Our Lives

After a hectic year, searching for good through dogs

December 30, 2012 


Christine Gilbert.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

I have been giving the daunting task of writing during the holiday season – not just immediately after Thanksgiving, but after Christmas and before the start of a fresh new year.

2012 is certainly wrapping itself up as an interesting present. I waited with bated breath to see if the world would end, and once more survived holiday shopping. I listened to my mother’s panicked phone call about a mistaken Internet order, how I was not to accept the package under any circumstances because it was the wrong one, only to later receive another call informing me all was well and I could accept the present. I am dying to know what the mistake was, but given my knowledge of Mom and computers, I am not even sure she knows what the mistake was.

I want to write something positive, something uplifting. I don’t want to write about what happened in Newtown, Hurricane Sandy, or the presidential race. I had friends involved in all three and it’s a train wreck within my brain.

Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, and Hostess cupcakes have been laid to rest, as well as the television show “The Closer.” It’s good that they ended “The Closer” because without that supplemental Hostess food group, I don’t know how Brenda Leigh could continue to solve crimes.

Seeking the good

I don’t like thinking about “Fifty Shades of Grey” (which is actually “150 Shades of Grey” since it is a trilogy) being the most-talked about book when there have been so many other delicious books published this year. I was disappointed the Hobbit movie was made into a trilogy even though it is one book; I feel like Peter Jackson is milking me for money. As a result, my mind ponders how many “Shades of Grey” movies we can expect.

This year, we lost Dick Clark, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, and Davy Jones, while Justin Timberlake got married and Justin Beiber was attacked by overzealous fans. It has been an emotional roller coaster on so many levels.

As 2012 closes, where in all this misery and chaos, is the good that we seek? For me, the answer is through animals.

The people on the Internet voted one photograph as the most inspirational picture of the year. It’s of a man named John Unger holding his 19-year-old dog Schoep in Lake Superior, the dog’s head comfortably resting on his person’s shoulder. The waters of the lake soothe the dog’s painful arthritis, and John discovered that if he holds the dog in the water, the dog falls asleep. It’s hydrotherapy for an elderly dog, no different than one of us sitting in a hot tub or doing water exercises. But Unger does this daily for Schoep, and people online let him know how much his efforts were appreciated by sharing his story everywhere.

Another inspiring story I found arrived during the height of the mud-slinging presidential campaigns. It was the story of a dog named Molly. I don’t really remember why that ended up being her name, but she was an elderly Shiba Inu on death row, given up because she was old and sick. She had little to no fur, was extremely malnourished, could not walk or lift her head.

Rescue defies misery

She was rescued by a woman who did not want to see this dog die on a concrete floor. Now Molly is eating, walking, and barking when she feels people are not paying attention to her. While she will never be a young athletic dog, she is not going to die alone.

And then there is Cruise. He has been an interesting addition to my life. After fostering a beautiful Shiba Inu this summer, I was called to look in on another that was on death row. He was handed over because he was a “biter,” and when a dog is identified as such, termination is usually swift. It was a Tuesday in October; I found myself taking a long, beautiful afternoon drive to Virginia, and a very long Tuesday night drive back to North Carolina with this scrawny, nervous, disoriented Shiba Inu. My eldest male Shiba immediately showed this younger, almost Frankenstein-looking dog the rules of the house, while the eldest female barely noted his arrival.

Biter now bright spot

Cruise (whose name has been changed from his original) was a handful from the moment he arrived. He had no leash manners, no eating manners, and no etiquette: he stole my mother’s turkey sandwich in less than a second, an amazing achievement that stunned the entire house, including the other two dogs who looked at me with faces that said, “Why can’t we do that?”

His neck fur is worn into a permanent ring from his collar, and there are patches of fur that will never grow back. With great veterinarian support, his vision problems and arthritis were identified, and his rotted and broken teeth removed. Regular meals, walks, and playtime were established and now this nine-year-old Shiba is an active, happy-go-lucky Pollyanna.

He has been with me for two months. He sorta walks on a leash, he kind of has learned table manners, and he is the best alarm clock I have ever possessed. He also has the cutest windshield wiper tail. It remains in its tight curl but goes back and forth at varying speeds. As the fostering continues, it wags more and more frequently. He is a happy dog.

In my first essay, I wrote that I am an animal person. Dogs have always been and most likely always will be, a part of my life. During this dramatic year, I always looked to and been surprised by the people and their canines who showed me there is still hope for mankind.

Now, if we can just train my mother’s dog to work a computer, I think the many potential problems of 2013 will be significantly lessened.


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