OUR BESTEST FRIENDS WE LOST THIS SUMMER

LILY BELL, HER FINAL ESCAPE

By Helen Nichols Murphy Battleson

Lily came into our lives in November 2002 when she flew across the highway in front of our friend’s truck as we pulled out of our driveway at “Hewick Plantation” in Urbanna, Middlesex County, Virginia. We checked her tags and called the owner to tell them that we had their little Jack Russell dog. When he came to retrieve her, he told us that his wife was expecting and that they also had a black lab and with Lily running off so often they were looking for a new home for her. I immediately told them that my daughter Regina would love to have her! They gave her to us along with her kennel, her blankets, her toys, her toothbrush and toothpaste, everything that belonged to her, LOL!

Since we had a sixty-six acre plantation outside of town, and Lily was supposed to be an indoor dog, she had a way of escaping and heading for town. It was only 1.08 miles away to the Urbanna Market where she would be running around the store parking lot, and eventually I would get a call from someone asking if I was missing a little white dog with a brown face.

Lily had a wonderful life at “Hewick” with our family amid our black lab, Sammy, his daughter Trixie, our cat Sumatran, our geese, chickens, goats, and horses. When the time came after the girls had left for colleges in Virginia and Hawaii, I hired a transport service to take the horses, dogs, and cat out to California while I flew back home. I decided to live near my mom, Mallie Nichols, in the little town of Penryn near Sacramento.

All of the animals adjusted well to the new house. However right after we moved in, I discovered “Lily” missing. I looked everywhere for her. She was nowhere to be found! After a couple of hours, I received a call from a lady who asked if I owned a little white dog? I said, “Yes”, and she said, “Well, I have her now. We picked her up on Highway 80.” We lived in Penryn off Highway 80 and Lily was now in Ophir. She was now 3.62 miles from home, and I immediately hopped in the car to go pick her up! She would go anywhere with anyone.

We moved back to Coronado in April 2008 to the Coronado Cays, but it was not long until my “escape artist” was on the run again, but luckily by then she had two micro-chips in her, tags and a city license; so she was always returned home to me after a few phone calls.

After I moved back up to Coronado into the Coronado Bay Club, Lily only escaped one time, and alas she ended up in the “Doggie Jail” in the Paws Facility on 2nd Street on July 7th, 2011. By the time I got there to see if they had her, they were in the midst of washing a very muddy and dirty little white doggie!

Lily was a little Jack Russell who had a very interesting life! She went to live temporarily with my oldest daughter in early 2010 and somehow managed to again escape. When I learned she was on the loose somewhere in Salt Lake City, I called the Petsmart in Roseville, California where she had her two different micro-chips inserted. When I had them try and trace the numbers and my ownership they found her under another person’s name and address!

The Banfield Hospital vice president called me personally to ask my name, where I lived, and where did I think Lily was at??? I told her as far as I knew, Utah. She told me that Lily had been found, thought to have been abandoned, and her micro-chip had been updated by the new owner with their name and address. I told her that Lily was mine, and I wanted her back as soon as possible. She put me in touch with the lady who had her and after contacting her, I made arrangements for my daughter Rachel with her two little boys, Grant and Colt, to drive with me to Salt Lake City to pick her up! When we drove up to the house and Lily saw us, she almost jumped over the six- foot fence. I think the time she was lost and abandoned in Utah, took its toll on her!

In January 2012, I took her to her vet here in Coronado where they found she had a tumor under her right shoulder. She was put on an antibiotic and a special diet, but the cancer was spreading; and although she kept her spirit right to the end, she finally reached a point on March 30th, where she was in pain and she was suffering and having difficulty walking. We were told by the doctor to let her go when she was suffering and in too much pain. I truly believe and can cope with her death because I believe that their souls and spirits live on and that I will be reunited one day with her.

 

 

 

 

 

Lily Bell with her best friend Franky

It is the nature of dogs to live much shorter lives than ours—just eight years on average. So in a way we were lucky to have had her loyalty, love, and devotion for ten years. Lily had turned ten years old on March 21st! 

