My Therapist has Fur and Long Legs
A friend of ours after owning his first English Mastiff said his retirement dream was to have a Mastiff farm. There is something about Mastiffs that separates them from other breeds. I learned this when we got our first Mastiff, Murphy. As I started writing about Murphy I started thinking about all the other dogs I’ve had in my life, especially those I’ve had since becoming a single parent.
I became a single parent in my thirties. My two boys were ages six and eight. Most of their time was spent with me, so the pressure was on me to do my best. My oldest was into sports and my youngest, dogs. These were my interests as well when I was a kid and as an adult. We were good.
When my youngest son Nick was born, we had a black and white Great Dane named Maude. Great Danes are happy, goofy dogs. Big dogs! As far as my oldest son was concerned, he was just another member of the family, but things were different between Nick and Maude. Their relationship blossomed over the years. Maude was diagnosed with a pancreatic condition when Nick was five and she was six. She was losing weight. Her health was deteriorating. It was time for me to make that decision. I sat with the kids to explain that she was sick and in a lot of pain and that her doctor was going to help her go to sleep so she wouldn’t be in pain any longer. My oldest was accepting of this news. Nick of course was teary-eyed. Losing Maude was going to affect him more, emotionally. I kept Maude home another few days so Nick could spend some time with her, and he did. I would come downstairs the next three mornings and find Nick sitting on the floor with Maude reading her a book. She didn’t know he couldn’t read but loved having him next to her. When she put her head on his lap, it covered his legs. It was quite the sight. The day I was to take Maude to the vet I asked the kids if they wanted to stay home from school. Neither one wanted to stay home.
I had taken the day off from work to bring Maude to the vet. She was the first dog I had ever taken to have “put down.” I thought that being with her would put her at ease. My heart was breaking, but I knew this was best for her. Maude’s diagnosis was going to cause her more pain each day and in the end, take her life. Being with her as she took her last breath in a safe environment was the least I could do for her. She had filled our lives with love and laughter for the last six years.
When the kids got home from school that day, we all worked together to pack up Maude’s bed, her food and water bowls, and her toys. Nick was sad but held his chin high. He and I sat on the front steps of the house that warm summer night and shared stories about Maude, many of them he had not heard before. I asked him if he’d like to pick a star in her name so that anytime he wanted to be with her, he knew she would be within the stars. He smiled.
As I sat there on the steps with Nick, I remember thinking back to my childhood. I remembered my Dad telling me with tears in his eyes that they brought my dog to the farm. I know this was a very difficult talk for him, but I wanted to talk reality to my kids. It seemed like years that I would look for my dog, hoping she would find her way back home to me. This little boy sitting next to me was trusting me to tell him the truth. He took in every word I said. It was an amazing feeling.
We were a little teary-eyed over the next couple of weeks. It was time to get another dog, but there was one big problem. I did not have any money to buy a dog. So, I started looking in the local newspaper. This was back when you could find used cars, furniture, rentals, and even puppies in the “classifieds.” Well don’t you know, the first local paper I looked at had an ad that read “Looking for a good home for a 12-week-old puppy.” So excited, I called the number and asked if the puppy was still available. “Yes, he is. Would you like to come to see him?” I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
I thought it best that I go by myself to see the puppy. He was only a couple of miles away from our house. I drove up a long, dirt driveway that led to a cute little house in the woods. As I got out of my car, a woman came out to greet me. She asked what experience I had with puppies. I assured her that I was familiar with puppyhood and that I had four puppies, all large-sized dogs, over the years prior to this one. I told her about our recent loss and that we were ready for another dog. It was obvious that she didn’t want to give her puppy to just anyone.
We walked into her kitchen. I saw this little black nose and shining eyes peek out from under some jackets that were hanging on the entryway wall. When he came out from under the jackets, I gasped a little. Oh my, I said. He’s a big boy. He looked like a miniature Newfoundland. Shiny black fur and a bundle of energy. “I’ll take him.”
Two days later, on a Saturday, the kids and I took a ride. “Where are we going?” I told them I had a surprise for them. That was the first day of the rest of Jesse’s life. He was a terror, but we loved him right from the start. He grew to ninety pounds and was part of our family for the next nine years.
