Today we lost our oldest rescue dog called Barney. Our life time together never ran smoothly but our love for him did. No, Barney wouldn’t have turned many heads in the pound and the chat might not have been too good when it came to kennel no.3. I shouldn’t have been In Monaghan pound five years ago but I guess everything happens for a reason. There was a Dalmatian there and his time was running out. A lady in Cork offered him a home but she was never going to make it to the pound before it closed so myself and my friend volunteered to pick him up and meet her in Limerick. As the pound manager was sorting out her paperwork, he asked us did we want to have a look. Not the easiest thing to do when down the aisle on each side many paws reach out. ‘Pick me,’ they say. But in one kennel there was no paw reaching out. And my head was turned. On the elevated bed area was a little white JR with a brown patch. He was so afraid he was shivering. And so, I asked the manager what his story was. His owner had died and after the funeral, the deceased person’s nephew took his dog to the pound. I knew we would be leaving with two dogs after hearing that story. And so our life chapters with Barney began. He let us know his start in life by his reactions to sudden movements and sharp sounds: someone’s bad behaviour had imprinted on him so much that triggers were created and at times it was difficult to deal with how they played out but as we know anger is a secondary emotion: it comes from from any of the others or a mixture of them: fear, sadness, loneliness….
My memory is like sand through a hand but what remains are those memories that made me the happiest, the saddest and the angriest. Maybe that’s how memory works for dogs too and they are greatly impacted by emotions like fear or sadness. But they can’t verbalise it.
I remember the first time Barney ran through grass as if experiencing it for the first time. Maybe it was, maybe he spent his life chained or in a shed. He bounced and rolled and smiled. This little old man was a puppy again. I remember the first time he went for me: I had passed him by and made a clinking noise with cutlery. He stopped seeing me and just heard that noise: normal for us and him but for him it was probably a reminder of something terrible to come. Barney’s first visit to the vet showed he was living with chronic dental pain. The vet was sure once the pain was gone, following an extraction, his behavior would change for the better. But time showed us, there was no extracting that emotional pain deep within. It would take time, lots of time, to show him that he didn’t have to be afraid or angry anymore. It’s nearly akin to trying to remove ink with a pencil eraser. You can’t. So you just start with a new page again and again. You don’t give up. You can’t. Life is short and no one deserves to end a life the same as their beginning if it has been a deeply unfair and cruel one.
And so, Barney’s last year of life: he lost his sight and hearing but ironically he still could hear those sharp steely noises – maybe more fainter but with the same automatic internal reminders. But in the last year, he would simply run to try and get away from the noise. No, chasing the causer! Yes, we became more mindful to try avoid them, but normal kitchen sounds happen by accident. Barney developed dementia and sometimes we would find him out of his bed lying outside or staring at a wall. Sometimes he stopped recognising us briefly and then the sudden rapid tail wagging told us: I know it’s ye! Poor Barney had many vet visits and various meds prescribed for lumps and bumps and a chronic cough that came with chronic bronchitis. But he accepted all treatments and meds with ease.
Our hearts are completely broken and I don’t know why but I feel I haven’t just lost a very much loved family member: it’s like a piece of my idea of home has been removed. Like a bulldozer has knocked out the ‘good room’. The place that for some reason was locked away for special occasions. Barney was special.
One lesson I’ve learned is this: if your heart and mind unite and tell you at once ‘do it’. Don’t ignore that inner instinctive voice. It’s so seldom in life that they are in agreement. That day in the pound we might not have brought Barney home and I’m not sure what his chances of rehoming would have been, given his age and temperament. You see, we left with whatever money we had – what ever was on us. I had no cards, or much cash, just an envelope to pay the fee for the Dalmatian. And would you believe Monaghan Council when I was told I had to ring them to explain I only had half the fee needed to take Barney. I asked them, could I send the rest tomorrow, and they replied ‘No’ and the usual spin: protocol and we can’t start not adhering to policy. I looked to the pound manager as I ended the call. I don’t think he had much choice but to empty his pockets too! He was reimbursed the next day.
There were lots of little paws extended out of their kennel space that day as I walked down the aisle. There was only one dog who never reached out and he was the one we brought home.
Love Island teaches us how easily ‘heads get turned’ for some. It’s like the new house mates coming in appear sparklier and suddenly the light dims for some who are already matched as they suddenly look from what they have to what they could have, based only on what they see. And they crave some of that newer shinier sparkle and what they have becomes ‘yesterday’. It’s similar to the puppy market. So many people want that idea of perfection. The idea. Puppies are so very cute and there is no denying that. But I’m always mindful of the mommy left behind to breed again. That is the ugly truth I see, not the cute puppy. I’m not sure how we are evolving if so many of us put no value on personality and buy into ‘a look’. How people can rock up to a pound to surrender their oldie as a newbie is arriving. Aesthetics alone don’t wipe your tears away or make you a comforting cup of tea. And that old dog looking at you probably knows you and your family better than anyone. You can’t replace that but people do when old becomes a problem and unattractive. People who rehome a rescue dog tells you so much about them instantly. Their rescue choice is indeed telling. People who take on a sick, old or ‘not so cute’ dog tell you alot more. Both have done the right thing and both sets of people are creators of second chances and happy ever afters, but the latter chooses the happy ever after with the bumps and set backs along the way.
Loss is inevitable and for some of us, our time with senior rescues is of course shortened and I don’t know why but the relationship with them is deeper on so many levels: one day with them feels like many all in one. Maybe it’s the needs they have, and maybe when they have no special needs, it’s how they make you slow down, how they make you more mindful of life or maybe how they make you feel home again. You nearly become the child sometimes and they are the grandparent. You are getting things for them to make them happy and you love how they make you smile when they are happy and well. You know when they need a blanket and when they don’t. You know when they need that little bit extra to eat and when they don’t. You want to make their life as comfortable as possible because you adore them.
Barney, you will always be a room in my home. You will always be my memory of home. Love you forever and ever.