We are now down to a census of seven dogs: Frankie & Margret (two rescue Bostons) who are still awaiting Forever Families; Pinky, Chaos, & RocketDog (our retired show Bostons); & Copper & Finnegan (adopted rescues), Boxer & Labrador, respectively. Just a few short weeks ago, our count was eleven & that did not include the Labrador. Finn didn’t arrive until December 14th, 2012! It was all Bostons, baby! Well, except for my Hunk, Copper, of course…
Matt & I keep walking into rooms & finding ourselves looking around corners & behind furniture, trying to figure out where the hell all the dogs are. Several times I’ve found myself in the kennel room (which is our fancy-schmancy name for what used to be a porch-turned-office-turned-room-with-crates-&-dog-show-supplies-in-it) double-checking to see if we (meaning Matt) have forgotten to free all the dogs from their crates. Nope.
Once, I even ran outdoors in a near-panic, frightened dry-mouthed at the image in my head of the back gate standing open & half my GrayHaven Gang of Bostons dancing a jig in the middle of the road, down which most drivers speed at a cool sixty or seventy miles-per-hour, with imagined checkered flags fluttering across their fields of vision. But what did I find out there in the blustery December afternoon? Nothing but a single indignant Guinea fowl clucking & hollering at me to get my shivering butt back in the house. She even chased me a few feet just to get me moving.
Matt & I sit down nearly every day after work & enjoy a few minutes at the kitchen table with tea or coffee. It’s inevitable that we end-up with a dog or two or three on our laps. Lately, though, we’ve noticed a dearth of demands to be held & oddly enough, we’re bothered by it. Funny that, because previously the endless pawing & snuffling & licking drove us both to distraction while we sat together… Now; however, we agree that the house just feels so – empty. After the insanity & hubbub & noise of eleven (& sometimes more) dogs, seven really feels like so FEW. I know that must sound tremendously strange, but it’s true.
The heart of the matter is this: we are grieving. We are not callused, hard-hearted people; quite the opposite in fact. To effect this huge change in our lives, we had to make incredibly difficult & painful decisions. We parted with companions we helped into the world & aided in taking their first breaths, dogs we trained & who accompanied us on romps & errands, friends & confidants who’d been there for us & never asked for anything in return beyond loving care. The oldest was eight years; the youngest only six months; the others were all ages in between. Moments & lifetimes… gone from our hearts & home.
We love every one of them unconditionally.
We miss each one of them quite terribly… Although we are trying quite diligently not to admit that it’s true.
So, in this moment, I want to thank each of them for their love, loyalty, compassion, joy, & adaptability that make the Boston terrier such an incredible breed of dog in general, & personally such a treasure in my & my husband’s hearts:
~ Wiley, 8 yrs – CH GrayHaven’s Brains Of The Operation
~ Boomer, 5 yrs – GrayHaven’s Bona-Fide Brainstorm
~ Gossamer, 18 mths – GrayHaven’s Sheer Terror
~ Bouncer, 4 yrs – GrayHaven’s Bouncin’ Betty O’Katbird
~ Ruby-Ruby, 18 mths – GrayHaven’s Corundum Conundrum
~ Tazmania, 6 mths – GrayHaven’s Tazmanian Devil
Every single one of these beautiful, loving Bostons was an incomparable friend & companion to our family. For me in particular, Wiley, Boomer, & Bouncer were very, very special friends. I’m still not really able to talk much about letting go of Bounce-Bounce; she was such a special girl to me & the pain of letting her go will remain for quite some time, I think. Letting Boomer go ended-up being sort of a humanitarian mission when I learned that dear friends who owned another of my cherished retired boys had found him passed away in his sleep, then his sister died a couple weeks later, & their third dog (Boomer’s sister) was left alone. I made a rather rash decision to let them take Boomer & amazingly I am content with it. It was right. Wiley, I am thrilled to report, lives with Gossamer (his grandson) just a few minutes away from me so I am able to visit regularly. That alone helps with the pain of all of the other losses.
