As irreplaceable as dogs are — and Charlie Powell considered his childhood dog, Poochie, just that — the best thing to do when you lose one is to fairly quickly get another.
Powell, senior public-information officer for Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman, learned that lesson the hard way, letting 30 dogless years elapse after Poochie died.
In a haunting, inspiring and pretty darned wise essay in last week’s Seattle Times, Powell told the story of Poochie, the Boston terrier who was his first dog.
“My mother often said she thought I would pet his head bald with my right hand while sucking a bottle held in my left. She also said Poochie had no problem with that.”
After accompanying Powell through much of his childhood, the day came that Poochie, achy and elderly, had to be put down. Powell recalls the trip to the vet, and going with his father to bury Poochie near Lake Mead in Nevada.
Traumatic as that might have been for a 10-year-old, it got worse. When he and his father, on a fishing trip, later returned to the site where they’d laid Poochie to rest, they found the grave desecrated.
“There was trash around his grave where people had partied. There was a blackened fire ring where we buried him with the burned hinges and the hasp laying there. When I looked up, I saw his partially charred body hung by the neck from a limb with the wire we used to close the box…”
The impact of that, somewhat understandably, would last 30 years.
“For me, the memory of what happened was more like a featureless wall that one is unable to scale. I think I coped with this mainly by becoming ambivalent to dogs — all dogs.”
His family got other dogs, he writes, “but I was never close to any of them. I just never wanted to be that close to a dog again.” Even while working at Washington State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and for the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association, he had no desire — at least not that he was aware of – to have a dog of his own.
Then one day his wife went to a dog show, and — though he’d never mentioned Poochie to her — fell in love with Boston terriers, to the point she ordered one from a breeder, and asked her husband to pick up the dog, a brindle-colored male named ”Buster.”
“My mind raced. I fretted all week. How could I get another dog? What if his fate turned out to be worse than Poochie’s? Did my wife expect me to “replace” Poochie? Of course that was unfair to her; she knew nothing of Poochie. So I decided I needed to keep the wall up for the time being.”
We all know how good dogs are at knocking such walls down, and that’s what Buster did.
“Buster blossomed into a well-mannered young man that wormed his velvety head into my heart.
“Part of what I had avoided since Poochie died was eye contact with other dogs. But just try and avoid eye contact with a Boston terrier in your house, those two orbs that stick out on the corners of a cube-shaped head. It’s impossible.”
Powell would go on to feature Buster regularly in vet school publications, and he once brought him along to a Washington State Veterinary Medical Association meeting, where “he sat in the conference room next to me wearing his WSU bow tie as if he were deliberating.”
As Powell notes Buster wasn’t Poochie — and it would be wrong to have expected him to be. When one dog dies, and you get another, the new one isn’t a replacement, and isn’t just a painkiller. He or she is unique — another chance to enjoy the magic of the species, another chance, for a dog lover, for love.
“Between Poochie and Buster was a long time to stay silent and deny myself the joy of another dog,” Powell wrote. “With Buster’s passing, I realized that I had shortchanged myself for a long time for no good reason. The very thing I thought I was protecting myself from — life with another dog — turned out to be the best thing for me.”
(Editor’s note: After the death of Buster, Powell adopted another Boston terrier, this one a blind and deaf 13-year-old rescue. Her name is CeCe.)
(Photos: Poochie and Powell in 1961, courtesy of Charlie Powell; Buster in a vet school post card, by Henry Moore Jr. / BCU/WSU)
Posted by jwoestendiek November 12th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, boston terriers, buster, charlie powell, coping, death, dog, dogless, doglessness, dogs, grief, mourning, new dog, pets, poochie, replacement, school, veterinary, void, walls, washington state university
On the first morning of our camping trip, your intrepid trio — foursome counting Ace — decided to take an impromptu hike, just a slow and casual one, following the Davidson River upstream for a ways to see where it took us.
Our first stop was at a fishing/swimming hole, where a few campers were trying their luck, including a woman who had just learned to fly fish. She hadn’t had much luck that morning, but before that she’d caught some, and she whipped out her cellphone to prove it, clicking her way to the correct photo, then holding it up for us to see, as one might hold up a just-caught fish.
In it, she said, there appeared the ghostly image of a little girl that wasn’t there when the photo was taken.
Not having my glasses, I really couldn’t distinguish anything. But as my two friends seemed amazed, I pretended I was, too, nodding my head and saying ”wow.”
We walked on a bit, Ace being more than up to the task. This is his favorite part of camping — blazing a new, to him, trail.
At one point he clambered up a three-foot tall tree stump. At another he darted in and out of the water, then jumped atop a four foot wall. He showed absolutely no sign of his back bothering him. Despite his fear of the campfire, and the noises it produced, the night before, he was, after two long months, starting to act like himself again. Perhaps the camping trip — as camping trips can do — was curing what the drugs couldn’t.
