Tuesday, February 4, 2014


In sitting down to write this I looked to the dictionary for the word heart. There are so many definitions that none of them seemed to quite fit. There were definitions of the muscle, the intuition, the emotion but none of them seemed to fit the heart of the dog that killed the bear.

The story starts ten years ago about march or early April. We had just lost a found dog we named Chrissy. She had been an adult when we found her and was with us about 15 years. A wire haired terrier about twenty to thirty pounds. After being with us for two weeks she would not let any human approach us without making her presence known, not with yips and yaps, but a full on growling and baking and a charge that only stopped when she was next to the son, the wife or myself. She didn’t mind animals as much but people she had no trust in.

As she aged she would have seizures that took less than 5 minutes to recover from, she had slowed a bit but her heart to protect us never did. One day out sightseeing in the Shenandoah Valley, she was laying on the back seat of a car I still own. She stood up on all fours turned to look at the valley in front of her and simply laid down and died. She picked a spot of beauty and let go life without a whimper.

My wife was devastated, she had not been right there, but up the walkway a bit taking pictures. I was hanging out with the sleeping dog smoking cigarettes, I had seen the valley before but to be perfectly honest I had never seen anyone or any animal just stand look and die like that. My wife cleaned her up and held her dead body for a bit while I drove to find a vet. I still say it was the hand of the creator’s spirit driving the car, we were strangers to the area. I made a right turn and ten minutes later we were at a vet.  The only one in twenty five miles. Chrissy had been a good dog, a strong heart, I trusted her, my wife loved her.

The following days were harder on her than me. Animals are after all only livestock, be they cud chewers or have to be fed by a human hand. My wife said many times after losing Chrissy that she could never go through that again. Don’t misunderstand I was not ambivalent about her death, but by then I had seen enough of it, understood the nature of it to not give it my heart when it came calling.

Two weeks later, two young pre teenage girls came down to the campground we were managing for the season with a little dog. They asked me if we had any shampoo, they wanted to wash their dog. I thought we might have some leftover and asked Joann. This dog was seriously hurt but didn’t whimper as I pulled around twenty to twenty five ticks out of her ears. My wife took over after that and I walked up the hill to talk to the girl’s grandma about the dog. She told me she’d just returned from Ohio where they picked the grandkids up for the summer and found the dog laying on her porch.

People in the Blue Ridge part of Virginia are a bit odd about their dogs, won’t chain them or leash them but let them run free knowing the dog is normally smart enough to find its way home at dinner time. On the other hand they are close their dogs and are devastated when something bad happens to them. Grandma didn’t want another dog, she already had two and when asked said “she’s yours.”  Then grandpa piped up for the first time after introductions and said “there’s something wrong with that dogs hind quarters, probably best just to put it down.”  I thanked him for the advice and walked back down the hill, where I found Joann washing the dog and looking for more ticks. Again while she was being handled turned this way and that not a whine or whimper.

This time with the internet we found a vet, about 15 miles away and took the dog in. First the blood draw and then the x-rays. She was a full blood Jack Russell, long hair typical markings of the brown spots around the eyes. The blood came back good, but they thought she may have been out in the woods for a couple of weeks, “probably got hit by a car” because her rear pelvis is shattered on one side and a bone has been pushed up alongside her spine. “Probably best to put her down.”

They had no explanation for the three large claw marks on her leg. My wife wanted a second opinion and a third. All said the same thing. “Probably best to put her down.” Except the third vet said “if we were determined to do right by the dog take her to the school of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.”

This dog looked like Eddie from the Fraser TV show so of course being female she got named Edwina, Winnie for short and I added on Clarice from silence of the lambs because it fit her.
After getting all the opinions we took her to VT. They wanted to do the needed surgery, almost begged for the chance because it would be a difficult one. Dogs have no ball and socket joint in their front legs but they do in their rear. The ball would have to be sawn off the shattered joint and with rehab she would develop a front leg on her rear leg. It’s called a muscular saddle and the strength of the muscles hold it together. The errant bone would have to be pulled back into place and screwed back in. The schools opinion was that the claw marks were a swat from a black bear. That’s what I choose to believe because after paying the bills for three vets and one School of Veterinary Medicine, I’ll go with the explanation of the one place that said they would fix her.