 

REMEMBERING ROSCOE

Thursday, August 2, 2012  posted at 8:33 p.m. by Suzi

Roscoe passed away this evening at 6:00. Dani, Hans, and I were with him. He went quickly and peacefully. He really was ready to let go.

**********

I’m sobbing. I will so miss the Roscoe & his spirit & what he meant to you & your family & all those kids he gave of his benevolence to them. Roscoe was such a special soul & you & your family were to him. Give your boys & yourself huge Lilly Belle hugs & cocker hugs from all of us. Love, the Kimmie & Family xoxo  We miss him so.

***********

His is the next story I will write.

Kimmie, his body was so ravaged. The night before, he stood on my bed and
looked into my eyes, and I swear he was telling me he was done. I knew
then and there that the next day would be his last, and that it would be a
vet-assisted suicide and that he would be relieved. It didn’t make it any
easier at the moment of his passing, but it makes it easier now.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The hardest part was calling my boys and telling them.

Hans rushed to the vets’ from work to hold his dog’s paws as he was put to sleep. Thack was walking down Market Street in San Francisco to meet up with his old Sonoma pal and fellow city transplant, Patrick Sean Gibson, when I called him. He asked me to hold my cell phone up to Roscoe’s ear; and even though he knew Roscoe was stone deaf, he spoke loving words to him as the doctor injected him with the fatal dose of anesthetic. Later, he and Patrick went to an Irish pub where everyone in the establishment drank a Guinness for our dog. Later that night, Hans and his best friend Becca hiked up to the cross on the hill behind town and drank a bottle of 20-year-old champagne and told stories about Roscoe. Becca’s first dog was a blond cocker, so she understood.

For now, the dog bowls, shampoo, ear rinse, cans of food, leash, beds, and
rain gear are stowed away. The food expires in a year. That should be plenty of time.

Love, Suzi

NO SMALL MEASURE

By Suzi Lewis Pignataro

Yesterday, I gave an eleven-year-old client four tablespoons of my dog’s ashes. Handing him a cylindrical wooden urn, I reassured him that it might have seemed like too small a bit of the cocker spaniel who had become his best friend, but that it was the most important part. “It’s his heart, Charlie, and you, of all people, deserve to have it.” That quarter cup of dust and bone was no small measure of the love my dog felt for this child.

Roscoe had already proved himself a valuable asset to my work with abused children when, back in May of 2011, Charlie walked into my reception area resembling more a mummy than the energetic ten-year-old who loved monster trucks, motorcycles, and racecars. My first thought was that he’d taken a tumble on his electric scooter. But the pain in his sky blue eyes told another story. His mom Jenny stood behind him, her hands positioned on his shoulders as if ready to catch his head should it begin to roll off his neck. Clearly, her son had been seriously injured.

Without a word, I steered them into my playroom and sat them on the couch.

“Okay, what happened,” I demanded.

From behind the layers of gauze and adhesive tape wrapped around his skull and face, Charlie cleared his throat. “I was mauled by my great-grandmother’s dog.”

“Ogden?” I shouted in disbelief.

“Yes,” replied Charlie, his voice shaky, “and they killed him for it.” He folded his slim body into Jenny’s lap, and they both wept.

The attack came on Mother’s Day when Charlie accompanied Jenny and her mother to the family matriarch’s homestead in the Mendocino hills. Five years before, Charlie’s great-grandmother had found a Rottweiler puppy abandoned on a country road. For Charlie and Ogden, it was love at first sight. They had been steadfast pals ever since, always eager to romp around on the great-grandmother’s property. This day was no different, and after hours of playing fetch, charging through creek beds, and wrestling on the front porch, it was time for Charlie and Jenny to head back home. As Charlie hugged the massive dog one last time, something wholly unexpected happened. Ogden grabbed Charlie’s head with his jaws, sinking his teeth into cartilage and flesh. Stunned, Charlie made no sound. When Ogden momentarily loosened his grip, Charlie pulled away and ran screaming for help. But Ogden chased him down, fell on him and tore at the other side of his face. It took the three women, kicking and hollering, to get the dog off the mangled boy.

