- my dogs, my world
- My name is Lesli Hyland. In my fifty one years on this earth, my home and my heart have been graced with the company of twenty four dogs. Many came to me as seniors. All of them taught me something and helped determine the course of my life. I became a dog trainer because of them. I met my friends because of them. My husband and I are are forever bonded by our mutual connection to them. Currently, as a Dog Walker I have access to other people's dogs and I am allowed to experience their unique personalities. The dogs make me a better person by forcing me to closely examine my motivation, my actions and my choices. Everything I do affects their behavior, safety and happiness. It is an awesome responsibility. The dogs keep me honest.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Eddie was picked up by Animal Control as a "stray" in Worcester MA. The humor in that still makes me giggle. The image of this deaf, blind, barely mobile, 6 lb, old dog "running at large" in the mean streets of Worcester is ludicrous. In reality he was likely dumped or left behind when he became inconvenient or too hard to care for. On one of my good days I imagine that he belonged to an elderly person who passed away and somehow Eddie got lost in the shuffle. On darker days I create a special hell in my mind for the monster that allowed dental disease to eat holes through Eddie's facial bones...then left this poor creature to fend for himself.
I met Eddie a couple months after his "capture" off the streets - ha ha. He was lucky enough to have found his way into the care of Forever Homes Rescue in Walpole MA. They spent the considerable amount of money needed to pull all of Eddie's rotting teeth, pump him full of antibiotics and try to get him healthy. I give FHR a lot of credit for taking him in. In Rescue when you decide to take on an elderly dog like Eddie you know it may be a permanent foster dog, in essence, a money pit. Not too many folks are trolling Petfinder.com looking to adopt a deaf, blind, toothless, ancient Chihuahua. But this is where Eddie's luck continued, because that's pretty much exactly what I was doing at the time.
Mr Beagle had passed away and my heart felt empty. Certainly our home was not empty with 7 other dogs living here, but the old dogs...ah...they are different. So in December of 2016 we picked up Eddie in MA during our Christmas visit to family. He was best gift I got.
People have two reactions when they hear that I've adopted an old dog like Eddie. The first reaction is "How could you do that? I'd be too sad to lose them so soon!" The answer to that question is simple in my mind. "How could I not?"
The second reaction is "You're such a wonderful person - you're a saint!" This is where it gets more complicated. Though I appreciate the kind words, they really couldn't be further from the truth.
I'll let you in on a little secret. I adopt old dogs because I am selfish. I adopt them because I am impatient...and quick to anger...and petty...and...imperfect. In my marriage, my friendships, with my family, even in my relationships with my other dogs I sometimes fail miserably at being the person I strive to be. I am rarely the person I want to be. The person who never snaps at someone they love or gets resentful or angry or frustrated. The person who puts other's feelings and needs above their own. I sometimes really suck at all of that.
But not with Eddie (or Mr Beagle or Pistachio or Muffin or any of the others that came before him). When I make the commitment to take in an old dog, I do it with no expectations, no hopes or dreams or preconceived notions of who that dog may turn out to be. There is never any disappointment. It is what it is.
Eddie's sightless and silent world made it difficult for him to interact in any meaningful way and his dementia contributed to his isolation. But this made it more important that I handle him gently and often. He needed to be guided to his food and water and carried outdoors to go to the bathroom. He needed his face cleaned and his nails trimmed. He needed soiled bedding replaced with clean. He needed special food and sometimes he needed to be hand fed. The fact that he never acknowledged any of my care did not matter. I had vowed to make what ever time he had left on this earth safe and pleasant. This was my purpose and it was enough. I loved him completely with no thought of reciprocation.
When I am with a dog like Eddie I am fully present. I am patient. I am thoughtful. I am gentle. I am forgiving. I am kind. I ask for nothing and I give everything. I am the best person I know how to be. I feel whole. There is no doubt or worry or insecurity or self hate. I know what I am doing. I've "got this".
I rarely feel like that in other aspects of my life.
Of course I realize that the reason I can achieve this 'zen like' state with my old timers is because it is usually a short term commitment. Lets face it if you adopt a dog at 16, your time together will be limited.
I am able to give that dog everything I have, every time we are together. That is pretty much impossible in a long term relationship. There are just too many opportunities to be weak or screw up over years or lifetimes. Adopt a puppy or a young adult dog and trust me you'll made dozens of mistakes over the span of his lifetime. Marriage? Family? Friendships? Work situations? Oh yeah you're gonna be a jerk sometimes and some mistakes can never be made right again.
But not with Eddie. With Eddie there are no regrets.
So last Wednesday we said goodbye to Eddie. He was in pain and it was my job to take that pain away. I had made a promise. So I did - with the help of my vet, with my husband by my side. And with Eddie's passing I felt the familiar tilt to my world, felt my feet grappling for purchase. I felt myself falling from grace.
There will be another. Not today, but someday. Somewhere another tired old soul has already been left behind or cast aside. This fact is disgraceful and incredibly sad, and when the time is right, I will welcome another chance at redemption.