Coping with Grief
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Oh My precious Lily dog, how I dreaded this day. As I poured through 7 years of photos of you and your journey through life with me...from feral street dog to spoiled house dog (and bed hog)...I was reminded how strong and resilient you always were. You, my dear Lily, taught me and impacted my life, my heart, and my work as a trainer in more ways than I could ever have imagined.
Lily belonged to a pack of dogs who lived in and around the downtown area of Jackson. She was born "on the streets" and raised herself with her pack. She viewed humans as you'd expect any other non-domesticated "wild" animal to view them. In short, stay far away and never trust them.
A wonderful human involved in rescue would see Lily and her pack, and would often put out dog food for them in a field near some trees where they would be seen resting in the tree line. She provided for them, but was never able to make headway into any close interactions.
Over the years Lily became the obvious pack leader. As expected, she was frequently reproducing and rearing pups. In fact, her rescuers named her Lily, but everyone just referred to her as Momma Dog. The pups of hers that lived into adolescence often became part of her pack. Most pack members didn't survive for long as they would be struck down with disease or some other tragedy would befall them.
Live traps to catch the dogs of the pack were baited and set multiple times, but most often were totally unsuccessful. Lily was always too smart for traps. From a rescue standpoint she really needed to be captured because she was only adding to the tremendous pet overpopulation problem here. The thought of what would be done with her, and how her life would look if she ever were captured, was secondary. One day, upon checking the traps from the previous night, Lily was found to be inside. She was as much of a "wreck" as you'd expect any wild animal would act when caught in a trap.
Lily was taken immediately to the vet so she could be spayed and get a good check-up while under anesthesia. Then she was taken to her rescuer's to recover, with hopes of being able to eventually be rehabilitated and adopted. She was set up in an outdoor enclosure with more shelter and safety than she'd ever experienced before, and of course, unlimited food and fresh water.
That is how she lived for a significant portion of her life. She was absolutely shut down, refusing to even come out of her dog house when any human was nearby. She had no interest in being domesticated, but she couldn't be let loose to be a wild animal again. Despite her rescuer's best efforts, Lily was not progressing at all.
It was about that time that I got to know her rescuer, learned about the feral "momma dog" who lived in a backyard enclosure, and was asked if I could use my training skills and background in canine behavior to evaluate Lily. I spent several months going to her enclosure a few times a week to try and forge some type of bond with her. Most days (and months) the progress was non-existent. We persevered because we had to. In the process of trying to help Lily, there came a day when her rescuer came home and found Lily's beautiful white fur covered in blood. The wounds were superficial, but had been self-inflicted as Lily tried her best to escape the safety of her enclosure. Her desire for escape was suddenly unable to be quelled. She had decided she was leaving and nothing was going to stop her. We had reached a point of desperation...we couldn't risk her causing further injury to herself, we couldn't place her with an adopter, and nobody wanted to give up on a dog who endured so much and fought so hard for survival.
It was at that point that I decided to try and take her home. I had a very secure, unoccupied pen sheltered on my patio, within the confines of a fully fenced in yard (something her rescuer didn't have). I had no business getting another dog, as my home was already beyond full, but I didn't want to see Lily give up without a fight.
Over these last 7 years, Lily just blossomed right before my eyes. Trying to make her an inside member of my family took some convincing for her because it was all so foreign, but she didn't live in that pen for too many months before she decided she'd be willing to try life inside.
What a journey it has been. In the early months I had to force her to do a lot: had to drag her out of her doghouse, walk her on 2 leashes (1 attached to her harness, 1 to her collar) even within my fenced in yard because she'd occasionally fight against the leashes and try to escape, had to force her to come inside the house and then just allow her to be in a back hall, in a corner, or under something...felt like I had to force Lily to do anything besides hunker in her doghouse.
Slowly but surely Lily transformed. These last several years Lily has been a totally functioning, devoted, and beloved member of my household. She loved her friend, Addie Cat, she tolerated (and secretly loved) her rambunctious "little" brother, Jupiter, and she did exactly what she wanted all the time. She went out when she wanted, came in when she wanted, slept when and where she wanted, and was my only kiddo who I allowed to beg for food, and that she did. On occasion her past traumas would come back to haunt her and she'd go hide beneath the big line of bushes in my backyard for a bit. We'd say "Lily went to live in the bushes," and I'd have to go crawl under there, find her just relaxing in her own little "wilderness," and coax her out with a favorite snack. She'd do random weird things like lick the wall, the carpet, or my clothes. Never once in all her years did I ever hear her bark, yet she was the most talkative member of my household with a vast array of communicative whines. I will probably miss her chatter the most.
Lily died early the morning of May 10th at home, in her favorite sleeping spot in my bedroom. It was totally unexpected. She hadn't been noticeably ill at all. Her appetite was normal. I actually cooked her up a couple yummy chicken breasts last night and she readily scarfed those down.
I'm grateful and enormously relieved that she essentially died at home, with me right there, and had no awareness of being transported in the car, because the only thing she hated more than leaving the house, was riding in the car.
Tonight my heart is a tad shattered, but mostly I am grateful for Lily. Grateful for her life with me, grateful for all of the lessons she taught me along our journey together, grateful for the amazing progress we made as a team, and especially grateful for her ability to trust and love me in spite of everything that we had to do make that happen. The word unforgettable is all that comes to mind at this moment. There will never be another being in my life quite like Lily. I love you to Heaven and back again, Precious Girl. Rest easy, My Love.