Sometimes you come across a professional who is more like Jesus than most Christians because of the practical care he shows when you’re up against something truly awful. I had this experience with our general contractor, when there was a mass shooting at NIU, and I was shattered. It happened again this spring when my horse became ill.

These professionals tend to their clients, seeing us, not so much as a paycheck, but as a person worthy of their attention, worthy of careful advice. They will do what needs to be done. Tessie had not eaten her hay. She stood, head level, lower lip loose. I called Dr. Sugden, who wasn’t my vet. He said he’d be out at lunchtime, to make sure Tessie’s colon hadn’t shifted.

The next day, she spiked a high fever, our barn close with heat. Dr. Sugden said, “Bring her here. We’ll put her in air conditioning and pump her full of fluids.” This meant he would sleep two nights next to her stall.Tessie could not be cured.

Dr. Sugden said, “You will regret your decision. It’s normal. But the people are important.” Something like a meadow with sunlight shining through thick air opened. I agreed to a long season of easy tears.

Dr. Sugden called later that week to check on me. And then called to explain Tessie’s necropsy. He searched me out like Jesus did when he crossed the lake, through a storm, to heal a shattered man. Like Dr. Sugden said, the people are important.

I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.

If you’d like to hear me read this, click here.

We Say Goodbye to Night

We said good bye to PennYCaerau’s Night Bird the other day. He’s got no letters before or after his name because he was our farm dog, our beloved pet who pleased us with his affection and exuberance. Nightbird loved a good roll–on our couches, in the grass, at the vet’s office. He took his work as watch dog seriously, running up to me if I was coughing, leaning hard if I was weeping. He sat by Bruce looking into his eyes, relishing his petting. Often he jumped in our laps.

Old age caught up with him. What can I say? Death sucks. I paired this with my post about Dr. Sugdon because our other vet Dr. Guedet and his staff at Perryville Pet Hospital were equally as kind and professional and Christlike to us. Doc listened and weighed our options as we considered this hard decision. It’s so hard to stop your dog’s suffering knowing we’ll tear a hole wide open in our hearts, empty spaces in our home where Night used lie or bark or scratch his back. Dr. Guedet supported Night and us when we opted for surgery three years ago to fix his closed intestine, and then this past year as we treated Night’s inflammatory bowel syndrome. A good vet tends to the people as well as their animals, and it’s hard for them to say goodbye.

We prayed from Every Moment Holy:

“We are thankful for the many blessings

of knowing this your creature,

and for the lingering imprint

of such a cherished presence in our lives.

We are grateful for these good memories

of sweeter times.

Those Memories

When we moved to the farm I asked his breeders Brenda Griffen and Leida Jones if they had any pups that harked back to Nate and Booker’s lines. They’d just had a litter, but I begged off because I’d brought Morgen and Tessie onto the farm and I was overwhelmed with both mares. But when I was shattered between almost losing Booker, pneumonia and chronic, difficult politics from my job, I asked Brenda and Leida if they had an older dog available. They did. Night Bird. Since they were coming to St. Louis for an Australian Shepherd National Specialty at Purina Farms, they could meet us there, saving exorbitant airline fees. As we drove down, I read through The Four Agreements and saw something I’d never seen before, about how my mother’s idea that I was a woman who talked too much, was born of her need to silence me, that echoed her own having been silenced.On that long road, I realized how I am more of a private person than I’d ever realized.  

Night was a big, regal dog, that I warmed to right away, grateful to welcome another Penn Y Caerau dog into our home. Brenda and I filled out the paperwork and Night climbed into the truck. We were well on our way back north on I 55 when he yelped once and leaned on Bruce in the back of the truck. Booker and Nate bowed and jumped and accepted him readily.

Night was one joyous dog, running and bounding fast,  though he was very hard on my frozen shoulder when he hit the end of the Flexi. Jen Digate, a positive reinforcement trainer, who was helping with the mares, suggested we use a harness that would ease the pull on his neck and on my shoulder. She admired the temperaments of all three of our Aussies though she didn’t like how he barked when we hooked him up for walks.  He was the most talkative dog we’d ever had, until Little Dog came to live with us.  Though I think he taught her to bark for walks too. And she taught him to bark at Bruce.

With his arrival, my tears from nearly losing Booker and the February 14 mass shooting and dreadful office politics at NIU stopped.

But it was a challenge to walk three dogs on a Flexi, their leashes tangling like a cat’s cradle, especially after dark. But as is the way with dogs who don’t live as long as we’d like them to, Nate left and then Booker.

