August 28th is Rainbow Bridge & Pet Remembrance Day. I recall so well the first event of this kind that I attended 18 years ago, just shortly after my beautiful lab Sunny went on to her next chapter in her journey through this universe. Tears streaming down my face with a candle in hand, I walked up to the outdoor podium and told her story…
For our first wedding anniversary, my husband Paul and I decided to become a family. Not in the way you are thinking but by adopting a fur child from the local animal shelter. As we passed Cage #31, a yellow dog with a tail wagging faster than an out-of-control windshield wiper was pressing the side of her face against the metal rungs eagerly trying to be noticed. Her gentle cry and soft brown eyes drew us in while her excitement for life won us over the moment we approached her. We stood there wondering how such a loving canine could have ended up in such a predicament — it was her last day at the shelter before being euthanized.
We adopted that yellow Labrador Retriever, named her “Sunny” for her color and disposition, and she quickly became the sunshine of our lives. Sunny went everywhere with us, and we’d regularly treat her to mornings at the local dog park followed by breakfast at one of her favorite outdoor cafes. Together we participated in dog walks raising money for less fortunate animals, explored the local hillsides and vacationed at dog-friendly locales, but mostly…we just lived our lives grateful we had been brought together. All our friends knew “The Sunny-dog” (as we affectionately called her), and she loved everyone.
When Sunny passed away, it drained my soul. I was so very lucky to have an amazing veterinarian, who was not only adept, but who had an incredible bed side manner. When it came time for Sunny to cross that Rainbow Bridge, he listened with the stethoscope and said that Sunny was “with the angels.” Later on when it became time to say goodbye to other canine family members, veterinarians would listen for their silent heartbeat and say, “She’s gone.” The difference in this approach will never leave my heart, mind or soul and made such a difference for me during that time of transition for my best friend. It also made me cherish the importance of my furry kids’ second best friends.
Sunny was my first canine child, but I had been blessed with some of the bestest best friends during my childhood: I was raised by a Great Dane named Ulysses Polopony who taught me great love and respect for the canine species. Because of him, I’ve never feared large dogs. Dating myself, Uly got his middle name from “The Honeymooners” TV Show in an episode where Art Carney mispronounced Polo Ponies as Poloponies. My dad laughed hysterically and gave Uly that middle name since at 180 lbs. he was in fact a small horse!
Jo-jo the poodle, who I started babysitting while his mom was at work (long before we ever heard the term “pet sitter”) joined our family when his mom “Bootsie” (yes, it was the 60s) decided I would have more time to spend with him than she did. He was my doll baby and let me dress him up and stroll him around. Although I could get away with anything, Jo-jo was jealous of Uly, who had a good 165 lbs. on him, and would bite the poor Dane’s tail when he’d come near a family member. Over the years, they worked out their differences. Still adoring my two dog pals, like most little girls, I wanted a kitten to join in the fun. I sat down with a litter at a friend’s neighbor’s house, and chose the one who wouldn’t let me put her back down. Rosebud Delilah the calico Siamese blessed our lives for 17 years.
We moved when I was 10 to the other side of the county, and a stray white Shepherd appeared in our neighborhood one day. Her story is coming out in a new anthology to be released in just a few weeks entitled, “Second-Chance Dogs: True Stories of the Dogs We Rescue and the Dogs Who Rescue Us,” so I won’t give it away here, but Blondie (pictured at left) truly become another best friend. She would follow us everywhere, swim out to the sandbar in the lake, and then us kids would have to hold her up not realizing dogs couldn’t tread water. What she loved best though was sleeping on the living room sofa. Initially, my dad placed a broom on the sofa when we went to bed at night, but one morning we woke up and found the broom on the floor and Blondie fast asleep on the sofa. It was hers forever more.
Moonshine was my next rescue and to this day, I don’t know her breed. She had an Irish setter tail, but the coloring and markings of a shepherd and hound. She was a love bug and for some reason, she was the dog I would sing to. Every song I knew, I changed the words to suit Mooner. She had come from Baton Rouge to Orlando in the back of a pick-up truck with her brothers and sisters, but she became my “Moonshine, smiling at me. Pretty little Moonshine’s what I see.” (tune: Willie Nelson’s “Blue Skies”)
All of my animal best friends have had a zest for life. If there’s something they want to do, they go for it. They aren’t worried about what others think and never ponder “what if I can’t do it.” They just do it!
Animals work hard…some search, some pull, some herd. Arctic dogs keep their handlers warm. Beagles can sniff out termites. Other dogs detect bombs & drugs and can alert to seizures or drops in glucose.
Cats, well they work hard at grooming, but seriously…they can be therapy cats, mousers and perform other tasks too, but just as animals work hard…they really play hard. We’re only get one go ‘round on this merry-go-round of life, so we’d be wise to make the most of it like our animal friends.