I think Matt & I are beginning to get used to the quietness. I don’t notice Matt looking around the living room with that haunted look anymore, at least. And I have to guess that I’m not doing the same thing as much. We’re definitely enjoying watching television with only five or six dogs lying on the sofa, as opposed to nine or ten leaping & chasing one another across us. It’s a totally changed atmosphere & the dogs, too, clearly appreciate it. They are much more relaxed & calm (well, except for Frankie, of course).
All of the dogs we placed out are doing very well – probably better than we are! Bostons are so darned adaptable it’s amazing. I am happy for them & I’m so glad that I knew when it was right to let go in order for them to enjoy life to the fullest. All the best dogs deserve that… And really, aren’t they ALL the Best Dogs?
Do what is Right.
Do the hard work: making sure your dogs are happy isn’t the same thing as making sure you are happy.
Finnegan has been part of our family for twenty-four days that seem like much, much longer. I first saw him as a pitiful, aged Labrador that no one wanted, his desolate eyes staring at me from the computer screen. Then I met him in a public setting & saw the pleasantly disengaged Finnegan, neither seeking contact, nor showing true joy in meeting me. Next, I had the chance to meet him in a quiet room & finally got to see the dog inside Finnegan, the welcoming, cuddle-bug, lapdog of a Labrador he actually is. Once home with him; however, it quickly became obvious that Finnegan was “damaged goods.” He clearly has been abused in his 9+ years of life, & from his reactions to many common things, probably quite badly.
Possibly the most heart-rending thing I’ve ever experienced with a rescued dog has occurred with Finn: He suffers from nightmares & night terrors (PTSD?) nearly every night. This didn’t start immediately. In fact, he slept fine for about two weeks. But as he settled-in more & more & became increasingly comfortable with the routines & in his place, the night terrors grew gradually worse.
It started out looking like dreams all our other dogs have, but we did notice that the dreams seemed to go on & on for very long periods of time & Finnegan appeared anxious, even in his sleep. Within a few nights, it was even clearer that he wasn’t just dreaming he was experiencing nightmares, complete with the most terribly pitiful whimpering & wailing, flailing to escape, & an inability to awaken.
The crying Finn expresses during these nightmares are sounds I’ve only ever heard from dogs in extreme pain & distress. I don’t truly want to know the film that’s playing through his sleeping brain when he’s crying that way, but I’d surely like to know who brutalized him to the point that he now cannot even sleep in peace… I’ve cared for many rescue dogs – most abused to some extent – & none have suffered from night terrors in this way. I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like it & I hope to never again.
When Finnegan awakens me with his initial bit of scrabbling in his blankets, I lie & listen, hoping against hope that he will self-calm. When I hear his breath begin to huff & whoosh & choke in & out, I just want to kick & scream on his behalf. But I lie quietly, still praying that he’ll somehow get through it this time… But then I hear it: The softest, warbling whimper that is born somewhere in the back of his throat & crawls forward until it’s voiced against his will, even in his sleep. After the first cry, the next ones each become a bit more frantic, his claws catch in the blankets or carpet. Sometimes he hits his head on the dresser. He never wakes up.
I throw back the covers & climb from the bed. I reach his side in just a few steps. Usually, his head would be raised with widened eyes at the first sound of my blankets moving, but not during a nightmare.
During a terror, he doesn’t even know I’m there.
I whisper to him & stroke his shoulder softly, trying to waken him gently. Invariably, he jolts awake in a panic, throwing his head around at me wild-eyed. He always looks curiously at me for a moment while he takes some deep breaths & then tucks his muzzle in close very tightly against me. He loves the security of having his face smushed against a loving human body.
I rub his velvet ears & whisper all the good & proper things the best dogs should always hear. I lay my head on his shoulder & tuck my bare feet up onto his dog bed, next to Copper’s chin on the adjacent bed.
Finnegan snuffles through my hair until he can press his nose against the nape of my neck. I run his silken ear endlessly through my fingers & listen to his heartbeat slow & finally settle into a comforting, solid rhythm. I let his Life surround me & carry me into sleep beside him, prepared for whatever comes…
Finn & I, we are Dream Warriors.