A week later we went and picked her up from VT and they told us she was an odd little Jack Russell. Dogs are dogs, they all have quirks, but this one had not once barked or in any way whimpered while in their care. Matter of fact we didn’t hear bark for almost a year. The wife took care of the rehab, bought a six foot plastic swimming pool and spent a couple of hours every day swimming with Winnie. I pretty much just managed the campground which really was only busy June-August.

Two out of the ordinary events happened that summer, two F-14 training planes crashed in someone’s front yard (no injuries) and a 200 pound black bear walked down out of the woods, through three different neighborhoods in Rocky Mount VA, then up the hill to the hospital and right into the emergency room. The staff there got it locked into a room and a sheriff came and put it down. Fool bear should have gone to Virginia Tech, I figured it was a justice of sorts, and here you’ll have to leave me to my own beliefs, it fucked up Winnie but Winnie got her licks in too, and the bear was probably looking for an antibiotic but got a bullet. The sheriff shot the bear but Winnie made it seek medical treatment. I figured it an even trade. There were plenty of bears in the woods in 2004 but only one lost Jack Russell with heart.

We tried for the rest of the summer to find the dogs owners putting flyers up and word of mouth but no one ever came. Instead of a cage we found a 2nd hand baby pen and kept her in there while she healed. One weekend some kids were playing with a ball and it was the first time Winnie got truly animated. She wanted that ball to play with and chase after. With a chary eye and talking to the kids we let her out of her playpen and she went after that ball as if she had grown up playing soccer. Winnie though was Chrissy’s exact opposite when it came to the world.

She would play or trust any human but an animal especially one ten times her size she would go into full on attack mode but still no sound came from her mouth. When campers with animals came she stayed in her pen but pretty soon the word about those two crazy people from Michigan who’d spent a bunch of money saving a dog too dumb to not know where her dinner bowl was. The people over the summer not only accepted us but they loved that dog. The week we were starting to pack up a regular camper came down and her and her husband said they just wanted to check on the dog, within an hour thirty people were there just wanting to check on the dog. Of course they all brought people food, enough for the dog and thirty two other people.

We brought her back to Michigan with us and her first bark came when a person was walking their 60 pound pit bull past the fence, if she could have she would have tried to take that dog to school. One day my wife and I were walking her and an American Bull Terrier about 80 pounds broke open it’s door and rushed Winnie and had her in its mouth, Winnie didn’t care she did what she had to do get her mouth on the other dogs throat and may not have killed it but that was when the son of a bitch who owned the bigger dog came running out of the house to get their mutt.. Can’t have an AKC registered dog with scars on its throat can we? We made our yard even more dog proof than it was which gave Winnie plenty of room to run, but damn she’d go crazy any time anything bigger than a purse sized dog would come by the property. But people she liked. But I think by then she knew where food bowl was.

That was ten years ago, she even got to not mind the snow, learned to speak enough human to let you know it was food time and when it was toilet time. The past year or so her heart had gotten enlarged but she was still OK for a fourteen to sixteen year old dog. Then she began to get lethargic, had to carry her from one spot to the other, up until last week she would still try to run, but she’d fall over when she stopped. A quick pull on her heart and she’d come to and in a few minutes would be better, not fine but able to stand and walk a few feet, then sit and wait for one of us to pick her up to lay her down in her favorite chair of the moment.

There is ten years’ worth of story I could write into this but those would be pretty much the same tales everyone has for pet they have been owned by for any length of time.

Two days ago Winnie who had gone from eleven pounds when she came to us up to a doctor telling the man of the house 15 pounds was her maximum weight “quit giving her treats ten times a day” What? It was only four or five.  Two days ago she quit eating, quit drinking. No matter what kind of concoction my wife put together even Peanut Butter her favorite stuff, she’d turn her head away and let you know she didn’t want it.

