Furry Family

Dogs and Me.

I have a unique relationship with dogs. I can’t explain it, not really. Either you know, or you never will. Maybe it’s the Aspergers, that I form a stronger bond with animals – canine in particular – than I do with humans.

Dogs are essential to me. As essential as air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink. Dogs and the relationships and bonds I forge with them are food for my soul.

For a long, long time, I always had multiple canines – up to 11 when I was doing wolf-dog rescue. But almost always more than one. For the last year, it’s just been Kasha, since we lost Shunka & then Dart.

It’s just plain weird, to only have one canine in the house. And I don’t think Kasha is all that happy about it either, since she’s taken to eating the trash when we’re gone, even for a little while, over the last year, since we lost Dart. She had always had canine companionship to fill in the blanks, for when we went to my mom’s, or just away for a grocery run.

Shunka was special. Very special. If you are a dog person, you know that in your life you may have many dogs, but there are a few, a tiny few, one or two, maybe three if you’re lucky, with whom you forge a very special bond. Shunka was one of those dogs for me.

Last week, I was on my way into the neurologist’s office, when I noticed the hospital volunteers with their therapy dog in the lobby. A black cocker spaniel mix, I’d guess. The owner, an older woman, silver haired, said to her companion, “You can always tell the ones, can’t you? The ones who have dogs, who love them. By the way they approach, can’t help but touch them, go for the ears and give them a rub?” I told her “Of course, yes, I have a dog, and I love dogs very much.”

Even though I needed to get to my appointment, I still spent a few more moments with them. I explained to her that we’d had three, until one died of old age almost exactly a year ago, and the other I had to put to sleep because of a brain tumor, almost two years ago. I had a hard time getting it out. I think she could tell.

A long time ago.
A long time ago.

She looked at me, and said with knowing eyes, “So recent. Oh… he was the one, wasn’t he?”

I smiled, understanding just what she meant, and said “Yes, he was one of only two, out of many dogs, one who touched my soul.”

She said “I call those Spirit Dogs. The ones like that. And I don’t believe they’re ever very far away. We’ll see them again. I’m sure there are dogs in heaven.”

Chills ran up and down my spine when she said those words, “Spirit Dogs.” The same words I have used on many occasions.

Here was this woman I had just met, spoken to only a few minutes, and yet it was like she was looking inside me. Someone who understood. I told her what he did, when I had the heart-related seizure, how he alerted Rhiannon, who was small then, how he was biting my arms, licking my face, trying to save me. How he changed after that, was always alert for any odd noise, was very (overly) protective of me, always by my side, usually touching me. She said that kind of dog should be written up in a newspaper. I could only agree.

I looked for them on my way out, but they had moved on, I suppose.

Dogs in general, and when to get a companion for Kasha as well as me & Rhiannon, have been the subject of many conversations in our house. Many.

You don’t want to get one too soon, after you lose one. You have to allow yourself to grieve first, when you love them as much as we do.

It has to be the right time. But when is the right time? That is the question. And what dog? Not just any dog, but a special dog.

Rhiannon & I have been watching Petfinder for a while now. But without having my Disability benefits yet, is it fair to bring another dog into our household? Is it fair to my mother, who is paying many of my bills? I asked her today, and was surprised at her answer: She’d always thought we’d be getting another one soon. She understands me more than I thought – and understands that Kasha needs canine companionship.

Last year, for my birthday, an amazing & dear friend gave me $200 for my birthday, from an unexpected inheritance. I’ve been sitting on it. She said for me “to use it for whatever brings you the most happiness.”

If you know me at all, you know that other than my girls, the thing that brings me the most happiness is having a canine by my side. And for all that Kasha is a wonderful, giant polar bear sized dog, and follows me around, and loves to be brushed & petted, it’s lonely without a dog that can come on the bed (she has incontinence issues), without a companion for her to play with.

So what to do? Certainly not wait too long. Kasha is 7, we think. And she’s a giant breed dog, whatever she is, and they often don’t live as long as smaller breeds. If something happened to her… being without a dog is unthinkable.

That’s one reason you always, always, have at least two.

I’ve spent much of today contemplating all this.

And, contemplating one dog in particular. We went to see him on Sunday. He stood out to me on Petfinder, and I have looked at literally thousands of dogs on Petfinder. When we saw him, we were surprised, because he really didn’t look all that much like his picture. I think perhaps the picture was washed out some, color-wise (but I’ve fixed them here), and he was likely shedding his winter coat when they were taken.