1. “To sleep, perchance to dream.” Shakespeare Quotes. Ed. Roger Moore. eNotes.com, Inc., 2006. eNotes.com. 7 Jan, 2013
It’s December 19, 2012 & we’ve had such eventful days with Finnegan! Yesterday afternoon I completed his official adoption at Ft. Wayne Animal Care & Control. He is one of the GrayHaven Gang now, legally, but I knew he was the moment I saw his face. St. Francis apparently wanted to ensure I received the message loud & clear; however, as I realized later on the evening I brought Finn home that it was also the birthday of our deceased bulldog, Harry, who’d been our family’s most awesome friend & playmate for fourteen years. Over the years I’ve stopped arguing with these small messages from Above. Many call them simple coincidences, but my faith leads me to a happier response, one that has resulted in countless Blessings, the most recent of which is a new old dog named Finnegan.
Finnegan was found slogging through wet fields in Grabill, Indiana’s Amish community on Thanksgiving. He weighed seventy pounds, had burnt fur on his neck & back from hiding beneath cars, & was suffering with an open wound on his right thigh. Staff at FWACC judged him to be about 9 – 10 years old, but who really knows? His belly sags, his back is swayed, & his feet are terribly splayed. He was not neutered. When I first met him & learned all this, my immediate thought was that he’d probably been an Amish breeding dog, as Amish puppy mills are prevalent in our area, & caged his entire life (hence, the splayed paws). Once he failed to sire puppies, instead of killing him, he was simply turned loose or dumped from a buggy roadside.
Nothing I’ve yet observed in Finn’s behavior or reactions has dissuaded me from this supposition about his origins. He has clearly never been an indoor dog; television astounds him & sometimes completely frightens him. He is terrified of the staircase so badly that my husband has been carrying all eighty-two pounds of him up every night & back down every morning. He is utterly amazed by “people food,” but must be coerced to try each new item. He lacks simple indoor manners, such as moving out of the way of walking people. Sadly, Finnegan doesn’t know how to play & he doesn’t like water. Worse, it’s obvious he has been beat on by someone, as quick hand movements create an involuntary head duck & eye squint reaction. And then he tucks his head into your chest or lap or legs asking for comfort.
I sprung him from the shelter Friday as a foster so I could get him to my vet. Yesterday, he officially became “mine.” But interestingly enough, Finn made his own decision somewhere during the course of the weekend. In those initial hours with him, it was obvious that in his mind I was just another nice lady holding his leash & rubbing his ears. I can’t say when that changed, but it did. By the time we returned to FWACC yesterday, he knew as much as I do that he’s mine (or perhaps to him, I am “his”). He was genuinely happy to see the people he knew & tell them all good-bye, but he was even more ecstatic to walk back out that door & load into the van for the ride home. And this time, he quite contentedly lay down, heaved a sigh, & took a nap while he enjoyed the drive.
Life at GrayHaven Bostons has once again taken an unexpected, though not unpleasant detour. Nearly everyone who knows me well also knows that even though Boston terriers command a humongous portion of my heart, Labrador retrievers have always been my personal & most powerful love. Two of the three greatest Heart Dogs in my life thus far have been Labradors, with my Boxer, Copper easily meeting them point for point. I’ve been without this dear love for about a decade, focusing on Bostons (& Copper). Very recently & quite suddenly that changed when I gazed into a pair of wise, worn eyes & experienced that moment of knowing they were looking into me.
Wednesday (12/12/12) I was scrolling through Ft. Wayne Animal Care & Control’s listings of adoptable animals, something I actually do quite often so I can send photos of prospective pets to friends & family. Over the course of many months I’ve viewed & read about hundreds of wonderful animals, large & small, & I’ve not once felt compelled to race in & adopt one. Were there ones that captured my attention or made me “oooh” & “ahhhh” from the pure adorability factor? Of course! But I never saw an animal that created in me an urge to rock the boat of Bostons & my family at home. Cuteness versus the rigors of daily living with an added animal in a multiple-pet home are both considerations I’ve matured enough to understand & appreciate. However, as I scrolled through FWACC’s listings on Wednesday, a single thumbnail photo leaped from my screen the moment I scrolled to it: Finnegan, a nine-plus year-old Labrador retriever who’d been at ACC since Thanksgiving; originally a lost pet, but now available for adoption. The dog’s deep eyes & world-wise expression seemed to unlock something inside me. I felt that he was mine; period.