Jesse was not doing well. I don’t think the kids noticed it, but I was concerned because I was leaving for a business trip. I was traveling to Australia and Jesse had not been himself for the two weeks prior. I asked the kids to keep a close eye on him. My oldest had his license and a truck that they could transport Jesse in if they needed to. The veterinarian we used was a personal friend, so I called him to let him know I would be out of town and that I had concerns. He said he would be happy to handle anything that came up.
When I returned home ten days later, I noticed Jesse had lost a lot of weight, and he looked miserable. After a visit to the vets, they determined he had cancer. It was a sad day for us. Our crazy puppy Jesse grew to be a beautiful shiny black dog who had helped us through some difficult times over the years. Nick accompanied Jesse and me to the vet the day we had him put down. Nick was the reason Jesse came into our lives, and Nick was the one who took care of Jesse on a daily basis. It was a big step for him, but I was glad he was going to be with Jesse that day. Nick held Jesse’s head while the vet gave Jesse his shots. I was grateful that the vet knew Nick well and was able to talk him through the process.
Jesse was the first dog that I had cremated after euthanasia. His ashes were in a little round tin container that looked like something you would put cookies in to give as a gift. I never knew what to do with his ashes, so he ended up in the linen closet. In fact, that tin container traveled with us from house to house for years. I never thought to get an urn or burying the container somewhere. Linen closets became Jesse’s place. When Nick died about eighteen years later, I asked if Jesse’s ashes could be put in the casket and buried with Nick. I will never forget that day when I reached into the linen closet and took the container of ashes out of the closet saying, “Jesse, I have found you a home. You are going to be with Nick again.” It made me very happy.
Nick and I had talked about getting another dog. This was while Jesse was still alive. He was getting old, so I thought it would be nice to have another dog to keep him company and ease our pain when Jesse left us.
“What kind of dog are you interested in?” I asked Nick. He said he wanted a Newfoundland. After doing some research on “Newfies,” I discovered that they can have heart issues. A good Newfoundland breeder would guarantee their dogs for two years, but as I said to Nick, I wouldn’t want to take that chance. We get so attached to the dogs. It would be hard to give one back to the breeder because it was sick. He agreed.
Not long after that conversation, Nick went to the dog show in Boston and discovered English Mastiffs. One of them weighed 250 pounds. His name was Goliath. The reason I know this is because I ended up calling the breeder who owned Goliath. I was inquiring to see if they had any puppies. I had no experience with Mastiffs. I didn’t even know what they looked like!
The breeder was local to us. She said to come over to see the dogs and that she wanted the whole family there. I told her it was just me and the two boys; I was a single parent. She then explained that we would be going through an interview process while we were there. They required this of all new owners. Samson, one of their males, was used for the vetting process. If Samson didn’t like us, we would not get a dog. The names made me smile – Samson and Goliath. All their dogs had biblical names. Well, it ended up that Samson liked us - a lot. We passed the test when he sat his butt on the couch between the two kids and appeared quite content. At the end of our visit, they asked if we would like to meet Goliath. That was a real treat. He was huge!! 230 pounds.
We placed our order for a puppy. It would be available in May. I was so excited. We were going to get our first Mastiff. Not long after that is when Jesse’s health declined quickly. We faced the inevitable - putting him down sooner than later.
I called the breeder to tell her what was going on and asked if they happened to have any puppies available rather than waiting until May. She was sad to hear about our dog but went on to say that they just happened to have a little girl available, so off we went to meet this “little” girl. When we drove up the driveway, we saw Goliath in the pen located at the front of the house. You couldn’t miss him. Looking closer, we saw a puppy playing with Goliath. It was the little girl who was not really that little.
It was a sight to see: this puppy grabbed onto Goliath’s tail, holding on, and going for a ride that looked like a carnival ride. She was a tough little thing. “We’ll take her!” Nick came with me in case we brought her home. I would need help I told him. He held her in his lap for the ride home. She was adorable and took to Nick right away. I had the feeling that Nick’s dog Jesse made sure we were matched up with this puppy – a puppy who looked at you with love, just like Jesse did. We named her Murphy.
