25 August 2015


Portions of this post were originally from a post I wrote almost 3 years ago on my other blog www.artofaletter.blogspot.com. Here is the original story and the conclusion:

I sometimes think that I like animals better than people, but as much as I love animals I never thought we would have an indoor dog. My youngest son inherited my weak lungs and struggled terribly with asthma as a small child. We had animals, but they didn't live indoors. Then at the age of 14, it had been two years since he'd had any trouble with his asthma, and he had expressed many times a desire for a dog, so we decided to get him one.

We home schooled our kids, so this seemed like a perfect research assignment for school. E.M. was to research which breeds of dogs met our criteria, no dander, no shedding, not high strung or yappy. His research  found several breeds that fit the bill. The breed that appealed the most was the West Highland Terrier. He also studied about crate and obedience training, animal first aid, and how to teach them tricks. So a few days before his 14th birthday, we set off to search the pets stores to find a Westy puppy.* (I know, I know... a pet store puppy, what about the whole "puppy mill" thing? For an answer to this question read the paragraph at the end of the post). We made a list of the stores that had a Westy pup for sale and began our exploration.

The store we went to had one Westy pup and someone was looking at it when we got there, so we just cruised around looking at the other animals while we waited for them to finish. The door to the service area of the puppy nursery was a dutch door and the top of the door was open, so as we walked by we caught sight of a puppy that was out on the floor getting a bit of exercise. The woman who was watching him while he was out of his cage was unpacking boxes and there was packing paper on the floor around her feet. The puppy raced by her, grabbed one of the pieces of paper and ran with it as fast as he could, until she caught up with him and took the paper. I turned and saw stars in my son's eyes... Oh dear,this was not the Westy puppy... it was a little buff Cocker Spaniel... Cockers shed... (the requirement for no shedding was mine, since I knew I would end up being the one to clean up the hair, and was the only household member who would care if the black pants they were wearing looked like the dog slept on them, etc.)
But I knew that look... so we asked if we could see him.

The woman opened the dutch door to let us in and the pup took the opportunity to snag a piece of the packing paper and dash out the open door. We turned to see the little stinker making his escape down one of the isles, the paper blocking his view as it flapped up over his head. E.M. took off after him, fearing that the front door of the store would open and he would get outside. Ever tried to catch a puppy out on a lark? It is not as easy as you think.... after a try or two at grabbing him, he decided to try another approach, he sat down, patted the floor in front of him and acted like he wanted to play. The pup stopped, looked at him, dropped his paper and ran towards him at top speed. When he got within range, the puppy bounded onto E.M.'s lap and tagged him on the chest with both feet. He then jumped off, avoiding capture, but stopped just out of reach, and turned to looked at him as if to say, "Tag! you're it!" Needless to say, the Westy puppy never had a chance... Tagg went home with us that day.

E.M. had educated himself well on puppy training, and Tagg was a champ. Crate training was a breeze, obedience training went well, "Sit", "Stay" and "No" were well understood and usually complied with, there was really only one problem... Tagg had a paper addiction, specifically toilet paper or tissues. He never touched books or magazine, and only chewed up the occasional school work, but he couldn't resist toilet paper. If you left the house and forgot to put the T.P. out of reach, I would come home to a toilet papered house. It would be everywhere, shredded into tiny pieces. If a friend came to visit and there was a tissue in her handbag, I would find Tagg up to his shoulders in her bag, helping himself to her tissue. I would shout his name and his head would snap up, one side of his lip tucked up and his mouth full of tissue, he would give me a sheepish look and spit out the soggy wad of kleenex. He knew he shouldn't do it but he just couldn't help himself. Even at the age of twelve, if someone forgot the close the bathroom door when we left the house, we would come home to find Tagg looking like "the cat who ate the canary", with a piece of T.P. stuck to his jowl and confetti trailing from the bathroom to the front door.

