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By      

Randy Cobleigh

This will be a most difficult story to write. It will rip at my heart and tears will flow. There has not been a day transpire where my sadness over this old friend allowed me rest from mental anguish. Everyone else I know, has been through similar times. I can’t judge the depth of pain for others, I know mine was and is still pinned to my heart at least symbolically, although pain of it still registers in my heart as if an old rusty ice pick has pierced my aorta and continues to gouge me with the unpleasant memory of his death.

If you haven’t surmised already this is a story of a beloved pet and dear friend. His name when he came to us was simply…Red. As time progressed he was more than just Red. He became “REDBOY.” Although I have loved all of my dogs through the years. I am now an old man and I can remember having a total of eleven wonderful furry friends. That includes the remaining sweetheart we have now. We, the wife and myself have decided this will be the last one. He is also RedBoy’s best friend and rescue partner from the clutches of homelessness and shelter living. I won’t throw his name around here because this story is about Redboy. They came from separate shelters but became immediate best friends.

He was a loser, and had come from a hoarding situation with forty dogs that all lived outside and as many as thirty cats in the house. He was given that label by the tech’s, care takers and volunteers that had spent a gazillion hours and days trying to socialize him. “Shy, and Fearful,” they had said. But there was also something about him that was very sweet. He was gentle and a gentleman, as far as a dog could be a gentleman. When I really looked deep into his gorgeous golden eyes, a tremendous amount of emotional pain could be seen, looming just below the surface. I’m not sure if he knew his power, but he had a decided energy inside his pupils and they drew me in. I empathized with him immediately. His pain, deep in his heart, nay, deeply into his being, grabbed my soul and twisted it. I had no recourse but to love him. I want to  lay the claim that I was his greatest hero, but there were many others. His is not a simple story.

His life began somewhere on the streets of Topeka Kansas. He was a very lucky dog, at the time. He made it out of the kill shelter and safely landed at a no-kill shelter in South Kansas City, Wayside Waifs. He traveled far, to finally become the king of my yard and the prince of our family. A legion of valiant volunteers arranged a multitude of travel plans and foster families, before he was lovingly placed in our hands. He put great trust in us and eventually we would break many hearts and be the cause of his tragic demise. What terrible thing would we do that broke his trust, we had worked so hard to build? It was all in the flick of a wrist.

He arrived at our house after we were dog-less for sometime. We had lost our last friends to cancer and I will blame the Chinese for their part in poisoning our dogs with inferior and tainted products. I will only buy American made dog food or treats, since that time. The internet is an amazing tool when looking for new loved ones. I found “Red” on the local shelter’s website. I must admire the job they did in telling his story and pulling at my heart’s frailties at that time. It was the only time in my life I had not had a canine friend by my side for any length of time. When I saw his picture and read his bio, I do not exaggerate that I felt a great magnetic pull and I had to get Beth involved too. We repeatedly poured over his pictures and biography. My tears were genuine. I felt his need and his pain. When I first contacted the shelter and Red’s Foster Mother, I was told not to bother leaving my name on his list of possible or prospective adopters. They said they already had a list of forty applicants.That was a terrible blow as I had already seen this dog in my life and even though we had not met, I felt this was predestination and was intended to become a reality. I left my name anyway and told her that she might as well put me at the top of the list as I had already seen this dog coming to me and it would become a reality. Well, of course I was laughed at and told if anything happened in the mean time they would call me back. Yes, they called me back in a week’s time and said they didn’t quite know how it happened but either the applicants weren’t agreeable to the foster mother or the others dropped out when it became apparent how much trouble this dog would be for them. So,in a week’s time, Red came home with us.

The deal was sealed. I savored the role as his future savior, leader and best friend.             I soon knew, he did not want sympathy, he wanted empathy and to be loved unconditionally. “Redboy”, stole our hearts more than any dog I can ever remember. Surely we have loved them all. There is no doubt of that fact. 

 The first month was the hardest. We just couldn’t seem to make any progress with him. He was pleasant enough, but anti social and continued to hide in his closet. So, Beth began getting down on the floor with him and spending hours of time soothing the soul of this inverted and backward little child. That is exactly what he was like, a child. I talked with a friend of mine who is also a foster parent and has a house full of dogs. So much so he had labelled his house as “casa canine”. Bob and his brood of four-legged friends live in Tulsa. His advice was simple. Give him, give him, give him…more love than you think you have to give, and then give some more. Next after that is patience, a lifetime of patience, if that’s what it takes. 

