As the clouds roll in for another summer morning storm, the cabin TV is tuned to Novak Djokovic & Kevin Anderson’s warmup for the Wimbledon men’s final championship. Yes, I should be in church this morning, but, God forgive me ... I am not. I am grieving and writing usually helps with any life adventure, be it happy or sad.
Grief is normal after a death as I struggle from the HUGE hole in my core caused by the unexpected loss of the fourth of my five-member family who moved from Kingsport three years ago. Still full of life until the last day, my sweet-foster-happy-dog, Abbey ~ named after Westminster Abbey ~ has crossed the rainbow bridge. She was running full speed behind brother-in-law Ed’s 4-x-4 just the night before. Transitioning from sleep to consciousness, I saw a heron sweep above the lake before becoming fully aware of what woke me... Abbey’s heavy breathing on the floor beside me instead of in her new bed. Strange, I thought. Upon rising, I found that she had been sick. She staggered out the door instead of her usual racing to seek another morning adventure. Ten minutes later, I found her lethargic next to the lake a short distance from the cabin. I raced inside to dress and called my brother, Jeff, to help me get her into the car. She thumped her tail twice while lying on the ground struggling to breath.
I found no evidence she had been bitten by a snake. Blood tests and an ultrasound were inconclusive so exploratory surgery was necessary. However, Abbey was too weak to undergo such trauma. After a long day of trying to keep her comfortable, she had to be transported to the Warner Robins emergency hospital. My sister, Georgia, and I returned home about 10:30 p.m. Mentally exhausted, I crawled into bed. Thirty minutes later, the emergency vet called and suggested that I take her to the University of Georgia. I called my sister and said, “Let’s go get her.” If she was not going to make it, I wanted her to be where she frolicked and played with an intense hunger for exploring ~ at Daddy’s cabin and Elk Lodge.
Upon seeing her, I knew it was hopeless. Though unconscious, she was yelping. I pondered that less than 24 hours prior to that moment, she seemed perfectly healthy as she curled up on the pillow in my lap to wait out what I did not realize would be her last thunderstorm. How could I not see?
Through tears, I held her paw as Georgia held me and we said, “Goodbye ... and thank you for being such a great dog.” When asked if I wanted to know what caused her demise, I agreed to an autopsy where she was found to have a bleeding spleen mass with malignant spread... What?! Unbelievable! Running at full speed the night before. Again, how could I not see? Absolutely no sign of any illness. Loved life right up to the end.
And God knew exactly what he was doing ... for such to happen when it did; it was perfect timing before I returned to Athens. I had spent a glorious summer one-on-one with the most agreeable dog who ever owned me.
Abbey came into my life quite by accident when my former husband and I had decided to foster Scottish Terriers. I had Lily visiting her vet, Dr. Andy Cherry, when I met Val Deaton gently speaking to a beautiful-but-thin-brown-shaking-tail-between legs-female lab mix. Val mentioned that she had rescued her from the highway near her home where she had been seeing her for about two weeks. Spiked dog food did the trick to catch her so she would not be hit by a car. Within two days, Dr. Cherry’s office called and asked if I would be interested in fostering this gorgeous animal. What could it hurt? I needed practice for fostering Scotties! Well, she escaped from hardship into my heart and proved that there are other breeds with whom I could fall in love.
Soon to be named Abbey, she had apparently never walked on hardwood floors. Nor drank water or eaten food from a bowl. When she was thirsty, she would go outside to drink the runoff from the downspout. Eventually, hunger prompted her to learn to eat food from her stainless steel bowl like Raleigh and Lily, my two Scottish Terriers, did instead of chasing and catching squirrels in the backyard.
For the first two weeks of her new life in The Lodge in White City, Abbey did not bark nor have an accident in the house. However, that third week ~ she took full advantage of her freedom and barked as often and as loudly as possible. House training was another story. My ex grew weary and wanted her out of the house, “Get rid of that dog!” Abbey came to me without any training in basic commands. So off to puppy training we went though she was the oldest in her class. She did receive a diploma despite graduating last. Mom was so proud! Within weeks, she knew that she was not going to be abused and gradually began letting her tail hang loose. Within months, Abbey confidently held her tail high in graceful strides. And though she was part lab, she despised the water; preferring running and had more charm than me. I never once saw her unpleasant. Yes, tears are trickling down my cheeks as I close.
For the first time in 33 years, I do not have a dog in my life. God has all of me now. Though I am alone, I am not lonely and can enjoy all the incredible memories of adventures shared with my fur babies. I finally got around to cleaning her bowls and opening the tartan suitcase where I have all the Scottish sweaters, collars, leashes and toys. The real treasure I found among the items in that suitcase, was a folded sheet of paper with specific instructions in my handwriting for the neighborhood dog sitter kids in Kingsport about how to care for all three four-legged babies. Heartwarming. Cannot throw that away quite yet.
I am very thankful for this grieving time before I head back to what is the busiest in Greek life on campus ~ Rush/Recruitment. I am thankful that Abbey’s obvious suffering from this horrific medical challenge was less than 24 hours. I am thankful that she could give her full heart to all of us before she passed. I pray that through my grief I will learn the reason for all the loss that I have had over the past couple of years. God has perfect plans for me that exceed anything I could possibly imagine and, in that, I anticipate great joy. He continues to keep me in training and, as a former athlete, I MUST focus on the goal and not so much on the process.
The day after her passing, I woke to hear her barking outside, got up and slowly walked onto the deck overlooking Daddy’s perfect lake. I followed the shore line and looked where she last lay. And just to let me know that all was OK, that I had not been dreaming and that she was healthy in heaven, God let me hear the clanging of her collar tags one time. Chills all over me, I knew at that moment that though Jesus never had a dog of his own, He had all of mine now. What other comfort could I possibly need?
Susan E. Kendrick is a Sunday Stories columnist who shares her insights and Southern humor each month in Sincerely, Susan. To correspond with Susan, email her at [email protected] To share your events for our Out & About calendar, email us at [email protected]