When I first put eyes on her, I was expecting a much smaller puppy and soon learned that she was one of the smaller puppies in her litter. They lost her mother at the delivery. One more search to be sure all the puppies had been born. This is when they found the “little girl.” It was an amazing story. I always thought this dog was special. She was meant to be on this earth to do special work. Part of her special work was with my father who had throat cancer. He was unable to talk and it appeared our little girl understood that because she gave him lots of attention. Any time he visited, she would be drawn to him. Instead of jumping up and down with excitement as she did with others, she would sit next to Dad’s chair and look up at him. He would smile and pat her on the head. They loved each other. It was so special, for us and for my Dad.
The average life span of a Mastiff is eight to ten years. Murphy was only six years old when she was diagnosed with bone cancer in one of her front legs. I noticed she was limping and dropping weight, so after her diagnosis, we had her put down within days. The next step was going to be telling Nick. He was in the Navy at the time, stationed at Pearl Harbor.
Dogless again, I called a few of my dog-loving friends to tell them we lost Murphy and were in search of a puppy. A friend of mine told us about a litter of pups that were available. They were a mix of Lab and Short Haired Pointer. The puppies greeted us with vigor. Jumping up and down and tails wagging. There was one little chubby pup who was laying down in the far corner of the pen. He looked like the perfect dog for us.
We named him Ben. The little chubby dog turned into a monster. He fooled us. We were beginning to think he was possessed. Not really, but it did feel that way at times. He caused so much destruction in his first year. One morning I heard a ripping noise coming from the kitchen. There he was, ripping wallpaper off the wall under the kitchen table. I was upset and he knew it. I dragged him out from under the table and went back to my desk. He followed me, sat down next to my chair, and looked up at me. I had already called my husband Buddy to tell him I needed him home as soon as he had a chance. “This dog has to go.” After hanging up the phone I looked down at him and with tears in my eyes yelled as loud as I could, “GET AWAY FROM ME! NOW! GO!” And he did. I don’t know where he went and really didn’t care at that point. I had never been so angry with a dog. The funny thing is, from that point on he was the perfect dog. He was smart. He knew he had crossed the line. He had become the perfect dog.
When Nick returned home from the Navy, he met “piranha dog” Ben. He got the biggest kick out of him. We now had an in-house dogsitter. Ben ruled the roost when we were away. We would hear the funniest stories. My favorite was Nick letting Ben sleep in his room with him. The night would start off with Nick on his bed and Ben laying next to him on the floor. By morning, Nick would be on the floor with a blanket and Ben would be on Nick’s bed.
Ben was a great entertainer – a real comedian. We were sitting in the kitchen with friends who were visiting when Ben came running in with a pair of Buddy’s underwear in his mouth. We laughed so hard.
I was lucky that we had a home-based business, so I was home with the dog most of the day. Buddy came home for lunch. He had his favorite: peanut butter and jelly. The phone rang. It was a new customer who had some questions. Since Buddy was home, I delegated the call to him. Next thing I know, I hear him saying in a strong whisper, “Hey, give me that!” and he was running around the dining room table chasing after Ben who held the sandwich in his mouth. He had helped himself to the sandwich while we were busy on the phone. About the phone – Buddy had put the phone down on the floor when he started chasing the dog. Hearing all the commotion, I quickly picked up the phone, muffled it against my tummy and reminded Buddy that there was a customer on the phone. I then brought the phone up to my ear and explained. Thankfully, they were quite amused.
One of our customers was a Mastiff breeder. Buddy told him that we’d be interested in a puppy when they had a litter. This is the only time we unintentionally challenged Ben. We ended up getting our second Mastiff puppy. I swear I heard Ben say multiple times, “when is it going to leave?” meaning Ruthie, the puppy. Once he realized Ruthie was there to stay, he worked out a nice relationship with her. Ben weighed about 60 pounds; Ruthie matured to a 180-pound adult, so Ben was smart to make friends with her.
Ruthie was somewhat of a terror as a puppy, but she was lovable. She was very strong. One morning I heard the bathroom door hit the wall. I was sitting having my morning coffee when I saw her running out of the bathroom towing the five-foot bathroom rug behind her. The next morning, she grabbed the towel I had under her crate to protect the rug and pulled that AND the crate across the living room floor. All I can say is that puppies in our household have fun! Our focus is to keep them safe. Ruthie was going to need more supervision than I expected, and I was going to need more training!
