They came to us in July of 2009. Only a few weeks before, age and illness had forced the grueling decision to let Chuck, my beloved yellow lab, pass from this world. My sweetie-pie sidekick who, until then, had asked nothing of me but love and food. With him gone and Rick frequently traveling, the house was cold and quiet – a stark reminder of my aloneness.
I understood the difference between missing Chuck and aching for some four-legged companionship: one was an intense sadness that would wane with time, while the other could be swiftly addressed. Time was wasting, so I began searching for another dog. One dog. Until I found them: Ford and Chevy.
Petfinder listed the Tennessee-born, 15-month-old rescue dogs as bassets with a splash of beagle. The photo showed these littermates – one tall and thin, the other short and stocky – lovingly nestled into each other, conveying a fellowship that was deeply endearing. I fell instantly in love.
Initially firm on only one dog, Rick accepted my argument that they would keep each other company – but it was the photo of their adorable faces that won him over. Their names, however, did not. So after consulting a friend who’d raised bassets about changing their names (bassets are stubborn, she replied, call them whatever you want, but don’t expect them to come!), we settled on Jack and Gus.
Off we rode, three hours north, to rescue my new dogs and bring them home. I spent the drive blissfully daydreaming about how wonderful everything would be with these sweet boys, and all the fun that was yet to come.
Unfortunately, it took nearly a year before the fun arrived. In a matter of days, it became clear that behaviors we’d hoped were temporary were indeed permanent – such as not being housebroken. Both also suffered from separation anxiety and would destroy rooms in a matter of minutes.
A trip to the vet that first week revealed physical problems as well: fleas, worms, double ear infections, malnutrition, under-inoculation and a cyst that would require immediate surgery. Worse, Jack’s oddly turned hip that was initially explained in a radiology report as a ‘birth-related injury’ looked, on x-ray film, more like a poorly healed break from having been struck by a car. It finally made sense why both dogs were frightened of cars and streets.
Emotional issues also surfaced. Jack was terrified of men, neither really wanted to be touched much, and we found a multitude of BBs embedded beneath the skin on both of them. The clear evidence of both neglect and abuse forced us to realize we were dealing with a host of problems that would take time, work and patience to overcome.
Upon hearing the medical report, the folks at the rescue league were amazed and apologetic, offered to pay the medical bills, and kindly asked if we wanted to return them. Not possible: by then, I loved Jack and Gus… my heart was already well invested in them. Even more critical was the fact that they needed us. So before the fun arrived, we would need to really rescue them. The rest of our summer was committed to returning Jack and Gus to health after a series of shots, medications and surgery, and addressing specific behaviors – primarily that carpets were not toilets and chairs were not chew toys.
As they settled in, we enjoyed getting to know our boys and how different they were from one another. While Jack was nervous, Gus was complacent. Jack was obedient and graceful, Gus was problematic and clumsy. Jack was obliging, Gus was obstinate. It quickly became clear which would play the roles of tattler and troublemaker. These differences made for very silly escapades, where Gus would tip over the trash can, pull socks from the hamper or chew my favorite sneakers beyond recognition and then dash away, leaving poor Jack there to bark worriedly and take the blame… initially, at least, until we discovered the real culprit. Had we waited a few weeks before renaming them, they’d likely be called Oscar and Felix, to more suitably indicate their oppositeness.
We were also learning how inseparable they were. Gus was determined to follow our scent the entire 16 miles to the vet’s office on the day of Jack’s surgery, dragging poor Rick behind – but instead spent countless hours crying in his loneliness and confusion. We’d been told it was likely they’d never been apart but for that day… certainly, they haven’t since. They ate together, pooed together, slept together, played together. I was smitten by their togetherness, and often remarked that I actually had one eight-legged, two-headed dog.
Their playfulness and affection grew as Jack and Gus became more comfortable and realized they were here for the long run. Bellowing basset songs, funny waddle-like strides and boyish roughhousing constantly made us laugh. Cuddling after dinner had become standard procedure, both vying for that coveted spot on my lap. And as fall turned to winter, my little Tennessee boys discovered snow for the very first time, quickly morphing into happy, hopping reindeer from one pile of wet, wintry white to the next. The fun had finally come.
It’s been almost two years now since Jack and Gus became part of our little family. Although there’s a bit more work needed, I believe the rescuing part is finally over. Both are healthy and happy. Jack is no longer frightened of men and dashes happily to greet Rick. Car rides are not as horrifying, even if they remain a bit unnerving. I still cannot walk them beyond our driveway onto the street, so we walk other places instead. And they now know that, when I leave the house, I will be back. Each step they’ve taken forward has helped remove many scars of the past. I cheer these triumphs: they fill my heart.
Lots of fun is still to come with Jack and Gus. But, as with Chuck, I will likely one day need to make that grueling but necessary decision to let them pass beyond me, for reasons of health or age. When the time comes, I will do the same for each: bring his favored blanket upon which to lay him, and gently place his head on my lap. I’ll quietly thank him for all the play-filled mornings, the long afternoons snuggled under my desk, the nights I felt safe as he watched the house. I will thank him for his soft warmth, his unswerving devotion, his unquestioning love. I will thank him for the joy he has brought me… and for rescuing me. I will promise never to forget him. And then I will hold him very close to my own heart while his takes its last beat.
And while I cry over the loss of my dear, sweet boy, I will begin my search for another dog to rescue.
Until then, Jack, Gus and I continue to cuddle and play.
FOLLOWUP, December 2020: It hurts my heart to write that, since writing this, Jack and Gus have crossed the bridge. Both passed beyond me in my arms, Gus most recently. See you when I get there, my sweeties…
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