Anyone who shares their lives with dogs understands how truly wonderful they are. For me, living with dogs has opened my heart in ways I would never have imagined years ago. An apartment dweller for years, I only ever had cats, until I moved to the country. Since 1995, we’ve shared our house with and opened our hearts to 10 dogs, three of whom are still going strong, making us laugh when we’re sad, making us walk when we’re lazy and letting us know we matter. They also remind us that we are good and kind people full of compassion when sometimes we may forget, or feel upset or angry about something that’s happening in our lives. They are a peaceful, grounding presence, a balance to the busy, sometimes hectic life we live — they are friends who don’t speak, but say more, listen more and understand us more than anyone else — more than we’ll ever know.
Ode to Harley
In 1998, a friend told us about a young German Shepherd Dog who was about to be euthanized. The dog was only about eight months old and his owner just landed a new job as the superintendent of his building. He decided he wouldn’t have time for the pup anymore now that he was working, and apparently his wife was afraid of the dog so yelled at him constantly. Rather than making an effort to find a new home for Max, the owner made an appointment with the vet the next week to put him down. Our friend, who also lived in the building, caught word of this dire situation and called us to ask if we could take the dog. Because we already had four rescued dogs, he assumed we would take in another. Well, we had only moved to our country property the year before and already had the canine control snooping around and even knocking on our door asking for licences for the dogs that were clearly in the house. We told them we had three dogs — the limit in this township — hoping they didn’t all peek out the windows at once. It seemed too risky to take on another dog, but once we’d heard about Max, we had to do something to save him, even if we couldn’t take him in ourselves.
After some rather quick research, we discovered Adopt-A-Dog/Save-A-Life, a non-profit dog rescue run by Grace Hall in Etobicoke, Ontario which had been saving dogs for years. After getting the details, Grace sprung into action immediately, making all the arrangements to have Max taken from the owner to a vet and paying for him to be neutered. Then she let me know I had a new dog and to pick him up at the vets. Apparently after interviewing me, she decided that we would be Max’s perfect forever home. Maybe she sensed I needed a little push to make the commitment, but nevertheless, next thing I knew we were picking up this newly neutered dog we had helped save, yet never laid eyes on before. With his silvery white markings on a black coat and a black mask, Max was absolutely beautiful, with a soft, sensitive nature to match. In those days I had a gift basket company, and to thank Grace we did a big pet gift basket fundraiser and donated $300 to the charity. Now, we had five dogs — three German Shepherd Dogs, a chocolate Lab and a husky/German shepherd cross named Lucky, all rescued some way or another.
As Max’s first days with us rolled into weeks, it was clear he was not responding to his name, especially when I called him. Remembering the former owner’s wife yelling at him all the time, I consulted with a trainer who suggested a name change. As I toured her facility where she raised Bouviers, I was introduced to each of her 15 or more dogs by name and the one I really took to was named Harley-Davidson — Max became Harley that very day. He immediately started responding to his new name and became the most wonderful dog in every way possible.
One night, only days before Christmas in 2005, when he was only seven years old, Harley could not rest. I took him outside for a walk, I fed him, I sat with him, but nothing seemed to ease his restless pacing, although he didn’t seem ill at all. I knew it wasn’t bloat and physically he seemed fine, I just could not figure out what was bothering him, but it didn’t seem like an emergency in any way. He seemed happy as ever, wagging his tail and excited as always, but just restless. Next day he was still restless so my husband took him to the vets. The memory of them walking down the path from the house to the truck, Harley’s tail wagging ’cause he was with his favorite person in the whole world and going for a ride, is seared into my memory.
My husband called me a half hour later, weeping. He couldn’t speak and put the vet on the phone to ask my permission to euthanize Harley. Seems this gentle giant’s heart was growing larger and larger and filling his whole chest — he had only hours left to live. It seems that even if we had brought him in a couple of days earlier, it wouldn’t have saved him. I gave my permission and the vet asked if I wanted him to wait until I could come be with Harley. I declined. I’ve lost seven dogs over the years and many cats, and he’s one of only two dogs who I haven’t held in my arms as they passed. I always want to be there for them, but I knew Harley needed my husband, his best pal, who never could handle watching our pet’s final moments. I thought if I were to go, my husband would leave, then never forgive himself for leaving. I said my goodbye as I watched him walk away that day, instinctively knowing somehow I would never see him again. The experience of seeing this big, seemingly healthy dog breathe his last breath disturbed my husband so deeply that he could not set foot in that vet’s office for years. He still gets tears in his eyes when we reminisce about Harley, but I know he’s glad that he was with him when he died, as much as it hurt at the time.
Adopt-A-Dog/Save-A-Life “Committed to Finding Loving Homes for Abandoned Dogs”
Well, on a really happy note, Adopt-A-Dog/Save-A-Life is still going strong after all these years, and actually years before they helped bring Harley into our lives. Every Winter around Christmas time they send us their colorful print newsletter brimful of photos of dogs they have saved and placed in new, loving forever homes. This year I wanted to pay tribute to them as I remember my beautiful Harley who died right around this time eight years ago. To learn more about the great work they do and the positive difference they make in so many dog’s lives, please visit their website at ADOPT-A-DOG/SAVE-A-LIFE and their new Facebook page. Help them out or ‘like’ their Facebook page, or subscribe to their newsletter. There are so many deserving charities for dogs and other animals, and human beings too, it’s difficult to choose just one. I help when I can, or just subscribe to newsletters and email updates. That way I always have a list on hand of animal and human charities I can help out when the opportunity arises by sharing information about their work, honoring them and providing links to their websites or facebook pages, or just by word of mouth when I’m at gatherings. For local charities, shelters and rescues, fundraising is also a great option — bake sales craft sales, sponsored bike or motorcycle rides, dog walk-a-thons, and on and on… And, of course, when you’re looking for a new canine friend, adopting from breed rescues, shelters and pounds is a great way to go — abandoned dogs make such loving companions when they’re given the chance for a new life. Adopt-A-Dog/Save-A-Life says, “Please do not breed or buy, while shelter pets die!”