Moonshine was the last of my sibling canines, dogs I loved and cared for with the help of my parents. All of these best pals set the course for my life of loving animals. Sunny however, was the dog who changed the trajectory of my life, making it my purpose to better the lives of animals. She set me to learning everything I could about pet health and safety which I share with all of you. After her passing, each new canine that joined our pack has challenged and tested me to learn more. Sunny actually brought Sushi to us via a newspaper photo of Sunny & me. A woman saw it, called me up and said, “You look like someone who can help.” Next thing I knew, I was in a car driving to get The Soosh before Animal Control took this gorgeous 9 ½ year old Akita to a high kill shelter.
Writing about my beloved Sushi got me into the magazine biz which has resulted in hundreds of articles written to-date. When it was time for my mom to move in with Paul, Sushi and me, she brought along her Duchess. Duchess had enjoyed the company of my mom’s friends and had blossomed into a 44 lbs. Sheltie! With self-control and good nutrition, I got her down to ½ her size and boy, did she become a spunky addition to our household.
Mr. Rico found his way into our hearts after a divorce in his family left him tied to a table at age 9 out in the California desert. I’ll never forget how I bathed the dusty black lab and he became the handsome shiny dog who brought my words to life in “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.” Ten days after Rico joined the family, an Akita-Border Collie needed a home. By adopting Rex, not only did we get a wonderful boy, but years later, I connected with his former “grandmom” who has become a dear and special friend. Unfortunately, Rexy came to us with liver issues, and try as we might, we only had 11 months with him, but they were truly glorious, and together…Rex & Rico were my “Dream Team.”
Having said goodbyes to Sushi, Duchess and Rex within less than a year, the rescue I was volunteering at convinced me to foster a 6-week old Akita pup. Paul and I were hesitant at first wondering if the small canine would terrorize Mr. Rico who was now 10, but in fact…Haiku breathed fresh life into his older big brother. Just a few weeks later, that same rescue encouraged me to take home a female Akita who was depressed over the death of her mate, YES! Animals grieve too! Not only that…she had a ginormous hole in the back of her head that needed care. Needless to say, Bonnie became Bonsai and the true Lady of the household. Her head healed, and she whipped young Haiku into shape teaching him manners and helping house train him. What a wonderful family it was!
To every time there is a season however, and Paul and I are still blessed that Haiku made the cross-country trek with us and is looking forward to dipping his paws in the Atlantic in just a few weeks, our first bi-coastal dog!
Each canine family member has left a unique set of paw prints on our hearts and has made us both better humans for having been loved by them. Animals truly know the secret to life, giving unconditional love and accepting it back. That’s why, as much as it hurts us, dogs and cats spend a shorter time on earth and go on to other things while we deal with loss. They learn that lesson quickly!
So as we approach this day of Remembrance, out of great love and in memory of the amazing animals who have touched my life, I’d like to share other lessons my animal best friends have taught me:
Take time to smell the flowers. Human or animal, if we take the time to be present, we can learn so much from others. Every moment is fleeting and beauty is everywhere. Don’t miss out by mentally being somewhere else.
Dream and believe in those dreams.
Focus. When it’s time for work, keep your eye on the prize.
High five your small victories. Every accomplishment is worth noting.
Stay curious. It’s how we learn. Even if sometimes the mystery on the other side of the bush is a skunk, at least you’ve made a discovery! People build walls and fences, but animals don’t see boundaries. Carve your own path!
Bark out loud. Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. By not speaking up, you condone the status quo – the behavior or situation as it stands. Those in animal rescue understand this first hand. If you do nothing, animals or people many continue to suffer.
Express gratitude. Take that time to praise others and good fortune that comes your way. Just waking to a new day is something to be grateful for, but a best friend is one of life’s greatest gifts!
Share your heart. Life is hopefully a long journey. Walk it with others.
Wag, howl & pounce regularly, but remember…a dog wags his tail, not his tongue!
Accept affection. Love and care for yourself as much as you do your pets. You know that is what they would truly want for us after they are gone, but also remember…gone but never forgotten for their light forever shines within us.
The Rainbow Bridge
Author Unknown but inspired by a Norse Legend
By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
Where the friends of man and woman do run,
When their time on earth is over and done.
For here, between this world and the next,
Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.
On this golden land, they wait and they play,
Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.
No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,
For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.
Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,
Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.
They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.
For just at that instant, their eyes have met;
Together again, both person and pet.
So they run to each other, these friends from long past,
The time of their parting is over at last.
The sadness they felt while they were apart,
Has turned into joy once more in each heart.
They embrace with a love that will last forever,
And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.
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