Tuesday, March 20, 2007
A Dog's Life
He came into our lives in October, 1996, a scrawny, long-legged bundle of energy, about to enter his third, fourth or fifth life. If cats are said to have nine lives, surely dogs must have more than one. This dog, rescued from a Washington, DC animal shelter, started his official "second" life when our daughter took him home to her small apartment already occupied by two cats. When the cats refused to accept his still puppy-like ways, he started his "third" life in Ohio with us.
He must have thought that he was in heaven. A large fenced back yard, another dog to play with, a nice house, warm in winter, and cool in summer, and two more people who would grow to love him like no other dog. Our dog at the time, Jesse James, was five years old, and somewhat set in her ways, but she accepted Kirby and the two of them chased around the house and yard with wild abandon.
How to describe Kirby? Part terrier, part hound, deep chested, tiny waist, long, skinny legs. Sparse fur which grew in a coarse-looking manner, but was surprisingly soft to the touch. Mostly white, with a few large tan spots, black spots on his pink skin, big ears, long tail, with one eye rimmed in black which made it appear larger than the other. He was definitely an original. He always drew attention wherever he went. "What kind of dog is that?" was heard countless times. Our standard answer was "He's a Kirby," a true one and only.
He had the mannerisms of Tramp, from the Disney movie, spunky, and boyish to the nth degree. His favorite pastime was chasing tennis balls, a not unusual activity for dogs, but he did it in his own way. When my husband mowed the lawn, he would throw the tennis ball for Kirby, who would run at speed to fetch it. He was smart enough to drop the ball right in the path of the mower to insure that it would be thrown again immediately. This made lawn mowing take a little more time, but he never tired of chasing the ball during the whole hour and a half, and he would gladly sacrifice a torn claw to retrieve the ball after one bounce.
In his first life, Kirby must have known love and attention. He came to the animal shelter totally housetrained, understanding the word "NO" and quickly learned the boundaries of our unfenced front yard. He was obedient, always came to us when called, and although a little destructive in the beginning, quickly learned what he was allowed and not allowed to chew on. He only strayed once, during a heavy snowstorm when he wandered between two neighboring houses and found himself on the street behind us, slightly disoriented. We were outside with him shoveling snow and when we missed him, we scattered and luckily found him right away.
When Jesse James died, we waited a year to get another dog. The new one was Little Dixie, a Maltese puppy. Kirby's gentle nature let him adopt her and put up with her chewing on his heels, ears, and tail. In spite of the great difference in their sizes, the two of them played and chased each other around the house. His only fault was in not sharing toys with her. He would carry his stash of toys upstairs, one by one, and hide them from her in a guest bedroom. If we bought tiny toys for her and big toys for him, he learned to leave the tiny ones alone, but he never let her play with any of his.
We have always wondered what his early life was like. When our daughter first adopted him, he was filthy, with grease stains on his back. He had obviously been living on the streets for a while. I'm sure he had some unpleasant memories but he kept them to himself. His only outward fear was of thunder and fireworks, a common fear for dogs. He was boarded over one fourth of July weekend while we were back in DC visiting our daughter. When we returned, the kennel owners told us that he had escaped the kennel and they had no idea where he was. We were horrified and spent two days with the help of friends searching for him. When we finally got a phone call telling us that he was found, we were so relieved. During his flight, probably caused by his panic at the sound of fireworks nearby, he was clever enough to go up to the front door of a house where the lights were on. He looked in the screen door and the people inside finally saw him and were kind enough to give him food and water. He stayed on their porch overnight and they finally let him inside to rest. I must have walked and driven right by that house several times while I was searching for him never knowing he was safe inside. Those wonderful people called the animal shelter who had already been notified by the kennel. They put two and two together and that's how Kirby was rescued yet again. He sat on my lap during the twenty minute ride home and cried the whole time, as if trying to tell me about his frightening adventure.
That was the last time he was boarded at that place. They never told me how he managed to get out, if they even knew. He definitely didn't like confinement, maybe due to his memory of being at the animal shelter in DC. When we found a reliable indoor kennel, with several doors between the boarding area and the outside, we were lucky that the kennel mistress developed a deep connection with Kirby. He was only in a cage at night, when the kennel staff left for the day. The rest of the time, he was allowed in the staff room, the office, the supply room, wherever he wasn't in the way. They gave us a photo of him curled up in an empty kitty litter box in their storeroom. Another time, he slept wrapped around their fax machine, on the counter in the office. But eventually, as he got older, his extreme fear of being caged was more than he could bear. During his last kenneling, he destroyed the heavy stainless steel kennel door, and became so distraught that the kennel mistress had the vet in the facility examine him and sedate him because his life was in danger.
Fortunately, he survived the ordeal and we decided never to kennel him again. We found "Ark Angels", a pet sitting service that was a loving alternative for the times we had to leave town for a few days. Wonderful neighbors filled in when family emergencies prevented our arranging for pet sitters. Our DC daughter eventually moved to our town and Kirby was reunited with his original "Mommy" rescuer. Although he stayed at our house, the two of them had a special bond, evidenced by the way he "talked" to her whenever she came to our house.
He also "talked" to my sister from New York. She loved Kirby as if he were her own. And the two of them would sing "You are My Sunshine". He would relish the opportunity to sleep in bed with her whenever she spent the night with us.
Yesterday, unquestionably the hardest day of our life, we had our dear Kirby put down. After a mercifully short illness, heart failure, he was unable to do much more than lift his head. He refused medication after a few days and we stopped forcing the pills on him. We spent his last few days giving him small bits of steak, scrambled eggs, and more steak. Our dedicated vet and his wife spent a generous amount of time with us and we finally left Kirby there, secure in the knowlege that he was in no pain and would never have any more fears. Oddly enough, we had a thunderstorm soon after we arrived home. We knew that Kirby was not bothered by the thunder claps. It was the only bright thing in the whole dark, dismal day.
I know the pain we feel will ease, but there will always be our deep, abiding love for the very special dog Kirby who will be missed by the many people who knew and loved him.