A Ukiah plastic surgeon left his wife’s Mother’s Day dinner to put Charlie’s face and right ear back together as best he could. Meanwhile, Animal Control had been called, and Ogden was now under observation at the pound. A week later, he was euthanized and his body destroyed.

Charlie sobbed, “I killed him. I killed him.”

During the next month, Charlie worked hard to accept that he had done nothing wrong; that his beloved Ogden had made a tragic mistake for which both had paid dearly. When the bandages came off, it was hard not to break down in front of the child who had once had the face of an angel. “The scars are purple and deep, but the doctor says they’ll fade over time,” Charlie reported with characteristic optimism.

With no body – not even ashes – to grieve over or bury, we settled for a letter to Ogden. Charlie poured his heart out, his tears leaving black smudges on the paper as he sat hunched over my playroom table. That Sunday, Jenny drove him up to his great-grandmother’s where he and his family held a memorial service. Charlie burned the letter over a grave filled with the Rottweiler’s favorite toys, bedding and food bowl, letting his words fly up to doggie heaven: a smoke signal of love and absolution.

The following Thursday, Charlie was attacked again – this time by his grandfather’s terrier. The physical injuries were minor, but the emotional ones were catastrophic.

Charlie refused to leave the house except to see me. Neighborhood kids ran through sprinklers, Charlie’s brother and sister laughed as they played in the backyard. At first they would call for him, but after a while they gave up. Charlie had nightmares, bloody scenes of his face being eaten off by a pack of wolves, or of Ogden’s body, riddled with police bullets, being thrown into a garbage heap, and set on fire. He slept with his mom, wet the bed, and couldn’t hold down a meal. His play in therapy was chaotic and violent and spoke to his fear of this unpredictable world where even the most loyal dogs – the very two who had grown up with him and had always made him feel safe – could turn on him, scarring him inside and out.

The new school year was just weeks away, and Charlie was no closer to being cured of his PTSD. Jenny and I were afraid that he would refuse to go back to class. One day, I called her up and said that I had a bold, and possibly crazy, idea. “I have this 15-year-old cocker spaniel. He’s deaf and arthritic and has a gimpy heart, and half the time he acts as if he couldn’t care less about us. But there’s something about being in my playroom with a child who’s been emotionally hurt. It’s as if some primordial instinct to protect the youngsters in the pack gets triggered, and whatever it is, it helps.”

 “At this point, I’ll try anything,” cried Jenny.

We ran it by Charlie. He pressed his tiny frame into the back of my couch and stared at me as if I’d just suggested tying him to a tree up in the hills and leaving him for the mountain lions. But then he got up, walked over to me, and looked long and hard into my eyes. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Suzi, if you think it will help, bring him.”

Charlie hugged the urn to his chest. On the table lay his constant companion, the memory book I’d given him the day I told him Roscoe had passed away. I’d lied to him, saying that he’d died in his sleep rather than admitting that my dog had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer just weeks after introducing the two of them. In a way I wish I had been straight with Charlie because it was a miracle that Roscoe had survived ten months. The vet had given him only three. It was as if the dog knew he had to stay alive until Charlie was completely healed, and through sheer will prevented the tumor in his right lung from killing him before his job was done. Standing over his ravaged body as the vet prepared to put him down, watching his ribcage heave as he struggled for breath, my first thought wasn’t of my own loss but that of Charlie’s and how much I didn’t want to bring him this news.

“We have to have a memorial for him in Charlie Town,” the boy whispered. Moving to the sand tray, we began.

 ROSCOE’S MEMORIAL AT MY PLAYROOM

Charlie created it; all of “Charlie Town” attended and spoke. Some of Roscoe’s ashesare in the wooden cyclinder. They are my gift to Charlie.

When Charlie met Roscoe for the first time, I thought that he would keel over in a dead faint. Out of all the people in our waiting room, Roscoe made a beeline for the boy, sniffed his pant leg, and sat on his feet. Facing out, the dog scanned the room with quiet vigilance.