After ten years of a really odd dog that was the Yang to Chrissy’s Yin, we took her to the vet. It wasn’t as pretty a place as the Shenandoah, so while we waited she shit on the floor and barfed. I thought that fair, if she was going to be put down after all those other vets were wrong she was going to make her opinion known and foul the vet’s office, not shit herself as she died. She was a dignified dog, who let other dogs including my 80 pound guard dog who was the boss.  Again I hadn’t quite made my mind up yet, my wife definitely did not want to do it, but I think Winnie knew it was time, there was nothing left for her to chase or bark at or wag that little three inch tail at anymore only waiting.

She took the first needle pretty good, a little jump at the end of the push, I think the vet may have gone too fast, but regardless she was compassionate and waited for Winnie to fall asleep with the muscle relaxer, a few minutes later the second needle went in and 3 minutes later the animal was dead. I will admit I shed tears for the dog but I understood, my wife for the third time in nine months lost two people she truly loved and a dog that she loved equally as strongly. I loved them all as well enough to do what I knew must be done for the three of them.

I wish I could explain how losing 25 years of beloved canine companionship has hurt. But heart, I have found the definition I was looking for while writing this. Heart is bonding and protecting what you love, be it from other people or other animals. Heart is being lost in the mountain forests of southwest Virginia in the Spring and not letting a bear take you, even though it’s hungry. It is similar to the heart athletes talk about but in that case one wins and ones loses but normally both walk away.

The difference is with the heart of a dog it can get the dog  killed, a cop or a punk would have shot Chrissy had she charged him as was her way and a bigger animal would have tried to kill Winnie. Yet both of them maybe didn’t know the risk but they had the heart to take them.

I wish I didn’t have to choose Winnie’s time for her but though colder her last view of the outside was clear and sunny and as quiet as St. Clair Shores gets in the middle of the day. She was held in her mamma’s hands as she went to sleep and again as she died.

When we got home from the vets, I opened the door long enough for the moose to come out, and Joann a few minutes later walked in. I stayed outside and then went in and there was a bird in the house, nothing special, but it was flying around, not out of control flying like fearful. It took about four- five minutes to safely capture it and take it outside and let it go. How did it get in the house and why didn’t Moose tear the house up trying to get it? She’s already killed a rat and a squirrel outside. She is big but she is fast and she is quiet when she’s after something. Where did the bird come from? It wasn’t in the house when we left.

All I cans say is Winnie you’re free to fly now to the Dharma of the soul of life find Chrissy, make friends with her for you bot share opposite sides of the same heart.

Be Well Dogs, you are loved yet.

Momma and the big fucker with the food.




  1. hugs.

    i am in tears here.
    i sat death watch with my cat a year ago, giving her permission to die....it was too late to go to the vet. i watched her last breath as i tried comforting her.

  2. It's tough when the time comes to put an animal down, but sometimes it really is the best thing. If anyone wants to see a great behemoth of a man crying like a baby, all they would have to do is accompany me on one of the sad occasions when I had to make this decision for one of my furry brood.
    After watching one of my uncles die a terrible, lingering death it really got me wondering why having such an option for people is so frowned upon as it is.

  3. One of life's real sorrows. So sorry!

  4. creatures creep into our hearts and souls, whether we want them to or not. their innate nature is just too beautiful for us humans to withstand (unless you have a heart of stone...). my heart bleeds for you.

  5. There's nothing quite like to love of a dog. After, isn't god, dog spelled backwards?

  6. Mark, pets teach us about the sweetest kind of love. Fond memories till u meet again. Love and Hugs. xo

  7. Mark, this post brought tears for me. I have lost so many dogs in my life. And have had as many as 10 at a time. Each one with a personality and a lot of love to give. I find much comfort in animals. I wish that dogs and cats lived longer because my heart aches every time one dies. And a little piece of me gets chipped away too when they go.

  8. the greatest act of love for an animal is to say goodbye at the right time. I'm sorry, Mark


So Walking Man I was thinking...