I rarely host guest bloggers, but had to make an exception for my CWA member colleague, Tracy Ahrens. Like me, she shares a love of all-things-critter. And like me, she believes sometimes the RIGHT animal companion finds us.
They never stay long enough. But they prepare us for love to come.
I’m in the process of finalizing my “Memory Garden” to honor my pets who have gone on to that great unknown. They continue to share my heart–and so this piece spoke to me. I think you’ll enjoy this, too, because even when we lose a beloved companion, they never really leave us.
My Garden of Life…
In the spring I watch green sprouts of perennials burst through soil in my gardens. I look forward to the beautiful displays they will show me throughout the growing season.
Sometimes one of my perennials doesn’t return. It falls victim to nature, a force nobody can fight forever.
This year an exquisite perennial in the garden of my life will not return. That spectacular hybrid is my dog, Angel.
On March 15, my husky-shepherd mix was overpowered by nature, and lost her fight against severe arthritis that had handicapped her since I adopted her at age 11. She passed just three days before her adoption anniversary and 16th birthday.
A Perennial Garden Hosts Many Plants
She was like perennials I have planted in my gardens for years. I have always selected clearance sale plants in garden centers. They include plants that have drooping foliage, dead stalks and just a few green sprigs. I am drawn to them, knowing that if someone doesn’t give them a chance, they will meet their demise in a compost heap.
I smile if I can plant them in the right place in my yard, coddle them into getting stronger, and watch them flourish, bloom and spread over the years.
Angel was one of those clearance table perennials. She was a senior who ended up on death row and nobody claimed. She had no name and no behavioral or health history on record. When I adopted her, she was given to me for free. The shelter knew I would give her love she needed in the remaining few years of her life.
There is an adage about the growth stages of perennials if planted in the right location. The first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap. Angel did the same.
We Shared a Brokenness
I was attracted to Angel’s brokenness when we met, a brokenness we shared. She was abandoned, frightened, depressed and struggling with senior health issues. I was single, still fighting breast cancer, worried and rarely able to smile. I had also just lost my previous dog to cancer.
Angel’s health issues included common senior ailments to more severe ones. Among them were: fatty tumors, hearing loss, cataracts, skin tags and moles, broken and worn down teeth from years of chewing her way out of somewhere, a large scar on her left front shoulder joint associated with an injury that made her swing her leg slightly in front of her when she walked, a paralyzed larynx that made her cough and I had to elevate her food and water bowls to assist her with digestion, severe arthritis in most every joint including fused vertebrae in her neck and middle back, a slow acting thyroid for which she took a pill daily, early stage renal failure (in the last year or so of her life), and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (diagnosed two years after I adopted her).
Despite all of this, she was perfect and priceless to me. Frequently telling her so seemed to boost her zest to live.
Angel Conquers the World
When I met Angel, I stood her up, groomed her, fed her quality food and supplements, treated her ailments, protected her from harm, showered her with love and she exploded with growth and beauty that touched people around the world through images and stories of her journey. Children and adults who met her always smiled. Other creatures were drawn to her. When we walked together, her beauty stopped people in their tracks.
Angel lifted me up, fed me joy and showered me with her love. I did the same for her. Together we flourished.
As her health faltered, I adapted to supporting her and she accepted my care with grace and absolute trust. I carried her up and down stairs, made her bedroom in the downstairs living room in the last few months of her life and slept with her there from time to time, and I found a groomer who could still make her feel beautiful by allowing her to lie down for a bath and support her with a sling. We continued to take walks around the block at a pace she set for us. I proudly walked with baby steps beside her. She stayed with a neighbor when I worked. She was always surrounded by love.
I discussed her health needs at length with her veterinarian and provided different pain and joint medications to keep her comfortable and mobile.
In the end, she went lame. She kept fighting to stand and stay beside me. Her eyes told me she couldn’t fight anymore and that I had to take the lead. I carried her and held her through the ultimate final act of love. I told her “I love you” directly into her upright ear so I was sure she heard me. I pray that she understood why I had to leave her side for the first time in our lives together.
Angel shared five years with me. Likewise, that is the lifetime of an average short-lived perennial. The reality is, even perennials die.
Angel’s Best Years
There is a bare spot now in my garden of life. I look for her every day. Nothing can replace her.
A friend told me that the best years of Angel’s life were spent with me. I was told that she was happier because I was beside her. In my life, the atmosphere was just the right growth medium to help her thrive.
Because of me, seeds of her love, in the form of a stuffed duck toy she grew to adore, continue to fly and land in the homes of other pet owners around the world. This magical toy, given to us by a stranger, brought her such comfort and joy that I wanted to carry on her legacy, spreading joy to other pets and their owners.
Images of her beauty, displaying her notorious smile and wearing costumes for major holidays (some images appeared in calendars worldwide) will continue to be shared with a purpose of bringing joy and raising funds for animal rescues.
She has social media pages that I will continue so people can see just how amazing she was.
Despite heartache that still randomly brings me to tears, I will keep saving more perennials like Angel because the clearance table of discarded dogs is never empty. My faith in possibilities and desire to surround myself with similar beauty like Angel never dies.
It’s up to us to sow the broken ones and help them thrive. They are wise fighters with lessons to teach us if we watch and listen.
I love you, Angel. I always will. Thank you for loving me.
Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author, artist and mom to two adopted cats and one adopted dog. See her web site at www.tracyahrens.weebly.com