Indeed it did take a lot love and patience, but I feel the biggest help was when we introduced him to another dog. Immediately he was better. He was with his own kind and could relate. The number one thing I noticed though was the new dog taught Red how to be a dog. I know that doesn’t sound right, but I am certain, that is exactly what happened. Our two boys were best of buds and together they were fearless. They covered each others backs. Many a ground squirrel, rabbit and mailman were on the radar of these two. It was fun to watch as they progressed and both became delightful pets. We had five great years with the two of them. They each had a few quirks on the way to the greener pastures that people so often speak of. I don’t truly remembering this time of my life but, one beautiful summer day about three years into Red’s life with us, I went to the hospital and then a nursing home, for a few months. When I came back it was obvious they had gone backwards and I had more work to do. I must be truthful here, I wasn’t sure that I was up to the task, but Beth had done a good job even though she worked everyday and my dad, sister and a cousin came over quite often and filled in the gaps. Without all of this help, neither boy or even Beth would have fared so well. When I returned home I spent a lot of time watching the two boys wrestle in the yard. Chasing one another as the so often did. It was very much a big part of my recovery. Days passed as I sat in my large comfortable chair on the deck. The boys would run and tour their domain, but they always came back to my either side of me for that much wanted ear scratch or tummy rub. Until I met Redboy and he became a full fledged happy dog, I had never seen a dog smile. I have to laugh when I think of it, he had a wide infectious smile and those golden orbs for his eyes just made him irresistible and all I wanted to do was love him up. Now at the same time though I had to give my other boy some of the same treatment, he deserved it as well, but he was also very pushy and wasn’t about to be anyone’s number two dog. As I continue writing this story, our one remaining dog sits in front of me. Peering deeply into my eyes and heart, he sees my thoughts. Maybe it’s my guilt. Does he read my soul too? How long before the pain subsides, for either? My one remaining treasured pet was not allowed by me to see his brother’s crumpled body. In actuality, neither was my wife. I felt at the time that I was saving the family from the ugly pain that seeing his lifeless carcass had caused me. Now though, one year later, I see that maneuver as rather a power statement and not at all what should have transpired.        

