Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lessons Hershey Taught Us

                                      Lessons Hershey Taught Us

Hershey our large Chocolate Standard Poodle came into our lives after we bought and renovated a Tybee Cottage near Savannah, Georgia. We planned to rent it and decided to make it pet friendly to give us an edge in the rental market. We had friends and family that struggled to find pet friendly vacation accommodations so we felt it would help in renting our cottage. Diane Kaufman head Mermaid from Mermaid Cottages told us that she had positive experiences with renting to pet owners and she agreed it would help us widen our cottage's appeal. She told us we needed a name for the Cottage and we combined the pet angle with our love for Kayaking. So Paws & Paddles it was. Diane and the Mermaids took us under their wing. Diane introduced us to Jane Coslick a decorator of Coastal Living fame and the savior of many cottages on Tybee Island. When we told the dog loving Jane we were going to be a pet friendly cottage she immediately asked what kind of dog do you have? She was surprised by our answer. None. We had lost 3 pets in quick secession twenty years prior and had our hearts broken several times over. Technically we had never gotten another pet. We did have a sweet stray cat that liked us and we gave her a home in our garage. I refused to call her our cat even though we made her a place to sleep complete with a small heating pad for cold winter nights. She stayed with us for almost 5 years. Then she disappeared and we both realized we missed her.

Jane completed her magic on our cottage and as a surprise she had a cute sign made for our back deck. It was two poodles paddling a kayak with Paddling Poodles as a caption. It was perfect since we had previously had 3 small poodles over the years. I think Jane planted a seed the day she gave us the Paddling Poodles sign.  It occurred to me one day that one of our reasons for not getting another dog no longer existed. We no longer had to worry about making arrangements for pet care! We now owned a pet friendly cottage where we would be spending most of our vacation time.

I started watching the newspaper for Standard Poodle puppies for sale. Then one Saturday morning I spotted an ad for a seven year old Chocolate Standard Poodle. He needed a good home. I had always had a soft spot for Chocolate poodles. I dumped the idea on Mike and he was resistant but gave in eventually. We would only take the dog for a three day weekend with no guaranties of keeping him. I called and they said a trial for the long 3 day weekend would be fine with them. 

Hershey barreled this way right into our lives from the time we first laid eyes on him. He was a large muscular male dog. He had been used for breeding until recently. At 7 he was neutered and now he needed a new home. He was not leash friendly and came crashing out the door. He was very excited. He was a beautiful dog with excellent confirmation. He carried himself like the proud stud dog he had been. 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 decided I would get in the back seat and then with help Mike got Hershey in the car with me. He was very nervous, panting and moving about the car. I kept petting and talking to him and he started to calm down as we drove off from what I presumed to be the only home he had ever known. 

Hershey seemed so huge and excitable. We had previously had miniature poodles that I could pick up and carry. Hershey seemed big enough to ride! When he ran through the house the first time I was mentally expecting something to crash and break at every turn. But he managed to avoid breaking anything. We decided to give him a tennis ball to play with. Mistake. He shredded it in two minutes. Same result with a plastic bowl. Oops. I was wondering if this was why he needed a new home when he came in the room with my good wool baseball cap with a now partially shredded leather brim. We figured out he needed something to chew on. We got him some indestructible Gonuts. One looked like a summer sausage the other a large black donut. They worked! I think he was upset and expressed it by chewing the tarnation out of stuff. The only stuff he was allowed to have were his new toys and he would chew and chew on them. Walking him was a tug of war. Not enjoyable for him or us. We googled dog training and saw a harness gizmo that might help. We tried it and it was great. If he pulled he literally turned him self back towards us and no choking from a collar. Not perfect but much better. He was very skittish. 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. He seemed to be more distrustful of men. We settled into a routine with daily walks up the mountain. He stayed in the basement in a four by six foot kennel at night and while we were at work. He was always so excited to get out of the kennel. He was good about going in most of the time. If he tried to avoid going into the kennel we would put him on his leash and he would walk right in. We took him on his first trip to Tybee and of course we didn't have a kennel. Jane had slip covered a dog bed out of the same material as our great room chair. So he had that and a bone shaped sign over the bed that said, " Ruff Life ". Jane had made both for our doggie guests since we at the time did not have a dog. Funny how things work out. Hershey liked his bed in the great room just as long as we were in there. We spend most of our time on the sun porch. As it turned out the day bed wasn't for Mike after all. It was Hershey's. He hopped up on it circled and plopped and that was his special place from then on. I stayed for another week and Mike and Hershey returned home to Virginia. Since Mike was gone for a long period during the day he felt bad about the amount of time Hershey was spending in the kennel. So Hershey got upgraded to his own bed in our bedroom. By the time I returned home the kennel was just a dust catcher. We ended up donating it to the local police for their new dog. Hershey seemed to calm down and started focusing on what we wanted him to do at the same time he became a equal member of the family. We took Hershey with us everywhere. Tybee, Savannah, and 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 greenway. He did his best to nudge their hand into giving him a pet. 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 it was his first hugs of the day. A pet wasn't enough. He needed a full out body hug. Just like you would hug your child or your spouse. I often couldn't get dressed without him giving me as we called it, "the Paw" multiple times. If he wanted something off your plate you got the big brown eyes and the Paw. If he wanted out, you got the Paw. 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, Mommie 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. More opportunities to score a pet. 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. I couldn't leave the room without him coming with me. His nickname was velcro. To say we were close would be a vast understatement. When he was a little over nine he had a few instances were he wasn't eating or would throw up his food. We thought it was minor and so did the vet. Until he stopped eating his regular food. Again 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. Maybe a couple of months. 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. A visit to our neighborhood homeowners picnic. Typically no pets were invited. But we knew this might be the last time everyone would see Hershey. He had lots of friends in the neighborhood and he was as always a delightful gentleman and he held court while everyone petted and fussed over him. 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 at 8:00 a.m. when they got to work. I woke Mike after a couple of hours because I was sure the end was near. We stayed with him 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 it was ok. 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. Again. 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. Not now but one day we will welcome and love another dog into our home. I will love Hershey today and forever more.

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