HERSHEY, OUR “PAWS & PADDLES” PET
By Connie Wright Stanley
Hershey, our Chocolate Standard Poodle, entered our lives after we bought and renovated a Tybee Cottage for our pet-friendly cottage rental business, “Paws & Paddles,” near Savannah on the Georgia coast. Decorator Jane Coslick, of “Coastal Living” fame, helped us and inspired us to get a pet when she had a cute sign made for our back deck. It was two poodles paddling a kayak.
Hershey barreled his way right into our lives from the time Mike and I first laid eyes on him. A large muscular dog, he had been used for breeding until recently. At 7 he was neutered and needed a new home. He was not leash friendly and was skittish around people. That first day, the beginning of a three-day trial weekend with him, he was very excited. A beautiful dog with excellent conformation, he carried himself like the proud stud dog he had been. But I was concerned when it was clear that we were having a problem just trying to get him in the car! Mike had that look. I got in the back seat with Hershey…the beginning of our life with this magnificent dog.
Hershey was so huge and unpredictable. We had previously had miniature poodles that I could pick up and carry. Not this one! He chewed everything. I think he was upset and expressed it by chewing. We got him some indestructible Gonuts. One looked like a summer sausage the other a large black donut. They worked! Walking him was a tug of war. We tried a harness discovered online and it was great. He reminded me of a thoroughbred horse. Loud sudden sounds scared him and he would jump and run. He seemed almost afraid of people and shied away from a outstretched hand. We took him on his first trip to Tybee and of course we didn't have a kennel, but he took over Mike’s day bed. Hershey liked his bed in the great room just as long as we were in there. We spent most of our time on the sun porch with him nearby. Hershey was settling into both of his homes, the Tybee cottage and the Blue Ridge Mountain home above Roanoke, where he had his own bed in our bedroom.
We took Hershey with us everywhere we went: Tybee, Savannah, our Windy Gap mountain home in Virginia, and nearby Smith Mountain Lake. He was happy as long as he was with us. He conquered his fear of loud sounds and began reaching out to strangers when we walked on the Roanoke Greenway. He did his best to nudge their hand into petting him. We taught him to shake hands, a simple trick that he turned into his way of communicating. He would fasten those big brown eyes on you and sit and raise up his paw and hold it slightly pointing to one side and wait for you to figure out what he wanted. In the morning he wanted his first hugs of the day. Petting wasn't enough. He needed a full out body hug. Just as you would hug your child or your spouse. He practiced learning not to knock us or others down as he crashed through any open doors. We started by making sure he knew we were in charge. Door opens, Mommy first, then Daddy, then Hershey. It took patience and lots of practice. But he not only learned that but learned to stay and wait until we said come. We were so proud. He learned to walk on a loose leash and he totally enjoyed any and every walk that he got. He learned to trust people and enjoyed everyone. I enjoyed seeing the smiles he brought to strangers’ and friends’ faces. He was a joy, a constant companion, a friend, and a delightful listener.
One day he stopped eating his regular food. We thought it was something minor like a virus. The vet suggested changing his food. We did. He seemed to like the new food. But after a few weeks he wasn't eating again. Back to the vet. We were shocked to find out he had Lymphoma. More shocked to learn he only had a few weeks left. He received meds to help him want to eat and perked up. We continued to take him every where we went. He went on boat rides on Smith Mountain Lake. I can still see those long brown silky ears blowing in the wind as he sat near the bow of the boat and we cruised down the main channel. He came to our neighborhood Homeowners picnic. Typically no pets were invited. But we knew this might be the last time everyone would see Hershey. That night I woke up a little after 3:00 a.m. and felt very anxious. Hershey wasn't in our room. He had gone into the great room and was under the ceiling fan. He didn't get up, but more importantly he didn't look at me when I came in the room. I knew something was very wrong. I talked to him and could tell it wasn't good. He seemed hot and his breathing was rough. I told him if it was time it was ok for him to go. If he needed help we would take him to his vet’s at 8:00 a.m. when they opened.
I woke Mike after a couple of hours because I was sure the end was near. We stayed with Hershey, hugging and petting him. He seemed hot so I wiped him down with cool water. It was cooler outside. I opened the terrace door to let the cool air in. Hershey marshaled all the strength he had left and staggered two steps to the door. He stood there shaking and then took two steps outside and lay down on the cool stone tiles. We put towels under his legs and around him to protect his now bony legs and hips from the rough surface. We talked to him and petted him. His eyes were now unresponsive. His breathing became harder. He struggled once with his legs rapidly flailing. We held him and told him we were there and loved him.
A short while later his heart stopped beating with my hand on his heart. At 7:50 a.m. ten minutes before his vet would be at his office he passed away outdoors under the now blue sky. We miss him terribly but I am so glad that we took a chance on loving and welcoming another dog into our home. If we hadn't I would have missed spending two of the best years of my life learning to know and love Hershey. Yes, our hearts are broken. But I would do it over in a heartbeat. Hershey taught us to open our hearts to the possibility of love and joy even if it is fleeting and temporary. “Paws and Paddles” remains a haven, and treasure chest of Hershey memories, for us and our renters who bring their beloved pets along to the coast. Someday we will welcome and love another dog into our homes. I will love Hershey today and forever more.