Goodbye, little Hardy Boy

Hardy BoyI’ve been hesitating whether or not to add a post here about the passing of sweet little Hardy, the last of the Yorkshire Terrier residents of my home here in Winter Haven.

My experience with writing posts and Facebook notes about losing family members lately – including the little furry ones – has definitely been a positive and cathartic one, but also tends to rekindle those feelings of loss each time I re-read them. However, remembering the people and creatures who gave this place life by setting that experience in writing has proven to be personally satisfying for me and pays proper homage to them in the best way I can; Hardy deserves that as well.

I like to think that Hardy was always destined to enjoy life at the Lizard Lounge. Out of the blue around Thanksgiving in 2004 the woman who groomed Rosie called indicating that another customer of hers had found a Yorkie in her yard with no identification. When I saw him he was pitifully thin and his fur was long and matted like dreadlocks; it broke my heart to think of what he must have gone through to get to that point. She wasn’t able to keep him so, of course, he was immediately welcomed as one of my own.

It didn’t take long for him to become a fully functioning part of the family. Although I think Rosie had probably been looking forward to the day when she would be an only child, she accepted him as well; soon she had him marching to the beat of her quirky little regiment just like the rest of us.

Tongue outHardy wasn’t as complicated an animal as Rosie was; he was always happy to go with the flow and just be where people or other animals were. He was chubby and funny and dedicated and always smiled at the staff at the veterinary practice where he went to get an allergy shot every month. (At least as near as a dog can smile, I guess; that’s what the women behind the counter called it and they loved to see him.) He was a great snuggler and bed buddy, and always slept with the tip of his tongue sticking out.

After some changes to the household situation here at the Lizard Lounge last fall, however (including the death of Rosie, his daytime companion), Hardy ended up spending a great portion of the day here alone. Maybe he didn’t mind; I definitely loved and cared for him and he always gave me a hero’s welcome each evening when I would finally get home. But I also knew he loved being with people and would probably thrive with more companionship and stimulation than I was able to give him.

Last December, the perfect opportunity presented itself for a new home for Hardy, one with young children and an owner who had several days off in a row to be home with him. I continued to get reports that the children loved him (of course) and he loved riding around in the car with his new owner (an avid dog lover herself who was also crazy about him), so I know the decision to give him up was the right one.

Sadly, his new family contacted me recently with the news that he died fairly suddenly, as near as the vet could tell, from pancreatitis. (Hardy had a few health issues in the past, so it wasn’t a total shock to get that news.)

Funny kidEven though Hardy’s new home wasn’t a temporary situation and there was no plan for him to return, I still cared about him and loved him and could easily check on him. So it just kind of felt like he was away at boarding school with other kids to play with and cars to ride around in. Now that he’s gone, though, I can’t seem to rid myself of this disquieting feeling that I’m just a little more alone than I was before and that the Lizard Lounge feels a little emptier, even though he’s been gone for four months.

I’m comforted by the fact that he was as loved in his new home as he had been in mine, and that his death was as hard on his new family as it was on me. The thing that I think gnaws at me the most, though, is that his being gone represents so much more than just the death of a pet.

Hardy was the last surviving member of my little family here at the Lizard Lounge (some of the details of which I’ve chosen not to recount here on this blog), and the significance of that is definitely not lost on me. Some people collect new “family members” easily and readily welcome them into their life; it’s much more difficult for me. Although I’ve been blessed over the past few years with deep and satisfying relationships, including the love and companionship of some sweet animals, watching several key ones dissolve around me lately has made me more pensive about life. So I guess this post is as much about losing my “family” as it about losing Hardy. He just represents the finality of that loss.

I suppose I could look at the positive side of true bachelorhood. I can stop on the way home from work for dinner and can finally go to church choir practice without worrying that I’m leaving him home alone for yet another couple of hours. I don’t have to set timers for all the lights in the house so he won’t be home in the dark until I get there. I also don’t have to mop up paw prints from my hardwood floors every couple of days or crawl around gathering up bits of mulch that rode in from the outside in his fur, leaving a trail from the door to the treat jar.

On the other hand, I spent a lot less money eating out when he was here and learned to make my own joyful noise as he and I ran, laughing (me) and barking (him), through the house. I’ve come to the realization that I don’t like coming home to a dark house and am gradually hauling the timers back out one-by-one, and that mopping and sweeping are actually pretty good exercise.

I’ve also discovered that I would give anything to hear the clicking of his toenails again as he runs through the house, or laugh while fending off his insistent licks when he finally gets me face-to-face in the floor when I do pushups. Even such a seemingly insignificant contribution as that by a little dog would be a welcome reminder that a loving, vibrant family once lived here. So, while having all this extra room in the house is kind of satisfying, all the extra room in my heart and life right now isn’t.

I miss him for reasons I’m just beginning to understand. Goodbye, little Hardy Boy.

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Missing Rosie

RosieI’ve always tried to keep the reality of my pets in the proper perspective. As much as I love them and integrate them into my life, I do realize they aren’t people; but with Rosie, it was sometimes easy to forget that she was just a Yorkshire Terrier. For thirteen years she inhabited my life and loved me unconditionally and unabashedly. She was as real a member of my family as I will likely ever have. And now that she’s gone, I’m not quite sure what to do without her.