We started attending group training sessions when Ruthie was three months old. We continued with more training, more than we expected. We had agreed with the breeder that Ruthie would be entered in dog shows. She would have a handler. This was a new world for us. Showing dogs is hard work. So as soon as we finished the training sessions for puppies, we started more advanced training, then more training. You get the idea.
Our responsibility as show dog owners was to take good care of the dog, keep her clean, keep her nails trimmed and bring her to lots of training and local New England shows. Our first official show was in Rhode Island. Ruthie was about ten months old at this point. She was a nut – a high-energy dog. I happened to be standing at one side of the ring behind a row of seated ladies. It was a beautiful day. Both Ruthie and her sister were being shown. They were so funny. All they wanted to do was play with each other, and we were trying to keep them clean. A hand towel was standard equipment around Mastiffs because of the drool factor.
Ruthie and her handler were trotting around the ring. Just a pup in training, she was not expected to win anything that day. As she trotted by, one of the ladies said, “Why does Jimmy (Jimmy was the handler) show all the crazy dogs.” I took offense to that. But all that training paid off. She loved being in the ring with Jimmy. All that energy turned Ruthie into a winner. After her first win, she won the next five shows she was entered in, which gave her Champion status at eighteen months old. That is quite young for a Mastiff to become Champion.
Once she “Finished,” which means becoming a Champion, she was invited to the Westminster Dog Show in New York City. So many dogs, and so much competition. I was not concerned with the competition. Ruthie was there more for the experience than to win. At least that’s how I looked at it. But I felt bad for her that she had to be crated for the entire day. It is what they call a bench show, so all dogs have to be crated all day. The only time she could leave the crate was to do her business in a designated area, or to go into the ring to compete.
Not long after Westminster, Ruthie was invited to compete at the Eukanuba Dog Show in Orlando, Florida. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for us and for Ruthie. We rented a minivan and drove from Massachusetts to Orlando. There was a big difference between the Westminster show and the Orlando show. In Orlando, we stayed in a beautiful hotel. There were specific floors for the dogs and their owners. Ruthie had a blast. One day in the lounge area an English Bull Dog jumped toward Ruthie. He put his front paws out in front of him and stuck his wiggling butt up in the air wanting to play. Ruthie was familiar with Bull Dogs, so she wanted to play as well. What a disaster that would have been. As owners of these dogs, we are responsible for keeping our dogs in line. Good behavior at a show and at the hotel is critical. This can be especially tricky when there are intact giant male dogs in the same area as dogs that may be in heat.
Ruthie performed better in Florida than in New York. She was one of sixteen dogs at the final show she had qualified for. The dogs were all Mastiffs. Ruthie ended up in the final group of six dogs. We were so excited. She had a chance to get a ribbon. The judge was coming around again to view the dogs. One of Ruthie’s faults was that she would want to sit while waiting for the judge. Sitting during a show is an absolute no-no, and points will be deducted. As we stood watching, waiting for the judge to reach Ruthie, we were whispering under our breath, “please don’t sit, please don’t sit.” Well, guess what. She sat – well, she almost sat. Jimmy was able to quickly get her up standing. Her butt had barely touched the floor. Did the judge see her? We will never know if that’s why she didn’t place, but it sure was exciting to say the least. We were very proud of our pup.
Now it was time to think about breeding. I was excited and nervous about this idea. The breeders said they would manage the breeding process. We would keep Ruthie home until it was time for the puppies to be delivered. Once the puppies were born, Ruthie and her puppies would stay at the breeders’ house until the puppies no longer needed their mother’s milk. The night before Ruthie was to have her C-Section, I was talking to the breeder. We were making plans to meet at the animal hospital the next morning. We reviewed what we were to watch for. Hearing all the things that could happen that night made me nervous. I asked them if they could keep her at their house that night. I did not want to have anything go wrong on my watch. All I could think was “Oh my, what have I gotten into?” They knew I was nervous and said they would be happy to have Ruthie stay with them that night.
