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Good Grief

(Fair Warning: This article could be a real tearjerker, it was for me to write.)

Have you ever wondered why our loving companions are only with us a short time in comparison to our lives? Well, I have. We have all heard that ‘one year of a dog’s life is equivalent to seven years of a human’s life’.  The quality of life has improved for humans by at least ten years within the last twenty years.  A dog’s life may be equivalent to eight or more years in comparison now. We owe a lot to our four legged companions for their contributions to our quality of life. It has been documented as to the health benefits a dog brings to a person’s life from nursing home residents all the way down to school age children.  Our friends and companions give unconditionally and give over and over and over again.  All they want in return from us is to acknowledge and embrace them.  Is it possible that they hold the key to life and the pursuit of happiness?  But what have we given back to them? 

What can we give back to them? I raised this question myself, when I said, “Goodbye for now,” to two of my closest friends and companions a couple of years ago.  This was the first time that I ever had to say goodbye like this.  It is hard to believe, even for me, because I am almost fifty years old.  It is not as if I did not have any dogs growing up.  I had six (burdawgs) dogs growing up and seven English Setters growing young with (I am living comfortably with two now.)  I was fortunate to be sheltered by my parents and spared the emotions of pain and suffering that accompany the loss of a loved one. My parents always seem to sense when the time was nearing and would step in when I was at school or traveling for business and take them to Aunt Carrie’s house.  (My Grandfather, Aunt Carrie’s oldest brother, did the same thing with my father too.)  Their story was always that Aunt Carrie needed the company.  Aunt Carrie Bobo was half Choctaw Indian; in fact her father was the last Chief of the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi, Chief Greenwood Leflore, before the Choctaws moved to Oklahoma. Aunt Carrie lived alone deep in a pine forest in Central Mississippi and practiced a lot of the old ways of life that she grew up with. Aunt Carrie lived to be well over 100 years old; nobody, including her, knew exactly how old she was.  She lived ‘til I was into my late 30’s.  My dogs always spent their last remaining years with her because she needed the company. 

On occasions, I would go back to see them and some of my guys were still with Aunt Carrie (and happy as can be, they ran free in a thousand plus acre pine forest).  She took great care with them until they left, not to return. I asked her one-day what she did when they didn’t return.  She told me that everyday of their lives, they were here for feeding time.  Not a day went by that they were not there to eat by sundown.  When they did not return, she understood they probably would not be returning.  She knew, when their day was nearing.  They would start not to wander off very far.  Sooner or later they would hang around the house all day.  Then when the day would come, they would walk off into the pine forest not to return.   I asked if she ever followed them?  She would on occasions, she said, but would never find them.  After a few days when they did not return, she would take their bowl up, say a little prayer and then put their bowl on the shelf, not to be used again. (I wish that I had asked her for their bowls.)  She went on to tell me, that when it was their time to go and to be with their maker, they would wander off into the forest that they ran in and would find a place that no one could find them and lay down to go to sleep.  There they would return from whence they came. What she said to me that day made sense to me.  In my romps through the woods as a young’en it was not unusual to come across the remains of animals behind a stump or rock. That pine forest was their cemetery, the Potter’s field.  Aunt Carrie is gone and so is her house but not the pine forest.  I have since gone back and walked the forest with new reverence and a greater understanding of just exactly how sacred that ground is to me. 

When is it time to say goodbye?  When it came time for me to say goodbye to my loving friend and companion, and it was our decision, it was the hardest thing that I never had done before in my lifetime. Aunt Carrie’s words came back to me when I noticed my friend and companion starting to lie down behind things in the house where he had never cared to go before.  It was hard to admit but I knew exactly what he was saying to me.  That particular day the number one song on the country charts happen to be a song by Diamond Rio, “One More Day.”  I happen to be listening to the top twenty count down when the words of the song spoke to me about exactly what I was wrestling with in my heart. “One more day, one more time.  One more sunset, maybe I‘d be satisfied.   But then again, I know what it would do, leave me wishing still one more day with you.”  Those words helped me realize that it was not about me at all but about him.  He knew and he was trying to tell me, “Dad, it’s time to go.”  I wish we had been able to wander into that pine forest together, I guess, in essence we did.

Every time that I hear Jeff Carson sing, “I was young, he was old, we both were the same age. Everyday playin’ fetch, shaking hands; he’d lick my face.  I was unaware the day would come when he died.  For the first time I knew what real pain was.  I never was the same again from that moment on, real life began,” I think back how real life began for me at that moment.  For me it was the first time that I had lost something that I loved so dearly.   I went through real pain and suffering, such that I had never experienced before.  In trying to make sense of it all, it came to me that maybe, just maybe, our four legged friends and companions prepare us to deal with pain and suffering when we come face to face with crossroads of choices along life’s path.

