To Those Who've Come Before
Gunny is graciously sharing his space, as I am feeling particularly nostalgic tonight.
Oscar is a good starting point for introducing you to the past, as he's a bit of a bridge. He is My Guy. My Right Hand Man. My Guardian. If a caricature of him was drawn, it would feature dark sunglasses, folded muscular arms, a fitted black t-shirt, black jeans and a small earring. Maybe his shirt would be bright yellow and have the word SECURITY across the front. At any given time, Oscar is no more than 3 feet from my side. Usually it is more like 6 inches. This includes him laying on the bath mat every time I take a shower. Another drawing could feature a big, happy dog with a huge grin, a flopping tongue, an intense stare, and a tennis ball. It took him less than 5 minutes to train the new neighbors in the finer art of Fetch. He also educated them that by choosing to live in that house, they assumed the commitment of throwing anything Oscar pushed through the fence onto their property, at any time, day or night.
Oscar moved in as a 3 month old puppy, and was my fist Bully. He was taken under the wing of a special dog named Tim, who had lost an eye during some systematic, sociopathic torture done by humans when he was a stray. Tim, named because of his timid nature, was more frightened of people than any dog I had ever met. It took a few years, and some positive doggie role models, to bring him around. Tim had Hokus, my college dog, to show him the way. Hokus was my Heart Dog. I pulled the 5 month old fluff ball from the pound in my small college town when I was only 20 years old. She moved all around the country with me, and we knocked out 14 hour road trips together like it was nothing. Hokus was a wonderful copilot. We shared cheeseburgers from McDonald's and she knew how to drink water from a cup. She attended the huge St. Patty's Day celebration in Savannah, and never blinked at the chaos. I cannot tell you how many lacrosse and rugby games she watched with me, as her uncles got---and gave---some serious hard knocks each weekend. She liked other dogs just fine, as long as they conceded that she was Queen Bee and all rules were set by her. She was stubborn, and independent, fiercely loyal and one of the smartest dogs I have ever met. In her golden years, she literally saved Tim's life by holding off an out of control BIG dog intent of ripping Tim's throat out. Hokus was a whopping 54 pounds, yet she had no problem taking on 150 pound dogs who threatened her, her family, or her universe. It was a special kind of heart break when I had to put Hokus to sleep 2 weeks shy of her 14th birthday.
Tim was lost. Absolutely broken. He searched for Hokus incessantly. I started taking him to the barn with me when I rode, in an effort to find something that would engage him. Contrary to popular belief, not just any dog can be a true Barn Dog, but as luck would have it, Tim was. From that first moment on the farm, he got it. And that role gave him courage and confidence I had never seen in him before. The horses loved him and trusted him. I never once taught him boundaries, but he never came in the riding ring, and he never left the property unless I took him. He would trot along at my horse's side when we ventured out, his fluffy tail flagged, prancing like a parade horse.
Tim was my only dog, and the official Barn Dog, for about a year before Oscar came along. Then it was Tim's turn to be the role model. Sadly, Oscar only had Tim in his life for about 6 months before Tim was put to sleep at midnight, in the emergency room, after battling cancer for 8 weeks. He had just turned 8 years old. It was one of those moments when you shake your fist at the sky and curse life for being unfair. He had suffered such unbelievable acts of cruelty and had come out on top. He found his true calling as a Barn Dog, only to have it taken away soon after by some out of control cells that destroyed his body.
Hokus had a cat. Her name was Tigger, and she was the first cat I ever had. Although Hokus was good with dogs, she didn't want to actually SHARE with dogs. When I graduated from college, I worried about her being bored at home, alone, all day, so I got the bright idea to get her a cat. We went to the pound, I picked out several friendly adult kitties, and asked the ladies to being them out 1 by 1 to meet Hokus. Every cat clawed its way to the top of the volunteer's head except one. This female marched right over to Hokus, rubbed under her chin, then promptly head butted her before turning on her heel and sauntering off. Done deal, send that cat with me.
Tigger had the gentlest spirit I had ever seen, mothering Hokus by washing her face and curling up with her in the dog bed. I got her a feisty kitten from the pound a year later, and Tigger took care of business. The kitten would fuss, and Tigger would mother her into submission. That feisty kitten is Tobbles, who turned 16 years old in May. Hokus, Tigger and Tobbles were my Original Pack, and the foundation of all the good work that has been done in my home, by my critters.
Tigger's mothering ways extending to Tim when he came along, and to Millie as well. She welcomed them by cleaning Tim's wounds, and mothering a nervous, abandoned kitten who was afraid of her own shadow. Unfortunately, liver failure reared its ugly head and Tigger only made it until age eleven. She was the first animal I ever had to put to sleep on my own, as a grown up. On the day I had the appointment to bring her to the vet, I started to notice something. Tigger, who had been very sedentary up to that point, got up and started to work her way through the house. She got into Tim's bed, washed his face, and laid beside him for awhile. Then she made her way to Hokus and did the same thing. It had been a couple of years since she served that role for Tim, and many years since she had done that with Hokus. Later, I walked into my bedroom and found all 3 cats on the bed, Tigger in the middle. Never once, in all the time that Millie was in the house, had Tobbles ever allowed her in the same room, let alone on the same bed. Yet there they were, laying 3 feet away from each other, with Tigger in the middle. From that day on, Millie and Tobbles slept on the same bed without so much as one hiss. People will say that I am crazy, but I absolutely believe that Tigger was saying good-bye. In true Mother Hen style, Tigger reminded everyone that they were a family, of how to get along, and of how to treat each other.
After I lost Tim, Oscar and I were a pair for over 2 years before Gunny came a long. That was a long time for me to be a 1 dog family. With his intense drive and intelligence, Oscar and I got a lot accomplished. He is by far the best-trained dog I have ever had. He earned his Canine Good Citizen title, and passed the evaluations for both of the international therapy dog organizations when he was only a year and a half old.
Oscar introduced me to Linc, an incredibly friendly stray who showed up one summer, acting like a kitten. By the time winter hit, this playful stray appeared to be dying of a bad kitty disease. I brought him to the vet thinking he'd test positive for AIDS and need to be euthanized. Poor guy had a raging infection, but was free of the really bad, incurable diseases, and he came to my house “temporarily”. Yea, right. So, Linc joined the pack, welcomed by all, was educated as to how the magic works, and learned to pay it forward. That “kitten” was actually 5 years old.
Of course you already know about how Oscar welcomed Gunny, and how Gunny welcomed Hope. Now you also know about those who set the stage, those that came before. Without our past, we would not have our present. In this house it's a cycle...and a very cool one at that.
In the pictures that follow...Hokus and Tim, Millie and Tigger (the tiger-striped), Tim The Barn Dog on duty x2, Tim and Oscar
Posted by fillows4
at 10:33 PM EDT