This whole experience had been full of surprises starting with Ruthie being artificially inseminated. That procedure was done twice to be sure it took, which meant two trips to Connecticut to a specialized vet. I was imagining many puppies because of the two artificial inseminations. What did I know? Then there were more trips to Connecticut for pregnancy checks. We made more visits to the vet for this dog than I made to my doctor for both of my pregnancies!
Once we knew Ruthie was pregnant and was safely carrying at least four pups, the trips to Connecticut ended. We were in the safety zone. Through all of this, I did learn that if things went bad in the early stages of pregnancy, the mother absorbs the puppies. Ruthie was a healthy dog and took good care of herself. She knew something was different, so our crazy show dog turned into a mild-mannered expectant Mama.
The last week of Ruthie’s pregnancy was fun. I would sit on the floor with her and watch the puppies moving in her belly. Putting my hand on her belly, I could feel those little beings kicking.
The big day had arrived. I met the breeders at the vet's early the next morning. Ruthie had already been taken in for her surgery. Prior to this, the only time I had ever heard of a dog having a C-Section was when there were problems while giving birth. I was glad it was in someone else’s hands now and was praying for a safe delivery, a healthy litter and a happy Mama.
As we were sitting in the waiting room, I heard the front door open. Who appeared but Nick. I was so surprised to see him. It was a Monday morning. Why wasn’t he at work? He said he had the day off. I learned later, after he passed away, that he had quit his job. He was dealing with some serious depression. I was not aware of how serious it was. He hid it so well.
“I wanted to be here when the puppies were born,” he said. I was so happy he was there. Ruthie was special to him. They spent a lot of time together over the past almost two years. The last few weeks with Nick had been worrisome. He seemed so troubled. I was glad he was there for his dog. I cherish the many pictures we have of him with Ruthie. Because he was so attached to this dog, I never thought he would leave her.
The vet tech came out of the operating room and said they were ready for us. She walked us to the back of the building through the operating room door. Ruthie was still on her back being stitched up. I saw Nick look over at her. He seemed disturbed seeing her on her back in a drug-induced sleep. A few minutes later we heard the surgeon call out, “Who can help me get this beast off the table?” I smiled; Nick frowned.
The puppies were in a heated basket on a table in a little room off the operating room. They were so tiny. On average these puppies weigh a pound and a half. You can hold a puppy in one hand. Our job was to stimulate the puppies and get them crying to clear their lungs. The breeders showed Nick and me how to pick up a puppy and rub two fingers up and down its back to get them crying. Of course, Nick made a game of it. He was sure his puppy was the loudest. Little did we know that one week from that day we would be receiving news that my son had died by suicide. I will never forget that day with the puppies.
Until Briggs was old enough to come home, we spent quite a bit of time each evening at the breeders’ house to help with the puppies, which included some bottle feeding and spending time in the whelping box to be sure Ruthie didn’t step on any of them. They were bottle-fed to be sure they were getting enough nutrients in addition to their mother’s milk. Little did I know how fragile these giant dogs were when they were newborns. They were so little and their mother so big. Ruthie weighed about 160 pounds at the time. The whole process of breeding Ruthie through to her having the puppies and then finding their forever home was an interesting process. I learned so much through this experience.
Prior to the puppies being born, we had decided to keep one for ourselves. I was watching them grow week by week. Mastiffs grow from those tiny puppies to be an average of 150 to 200 pounds within two years. Their life span is eight to ten years. By week five I had chosen one of the males until one evening the female puppy came over to me. I was sitting on the floor. She climbed into my lap and stared into my eyes. The eye contact was amazing and eerie at the same time. That stare was why I changed my mind and picked her – or did she pick me? At the animal hospital when we were all holding a puppy, I often wondered if she was the pup that my son had held. I am going to guess she was.
We named her Briggs. When she was six weeks old, the breeders asked us to take her home. She was feeling her oats, picking on her three brothers causing what the breeder called “puppy wars.” He said she was eating well and that it was safe to bring her home. Her brothers were happy to see her go.
I often wondered about Briggs’ siblings: where they lived, how big they got. We did see one of the other brothers who matured to well over two hundred pounds. Another one of Briggs’ brothers ended up living in a fancy residence on the Jersey Shore. We smiled when we heard that.