Rosie had a sweet — but indomitable — spirit and exhibited a level of awareness that could rarely be ascribed to a dog. Although she only weighed nine pounds and could easily hide behind a pillow, she was afraid of nothing and no one and rarely took “no” for an answer. If there is blame to be assigned for any of that it lies with me; but it was hard not to indulge such a bright-eyed, curious, persistent little creature. It’s probably good she couldn’t talk, because I’m sure she would have driven me crazy with her constant chattering; or made me laugh even harder.

She kept the house regulated with her clockwork schedule. When it came time to get up in the morning and go out, she would stand on someone’s chest until the covers were thrown back and the front door opened. Her internal clock dictated the periodic play and bathroom breaks that were to take place throughout the day and the practically-to-the-minute bedtime at night, where she would stand just at the head of the hallway to the bedroom and stare until someone acknowledged her presence and asked her if she was ready to go to bed. Going to sleep wasn’t necessarily what she had in mind, but it was time to move all activity to the bed where stuffed toys could be enlisted in late-night re-enactments of canine campaigns of plush warfare.

And there was no ignoring her. If she didn’t get the proper response from me in what she deemed was the appropriate amount of time, she would lie just a few feet away on the floor or sofa in a perfect replica of the sphinx in Eqypt, paws in front and staring unwaveringly until I gave in and asked her what she wanted. Thus was the phrase “I’m getting sphinxed” coined.

She also knew hundreds of words. She knew the difference between “front door” and “back door” and “biskie” and “chew stick”. She also knew the names of all her stuffed animals, and would respond to “Where’s Ollie?” by dragging the big white bear by that name (bigger than she was) to my lap, backing away a few inches and waiting for me to bring him to life threateningly (with growling sound effects) so that she could pummel him into submission.

Sweetest of all, though, were her kisses. Licks on the nose let me know that she had missed me while I was gone, or that maybe I didn’t understand that she needed a treat right then and now, or that she was worried that the car ride we were taking just might end up at the vet’s. Her kisses could be intense, sometimes feeling as though she was trying to lick all the way up into my brain, but they were always passionate and always let me know how much she loved me and treasured our life together.

Unfortunately, Rosie — or the Rosie I had known since she was six weeks old — left me in July. As near as the vet could tell, she had something akin to a stroke and, overnight, everything about her — her personality, her spirit, even the ability to recognize me — was gone. There was no opportunity to gradually come to terms with the fact that her time as part of my life was soon going to be over or to say goodbye, getting one last wet kiss on the nose from her.

Suddenly, she was no longer Rosie, at least mentally — she was just an animal who couldn’t control her bathroom habits or feed herself. Although it was the hardest decision I think I’ve ever made in my life, I had no other choice but to let her go. If she had been able to come back for even a minute and tell me so, she would have agreed that it was the right thing to do.

I buried her with Ollie, her bear. When I put her in the box with him, her limp front paw fell across his fluffy white chest as though she was hugging him tightly, in need of a familiar companion for this next leg of her journey since I couldn’t go with her. And then there she was — my sweet, funny, curious baby, lying as if she were asleep in the arms of the toy she had slept with a thousand times before. Only this time, she wasn’t going to wake up. I broke down and sobbed for the rest of the day — and have for many days since.

It’s been a struggle trying to adapt to the lack of her particular brand of order in the house since she’s been gone. There’s no one to dictate the progression of the day, determinedly moving the whole household forward to the next item on the terrier agenda. I find myself waking up later than usual and sitting out on the porch less, since Rosie’s not out in the yard playing.

I used to make up silly stories about her and this fake life she had: going to dance classes and emailing other dogs and watching the pay channels on TV when I wasn’t home. All those stories had happy endings, though. She made the everyday trappings of my life better, and I’m so blessed to have been the recipient of the gift she gave me, but still — I’m a little lost without her.

And probably will be for some time…

Rosie - peeking

To infinity and beyond!

To Infinity and BeyondPoor Hardy. He’s allergic to everything found in abundance in Central Florida: fleas, everything botanical, probably even concrete blocks (which would be unfortunate, considering the Lizard Lounge is constructed primarily from those). Even though he gets a monthly allergy shot (I know he’s just a dog, but he’s worth it), he’s still been scratching and chewing on his butt lately (lucky him). As we wait for his appointment with Dr. Vargas, his vet, we’ve taken to putting an Elizabethan collar on him to keep him from inflicting further injury on his fuzzy hiney.

If you’re not familiar, an Elizabethan collar is (typically) a plastic, funnel-shaped piece that velcros loosely around an animal’s neck and extends far enough out to keep it from being able to chew on itself. Hardy became the proud owner of a clear plastic one right after he had his anal glands removed (ouch). As you can imagine, he hates it.

He thrills in the numerous scents and odors found around the Lounge (particularly his own), but with the collar on he can’t quite get his nose to the ground to pick up the scent. When he tries, he ends up getting the edge caught on a crack in the driveway or a clump of grass and ends up choking himself as the collar pokes him in the neck.

As you can see, it looks like some sort of canine space helmet. Which, I guess, would make it a space “hel-mutt”…