His name is Keegan, which is Gaelic (of course), for “fiery one” or “small fire.” He looks to me like he might be part Basenji – he has the ears, and is currently very sleek coated – touching him is like touching satin. And then there’s his color. He is brindle, which is brown, black, and in his case, a rusty orange, in stripes on his side. He looks almost like a little, well, 45#, tiger. He’s a year and a half old. He’s smaller than we expected – built very muscled & solid. The perfect size for curling up with on the bed.

Keegan the Tiger Dog
Keegan the Tiger Dog

Entirely exotic.

To me, he looks like a lost wild dog of the ancient past, or the desert, and I think he’s amazingly beautiful.

Rhiannon thinks his coat is far too busy for her liking.

And to be honest, we don’t know if he’s still available – another family saw him before us, and they were at the top of the list, but I haven’t been able to find out for sure if they want him or not, but the shelter thinks they don’t. I will find out for sure tomorrow.

When we saw him, he was very distracted, by the tremendous storm outside, and by the incredibly noisy people in the room next to ours who had small children, and were visiting another dog, who also barked. It was only the second time, in two months, that anyone had wanted to see him.

My heart is sad. I want to see him again, if he’s available still, to see if he is more interested in us. To see if he likes Kasha, and if Kasha likes him. And to see if Rhiannon could handle having such a wildly exotic – and not big & fluffy – looking dog in our household.

To see if he could become part of our family.


After thinking about it, I’ve decided the bottom line is this:

Living with chronic illness, especially CFS/FMS, is intensely isolating. You want to do more, but you can’t. You want to watch TV, but with a migraine, even that is out of reach. Going out anywhere is hard: draining, and exhausting.

Is it any wonder that the dogs in my life, especially the ones that come on my bed, give me attention and their so special unconditional love, and accept my attention, love, and training in return, are such a source of peace, happiness, and tranquility, in an otherwise unproductive life?

I leave you with this:

“We are alone, absolutely alone on this planet; and amid all the
forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog, has
made an alliance with us.” -Maurice Maeterlink

3 thoughts on “Dogs and Me.”

  1. Oh I loved the woman who recognized what you felt-I love encounters like that for so many reasons; it’s humbling but also makes the world a less hostile place all at once. The top picture of Shunka is kind a scary-but good-he looks like he is making sure to rest on you, comfort you and make you feel relaxed-his body is saying that-but his eyes, oh my! His eyes say “Either you will die or I will die before you touch one hair on her head, and I promise you that it won’t be me.” When I worked in animal hospitals, these were always the dogs that I gave the most respect to; I knew that should they choose to “start something” it would be well-planned and thorough.


    1. (btw, I moved your comment from the just-pics to here)

      Dawn, you are so good – at seeing things about animals!
      And I needed the laugh you gave me – I had been reading through the section on the National Humane Education Society website about pet loss and euthanizing your pet and it had me in tears, and I was going, maybe, maybe I’m not ready yet, even though it will be two years next month.

      Then I read your comment, and had to laugh, because you read him just right. He got himself in trouble a couple times because of that attitude – once he even bit his human sister, Terra! Rhiannon and I had been talking about that, and how I never felt that Terra forgave him or trusted him again. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought, because while I expected him to protect the house, which he did a little overly strongly, my fault for not socializing him enough as a pup, I never expected him to bite one of us.

      Looked at from his point of view, though, it was very reasonable – we were preparing to go out the door for a family reunion cruise in Hawaii. He hated it when we left him, and the suitcases were by the door, so he knew what was going on. I had laid down to rest for a couple minutes, and he had laid down beside me, visibly upset (or as Cesar would say, “anxious, unstable, mind”). Terra came in to ask a question, and I think she leaned over the bed to take something from me – and he was between she & I. He snapped at her, drew blood & bruised her hand. But from his point of view, he was the alpha male, and I was the alpha female of our “pack”, and I’m sure he was clearly aware that Terra (I think she was 18 at the time) was “challenging” me for dominance in the “pack” (ie we had a lot of loud arguments!). By leaning over me, she was taking what in the canine world would be a stance of dominance, and he was not having “his” alpha female dominated.

      That’s not at all what she intended, of course, but we sometimes forget the way canines act instinctually.

      So, kudos, Dawn – you got it just right!


  2. Going to see Keegan again on Wednesday – the other family doesn’t want him! Have to have the adoption counselor with us to supervise the meeting of Kasha with Keegan. They are too busy on the weekend. They are closed Monday & Tuesday.


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