Tagg is the only dog I've ever met who smells flowers
He learned many tricks, that entertained us and others who came to the house. When I was struggling with mobility issues due to a Fibromyalgia relapse, I trained him to pick things up for me. If I dropped a piece of clothing that I was folding he would pick it up for me. If I knocked my reading glasses off the table, he would gently pick them up and drop them in my lap, smudged with slobber, but at least I didn't have to pick them up! One day long after my relapse, when I was feeling good again and didn't need Tagg's assistance anymore, I was sorting pieces of fabric, a pile to keep, a pile for Goodwill. The Goodwill pile was at my feet on the floor. I was looking at the stack of fabric in my lap when I felt Tagg's presence at my feet. I looked up to see what he wanted, and I saw him standing there, wagging his tail, with the pile of "Goodwill fabric" in his mouth. His eyes said "Here Mommy, you dropped these!"

"Momma Dawn" and Tagg in Costa Rica 2009
He wouldn't eat store bought dog treats and would looks at you like he was being punished if you gave him one. He was afraid of the Kong chew toy that I paid $15 for, (you know the one that has the hole in the middle that you can put peanut butter in...), and he left his heavy pointy ended, well gnawed beef bone strategically around the house where my bare feet will find it. He hogged the couch and snored so loud that I needed to turn the volume up on the movie I was watching.

 He would leave enough hair on the floor to produce a new Cocker Spaniel every three days if I didn't have his long beautiful coat clipped short. He had been banned from every groomer for 20 miles, for being "difficult" about having his feet clipped. I didn't know what I was going to do about getting him groomed, until I met Dawn,  Tagg's godmother and premier dog whisperer at "Furry Godmother's",(Dawn is the local pet groomer and dear friend, who has a gentle and effective way of helping animals deal with their fears and neurosis.) She even traveled down to Costa Rica when we lived there to groom him, (of course that was just one of her reasons for the visit, but bless her, she brought her clippers and she and her husband clipped him outdoors ... I still remember the winds catching balls of his fur and carrying them high into the rainforest...Sigh.)

Tagg was my protector. When my husband went off hiking and I was alone in the house, he would patrol the house, going from room to room periodically, and then settle down to sleep in the doorway to my bedroom until it is time to do the rounds again. If on the leash, he wouldn't let anyone within leash reach of me, anyone, friend or foe... No Fedex guy, phone line repairman, or neighbor checking their mail would ever go unwarned that he is on duty. He would alert me if I don't hear the oven timer going off, if the phone was ringing in my purse, if the washer was out of balance and was walking across the floor... he has even saved my life by warning me of a gas leak in the kitchen... A kettle of water I put on to boil sloshed over and put the flame out underneath the pot, gas had been pouring into the house for a long time while I was in the back room working. He ran to the family room and barked then ran away, when I didn't follow he came back and barked again, then went to the kitchen and barked and barked until I came and found him barking at the stove. The smell of gas was strong, if the space heater had been on the whole house could have gone up in flames! He was my hero...

Watching for the mail person to come

Tagg was also my comforter and councilor. He would lick away my tears and offers his upturned tummy to be rubbed when I felt sad. He looked at me with his soft brown eyes that spoke louder than words, and told me that he loved me no matter what and that everything will be alright. If I left the room, he would go with me. He kept my floor clean in the kitchen and spent half of his days dusted in flour or spotted with carrot juice, since he insisted on laying at my feet while I was working in the kitchen. He never judged me, never held a grudge or pointed out my faults.

When Tagg was 8 years old, I started seeing some wasting around his right hip and though it didn't seem to bother him I kept it in mind and worried that it there might be something wrong. But he had always been barrel chested and slim hipped so I let it go for the time being. Then one day when he and I were out for a walk on the greenway, he took a miss-step and his hind leg slipped off the walkway. He yelped and limped/ dragged his right leg. I checked to see if he had an injury, but there wasn't anything visible. I massaged his right hip and gave him a few minutes to shake it off. Then we tried to walk back to the car, but he couldn't walk more than a step or two without crying out, So I picked him up, which hurt too... It was at least a 1/2 mile back to the car so it was a long walk for both of us. It was hard for me to get my arms around him in a way that didn't hurt his hip, and carrying 40 pounds for that distance, meant I had to stop and put him down so that I could catch my breath. I think we were both wishing for a wagon at that moment.