We started training Briggs for shows after her puppy kindergarten classes. She was more conservative than her mother and ended up showing well. After winning a few ribbons, we decided to stop entering her in shows. Things were different. Losing a loved one, especially to suicide, will change your life forever. Both Buddy and I had difficulty working, never mind finding time for dog training. We still loved Briggs, but it felt like none of us, including Briggs wanted to compete anymore.
In her prime, Briggs weighed 160 pounds. During the last two years of her life, we reduced her weight down to 135 pounds to ease any strain on her joints. She was ten years old, looked fabulous, and was still active. Ten years old in a giant breed is equivalent to seventy-nine years old in human years. No wonder she was being careful moving about. She loved her walks around the neighborhood. She had made friends with quite a few of the neighbors and felt it was okay for her to walk up onto their porches to see if they wanted to come out and play. So funny. Everyone loved her.
We picked up another Mastiff when we were done showing Briggs. She was a year younger than Briggs. Her name was Jenny. What pals they became.
The only toys we purchased for the dogs were Nyla bones because they could not destroy them. It was not unusual for Briggs and Jenny to pick up their bones and trot around the house with them, shaking their heads back and forth. I was always afraid one of those bones would go flying and break something – like our TV. You also had to pay attention so that if they dropped one of those three-pound bones, it did not land on your toes or foot.
We heard that one of Briggs’ brothers had a gas-powered lawnmower as a toy. He would pick it up and carry it around his backyard. These dogs are strong. After hearing the lawnmower story, I was glad the “little” girl picked me.
Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is a dog trainer. I told her Briggs was slowing down, getting old. We were sharing end-of-life stories about dogs. This was about three weeks before we lost Briggs. The conversation started with us talking about my son Nick and how I was dreading the day we lost Briggs because of the timing of her birth and my son’s death; she was born exactly one week before his death. She said she could not bear the thought of anything happening to her son and was wondering how I dealt with it so well. I told her I may have the appearance of “dealing” with my loss but still had my days. I can say for a fact that my dogs bring me joy, and Briggs was so important to my grieving. She was always by my side helping me through sad times. When we lost her cousin Jenny a couple of years ago, we helped each other through the grieving process.
Briggs had been doing so well. We thought she would be with us for another couple of years, but then all of a sudden she began to have difficulty getting up from the floor. I noticed her tripping, both front, and rear feet. When she was at Buddy’s sister’s house, she tripped and fell. We were out of town. I guessed tripping and falling could become part of an old dog’s life. If an elderly person trips and they are unable to hold their balance, they will fall.
The Friday night before she died, we talked about making an appointment with the vet to have them listen to her heart. She was sleeping a lot and not climbing up on her bed (her couch) anymore, I think because she was too weak. When we retired at night, we would shut the lights off and say good night to Briggs, and every night she would come into the bathroom and put her head against each of us. I called this her hug.
After giving us hugs, Briggs would step outside the bathroom and look at us. She did not want to go back to bed unless one of us went with her, usually me. I would walk with her to her couch bed. She would step up onto her bed and sit there waiting for a hug. Once I gave her a hug, she would lay down and go to sleep. She stopped coming to say good night about a month before she died, and she stopped climbing up onto her bed too. She slept on the floor in front of the couch. I had never had a Mastiff reach the age of ten, which Briggs had done three months prior. She was an old lady who loved life. I paid close attention to her as she slowed down. When we went for our walk, I walked slowly so she would. Otherwise, she’d be trotting around the block and end up exhausted. She was a very well-behaved giant who loved her neighbors, and they loved her. It was so funny when we were out for our walks. We live in a mobile home park and people drive slowly. A car would come by and Briggs was tall enough that she could look into the window of the cars. She’d wag her tail and the people would laugh. I’d ask her, “is that your friend, Briggs?” If she could have answered, I’m sure she would have said yes.
We often play cribbage on the porch in the evening. Briggs had been on the porch with us. She got up and stepped into the house leaving us behind, which was not unusual, but something felt different this night. She was always an independent dog, but she had become clingy over the past few months, leaning against us, pressing her head against our legs, and putting her head on our laps. I called these her hugs.