He ran. He played. The stiffness that seemed to have been bothering him was gone. And when he shook, it was all out, with gusto — not that fearful tentative headshake he has been doing of late.
When we came to a fork in the trail, we let Ace pick the direction, and he chose left — up a mountain, instead of following alongside the river. Not a rigorous climb, by any stretch, but I still felt it necessary to inform my two doctor friends that I had imaginary peripheral artery disease (IPAD).
Understand that once a disorder/disease/infirmity gets advertised on TV, I become convinced I have it — not enough to talk to my doctor about whatever drug the ad is for, not enough to submit to the numerous side effects the drug ads list, but enough to fret. That’s why I also have imaginary mesothelioma, though, according to advertisements, you want to talk to your lawyer about that, as opposed to your doctor. The cure for that, apparently, is a lawsuit.
(Disclaimer: These diseases are no laughing matter, even though the advertisements, in which drug companies and law firms feign great concern for your well-being, are.)
“Yes,” I explained to Dr. John, “that peripheral artery thing, I’m pretty sure I have it. My legs get tired when I walk uphill.”
This low grade climb didn’t seem to bother me, though. Perhaps Ace’s return to normal was putting a little more spring in my step. I’m convinced our dogs reflect us, and us them — both when it comes to personality and how we’re behaving at a moment in time. What’s harder to figure out, often, is who is doing the projecting and who is doing the reflecting. Am I, for instance, behaving lethargically/bufoonishly/fearfully because Ace is, or vice versa?
Am I low key because he’s low key, or is he low key because I’m low key, and are we both feeding off each other’s low keyedness and becoming more low keyed yet, and, if so, how low can we go before we’re both asleep?
We were both wide awake on this walk — me due to five or so cups of hearty campground coffee, Ace, I think, because of the newness and the nature. When we came to a weathered wooden sign that said “old cemetery,” we followed where it pointed.
After a couple of switchbacks we came to a hill from which a dozen or so gravestones protruded from the ferns. If the stones had names on them, few of them were legible anymore — except for the one pictured at the top of this post.
Buried beneath it was Avo Sentell, who had just turned five when she died — the same day in 1916 as her mother, Susan, who is buried next to her.
We paused, and grew more sober. Amid towering trees – some thriving, some rotting, some dead — we speculated on what it could have been that killed both mother and daughter on the same day.
I told myself I should stop joking about deadly diseases — even though that is how I cope with my own immortality. Call it a survival skill.
Back home after my camping trip with college buddies, I Googled Avo Sentell — Googling being a generally safe activity, whose only side effects are eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome and terminal frustration over all the garbage, pop-up and otherwise, that litters the Internet.
Through one of those grave-finding websites, I learned that Avo and her mother were killed in a landslide in Pisgah National Forest during the Great Flood of 1916.
Both were buried at the site of their deaths. I found a group photo that contained Avo — she’s the third from the left in the second row in this picture of the entire student body of English Chapel School. Seeing how tiny she was wrenched my heart a little more.
That mystery resolved, another remained.
It was not whether Avo was the image in the fisherwoman’s photo. We’re not, much, prone to believing in the supernatural, and I doubt Avo’s ghost is haunting the mossy, fern-studded hills — even though we were in Transylvania County.
What I was left wondering about was the tiny pink mitten that was draped over her tombstone. On the mitten are the words “Always Trouble.”
I doubt it was left there as a commentary on her – for the mitten was too modern, and who is left to remember a girl who died 95 years ago? Besides, Avo appears to have been too small to have caused a significant amount of trouble in her life, much less “always.”
Maybe it was dropped by a hiker. Maybe someone else picked it and placed it there so someone might find it. Maybe it was left there as a gift, or commentary on life, by a stranger, or a descendant of the Sentell family.
A bouquet of yellow plastic flowers was at the base of the stone, which was clearly an upgrade — it’s too clean and clear and modern to have been the one that was originally there.
To me, it was also a reminder. Life is fleeting, and sometimes unfair, and there is always — somewhere — trouble. We work. We laugh. We play. We cope. We die.
Sometimes, before the journey’s over, we tackle those troubles. Sometimes we ignore them. Sometimes we joke about them. Sometimes we’re too rushed to pay them any mind at all. Sometimes we let them weigh us down to an unhealthy degree.
At times like those, friends come in handy.
At times like those, a walk in the woods — with your dog — is good.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 27th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 1916, ace, america, avo sentell, campground, camping, coping, cures, davidson river, death, disease, doctors, dog's country, dogscountry, drugs, fears, flood, ghosts, grave, hike, hiking, illness, imagination, lawyers, life, mountains, nature, north carolina, pisgah national forest, road trip, symptoms, travels with ace, woods
Yesterday we brought you slow-motion dogs. Today we’ll take a look at no-motion dogs — those whose owners like to keep them around, even after death.