I took Tagg to the vet, where my previous fears were confirmed; Hip Dysplasia. I was told there was little that could be done for him, except for surgery, which isn't always very successful. So I went home and did some research. I found that eating a diet of raw meat and vegetables can help to strengthen the connective tissues and increase synovial fluid production. So I started grinding chicken thighs up, added blueberries, carrots and peas and fed him that twice a day. I also found a product called Nzymes,which is used to improve synovial production in animals with joint issues. After a few weeks on the raw diet and the Nzyme tablets, Tagg began to walk normally again and showed little if any favoring of his hip unless it was stressed or moved wrong. So Tagg's life began to return to normal, but in the back of my mind I knew that this wouldn't always be the case.

Tagg has been so much a part of my life, a constant, loving and true companion. The dog that started
out as a birthday present for my son had become like one of my kids to me. What would I do for one of my kids? I would do anything within my power to take care of them, protect them, love them... Their pain is my pain... If Tagg needed me to carry him, to help him up and down, to feed him by hand, I would gladly do it. He has always been there for me, and if it was within his power, I know that he would do whatever I needed him to do, I would do no less. But I was then faced with a situation that every pet owner/ animal friend dreads... what if this hip issue doesn't get better enough to allow him a quality life? What if the rest of his life is spent in pain, unable to play or take a walk, having to bear the humiliation of diapers? When do I, as the person who is responsible for his care and accountable to God for his well being, say that it is time to end his suffering? When is his life no longer of any good to him? I couldn't ask him, I could only guess what he considers a good life, but I think he would say a good life is to be able to love and protect his family, to be an active part of our lives. So I prayed that God would give him healing and and allow both of us more time to be together.

  Fortunately, with God's healing touch and a continued dietary regimen, the Dysplasia symptoms disappeared. So, we got our old Tagg back. His mobility returned, his energy was appropriate for a 10 year old dog, and he appeared to be pain free. So I dodged the bullet on having to make a hard decision about his future. Two and a half years have passed since his last bout with his hips,and he has lived life to the fullest, but about 6 months ago he began to have a persistent cough. After much investigation we discovered Tagg had an enlarged heart due to congestive heart failure. He coughed and hacked a lot and was a little short of breath, even though he was on meds,, but kept going about his life, being his sweet, cheerful self. As the months passed his condition worsened, he couldn't get his breath, and had difficulty eating and sleeping. He could no longer play or go on long  walks, but he still had his zeal for life and a happy disposition, continuing the self assigned role in our family of protector, encourager and comedian.

  Then came the day when all he could do was lift his head off the floor and wag his tail when he saw us. He was obviously in pain and I knew it was time to step up and make the dreaded decision to have him put to sleep. Where I had questions in the past about what he would want me to do, this time I was certain I was doing the right thing. His eyes said he was ready to go. We are very fortunate, we have a vet that makes house calls. She came today to ease his passing. He went to his final sleep peacefully at home with his family around him.

  His passing leaves me with a heavy heart, an empty house, and too much quiet. I feel so strange, so lost, unable to think. I don't want to eat or sleep, I don't want to do my daily tasks. I just want to stop... to sit, to think of nothing, to feel nothing. I want to hide from the inevitable, fast approaching wave of grief. I know it will come, I have had much experience with grief... and I know I will be defenseless against it for a season. But I also know that there will be a day when the grief will recede, when my days will start to feel "normal" again and life will go on.

  I believe that God imbues His animals with His character so that while they are with us they can be a living example of how we should live our lives. As a way of honoring his memory and dealing with his absence, I will try hard to live by the example that he modeled for me every day of his life; to find joy in the simple things in life, to never stop trying and love unconditionally and without stint. I know that Tagg did his job here on earth very well and I will take solace in the knowledge that now he rests in the presence of his Creator.

  . Tagg 2003-2015
    Rest in peace my lovely boy.

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