Before I left on my hundred-mile journey to pick up Mister, my latest foster dog, I was asked by the rescue organization if I would mind transporting a dog on my way. Terry was a 15-year-old dog who was being surrendered by a couple in Oakland. They had two dogs, and they had just bought a condo in Chicago where they would only be allowed to keep one pet. So they decided to keep the younger one.
And discard the older one, their friend of 15 years, like a used-up toy, I thought. When I called them to get directions and set up a time for the pick-up, I knew I wasn’t trying very hard to keep the edge of contempt out of my voice. I didn’t give a shit if they picked up on it.
Their neighborhood was an older terraced tract on steep hillsides. All of the houses had a flight of stairs serving as a porch, with small yards sloping either uphill or downhill, like mountain houses. Instead of stairs, this couple’s house had a bridge between the front door and the street. It was a wheelchair ramp.
They greeted me in a tight little front room. Terry slept soundly on the floor and didn’t flick a hair when I rang the doorbell. Is he deaf, I asked. No, they said, just a sound sleeper. The old man nudged Terry and Terry rose to meet me with slow enthusiasm. The dog had a limp, the old man explained, because he’d accidentally run over Terry’s paw the day before with his motorized cart.
The only furniture in the room was a hospital bed. Next to it was a hospital nightstand with all the things a sick person likes to have handy. But the old man had greeted me from his wheelchair. He was about two sizes too big for it, and it was a few moments before I realized that one of his pant legs was empty.
His wife came in shortly. She was nearly blind, and I realized after just a few minutes of talking to her that most of her memory and mental capacity had left her. But between the two of them, they told me Terry’s life story, and why they had to give him up.
The “condo” in Chicago was actually an assisted-living center, one that had amenities they needed to make their lives physically easier. They introduced me to Anna, the other dog that, unlike Terry, would be going with them. Anna was a lot smaller than Terry, easier to lift and handle than the old boy who was starting to need a lot of lifting and other care.
They gave me six full grocery bags of Terry’s “belongings.” Terry had been one pampered fella during his years with them. He owned bags and bags of expensive and whimsical dog toys, grooming equipment, hair products, and kosher dog food. They had treated and loved him well.
Up to the point I rang their doorbell, I had been grieving for this dog, Terry, imagining what he would be feeling when he was taken away from his family of 15 years. But when I left them for five minutes so that they could say their goodbyes to Terry in private, my tears were mostly for the couple. It seemed like a tragedy all the way around.
But perhaps not so much for Terry.
When I arrived at the house of the foster-dog rendezvous, it was buzzing with a dozen people who were there to deliver dogs or take dogs home. When Terry walked in, all activity stopped and everyone, people and dogs, turned their attention on him. He loved it. After spending two hours in Terry’s company, I was a little in love with him and about ready to adopt him myself, but I was introduced to Elizabeth and Martin, the couple who were taking Terry in. They were introduced to me as the organization’s “special angels.” They exclusively fostered hospice dogs, the ones who were either too sick or too old to place permanently in new homes. Elizabeth and Martin give their home to one hospice dog at a time, shower them with love for the remainder of their days, and make every one of those days filled with comfort. Terry took to them immediately. Terry had to be lifted into my car when I left his house, but when Elizabeth and Martin were ready to go home with him, Terry sprang into the backseat of their SUV with a rediscovered agility. He looked truly happy and miraculously younger when I kissed his head farewell.
A friend tells me all the time that animal abuse is not nearly so prevalent as we’re lead to believe by the media. For every abuser we hear about, we don’t hear about the millions of ordinary people who go out of their way to make existence easier and kinder for animals. Those people are the norm. I know that she is right. And now I have the examples of Elizabeth and Martin as proof.
As for myself, I have always tried to refrain from withholding judgment until I know the full story behind an event or action, because I keep learning over and over again that things are always more than what they seem to be on the surface. My experience with Terry’s owners was the same humbling lesson all over again. Maybe someday, I’ll actually get it.
This blog is dedicated to Arthur for his efforts with Ruby.