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There are Angels Among Us
Maida Connor

There are angels among us whose wings may be seemingly silent yet their tails telegraph deeply felt emotion. As I look upon this photo yet again, I am reminded of the dog’s innate ability to lighten hearts, dry tears, elicit laughter, and brighten lives.

The day of this photo had been like so many before, a show day filled with the usual grooming, showing, packing, and driving, until we decided to take a drive down the coast to Dana Point, California. We thought a respite along the shore might do us all a bit of good and so we stopped for a bit to gaze upon the ships and gulls while Emily (Ch. Gleanntan Grandxpose) dozed upon the cool brick walkway.

Within moments, she roused herself from gentle slumber to welcome a newcomer to our bench and offer a gift from her heart. Following the human ‘hellos’, Emily gracefully moved towards her potential friend to extend her own greetings. The moments which followed will long be remembered not for their length measured in time, but for the inspirational potency of Emily’s caring.

She realized long before we, that the kindly gentleman, whom she’d only just met, was unable to use his left side, following a recent stroke, and so, instinctively, she moved carefully to perch upon his right knee. Emily then proceeded to kiss his nose and encouraged his caress until his energy waned, and she gently moved to his feet to curl for a nap.

In time, he needed to return to his day, and thus, the man rose to bid adieu to his new friend Emily and to thank us profusely for allowing her to visit. He shared that only recently he’d lost his beloved German Shepard and given his stroke, he feared he’d never have another dog. He said visiting with Emily was one of the nicest things that had happened to him recently.

In the midst of life’s frenzy, it was wonderful to be reminded that the simple acts of caring may be those remembered the longest. It was also heartening to witness Emily’s ability to give selflessly to bring another joy, a characteristic she, like many dogs, offers with sincerity and without expectation.

While I readily admit to being ‘over the moon’ for my dogs, I am also inordinately proud of their goodness, and inspired by their gifts of self which they give often, freely, and sincerely. Each of them bring unique personalities to brighten my world, and keep me focused on the good, which exists all around.

To witness months of loving, conditioning, and training culminate in stellar show wins and ranking ascension is truly rewarding, yet it isn’t all there is, thankfully. At the end of the day, as at the beginning of each day, it is the Skyes’ unconditional love and support, which cause me to propel myself into whatever life may deliver.

Over the past many years, we’ve enjoyed showing our Skye Terriers, not only for the accomplishments, but also for the friends we’ve made, the places we’ve visited and the experiences we wouldn’t ever trade. However, like anyone loved by a dog, a Skye in particular, there will always be those whose paw prints leave a permanent mark on your heart.

For Michael and me, Emily shall forever be one such special Skye. While we had always admired Emily, we didn’t have a chance to form a bond until our friend Donna’s untimely death, as we united in sadness and brought each other comfort. Emily was in the truest sense, Donna’s girl and it was her intent to bring her back into the ring. Soul searching and I suspect, Donna’s bidding from heaven, encouraged us to work with Emily and to bring her into the ring in 2001. As Donna had been planning, we would show Emily, and hopefully, in some small way, send a message of tribute for our love of Donna, as well as to Ben, both cherished members of our family.

The months ebbed and flowed with shows, wins, and special memories shared. During this time, we learned more about Emily including her love of hotel beds, roasted chicken and squeaky toys. In time, Emily rose to Number One Skye Terrier in the USA, which mirrored her number one status in our hearts. While this accomplishment is considerable, particularly for a Skye bitch, it has been the time spent with Emily helping her through her loss of Donna, and witnessing her loving self, which has been perhaps the most satisfying. Spending time with this special Skye, keeps another special lady close in our hearts and minds, and reminds us that life is incredibly precious and fleeting.

Throughout the years, I’ve lost people and animals whose departures I was certain would shatter my heart and splinter my psyche. But for the love of dogs, I fear this would have been fact. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed by the presence of angels whose tails aflutter beckoned me to skirt the depression, to rouse one more day, to go into the world once again.

I first learned of what I call forever loss at the age of five when my mother was taken from an aneurism. As an isolated fact, this is indeed tragic, yet coupled by the reality of a New England blizzard and my ‘home alone’ status; it took on the sheen of a dramatic play.

I would have been afraid I surmise, but for the love of a dog, a strange dog no less, who apparently came to the back door and barked until I let him in. My father would tell me years later, that the dog was a big shaggy, loveable creature who refused to abandon me until he was assured he could return home, that  I was safe once again.

That dog had not been previously, nor would ever again, return to my side. How amazing that the one fateful day, I needed him most, he found me and stayed for an entire day until rescue workers and my father arrived. Perhaps that is when my belief in angels as dogs first began.

Like most dog lovers, I think of the antics my dogs display and their willingness to just sit quietly on the couch if I don’t want to play, walk, or frolic with toys. Anyone who has ever tried changing bed sheets while a Borzoi lounges gleefully upon the mountain of pillows can attest a smile erupts unwittingly. My Borzoi knows that if he stays put long enough a game of toss and fetch will surely ensue; he thinks it’s a great game; I know it’s the only way I can make my bed!