I fought with my conscience & weighed pros & cons for nearly an hour before I called my husband & said, “I know what I want for Christmas; it’s a little controversial…” Thus ensued a rather lively & interesting conversation which ended with the decision for me to go meet Finnegan & “if” he seemed a likely fit, Matt would go meet him. So, after work I raced over to the Animal Control Shelter.
Of course old Finnegan was still there, but nothing worth having is ever easy. As I discussed our situation & completed forms, the staff quickly realized that with our two rescues (waiting for Forever Homes) & two additional retired dogs which would soon be leaving for new homes, our family has more than the allowed five dogs already in our household. I was crushed. I felt Finnegan slipping away before I even had a chance to meet him. Fortunately, Allison, the wonderful lady in charge of adoptions, overheard the discussion & took our case on personally. She sat & spoke with me, asked pertinent questions about our current situation, our plans, our experience, & what drew me to Finnegan. By the time we were through I think we were both relieved; Allison thinking that Finnegan was likely getting a chance & I feeling as if I was – unbelievably – being offered a chance, too.
A few moments later I finally got to meet Finnegan. My first impression was, “Aww, what a sad, sorry old dog. Who the heck (besides me) is ever going to want this old guy?” He was quiet, reserved, & a tad aloof, although he was entirely pleasant. It was clear that to Finnegan I was just another human face in the blur of human faces he was seeing every day at the shelter. I wanted desperately to change that.
Physically, Finnegan screamed, “Used-up!” & “Decrepit!” His once honey colored face was now a creamy white, his nose was a mottled liver from exposure to sun & elements, & his entire body lacked muscle tone; his back swayed & belly sagged from too little exercise. The oddest things I noted were his feet. They were all so splayed that it made his feet appear huge, with the toes far enough apart to see floor between them; very strange. Also, along with various patches of worn &/or burnt feeling fur, Finnegan sported a large granuloma on his right thigh. I call these sorts of things “worry spots,” as a dog kept confined for long periods of time will often develop the habit of licking & chewing a specific area over & over. The pain of the chewing/licking releases hormones in the dog’s brain which helps him to calm himself & also generates an enjoyable emotional “buzz.” The dog becomes sort of addicted to his own brain chemicals to relieve stress, frustration, & boredom. This is common in puppy mill breeding dogs & any dog kept chained or confined.
Upon seeing this wound on Finnegan’s thigh & combining it with his splayed feet & where he was found wandering, I made an educated guess about his past: I think he was probably an Amish breeding dog, kept caged his whole life. When he stopped functioning as a viable sire, instead of being killed, he was either turned loose or dropped off on his own. Allison told me that Finnegan didn’t know any commands besides “come,” & displayed no reaction to toys, bones, or balls; however, he was extremely dog-sociable & loved lots of activity. I reached my own conclusion with all that information & my heart broke even more for the elderly dog. Seriously, who knows a Labrador who has no interest in BALLS? How terribly sad…
The next evening, my husband & our youngest daughter, Anna all visited Finnegan. Despite the fact he’d developed an apparent upper respiratory infection & was coughing copious amounts of thick green snot from his nose & throat, Finnegan enthusiastically greeted each of us. He wasn’t at all aloof or reserved! He was utterly thrilled to visit & be the recipient of lavish strokes, ear rubs, bum scratches, & words of praise. He moved from person to person, tucking his muzzle & head into our chests & under our arms, just soaking in the affection & attention. Matt & Anna fell for him within moments. We left hoping he’d feel better very soon.
I called ACC the next morning & learned I’d been officially approved to adopt Finnegan. We decided to wait until Monday to stage a canine meet-&-greet between him & our other dogs, as we wanted to avoid infecting our dogs at home. I counted the hours & drove to the shelter after work to visit him & see how he was doing. I was worried about him since the infection seemed to strike so hard so suddenly. I spoke with Allison again & shared my concerns that Finnegan might well worsen over the weekend before their vet could see him, especially since he’d just completed an eleven-day course of two antibiotics just a couple of days ago. Clearly, something more needed doing. I told her I wished I could just load him up & take him to my vet. Voila! Allison produced foster care forms & before I knew it, I was trying to figure out how to load a reluctant eighty-two pound Labrador into my van for a drive to the vet. I was thrilled; Finnegan, not so much.
