The Puppies

Eleven years ago we stopped by an animal shelter in Rabun county. We weren’t planning on meeting a herd of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed puppies, or bringing home a bouncing brother and sister, half husky and half golden retriever. From that day on, and to this very day, they were known as “The Puppies.”

Babu looked very much like a wolf, and Bonnie was as yellow as a wheat field on a sunny day. No one would take them for litter mates but for their webbed feet and waterproof undercoats. With their siblings they were the liveliest bunch of puppies we had ever seen.

There is a good chance that the majority of these beautiful creatures didn’t live very long. The head of that shelter was arrested soon afterwards and convicted on 60 counts of theft by taking, computer theft, theft by deception and racketeering because she had solicited donations promising no kill adoptions, and many animals guaranteed to be saved were subsequently destroyed.

What an extraordinary loss of life and capacity to love! But our Puppies were destined to have many adventures between the mountains and the sea, and like all furry friends everywhere who are properly loved, they became part of our family. Last June we told you about Babu’s hip dysplasia and our decision to keep him with us as long as possible. We lost him two weeks ago.

There are quite a few memories buried in our pet cemetery on the farm. We expect as we get older to become more adept at saying goodbye, if only because time dictates that we become more familiar with loss the longer we stick around. Losing that first faithful friend as a child is hard enough. The second one represents the years we were growing up. The third was the adventures of young adulthood, and the fourth, and the fifth…? It does not get easier.

Babu’s life encompassed the last years of my dad’s life. The gentle giant who would crash through a small tree chasing a ball would slow down for my father and defer to him with extraordinary patience and gentleness, as if he sensed the delicate constitution of an old man. One of dad’s last purely joyful activities was playing catch with The Puppies.

I could fill up many chapters with Babu’s adventures and stories of loyalty and unconditional love, but so could you all from your own experience, from the Pomeranian hiding in the purse of the widow, whose constant companionship fills up some of the emptiness, to the horse who taught a young man about trust and bravery.

This, however, is a story about determination, perseverance, and the art of living in the moment; qualities that seem to be much needed in a time when every identity comes with a victim story, and entire populations are given to asking, “Why me?”

When Babu lost the use of his hind legs, he did not lose the determination to get where he wanted to go. He never gave up. He learned to pull himself forward with his powerful front legs, and the force of his will was so great that we had to work to devise various methods to protect his feet and legs from friction.

Babu had a great love for making his rounds in defense of the realm, and he liked to cool himself in the creek that runs about 40 yards below our house. On several occasions when he was nowhere to be seen, I found him on his way back from that creek, covered in mud and looking triumphant, having drug himself hundreds of feet by his front legs, down a steep embankment and up again.

Humans pride ourselves on our superior brain capacity, but we’re subject to depression and a whole host of emotional difficulties when we’re faced with adversity and loss. The “inferior” capacity of the canine clan, however, holds that “play” is the highest and best use of time. For Babu, playing ball was the pinnacle of play. When he lost the ability to chase the ball, he was even more determined to catch it, and in his final year with us, we played catch for hours. His love of “tug of war” never diminished either, and we played at something every single day for the rest of his life. Apparently the diminished capacity of a dog’s brain does not include the ability to feel sorry for oneself.

Over time our friend began to lose strength in his front legs, and nerve damage in his hips meant that he began to lose the ability to control his bodily functions. This was hard for a noble canine who prided himself on his personal hygiene, and the only time I ever heard pain in his voice was when he didn’t gain our attention in time to get him outside before an accident occurred.

I’ll always remember one of Babu’s last noble acts. I had caught the “forever cold” that has plagued our mountain counties this winter, and one night I was feeling weak and blue and sitting in the den having a coughing fit. Babu was so concerned about me that he dragged himself from the other side of the room and raised himself up on his front legs so that he could attend to me. He stuck his nose under my arm and stayed there until I noticed his legs were shaking from the effort. I sat down with him on the floor, and I’m pretty sure that we both cried.

I’m happy to report that Babu’s sister, Bonnie, is doing quite well. When he didn’t come back from his last ride, she was puzzled. The next night, she was gone for quite a long time. We believe she was looking for him, and perhaps grieving in her own way.

But she’s still here to remind us that unconditional love still exists, that the best time to play is right now, and, in fact, the only time there ever is, is now.

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