“Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment.” -Caroline Knapp
I found Annie shortly after my youngest went off to college. The so-called empty nest seemed very empty and I had an overwhelming need to nurture.
Annie was one of 44 Newfoundlands that were surrendered from a commercial breeding operation after the owner died. They were what was left of an unethical breeder that had been in business for many, many years. Hundreds of dogs were produced without regard to health standards and issues involving their hearts, eyes, skin, joints and cancer were passed on with each litter.
The breeding dogs were neglected in every way imaginable. They lived in filth, didn’t receive veterinary care, weren’t fed or given fresh water appropriately and never received human companionship.
If ever there was a dog that needed nurturing, it was Annie. She was guarded, fearful and seemed to have a broken spirit. We took it one day at a time. I always approached her slowly, quietly and gently. I gave her the time she needed to learn to trust and understand what our relationship could be. When she was ready, our relationship began to blossom and we developed an unbreakable bond.
I wanted to make up for lost time and give her the best life possible. I also wanted the world to know about her, she had been hidden away and neglected for too long. I turned to social media, it was a safe way to introduce her and tell her story without subjecting her to the stress of actually meeting people.
I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the loving reception Annie received from so many. I was able to capture the many facets of her personality in photos and our instagram account took off. On the day she left us, we had reached 3500 followers and the messages of love and support were abundant and incredible.
We have made so many friends this way and even though we haven’t met the majority of them, we keep up with each other, sharing moments, trading stories, offering advice and celebrating the love for our dogs.
I also started writing her story and that was the beginning of this blog. One of our first followers was Theresa and her black rescue dog Sammy. She read Annie’s story (Annie’s Second Chance) and followed along with each new post, often times commenting. She fell in love with Annie and helped me celebrate her progress as time went on. She immediately reached out to me when Annie died and we shed tears together from afar.
Last week I got a card from her and I had to pause a moment before I opened it. I knew that she genuinely grieved for Annie and I was so touched that she was sending her condolences. When I opened it I was completely overwhelmed by what was inside. She had donated a bed and cover in honor of Annie to the shelter where she had found Sammy.
Annie had never had a bed of her own before she came to our house. When we set up her crate and put in the fluffy liner, she snuggled right in and sighed. Her crate was her safe space, we called it her turtle shell. When she was nervous she would curl up inside, when she was feeling confident, her chin and paws would poke out of the front. When she was waking up, she would start to rub her nose and face into the bumper. When she was feeling really good, she’d plant her hind feet on the back wall and roll her back around in the softness. Safely tucked inside her crate on her favorite bed was the only time she ever exposed her belly, that never happened anywhere else. She was in that bed when she fell asleep for the final time, and took her bed with her for eternity.
How could Theresa know that was the perfect item to donate in honor of Annie? Even though they never met, she knew Annie, she cared about Annie. Is is possible that Annie sent her some sort of message, knowing that she would receive it? Did Annie tell her that every dog deserves to have a bed of their own?
I ask this because I think Annie sent me a message. The day after she died, I was a complete wreck. I didn’t sleep the night before. Bedtime had a very specific ritual, starting with getting Maisie and Winn upstairs first because Annie wouldn’t go up until they were already in our room. Annie would go up when she was ready, and I would go up behind her, then she’d wait for me to turn off the lights and we’d walk down the hall together into our room. Annie would snuggle into her Big Barker bed and I would administer her eye drops then give her lots of kisses on her face.
That first night without her was so hard and I was so sad the next day. We had some good friends stop by in the evening and they did their best to distract me from my grief. I was sort of drifting in and out of the conversation when suddenly I smelled Annie near my face. The medicine she had been taking made her breath smell sweet, it was very distinctive, and it was overpowering. I was startled but tried not to show a reaction. I glanced around the room and within the next few minutes it happened again, the second time not quite as strong and the final time softer still like she was just brushing past me. I think she was telling me she was OK, and was with me. This would always be her home, the place where she found love and happiness.
I know it sounds crazy and I can’t really explain it, but I also can’t prove it didn’t happen. The day after Annie died, a woman reached out to me and wanted to make me a card to celebrate Annie. Ann and I have never met and normally I would turn down an offer, but for some reason I thought yes, I would like to have a card to put with my Annie memories. We traded a few messages, she read Annie’s story on the blog and pulled some pictures off of Facebook. She told me she had to set it aside, she felt like she was getting signals from Annie and the next morning she changed the format, and traded out some pictures. It was so beautiful and when I received it I immediately thanked her. She told me which pictures she put in at the last-minute, and both of them were taken at very special moments that Annie and I shared. Ann felt that Annie told her they were special to her and needed to be included in the card. Unexplainable yes, but I also can’t prove that didn’t happen.
Annie brought so many people into my life. Because of her experience, I educated myself about proper breeding practices. I never would have found Winn and her wonderful breeder if I didn’t first become aware of the horrors that so many dogs go through at the hands of unethical breeders. Connie and Tracy taught me about the Newfoundland Club of America, how to fit a draft harness and that chickens and dogs really can get along. I met Ashley through instagram and she introduced me to the North Central Newfoundland Club and encouraged my participation in the water and draft tests. Pam and I also met through instagram and now support each other at Rally Trials in the area. So many people embraced me with their condolences through messages, cards and gifts.
Annie was very, very special. She was unlike any other dog I’ve known. She was subtle but she was an excellent communicator. It didn’t take long for me to understand her cues and what she was telling me. She was always nearby and even if she wasn’t in the same room, I always felt her presence and knew where she was. I miss her terribly, but I still feel her presence.
I’m so glad I was able to share her final, glorious, senior years with the world. Thank you to all of our friends, near and far, who fell in love with her too.
“No animal I know of can consistently be more of a friend and companion than a dog.” -Stanley Leinwall
P.S. After I put the final edits on this post, I went upstairs to take a shower. When I came back downstairs, Winn had swiped the cards from Theresa and Ann and shredded them all over the floor. I think she misses Annie as much as I do.