We will physically miss our companions but we will never loose them and their warm feeling they gave us every time they were around.  Again I take the words from Diamond Rio, “I believe…with all my heart I’m sure, that we’re closer now than we ever were.  I don’t have to hear or see to believe.  Like the hands of time will uphold you and me whenever you are apart of me forever in the heart of me, I would hold even longer if I can…gone a moment from my side like the tears were never cried…Our love can reach across eternity, I believe.”   It took saying “Goodbye for now,” to my second friend and companion to learn that we should celebrate the crossing over to a new life where they are made whole again.  With friends we toasted all the good memories with the champagne that we forgot to open when he completed his championship.  Each one of us shared stories that we remembered about him.  I’ll never forget his finish.  He was sixth in an open class of about ten or twelve at a specialty.  This judged placed according to how he would award the ribbons.  I figured it was over and went out to pack the car.  After I finished, I came back just in time for winners dog, and guess who was there?  Yes, he had come from sixth to win his class and then take winners dog.  I missed his win from the classes but I did not miss his winners dog.  It is those moments we celebrated. There is a nice poem that does just that, celebrates their crossing over on “Rainbow Bridge”.

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.  There are meadows and hills for all our special friends so they can run and play together.  There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals that had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor.  Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.  The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance.  His bright eyes are intent.  His eager body quivers.  Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.  The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…Author unknown.

I probably don’t have to tell you where my two companions and me will spend forever.  We will take that walk together in that pine forest, someday.  There we will cross over together on Rainbow Bridge.

It was this moment that real life began for me.  I made a promise to my friend that I would do whatever I could do to make the future generations of English Setters lives’ better.  Give them the opportunities and more that he had.  Give back a little of all the joy that he blessed me with.  A portion of my answer to the question, “What can I give back?” rests in the forum of Public Education Chairperson. 

If you haven’t asked yourself the question, “What can I give back, then it is about time you do. Don’t wait until Real Life begins for you to give back like I did.  Take initiative, step forward and give back while you and your companions can enjoy it together.  There are tons of things that you can do locally, regionally and of course nationally for our English Setters.  There is still a great need for financial support of all kinds for Canine Health Foundations. (Research does not come free nor does it just happen, it needs support with more science people with proper financial support)  There are children in our schools with no experience with dogs.  They are our future and unless we get to them and let our English Setters reach out and touch their hearts like they have touched ours, then we could be looking at a dying breed.

You know, I think our English Setters might truly have the key to life that opens the door to happiness.  They lead a life of giving.  They give over and over expecting nothing in return.  You might see a little disappointment in their eyes when we fail to acknowledge them but they shake it off (figuratively and literally) and quickly forget it.  Their love is unconditional and unrelentless.  And when they are left to rescue, they easily forgive and forget and focus on the rescuers like a newfound love. Try their key of giving and see where it gets you.  If English Setters could talk, they would probably say, “Try it, you’ll like it.”  I’ll speak for them, “Try it, you’ll love it!”

I had to give up writing the column for a short time because of unforeseen events.  To quote Randy Quaid in Independence Day, “I’mmmm Baaaaaack!”  It is good to be writing again. 

I realize that I have touched on a very sensitive subject, believe me it was sensitive writing it. But you know, maybe some of our readers might need another’s experience of interpretation.  If Aunt Carrie had not have told me, I might not have ever really known how to interpret what my friend was trying to tell me.  Maybe my sharing this experience with our readers can help.  But more importantly, enjoy life like our English Setters do, by Giving Back!

I let a friend of mine proof read this for me and she commented that I sounded like a Southern Baptist Preacher looking for lost sinners.  I said, you’re not too far off.  I was raised as a Mississippian Southern Baptist, but I’m looking for lost givers within our ESAA membership.

As you can tell, I am a listener of Country and Western music.  Growing up in Mississippi C&W is all we had to listen to.  I did not hear about the Beatles until they had broken up. (Just kidding, it wasn’t that bad)  But I will leave you until next time with this little prayer song from the Pirates of the Mississippi,

I’m standing at the crossroads in life and I don’t know where to go.
You know that you have my heart babe, but my music gots my soul…
What we are and what we ain’t.  What we can and what we can’t, does it really matter?
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I die before I wake, feed Jake.
He’s been a good dog, my best friend through it all.
If I die before I wake, feed Jake.

Public Education Chairperson,
Eddie Johnson