The fifteen minute drive was quite eventful, as Finnegan chose to heave most of his body onto the center console of the van, leaning heavily into the physical space I needed for driving. We were like two ornery kids in the backseat, shoving back & forth, each trying to gain ground from the other. I kept trying to direct him onto the passenger seat, but it just didn’t happen. He was too heavy & strong for me to budge while also operating the vehicle. He pressed forward farther & farther until somehow he knocked the van into “neutral” & then stuck his muzzle through the steering wheel. Fortunately, by the time his muzzle went through the wheel, I was already coasting along the road’s berm, trying to reach under him for the hazard lights, with no need to turn the wheel. Once stopped safely, I somehow wrestled his dead-weight onto the passenger seat, put the van into gear, & drove the last half-mile to our vet clinic. I was out of breath & sweating.
Waynedale Animal Clinic was busy, so Finnegan & I waited outdoors for his turn to see Dr. Glidewell. Once inside, he dragged me along like a skier behind a ski boat, with little regard for my scolds or the laughter of clinic staff & other clients. Dr. G. examined him & pronounced tonsillitis as the main complaint, probably a bacterial invader that attacked on the heels of his initial respiratory infection. Finnegan was prescribed different antibiotics, added to our roster, & away we went… after he dragged me clear through the clinic a couple more times!
He must’ve tired himself out, because on the drive home Finn chose to lie down in the back instead of sabotaging my driving. I recall listening to him snoring behind me & feeling incredibly relieved, both that he was lying down safely & that he was finally going home with me. I had no idea what might happen next, but I felt I’d accomplished something very important that I was meant to do. Finnegan was out of the kill shelter with a chance to begin again, just like the old man in the children’s song I used to sing with my kids. Right then, having leapt that hurdle successfully was enough. We’d go on from there & see where Life took us…
Most people are familiar with the old adage, “Every dog has its day.” However, I find it interesting that it’s one of very few timeworn maxims which can be interpreted either positively or punitively. For example: the punitive theory is that a “bad dog” (or person) will be disciplined at some point (or receive his comeuppance); the opposite side of the coin is that every “dog” that’s down-on-his luck, oppressed, or suffering will sooner or later be well rewarded. As an owner/exhibitor & breeder of Boston terriers, I’ve seen this proverb come to pass in countless situations, often within my own “GrayHaven Gang” of Bostons. What I failed to recognize until recently; though, is that there exists a murky, grey area where every dog doesn’t get its day in the best way, & often the finest breeders lose sight of their dogs in the fog.
I realized about two years ago – thanks to a particular rescue dog which parked himself within my heart & refusing to budge, that even though I provided all the best necessities & comforts for my dogs, somewhere along the thirteen years of exhibiting & breeding I’d lost sight of what my dogs truly mean to me. As a result, they were losing out. All the best kibble, comfy beds, & timely vet care cannot take the place of the singular bond between Man & dog. AKC ribbons & titles, so coveted by exceptional Breeders, can become empty rewards if the dogs are merely used vehicles on the ego road-trip to success. I’m ashamed to admit I took this dead end path.
Dogs have been a constant in my life since I was a toddler & some of my best childhood memories involve our family dog, Jo-Jo, a dog which patiently demonstrated all the interaction rules to two ignorant children as we grew up together. He was a shepherd-collie cross our family adopted from the local humane society as a tiny puppy. During his life of nearly fourteen years he taught me how to train dogs, that dog fur absorbs tears, & that no one messes with a young girl who has an ultra-protective, sixty pound dog on lead. I could go anywhere on my own, as long as Jo-Jo was beside me. My parents kept Jo-Jo as an outside dog, but I spent as much time as possible with him. He & I used to curl up inside his dog house, snuggled in the fresh straw together, just enjoying being alone & quiet. Jo-Jo taught me all the best things about the human-canine relationship & he was infinitely patient as I learned. Thanks to Jo-Jo, I developed a passion for all things dog & haven’t ever lived without at least one dog – & usually two or more – in my life.
