging sounds on the walls and doors of the garage--typical flying monkey mobbing behavior according to psychologists. 

After Buddy and Katie died, when I took the animals outside they walked around in circles as if they were looking around for Buddy and Katie. They knew, and they were afraid. Baby was afraid. He was already traumatized and suddenly his place of rescue was no longer safe. My family and friends arrived late at night and packed everything I had in their trucks, then moved us to a safe house. It didn't take long--the mobbing started so quickly after I arrived that I never even unpacked. Everything I owned--exvept my clothes and bed--was still in the garage.  

Katie, my Flemish Giant, was also poisoned according to the vet. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

Recovering From the Loss of a Friend

We moved into a new home temporarily. Baby slept snuggled up with Holly and Chewy every night, but he was afraid to go outside anymore and would cry when I made him go out after eating. He just wanted to sleep. We noticed that when we talked about Buddy the animals would wake up and start wagging their tails, so we stopped talking. We didn't want them to hurt anymore. 

One night, my granddaughter and I noticed Baby had developed a fatty tumor beneath his armpit. I repeatedly took him to vets--four times--and they all diagnosed a fatty tumor and told me his leg would eventually deform and he wouldn't be able to walk, but he couldn't lose weight if he didn't walk, and he couldn't walk because his foot was curving inward due to the tumor. 

Finally, I called a vet and asked if he could do a surgery to remove the tumor. He said yes. I then asked why Baby had to go to four different vets before someone suggested helping him--I could have used the money I spent on Baby's vet appointments and x-rays and tests to pay for the surgery! He agreed this was very wrong and offered to do the surgery at a discount. I lost so much, moving three times in a year, so much damage to my house and property from the mobbing, so much money on vet bills, and Baby is still waiting to walk again. I am praying for the day that I once again see him dance for his food. 
Baby sunbathing. I know Baby misses Buddy, but he'll be okay. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

I think Buddy would have wanted Baby, his sister, Chewy, the cat, me--everyone to feel safe and happy, and every day Baby finds some way to show me that he is, indeed, a happy dog in spite of his inability to move much further than his bed. 

And it all started with one act of random kindness--a bowl of water offered on a hot summer day in the New Mexico desert. 

Baby always finds some way to let me know he is a happy boy. He was playing with his blanket one day, tore a hole in the middle then stuck his head through the hole so it looked like he was wearing a poncho, then he curled up for a nap. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

On the recommendation of my veterinarian, and with the help of a friend, I now have a campaign set up to help pay for Baby's surger and help with Holly's cancer medication and Chewy's heart medication until Baby recovers:

"The indifference, callousness and contempt that so many people exhibit toward animals is evil first because it results in great suffering in animals, and second because it results in an incalculably great impoverishment of the human spirit." --Ashley Montagu