Thank you to my friend, Jayne for sending me this article. I was very struck by this quote, “Loss is part of the deal. But suffering is optional.” It’s so true.
I could also relate with Scott when he says that adopting a pet has helped him no longer mourn his dog Cooper, though he will always miss him. I’ve experienced this same range of emotions with losing Frankie and then adopting Joie. For me, having another little one to love and care for has helped me move forward and softened the pain of loss.
Without further ado– here is Scott’s story…
When I lost my first dog, the grief was too great to consider another. Until I saw Clemmie — and took another chance on love and companionship.
Photo by Greg Lovett
Scott Eyman and Clementine
Photo by Greg Lovett
Scott Eyman’s new dog, Clementine, front, is getting along fine with the Basset Hounds, Louie, back left, and Mabel, back right.
Photo by Lynn Kalber
Angels Rest area where Cooper memorial is located. Windchimes play in the breeze at Kanab, Utah.
Grieving a friend: Beloved German shepherd was less of a pet, more of a partner
By Scott Eyman
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
I wasn’t looking for a dog.
Quite the contrary. I had lost Cooper, my German Shepherd, in August of 2011. I’ve had animals all my life, but Cooper’s death leveled me in a way that the others hadn’t.
A year after that, an adoption was aborted when the dog turned aggressive toward my old basset hound and cats. Back she went to the Peggy Adams shelter, and my grief over Cooper was promptly doubled. I’ve always had great good luck with animals, but my luck seemed to have turned on me. The low-level depression that had hovered over me since Cooper’s death showed no sign of lifting.
So, when my wife Lynn said she wanted to spend some time volunteering at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, I grumbled and resisted. I didn’t want to be around dogs and I didn’t want to be around people who loved dogs, because that would only remind me of what I had lost – twice.
And there was something else. Friends of ours had paid for a memorial for Cooper at Angel’s Rest at Best Friends, and my wife wanted to see it. That meant I would have to stand there and mourn all over again, the prospect of which was about as attractive as a couple of root canals.
Best Friends Animal Society is on a plateau encompassing more than 3,600 acres above Kanab, Utah. The dozens of buildings are clean, the people brisk and utterly devoted, the atmosphere professional and businesslike. Besides dogs and cats, Best Friends is the no-kill shelter of last resort for horses, birds, pigs. In total, there are about 1,700 animals there, ranging from newborns to decrepit old plugs trying to make it to the end of the week. If nobody adopts an animal, they still get to live out their natural life span at Best Friends in comfort.
We’re all familiar with idealistic people devoted to animal welfare who can’t run a business with a gun to their head, so the animals end up suffering or the shelter ends up closing or both. Not here. At Best Friends, it’s all about the animals.
A story I had written about Cooper had gone all over the world, as stories do these days – Best Friends had posted it on their web site. Unbeknownst to me, a woman in Phoenix had read the story, been moved, and had painted an excellent portrait of my dog on a large, oval river rock and had it placed on Cooper’s memorial.
The combination of the serene, spiritual sounds of the wind chimes at Angel’s Rest, the completely unexpected portrait of my dog, the acres of animals who grew old and died at Best Friends and were remembered with stones and beads and favorite toys, all conspired to make the dam burst. And after I was through crying, I felt worse than I had before. Just what I had been afraid of.
That day there was Angels Blessing, a memorial service attended by people from all over the country. Some of their pets were buried there, some just memorialized there. We met a woman who had moved to Kanab to work with the cats. She had lost her own cat two years before and felt it would be disloyal to get another animal. I didn’t believe that, but I thought that the way things were going I might very well end up the same way.
The next day I was at Best Friends watching a bunch of puppies cascading across the linoleum, when my eyes went to one dog, a fuzzy mixed breed the color of sandstone. Her name was Utter, and she looked a little like a lab, but wasn’t. She quickly made herself part of the puppy scrum, but then, suddenly, she wasn’t. She stopped, jumped on a chair and observed the other dogs for a minute or two, then jumped down and went right back into it. Bored after a while, she again took a break and broke away to watch. I was transfixed.
The eye lingers on what it loves.
When I told my wife I was interested in the dog, it was her turn to resist, and I didn’t blame her. It’s not like there aren’t any dogs in Florida; I had to fall for a dog in Utah?
That night, we were having dinner in Kanab, a very pleasant, authentic western town that’s about eight blocks long. We sat next to a woman who had been at the memorial ceremony that day. Her beloved dog had died about six months before, and she was dealing with it, more or less. I told her about Cooper, about my interest in the puppy I’d seen that day, and also my worry that I was letting myself in for another disappointment. There was a part of me that was aware that I was over thinking the entire matter, but the volume of the fear and loss was louder than my need.
“Loss is part of the deal,” she told me. “But suffering is optional.”
She finished her dinner, got up and paid her check, then came rushing back to our table.
“That dog you were talking about? Utter? She’s right outside!”
Lynn and I rushed out. Utter was there and happy to see me. She was going on an overnight with a behaviorist from Salt Lake City. “She’s very calm, for a puppy,” the behaviorist said. “Fine in the car. Really good dog.”
That did it. The next day we went and filled out adoption papers. “Oh, she’s a rez dog,” said Nancy Van Buskirk, the adoption counselor.
“Reservation dog. They’re the best. They’re completely interbred, so they have very few health issues, and they usually have a great disposition.”
Utter was part of a litter of eight found in a cardboard box at the edge of the Navajo reservation in Monument Valley. They’d been left there to die. A samaritan brought the dogs to Best Friends where two of the dogs were touch-and-go. They all survived, but Utter, one of the hardier ones, survived nicely. They had her listed as a rottweiler-lab mix, but one look at her told me that was impossible.
We did the deal, and two weeks later Utter was shipped to her new home in West Palm Beach. The route was a killer: Las Vegas (the nearest airport to Kanab) to Newark to Fort Lauderdale. We picked her up at 11:30 at night, after she’d been traveling for 14 hours, but she was bright and happy to see us.
Because she’s from Monument Valley, I decided to name her Clementine, or Clemmie for short, after John Ford’s “My Darling Clementine,” which was shot in Monument Valley.
I told a friend about the way the dog, even at 3 months old, was part of things but not really. As far as Clemmie was concerned, the watching was as important as the doing. My friend laughed and said, “You like her because she’s just like you.”
Four months later, she’s maturing into a fairly large dog, headed toward what I estimate will be about 55 pounds. She looks a little like an oversized wire-haired terrier, a little like an Airedale, a lot like Little Orphan Annie’s dog Sandy (“Arf!”). The face gets her a lot of attention, and her genial personality closes the deal.
She’s very smart – she was housebroken in three days – and focused. She’s perfectly happy to be wherever she finds herself. She likes all dogs (just like me) and all people (not so much). She likes to nuzzle the cats that like dogs, and learned the hard way that Ava, the terrible-tempered tabby, will not tolerate the close proximity of a dog. Ava, who weighs all of 7 pounds, demands and gets a 4-foot perimeter. Anything that crosses the 4-foot perimeter sees Ava suddenly expand by a factor of three, stand up on her hind legs, and leap at the offender. The result is that all dogs and a few humans are mortally afraid of her.
At night, Clemmie curls up in the living room while the bassets and cats sleep around her. Ava rests comfortably on her preferred spot – my lap – about 5 feet away.
The pack is once again complete.
And what I’ve learned is this: Words don’t help. People don’t help. The only thing that can heal the pain of losing a beloved animal is an animal. I still miss Cooper – I will miss him all the rest of my days – but I no longer mourn him, and that has made all the difference.
There are certain times when nothing will do but taking a chance. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have my darling Clementine.