When my husband & I made the decision to show & breed Boston terriers after eleven years of being owned by spayed/neutered “pet” Bostons, we outlined some specific rules for ourselves: Our dogs would be indoor dogs; no kennel, we’d own no more than six at a time; thus we’d have a one-to-one ratio of dogs-to-humans in our home, & we would be Responsible & Ethical Breeders in every way. We didn’t have any problems honoring our rules, except for the one about keeping only six dogs. Like nearly every Breeder we had puppies that we decided to keep, we purchased a couple of promising show dogs, & then we retired some adults but couldn’t bear to part with them. It wasn’t too many years before our Boston count had grown to ten. We still felt that with six family members that all was well. The dogs were happy & healthy & we were having fun; until tragedy struck.
Haley-Bop, one of our so-called “Texas Roses” because she & her half-sister ‘Amity both came to us from Texas, was attacked & critically injured by two of our other girls, which ultimately led to a wonderful transformation of her temperament. I think this horrifying event was the first sudden gust that would grow to become a wind strong enough to clear the fog for me. The damage to Bop’s front legs was horrendous & it wasn’t clear for several weeks whether or not the worst one would require amputation. Fortunately, our vet & his crew are amazing & with tons of intensive care & daily rehabilitation at home, Haley-Bop kept both her front legs. It was during her recovery that I noticed something about Haley-Bop: as the days & weeks of intense one-on-one care progressed, her attitude changed. She became a much softer, loving, & attention-seeking dog than she’d ever been before. I was mortified to admit, even to myself, that she had never really bonded with anyone but one of our sons (“her boy”) over the several years she’d been a part of our family. The nature of her injuries, which required us to “be there” for Haley twenty-four hours a day, finally created the connection she’d been lacking. Upon reaching this insight, I stepped back & took a long, honest look at my dogs & their emotional needs.
Is it ever easy to admit you’re wrong? Once I scrutinized my dogs & our situation without the smothering fog of goal-acquisition blurring my vision, it was clear that I’d hit a dead end. My dogs were not getting their emotional needs met in the human-canine relationship. We had too many dogs to do them justice. My husband & I made some difficult choices & placed several dogs into Forever Homes where they would be cherished as individuals. We were saddened, but knew we’d done right; however, I’d still failed to see the whole picture before me.
A couple years after Boppy’s injury & subsequent recovery, an obese Boxer named Copper* was surrendered into our rescue & changed my life. For all his overwhelming size, he sneaked into my heart on cautious kitten paws & stole it. I knew I was keeping him within three days of his arrival. The past two years with Copper by my side have been the perfect storm to blast away the remaining fog before me. Copper’s reminded me again that dog fur absorbs tears perfectly; that no one molests a lady – no matter how helpless she appears – walking a ninety pound, attentive, loyal Boxer; & most importantly, that dogs are Man’s Best Friend. Thanks to Copper, I realized that I’ve been shortchanging my precious Bostons for years, even though I love them very much. None of them gets the time s/he deserves to have; the opportunity to develop the extraordinary companionship, respect, & love I’ve built with Copper. After admitting this hard truth, I made the tough choice to break away from showing & breeding to return to “pet” ownership. It was amazing how much better I felt after making that decision.
Once my husband & I agreed, I was dumbfounded at the relief I felt, & we even still had all our dogs! I hadn’t been aware of how much stress I’d been feeling. I think the hardest decision I made was to neuter my best boy, Boomer. A big part of me felt that as a wonderful, sound example of the breed, I had an obligation to place him out with another Breeder so he could be exhibited & implemented in a responsible breeding program. Then again, I was incredibly troubled at the probability that this sweet boy would once again become part of a pack, instead of the individual dog he needed to be. I waffled for weeks & even entertained a couple of offers for him; however, you’ll be happy to learn that I opted for love over breed improvement: I neutered Boomer & am keeping him. There are lots of nice Bostons out there, but there’s only one Boomer & I want the chance to build a special friendship with him. All of our girls are spayed & retired now; although a couple are still waiting/hoping for their new Forever Families to appear. We’re getting there. Our awesome dogs are “our dogs” once more, instead of being the means to the end of self-indulgent rewards. I’m already enjoying the clear, bright view from here… Plus, I’m incredibly pleased to finally be able to say truthfully that every one of our dogs does get its day – & it’s finally a GREAT one.
*Copper – read The Hunk to learn his story