I heard something bang in my office. I got up to check and found Briggs standing behind my office door. She had knocked over a heavy doorstop. Without the doorstop, the door partially closes. I peeked around the door and saw her. She was trying to stand but all her legs were slightly splayed. She was having difficulty standing and was visibly upset. Looking closer, I saw that she had lost control of her bladder on the office floor and could not walk to maneuver her way out of the office. This was the beginning of a very long night.
I called out to Buddy asking him to come help. We somehow got Briggs into the living room, and once she laid down, she never got up again. This was about 6:30 in the evening. She was breathing heavily and could barely lift her head. She would scoot to her right towards Buddy and then later scoot to her left towards me. We got down on the floor with her for the last hour she was alive. Her struggle to breathe had worsened. By midnight, Briggs could not hold her head up or hold her eyes open. A half-hour before she died, she did raise her head, opened her eyes, and looked straight into my eyes. It felt like she was saying “goodbye” and “thank you” for being there for her. Earlier, she stared into the kitchen up towards the ceiling. I don’t know what your beliefs are, but I think there was someone else there for her to help her cross over. She passed a little after midnight.
I have had dogs for as long as I can remember. At one point, we had three Mastiffs living in the house with us. Their total weight was about 475 pounds. We learned to high step through the house as we stepped over the dogs in our travels from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom and back. And there is something common amongst Mastiffs – they love to go in the bathroom with you. Our bathroom would get very crowded.
We were considering getting another dog but downsizing to a smaller breed. We agreed that we are getting too old for the giant dogs, especially when they go through their crazy teenage years. Handling the giant breeds can be challenging. Believe me, I’ve taken quite a few falls over the years being knocked over by these big dogs. We’ve had friends take falls with their dogs as well. I’ll never forget a wedding we brought out the first Mastiff to many years ago. Her lead got caught on a woman’s chair; the woman ended up toppling over backward, arms and legs flailing. Then there was the day a friend was out back playing with Ruthie. She jumped up, caught him off guard, and he fell over. While he was on the ground, she helped herself to his phone that had fallen out of his pocket. After running around the yard with the phone for a minute, she dropped it at his feet. Of course, it was covered in drool. So many great memories.
We were getting ready to go out a few nights after Briggs passed when I looked down at the table on the porch. The cribbage game remained unfinished. The memories of Briggs’ last hours came rushing back. I missed her so much. I soon realized that I could not bear being without a four-legged creature in the house. I love the greetings and the love that dogs bring to a family. So, it didn’t take long for us to trash the idea of waiting to get our next dog or maybe not getting a dog at all. One week after Briggs passed, we found a local Labrador Retriever breeder. We picked out a little Black Lab puppy who would be ready to come home with us the following week.
I often hear people say they cannot bear to get another dog right away. It is too painful. I found grieving the last Mastiff that I would ever own to be painful, proof that we all grieve on our own terms. I find it most important that we allow each other our ways of grieving. I would never tell someone who lost a pet that they need to get another one right away. It is important to respect each other’s choices.
The question still loomed: am I settling for a smaller breed of dog? The answer to that question became clear. After having him in the house for the last few weeks, the answer to that question is a resounding NO. This dog is so sweet. He plays hard, but he loves just as hard. This morning while I was having my coffee, he walked over to me and put his head against my shin. It felt like Briggs’ hug. I immediately looked down to see him looking back at me with those big brown eyes. We named him Eddie and he is a joy. In two weeks’ time, he has fallen in love with us, and we have fallen in love with him.
Wendy lives in Norton, MA, is married, has two children (one living and one deceased), and has two grandchildren. She is very proud of her two sons, who both joined the military out of high school and during their enlistment became non-commissioned officers. In May 2012, Wendy lost her youngest son to suicide. She has had many personal challenges in her life, but the suicide has been the most extraordinary.
For over 18 years, Wendy has worked with a nutritional supplement company that uses the direct sales business model. Also 18 years ago, she and her husband founded a more traditional company - a septic pumping company that they called Pump Grump. The company’s tagline was “you’ll be happy with the grump.” She believes they reached excellence in branding with that name.
Wendy’s specialties include sales, networking, training, team building, speaking, writing, and editing. Upholding the importance of integrity and using humor are her two mainstays.
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