Anyone who has ever lost a beloved fur child knows all too well the pain when they leave us to cross over the rainbow bridge.  They bring so much love and joy to our lives and leave us all too soon.  If you’re very blessed, you have a lifetime of happy memories to cling to once they are gone.  You have a photo album of precious puppy photos (for the purpose of this blog I’ll stick to the canine types, although the felines are no less important members of our families!)  and then many happy memories as they grew older with you and your family.  You can still remember the triumphant feeling of the first time they went potty outside by themselves, sat for a cookie, or maneuvered the stairs by themselves.  As they began to age, they might have slowed down, but they remained faithful companions – always greeting you with a wagging tail at the end of a long day.  Most likely, for as long as you can remember, they were there for you – providing unconditional love.  And once they are gone, there’s an emptiness in your heart that no amount of comforting words – or chocolate ice cream – can repair.

For those of us in rescue, most especially those who bring the grey muzzles into our lives, there are no puppy pictures to cling to, no memories of watching them grow into their feet or first birthdays celebrated.  Our joy with these precious old souls is measured in moments rather than years.  We never knew them as young, energetic, carefree pups – most come to us somewhat broken and battered, but with an amazing spirit and capacity to love and be loved.  They steal our hearts the moment we lay eyes on their sweet white or grey faces, and we rejoice at the slow wag of their tails as they realize they are safe and loved.  Many ask us, “how can you open your heart to these old souls knowing they will leave so soon?” and we answer quite simply, “how can we not?”.

Today I said goodbye to one of the sweetest, most loving grey muzzles that I’ve had the honor to meet and love.  Otis was dumped at a rural high kill shelter, condemned to die simply because he was old and no longer convenient to the people he had loved and trusted his entire life.  My dear friend Mary saved Otis from certain death, and another generous heart, Linda, assisted her with his vetting (which was extensive), promising to transport him from South Carolina to her home in Florida to live out his years if he didn’t find his forever home.  And yet another friend with a courageous heart, Kim, took him into her home as a foster.  We all prayed that Otis would find the loving forever home he deserved.

Several months ago Otis accompanied us on a weekend trip to the beach.   The main purpose of this was to see how he did on the long staircase leading up to the house as he had previously been in one story buildings and there was a family interested in adopting him, but they had a two story home.  The first night he froze when encountering the stairs – Mary and I offered treats, encouragement and cheering, but no go – Otis was petrified and Mary carried him up and down the stairs.  That first night, being the ‘softie’ that I am, I picked him up and placed him on my bed, he seemed unsure at first, but once I climbed in next to him, he snuggled up close, let out a deep happy moan and slept with his head next to my pillow.  We had several happy cuddling moments in the morning before getting out of bed, and then tried the stairs again.  Still no success.  Later that afternoon we tried the stairs again and this time he ventured down, but wouldn’t walk back up.  That night he slept spooned next to me again, his contented sighs lulling me to sleep.  The next morning I took him out to go potty, he went down the stairs and when it was time to walk back up again I didn’t look back, I just started up the stairs (slowly) and little by little, one step at a time, Otis followed.  I swear I could hear the theme song from Rocky when we reached the top step!  He did it!  Otis was so excited, his tail was wagging and he seemed to have a bit of a bounce in his step!  I have tears in my eyes just thinking of that proud and happy moment.

To make a long story short, Otis never did find his forever home.  The prospective adopters were not a good fit and so Otis stayed with his foster mom Kim and lived happily with his foster siblings, Laverne and Shirley, two little Yorkies.

This week, Otis began to noticeably slow down.  I saw him on Monday afternoon and he wasn’t his usual affectionate self, I could tell he was happy to see me but it was as if it required too much energy to even wag his tail or walk across the room to sit by my feet.  Mary took him to the vet and as suspected, his body was beginning to shut down, broken and tired from years of probable neglect.  He was heartworm positive, was going into kidney failure and the vet suspected that cancer had set in.  Otis underwent a battery of tests although none of us really needed to wait for the results, we knew in our hearts that the end was near.

Mary says goodbye to her beloved grey muzzle, Otis

Early this afternoon Mary called me, Otis couldn’t stand up and she knew the time had come.  I grabbed my keys and got in the car to meet her at the vet before they closed for the weekend.  One look at Otis when I saw him in the parking lot and I knew, Otis was ready to go to the rainbow bridge.  He had known 8 months of love and to him it was a lifetime.  All the pain from his past neglect was erased, Otis knew he was loved and treasured as he drew his last breath.  Mary and I sat on the floor, stroking his soft fur as he quietly laid his head down and closed his eyes.  There is something very sacred about being with these amazing souls as they leave this earth.  Yes, it’s sad and painful and many tears are shed, but it’s also an honor to sit with them as they begin their journey to the rainbow bridge.

As Mary and I stood hugging in the parking lot after Otis was gone, it occurred to me that rescuing these precious grey muzzles is much like entering into a marriage.  From the moment we save them, we make the commitment to love, honor and cherish them.  In sickness and in health, through richer and poorer (most often the later in rescue!) – ‘til death do us part.  It is a sacred commitment and one we rescuers take seriously.  It’s an unspoken oath that we will never let one of these beloved souls go to the rainbow bridge alone.  That is our solemn vow and in return they give us unimaginable love and joy – for as long as we are blessed to have them in our lives.

Run free Otis.  You are deeply loved and will live on in our hearts and memories forever.

Many blessings,