This last year Night expressed his opinion by planting his feet until we let him walk where he wanted to go, often  toward a pile of poop or the manure pile. He loved visiting Morgen, mostly because of the yummies he found in the barn. He loved to climb on the couch and roll, hard enough he pulled a few cushions apart. He loved pawing the braided rugs and making a nest, so those went out to the burn pile. He accepted all the cats, including Bitsy, who warmed enough to sniff noses with him. When she passed, I asked Laurie Wirth of Living in Oz Art to paint a picture of those two as a gift for Bruce because he loved Bitsy so hard, he often spent time upstairs watching TV while she slept on his lap, and he loved Night, walking him three times in a day. Sometimes they walked the length of our field. Other times they walked to the corner and back, admiring the sunset. In all weather he took the dogs out for their last pee break. 

Bruce loved him so. I found out yesterday that he had been grieving Night for the last few weeks, knowing his time, as a twelve year old dog, was coming. I saw Night failing but didn’t want to say anything, didn’t have tears to shed until it was time. Our tears have been a gift, a way to honor this gallant galut, who graced our home for twelve years. 

I asked for prayer from Kenneth Tanner, an Episcopal priest who knows how to say the right things and has been a sort of pastor to me. He wrote, “I sense you all live in a world of animals and these relationships with life are fundamental also to our lives. Much love and grace to you and Bruce and God’s mercy on this creature he loves more than we do.”

Our tears have brought us to a kind of silence and privacy. We only asked for prayer from a few people–my prayer partners from church, Alison, Father Ken, and Bruce’s friend from work, Gene. I felt their prayers lift us as we moved toward that awful goodbye. Night was tired and sore and it was time. But my gosh we miss him.

He was the last of three great Penn Y Caearau dogs, Penn Y Caerau meaning fortress in Welsh. Dogs as crags and strongholds, as furred and flesh types of God as a rock we can hide in as we buried our noses in their fur. Night worried when I coughed, tending to me, when I cried or was ill. He sometimes laid his back along mine when I didn’t feel good. He took his job as comforter. It was his responsibility to ease my pain. We hope one day another Fortress (Penn Y Caerau) dog finds their way to our home but bloodlines and times change over the decade since Night came to live with us. 

So at the last we prayed from Every Moment Holy:

“Oh Lord, how long till all is made right?

How long till your wild grace restores all loss

and upends every leaving?

how long till these hurts are healed

and these griefs eternally sealed and set aside

by the finally complete work

of your redeeming love?

“We know that the final working of your

redemption will be far-reaching,

encompassing all things in heaven and on earth,

so that no good thing will be lost forever…

Comfort us in this meantime, O Lord,

For the ache of these days is real.”

It’s been a long year of grief with losing Bitsy, Tessie and now Night Bird but that is the price of loving. (We looked up Little Dog’s age and she’s now eleven. She’s been with us six years, so our time with her is growing short.) As CS Lewis says in The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” Maybe the gift Night has given Bruce and I here in his last days, was this very thing, our broken hearts, the gift of tears, out loud, in each other’s arms. The gift of looking at pictures and remembering. But my gosh we will miss that joyous, exuberance running, lickety split back to our arms. Night Bird and Little Dog flowing like wind in tall grass, coming when we called. 

PennYCaerau’s Night Bird

9/22/08 – 1/21/22

 

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2 Comments

  • Mark says:

    I LOVE your friend Laurie’s painting of Bitsy and Night Bird, Katie.

    Did you have to put Night down?

    I had to take our family’s beloved pets, The Beautiful Annabelle Lee and, later, Duke, The Wonder Dog, both lovable, loving mutts who shared our lives for too brief a season to the pound to be euthanized when their once proud bodies betrayed them.

    I did this first for Belle and ten years later for Duke.

    They both looked at me sorrowfully because they did not want to die and also because they didn’t want to see me so sad.

    I hated myself each time . . . and when I remember each parting, I hate myself still.

    • Thanks. We loved the painting too. Bruce cried when I gave it to him. Yes we had to put Night down. It’s so heart wrenching. I’m sorry for your losses. Please don’t hate yourself because it’s the kindest thing to say goodbye when they are hurting. Though I’d encourage you to take them to your vet instead of the pound. Do you have any pets now, or was it too hard to say goodbye? Thanks for so faithfully showing up, reading and commenting.

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