As the first episode of “The Marriage Ref” showed, the practice is seen by some, perhaps most, as horrific, while still others consider it a fitting tribute to their pet.
The new show, a Jerry Seinfeld creation that premiered this week, included a segment on a marital spat over a husband’s decision — over his wife’s objections — to “stuff” his deceased Boston Terrier, Fonzie.
The show’s resident fact checker reported that only about 1,000 people a year have their pets “stuffed,” and its panel of “experts,” which included Seinfeld, Kelly Ripa and Alec Baldwin, all sided with the wife in the dispute, concluding that the practice was bizarre and Fonzie shouldn’t be displayed, shrine-like, in the couple’s home.
With that, the husband agreed to move Fonzie to the attic, which is where a lot of “stuffed” animals end up.
The show didn’t get into the specifics of how Fonzie was preserved after death, instead just using the misnomer “stuffed.” But apparently he was freeze-dried, an increasingly common technique being used by taxidermists and others — and at a rate that I think probably exceeds that reported by the “fact-checker,” NBC News reporter Natalie Morales.
I did some research into the practice in connection with my forthcoming book about dog cloning, looking back at the days when “stuffed” animals really were stuffed, the more modern form of “mounting” or stretching their pelts over a plastic form, and the more modern yet version, freeze-drying.
As part of my research, I interviewed Chris Calagan in West Virginia, owner of Perpetual Pet, which has been freeze drying pets since 2002, when he and his wife started with their own cat, Naomi.
Posing the pet and removing the moisture in his freeze drying machine is a process that can take months, depending on the pet’s size, Calagan explained to me.
“We don’t put a hole in it. It’s just through osmosis, very gradual, like drying an orange,” he said. “The moisture comes out through the peeling.”
Freeze drying is the latest variation of a practice that goes back to Victorian times, and one to which many have turned over the years.
Stubby, a pit bull who was the most decorated dog of World War I, was stuffed after his death and displayed at the Smithsonian.
When cowboy star Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger, died in 1965 at age 33, the Rogers family had him mounted, his skin stretched over a plastic mold, posed proudly in the position of a horse at its liveliest – reared up on its hind legs. Trigger became the main draw at the Roy Rogers/Dale Evans Museum. The Rogers also had Dale Evans’ horse, Buttermilk, and their German shepherd, Bullet, mounted to become museum pieces. Rogers, before his death in 1998, joked about having his own body “stuffed” and placed atop his rearing horse, but he never actually pursued that.
More recently, the mounted pet returned to popular culture in the television show “Scrubs,” in which a lifeless dog named Rowdy had a recurring role.
To some, it’s far to creepy a thing to ever consider. Others pursue it precisely because it is so quirky. But the majority of pet owners do it because of a sincere wish to keep a beloved dog around — in a state they can view and touch.
As with cloning, those who have done it might face a certain amount of ridicule, but, more often than not, they don’t care what anybody else thinks. In fact, they’d probably have two words for those who judge them: Stuff it.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 5th, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: alec baldwin, animals, coping, dogs, fonzie, grieving, jerry seinfeld, kelly ripa, mounting, mounts, mourning, perception, perpetual pet, pet death, pets, popular culture, public, reality, rowdy, roy rogers, scrubs, stubby, stuffed, stuffing, taxidermy, television, the marriage ref, trigger, tv
Faith, the two-legged dog, continues to spread inspiration — most recently last weekend when she visited McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis in Washington state.
Faith met thousands of soldiers — some headed to war, some coming back.
“She just walks around barking and laughing and excited to see them all,” Faith’s owner, Jude Stringfellow, told the Associated Press.
“There is a lot of crying, pointing and surprise. From those who have lost friends or limbs, there can be silence. Some will shake my hand and thank me, some will pat her on the head. There is a lot of quiet, heartfelt, really deep emotion.”
Faith, a Lab-chow mix, was born to a junkyard dog around Christmas of 2002. Her mother rejected her and she was rescued by Jude Stringfellow’s son, Rueben, now in the Army. The mother and son taught the dog to walk on her rear legs — using peanut butter and a lot of practice.
Since then Faith has done the talk show circuit, and Stringfellow has become a motivational speaker. She has written two books about Faith and is working on a third, “Faith Walks.”
They get more than 200 letters and e-mails a day, run a website and make dozens of appearances every year, including stops at veterans’ hospitals across the country to cheer injured soldiers.
Rueben Stringfellow left Iraq in September and is stationed in Alaska. He is scheduled to get out of the Army and head home on Jan. 1.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 17th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: air force, army, base, chow, coping, disabilities, dog, faith, fort lewis, hope, inspiration, jude stringfellow, lab, legs, limbs, lost, mcchord, motivation, on two legs, rear legs, rueben, soldiers, two legs, two-legged, video, walks, washington