His was and still is the number one relationship that I can recall. I wonder though, in truth if isn’t that way, because the situation caused such grief and longing. I will never be sure. I do know however that more than a year’s time has elapsed and I have continual nightmares. I sometimes feel as though it is wasted time and useless energy spent. But I have only to look at his picture, to know the truth. He was my boy and I will never be able to shake the great loss and painful memories, that continue to invade my life.One thing that stands out as quirky in my memory is the fact that he wasn’t even Red in color. He was more of a light strawberry blond. But a name like “Strawberry” might have been a little too strange. It does have a cute sound to it though. I might have to store that somewhere in my memory banks, just in case I can sneak another dog home someday.Time slid by as it always does. Snow and blustery wind greeted us early that year. Beth and I hated it, but you guessed it. “RedBoy” couldn’t get enough of that cold wetness. I was getting ready to go to lunch with some friends, but first of course we take care of our kids, everyone ready this, I’m sure can relate. I let him out into his fenced in back yard where the snow was already six inches deep. That little rascal was romping and running in circles around  our big cedar tree. We usually called it Richard’s tree because  it was planted there some sixty years earlier by my favorite cousin. He unfortunately met an early demise, late at night in a car wreck. So, I was extremely pleased that he had taken such powerful liking to that old tree. It seemed fitting, now that I look back on it. Both Richard and RedBoy were quirky and deemed social misfits. At that particular time though he was having the time of his life, flying around that tree, kicking up a powdery mist and getting himself covered with it at the same time. I stood in the doorway and laughed at his antics. He was having a wonderful time and I couldn’t have been happier for him. Time had run out though. I needed to get him inside and be on my way. I was using a walker to help get around since I had recently had knee surgery and he was not listening to me at all. Even though I was not enjoying having to go out in the snow after him, the people on the street, stuck in their cars by a traffic light, sure enjoyed the clown show. That’s what I looked like, I’m sure, as I struggled through all of this while chasing a dog around that tree in a snow storm with my bad knee and a walker. I envisioned myself looking like a leaping gnome  as I chased him through the yard, throwing my walker around and trying to herd him like an escaping sheep. Well, and then there was my T-shirt and Bermuda shorts, oh and sandals with no socks. My audience was guffawing and I was unable to get close to that boy at all. I did the only thing that made sense and went back inside, leaving the door open. The fun was over and in he came. There are so many fond memories like this one. I wish I could share them all.   Everyone has demons in their life. Memories of times that still haunt us today. Redboy was no different. We did not know the things he had to endure when he was younger, but some of his behaviors were so strange that I had a few ideas, as to what happened to him. First off, he hated anything that resembled a flashlight. Didn’t matter what it was, if it threw out a beam of light, it scared the little boy badly enough he would run out of the area and get into as tight a corner as he could. Someone must have chased him as they held a flashlight of some kind. When they caught him I just see where he probably got beaten and yelled at mercilessly. You could never have a camera, flashlight or cell phone anywhere near him. Most dogs don’t like it when we get loud or cuss and he wasn’t any different there except he took his dislike to an extreme. He always ran and hid. Another quirky behavior was centered around his bowl of dry dog food. He wouldn’t eat it like a normal happy dog. Nope he had to put his nose on every kernel, shove them out of the bowl at a rate of six or so per nose scoop and then when he had enough laid out on the floor he would sniff them all over and look at us to make sure it was okay with us. Of course, it always was. We weren’t about to scold that little rascal. Just love him. I wondered at the time if his food bowl quirk was due to eating outside and maybe having bugs in his food dish. I had an outside dog when I was young, that wasn’t my choice of course, nonetheless, I remember he had water bugs and sometimes roaches get into his food bowl. I suspect it was the same for Redboy.  It seemed to me, after a while, that all of his strange behavior was a direct result of his abuse. I was so sad for him and the suffering he evidently was the recipient of. Christmas was upon us before we knew it and we decided it would be a good present for Redboy, if he had a new brother. We went to a Kansas shelter and found the cutest little mixed breed boy. When we walked into the building they said it was exercise time and all of the little dogs were running amok in the visitation room. It was quite a fiasco, but also very entertaining. There were probably thirty,  twenty pound and under dogs of all breeds, running and jumping with abandon. Among them was only one dog that cared much if we were there. He was what looked like a weiner dog, with the head of a beagle. We laughed so hard. He was not only cute as could be but he was very interested in us. I have always been told that at a shelter, the dog would pick it’s new owner. Not the other way. That’s exactly what happened with our new friend. His name was already a fixture with him so we allowed him to keep it. I must say however that his name is quite a conversation starter. Unless I told you what it is , you would never guess it. “Trump”. How about that. he went home with us that very day, they day after Christmas. After the butt sniffing was over, they became the best of buddies. We were incredibly happy and so were both of my boys. We couldn’t have asked for or expected a better outcome. One thing that happened, that I have to say rivaled seeing these two happy dogs become best buds. Beth and I came home after a weeks vacation. Our house and dog sitters had done a marvelous job with our boys. I had up to this time though never seen such a happy face on a pooch  as when we came up onto our deck and surprised our two boys. Trump was very happy to see us and seemed happier than any dog I’ve ever known to see his missing friends until I saw Redboy though, well, I can’t really explain it as well as I would like. It may seem like an exaggeration, but I promise you it is not! That dog leaped a foot off the ground and beamed the biggest ear to ear, Cheshire cat grin. All teeth and sparkly golden eyes.  I will remember and cherish that moment until I am on my own death bed and quite likely be looking for my boys to lead me into the promised land.Their friendship worked out on an even grander scale than we had hoped. Wrestling, running and of course chasing the mailman down the fence line. When the snow melted we were faced with a problem we had not even thought of, rabbits. Not just a few rabbits, but entire families of them, that I had never paid attention to before. Why would I? These new dogs were hunters and they could sniff out a pesky bunny two fenced in yards away. They weren’t satisfied with knowing they were nearby. Oh good golly no. Our little Beagle half-breed would dig and squirm under the fence, on his side. Red would follow by jumping over the five foot chain link fence with no running start and sail over with plenty of room to spare. How was I going to combat that? That was my conundrum. We have a huge back yard. We could easily spend thousands of dollars dog proofing ever foot of that fence line. So we did that, but only where the fence butted up to another yard. Landscape timbers all along the bottom and I mean everywhere, but on the tops, to keep Redboy in. I just thought he would only jump out if they were going after those pesky rabbits and into other yards. Never dreaming that someday he would jump the front fence and leave our yards protection. I was badly mistaken.When I was young a lad in Boy Scouts, our leader once told us, that all of us as men had to take the bitter with the sweet. Sometimes it would seem that life had given us more than humanly possible to endure, overcome or even tolerate.  The test of our manhood he would tell us, was in proving that we are capable of going the distance. Could we still dance in the winner’s circle when so many others had fallen to the side of the road only a few yards from the finish line. This is a lovely metaphor. I somehow find it a trifle on the thin side however. Something gives all living things the ability feel love and to give it in return. As the years went by Redboy became a delightful pet and fabulous friend. Now years later, I know we continue to miss all of our friends that have given their love and friendship to us. Redboy is only the latest, but truth be told it feels like his situation was the most tragic. He loved his momma, but he was my boy. Beth, Trump and myself are left behind, mourning our wonderful friend. So long Red. I pray some day, we will cross paths again.  

Redboy

Redboy, my dear friend, your love still lives in my heart

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