Many books have been written about the bond between humans and dogs, and for Skye lovers, every library must have a copy of “Grey Friar’s Bobby” by Eleanor Atkinson. I also have a pile of favorites which include: “Cracker: My Dog Friend” by W. Harold Thomson (1924 London) the story of a special little dog whose kindnesses illuminated the author’s life. “ never once has she wavered in her big hearted friendship. Always when I return home she is ready with her boisterous welcome..little paws against my knee, a quick lick with her tongue, and then round and round the garden like a dog gone crazy..”

From “Don’t Call a Man a Dog” by Will Judy (1924 Chicago), comes the following description of a dog: “The most loyal thing in the world is your dog. Whether you come home from Congress or from jail, whether you have lost your fortune or made a million, whether you return dressed in fashion’s splendor, or in wretched rags, whether you have been hailed a hero or condemned a criminal, your dog is waiting for you with a welcoming bark of delight, a wagging tail, and a heart knows no guile. The world likes dogs because dogs are nearest to mortal perfection of all living things.”

Since the experience of Emily’s visit with the elderly gentleman in California, we’ve taken our Skyes and our Borzoi on more outings to visit people young and old, healthy and ill, to keep us focused on what’s really important-making life just a bit nicer for someone else simply by letting our dogs telegraph their messages of kindness.

A recent trip to the Farmers’ Market in Gettysburg, found our Borzoi Java, visiting with a host of young and older people. Yet it is one visit, which like Emily’s in California, caused my heart to soar. He spotted an elderly lady sitting on a bench accompanied only by her cane, and thought he’d saunter over to say ‘hello’. He gracefully walked alongside her, nuzzled her gently, and stood for her petting. Within moments the face of a lonely women, became aglow with happiness and she shared that years ago she had a tiny dog, yet life in an apartment prevented her from owning one again. She was so appreciative that Java had stopped to visit and said it really brightened her whole week. How wonderful that our dogs instinctively know when a human needs a simple act of caring, and pauses long enough to give just that.

The book entitled “The Complete Dog” (Holt, Rhinehart, Winston, 1985 NY) is an informative read and offers a chapter I particularly like titled “The Faithful Friend” which features “The Dog as a Health Therapist”. This section chronicles the bond between human and dog, but most importantly substantiates the belief that I, like many have, which is that dogs help to heal physical and mental anguish. “ It is the health benefits a dog may give to the ordinary owner which has attracted the greatest interest recently. This was stimulated by a study in the United States of ninety-two patients recovering from coronary artery disease. Researchers founds that all of the possible factors which might be associated with remaining alive one year later, pet ownership was the most significant, excluding the severity of the heart attack itself.

An additional explanation for the health benefits derived from dogs has been studied experimentally. This theory holds that pets, including dogs, have a direct physiological effect on humans. In a pilot experiment, the blood pressure of adults stroking and talking to pet dogs was measured and proved to be no different from when they were resting quietly alone, and it might even fall in the presence of the dog. This contrasts strongly with what happens when people engage in human conversations, when blood pressure almost always rises.

It has further been suggested that the presence of calm animals, unconcerned with any dangers from their environment, has been a sign for relaxation and safety to man for most if not all of his evolutionary history. Set in a modern-home context, the sight of a contented dog may fulfill the same role and explain why a dog can reduce stress and make people feel secure.”

Remembering humans I’ve lost beyond my mother, I realize that more often than not, the presence of a dog or dogs has guided me gently beyond the gates of grief back into the land of the living. Instinctively, my dogs knew I needed their loving comfort to heal, perhaps even more than the loving support of well- intentioned friends and family.

Most recently, two of my beloved Skyes, stricken with their own life threatening illnesses, stoically stayed by my side to comfort me as my father, and then Donna passed into heaven. Once they felt some of my strength had returned, they too headed to heaven, sure that someone there needed them even more than I.

From the book “Faithful to the End” by Cecil Haddon (1991 Great Britain) comes the following: “…and when we bury our face in our hands and wish we’d never been born, they don’t sit up very straight and observe that we have brought it all upon ourselves. They don’t even hope it will be a warning to us.

But they come up softly, and shove their heads against us. If it is a dog, he looks up at you with his big true eyes and says with them “well, you’ve always got me, you know. We’ll go through the world together and always stand by each other, won’t we?”

I readily confess dogs have, and will continue to leave paw prints on my heart. They have given my life richness beyond compare. They have offered me unconditional love and they think I’m pretty special and worthy of their love. That realization is the greatest elixir of them all, for it propels me to work to emulate their goodness, to rise above life’s nonsense and to work to bring someone else a bit of kindness each and every day.

There are indeed angels among us. May their warm noses, loving paws, and heralding tails be forever blessed. May our hearts and lives be forever enriched from the love of our dogs, as we strive to think and act with their hearts.

December, 2002

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