Monday, March 21, 2011

Crazy Dog Chick

I work at Club Canine, a dog daycare/boarding facility. It is the love of my life. After my husband and kids, of course. Right?

I love my job so much because I love the dogs so much. This has been at the foundation of my personality since day one, according to my mom. I have the dog gene, as we say in our family. 

Today at work, my boss is out for the day, so I am up front greeting clients and taking the dogs in instead of being in the playroom. It is the middle of drop-off time and dogs and clients are in and out the door at a steady pace.

As one client walked in with her two dogs, I looked up with tears streaming down my face. This is where the Crazy Dog Chick title comes in to play. Do you think she expected to arrive to doggie daycare to a bawling woman? I doubt it, but it couldn't be helped.

And this is why.

Last fall, my boss looked up at me through the playroom window one day in much the same manner as she sat at her computer and I was in with the dogs - though hers was an expression of shock. She'd just found out that a woman she'd become online friends with through a forum for dog daycare owners had passed away in a car accident. Cristal was a woman she'd never had the pleasure to meet in person, but a friend just the same.

This morning, I happened upon something beautifully moving that Cristal's husband, Marcus, wrote recently; which is what made those tears flow at that very inopportune time. When I innocently picked up the printout from my boss's desk and began reading, I didn't know my heart would soon be caught in my throat.

What Marcus wrote struck me as both incredibly sad and beautifully inspiring. Some scoff of human-pet relationships; but as a lifelong dog-lover, I can tell you that for those of us who feel it, these relationships are very real and mean the world to us.

Marcus and his wife, Cristal, started Mile High Mutts together in Denver, Colorado. Here is what Marcus wrote:

I wanted to thank the many people who have expressed their condolences over the last six months. In the weeks after the accident I was truly overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from all over the country. I've kept my head down trying to just put one foot in front of the other. Something happened recently that told me it was time to lift up my head and reach out. A dog died at our facility! The ultimate nightmare scenario that keeps all daycare owners up at night happened to me. It didn't play out the way I imagined. No news crews and lawyers, just love . . . all kinds and so much love.

Chief was our customer for over 6 years. His mom does a great deal of business traveling so he stayed with us often. He was stubborn, independent and fierce. He was a favorite. 

He was diagnosed with liver cancer and was told he would not make it to Christmas. That was Christmas of 2009! He made it to that Christmas and the one that followed. Slowly, over the months, he withered. Fed the best of food, he was still losing muscle tissue and weight. We talked about the usual end-of-life decisions and concerns . . . no one wanted to see him suffer.

I just listened to Chief . . . really listened. He told me he wasn't done yet. He would come in every morning barking up a storm. Now, anyone who knows how we run our operation knows we jump all over barking and do not allow it. When Chief barked I would say, "sing to me!" And it was music.

Christmas 2010 came and went and Chief still had an appetite and still sought me out anytime I was in the pack. He went beyond what the vet said he could do. Six months on heart and another six months on stubbornness. The final six months was because he just didn't know how to give in.

At the end, he talked to me again. He told me he was done. He told me he would never get up again. I called his mom and said it was time. I don't think I could have said it on my own, but I was able to relay a message from Chief. She said she didn't want him euthanized at a vet clinic. She didn't want him transported home. She wanted Chief's last moments to be at Mile High Mutts. I was . . . humbled. I made the arrangements for a vet to come and she flew home. We all said our goodbyes and then Chief was gone. It was an honor. And honor to know him and an honor to help him. 

After the car accident, I didn't know what to do. Thankfully, I just listened to the dogs. In the pack, I felt some measure of peace. The daycare was our first baby. We took out a second mortgage, maxed out seven credit cards, quit our jobs and gave birth to Mile High Mutts. 

Taking care of my three babes has been all-consuming these last six months. But I think back to a day in the pack. I was so tired I wanted to sit . . . to relent. It was my first holiday season without Cristal. There comes a day when an alpha dog sits down . . . and is no longer an alpha dog. I looked across the yard at Chief . . and he looked back. I am still standing.

They have so much to teach us, these dogs. We just have to listen.

Death ends life, but often brings life in other ways. Marcus has a long road ahead raising his young sons without Cristal, but it sounds like his heart is moving in the right direction.

photo by Daniel Mohorovic