Jenny gawked. “What’s he doing?” she whispered

“Protecting the pup,” I replied, feeling pretty impressed myself; then to Roscoe: “Come on, Rossie, let’s go.” Roscoe turned his head toward Charlie and furrowed his eyebrows. “It’s okay,” I said, “we’re taking him with us.”  Reluctantly, the spaniel stood, releasing the boy from his pinned position. Charlie was feeling his own reluctance, but he allowed me to walk him down the hall to my playroom, his hand clutching mine. Roscoe stuck to Charlie’s left flank like sticky tape, the expression on his face so serious I could have crie

It took a while before Roscoe felt it was okay to leave Charlie’s feet. Sitting together on the couch with Charlie immobilized by the dog squatting on his sneakers, we looked through every book on my shelves featuring a canine – and I have quite a few. Roscoe never left his post, his eyes focused on the door, ready to charge at any threat that might burst through. During their third meeting, Charlie reached down and rubbed his guardian’s soft blond head while I read to him. When Charlie stopped, Roscoe bumped his hand with his nose, and the boy laughed. Roscoe studied the child for a moment then climbed up on the couch and with a sigh of relief fell asleep between us. I will always wonder if Roscoe knew all along that the danger was not on the other side of my door, but, rather, inside Charlie.

Gradually, Charlie developed a more natural and relaxed relationship with Roscoe graduating from sharing space on the couch to sharing snacks and naps on the floor. The day Charlie placed a treat inside Roscoe’s mouth without flinching, we shouted for joy and danced around the playroom like lunatics. The old dog gave us a white-eyed look of disapproval, but we didn’t care. By the seventh week, Charlie could hardly contain his excitement at seeing the spaniel trot into the reception area to escort him down the long hallway to my room. He began referring to Roscoe as “my dog”, and to prove it he incorporated him into his longstanding fantasy world, “Charlie Town.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From then on, after snack time, Charlie and I would go to the sand tray, and with Roscoe lying on the floor between us we would build the town and play out the latest segment of Charlie and Roscoe’s mythical adventurous life together. His fear of dogs overcome, I returned Charlie’s therapy to those issues that had originally brought him into treatment. Roscoe helped him with these as well, simply by providing the boy with unconditional love and a warm, furry body to hold onto in trying times.

The residents of Charlie Town gathered in a circle around the urn. “Roscoe” sat atop the cylinder, looking out over the tray’s landscape crowded with houses, trees, and racecars. Charlie’s and my “alternates” stood at the front of the group of mourners. Charlie turned to me. “Would Suzi like to begin?” he asked.

I don’t know how I found my voice beneath the clot of grief. “We are here to pay our respects to the greatest dog that ever lived. But we are also here to recognize the special relationship he had with our founder, Charlie, without whose need and love for this dog none of us would have ever known what a generous and noble heart Roscoe possessed. For it was not until Roscoe met Charlie that he came into his true self: that of a protector, savior, healer, and best friend. I think, perhaps, that the whole purpose of adopting Roscoe all those years ago was to come to that moment when he walked into my waiting room and sat on the feet of the boy who, above all others – ”

My words stopped, and all there was in the world was Charlie and I – our arms around each other, our tears falling into the sand.

NOTE: A client’s right to confidentiality is sacrosanct. The true identities of “Charlie”, “Jenny”, and “Ogden” have been protected, and the locations of the matriarch’s homestead and the plastic surgeon have been changed.

 BYE BYE BELOVED ROSCOE

YOU DID YOUR JOB WELL

 

 

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2 Responses to OUR BESTEST FRIENDS WE LOST THIS SUMMER

  1. Polly says:

    Suzi….I do not believe I have ever in my life read anything that was as touching to my heartstrings, as moving to my soul and as memorable to the debts of my mind as what you were able to pen. I thank you for it, I love your heart and will never forget this moment in time…And once the sob stops I will wash my face and keep a spare rag on hand as I will never again forget this moment. Thank you for making us all human and our dogs love forever divine!

  2. Aleene Sexton Queen says:

    I cry hot tears whenever I read this heart-tugging article. So much love for our animals.

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