Like the shifting of the wind, bad news can change the rhythm of your heartbeat. Rocky developed a cough just like that of Fifi. The cough was sudden and I knew deep inside that the result would not be what I wanted to hear. Rocky was at the veterinarian undergoing X-rays and ultrasounds to determine the cause when I received a call from the vet.
I remember the words, “Terry, the news is good and bad. Rocky has a tumor in his left kidney, which could be removed, however, the cough is a result of the cancer which has spread to his lungs.”
My heart sank and I replied, “It is not fair to let him suffer. When can I come say goodbye to my boy?”
“Let’s meet at five o’clock this afternoon,” the veterinarian said.
I sat in my office and said, “Thank you, Lord, for sending Rocky to be by my side, surgery after surgery, for a loving companion to ride horses with, for a faithful dog who has encouraged so many people. Thank you for my canine soul mate that sat next to me, licking the tears off my face, when I had to put Zandy to sleep several months ago. Thank you, Lord, that Rocky will not suffer with this dreaded disease.”
I had thought in the past “How am I going to handle losing Rocky? How will I tell his friends that loved him so much, what would I do?” The time came suddenly and all I could do was shift into crisis intervention mode and move forward. I had two hours to contact the teachers and colleagues that knew him and loved him as much as I did.
Thank the good Lord for email and text messaging. I absolutely could not speak to anyone without letting out the hurt that came from deep inside my gut. I knew I would not be able to talk. I sent messages to ten of Rocky’s friends and within one and a half hours they all stood in the veterinarian’s examination room to say their own heartfelt goodbyes.
Rocky went to each one of his friends—one by one—to give them a kiss and a wag of his tail. Goodbyes and I love you were filtered through the tears and hugs. When he was working, Rocky always wore a bandana around his neck. He had a dozen bandanas and it seemed most appropriate for each of us to hold and to keep one of his personal bandanas. I used mine to wipe away my tears. We all stood together and agreed that this was the time to say the last goodbye.
News filtered around the school district, and the students that Rocky saw two days before were absolutely devastated. The principal cried, the teachers cried, and students cried. I had to gather up the strength to not let them see my tears. Cards and letters, donations to the local vet school and animal shelter were given by Rocky’s friends in his memory. Rocky proved that a dog with unconditional love does make a difference.
One of my other therapy dogs, Gracie, played a huge role in helping to heal the massive pain of our loss as she daily visited with the students. Finally, Gracie put a smile on our faces and mending in our hearts. It took two weeks of visiting with the students, encouraging them to journal about their sadness, before tears were replaced with laughter. I sat amongst Rocky’s student friends and talked about writing from the heart, putting their thoughts, their hurts, their frustrations, and their times of celebrations on paper. I told them, “It’s your journal, your journey, your spelling, and your punctuation. It is from you to you. Write what’s in your heart.”
Together we sat and wrote from the deepest chamber of our thoughts. No one questioned what the others were writing. This was a group exercise in private writing.
After I finished writing, one student asked me if I felt better. I told the class that sitting there with all of them made me feel better. I did not share my writing out loud but I folded the paper, A Word for You, and left it sitting on the table.
Through it all, you will gather the courage to live with compassion and purpose.
My heart further mended when a new Border Collie was introduced into my life. I adopted Katie Lynn seven weeks after I said goodbye to Rocky. She was a special friend sent to show that life may be tough but with great courage you can make it.
Katie was severely hurt in a tornado a year before Rocky passed away. Katie became lost when strong, brutal winds, and hailstorms raced through the skies over her Oklahoma home. She became a victim of the devastation.
While emergency and rescue workers combed through the rubble searching for victims, Katie was left hurt and wandering helplessly for weeks before being rescued.
While searching for food and water, Katie was shot in the abdomen for simply looking for a safe place to rest. Eventually, she was picked up and placed in an animal shelter. Katie lost her hearing and was totally deaf. Her left ear, pelvis, and several ribs were broken. There was a bullet embedded in the right side of her body and she had a mouth full of broken teeth that were infected.
The state of Oklahoma required that animals left homeless from the tornado be placed in a shelter for a four-month period of time before they could be adopted. However, money was not provided for the care of these animals.
Katie remained in the animal shelter for four months with minimal treatment. Her teeth continued to get worse, the bullet remained in her body, and no one claimed her. It seemed like she was waiting out her four-month death sentence.
Because of an act of kindness, life turned around for Katie. After completing her stay in the shelter, Katie was released to the All Border Collie Rescue and placed in one of their foster homes in Oklahoma. The rescue immediately began to provide the medical attention she desperately needed.
As with most foster homes, children or animals are not part of the permanent family and they are often moved from home to home. So within the rescue, Katie went to a foster home located in Texas. Her new foster mom, Shirley, provided emotional healing, unconditional love, and care for Katie on a daily basis. Because of Shirley’s compassion and purpose, over time the efforts paid off and Katie became a healthy dog.
Katie learned to communicate with her eyes so Shirley taught her sign language for come and stay. Katie and Shirley proved to each other that unconditional love does make a difference.
It was the right time and the right place for me to find Katie and to open my home to her permanently. I made the same promise to her as I made to Rocky and the others. “I promise to love you and to see that you are never hungry or thirsty. I promise to take care of you and provide you the best home I possibly can. Your new home will be forever and you will never have to worry about being sent away, mistreated, or hurt. We will love each other, walk through the pasture together, go places and just have fun,” I looked deep into Katie Lynn’s eyes and added, “When the day comes that you can no longer continue with a good quality of life, I promise I will hug and kiss you and stand by you to say goodbye. I will not ever let you suffer.”
Katie Lynn has a story to tell and she will be an encouragement for overcoming struggles and obstacles. Just like each of us, Katie’s life has been a journey itself. She will never walk in Rocky’s paw prints, or wear his bandana, and she can never take Rocky’s place, but she will leave her own story in the hearts of the friends that she meets.
As I continue to work on my writing and my journey, Katie is sleeping in Rocky’s bed. She has a special place in my heart as I see a dog that is thankful for unconditional love and security.
Deep down inside, I understand being in a foster home, the fear of being placed again and again in another home, the adjustments it takes to live with strangers, and the courage it takes to survive. I fully comprehend the courage it takes to step out and make a way in life and to set and achieve goals.