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Read the story of our newest Westie’s rescue on the New Arrivals page of this blog.

From left, Ambrose, Keely, Oliver and Blanche. Photo by Susan Timmerman

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I had raced to the Petco when I learned from someone at our local humane society that they were showing a three-year-old male West Highland white terrier for adoption there. Just as I approached this beautiful dog, my heart sank. There was another woman signing his adoption papers. Though disappointed—because I’d looked for such a dog for two years—I would nevertheless have been happy for his getting a good home…if only that were what was happening here.

His intake form read “Reasons animal is being relinquished: family allergic, and dog doesn’t do well alone for long periods.” I almost lost it as this adoptive woman casually said in my presence, “Well, we’re all allergic, too, but we’ll see how it goes.” She followed this up with, “We all work all day, but he’ll be all right, won’t he?” And last, when I noted he was due for a haircut, she wrinkled her nose and said, “Oh you don’t have to do that, do you?”

This woman obviously had no clue what she was getting into with adopting a terrier who’d already had a minimum of two previous homes. And what was worse, she’d raised every possible red flag for the adoption agency and still they let the transaction go through!

Incensed on his behalf, I gave the woman my business card. I told her I already had one Westie, I run a home-based business and thus he’d never be alone for long, and dogs are elevated to god-like status in my house. Pushy broad that I am, despite my Minnesota Nice upbringing, I flat-out said, “When…and if…this doesn’t work out, call me.”

That was on a Sunday in 1996. By the following Thursday, Ludwig was welcomed into his forever home with my menagerie of critters and me.

He was adored, pampered, and cherished every day until his last, when he died of prostate cancer the night before Thanksgiving 2005. This beautiful boy had survived the usually deadly virus leptospirosis two years earlier and went on to be the ring bearer in my wedding in 2004.

When he died, my husband and I knew we wanted to memorialize him somehow yet not be totally centered on ourselves. We decided to hold an All-Pets Memorial service, wherein people could bring photos of their own beloved, long-lost animal family members. An astounding thirty human beings attended, crowded into our living room. Tears, tales, and terrier-shaped treats were shared. We learned about what nearly 100 honored pets had brought into the lives of our friends, and all hearts were healed a bit that day.

Someone there came up to me and said, “Sid, you should write a book about memorializing pets.” That planted the seed that took several years to germinate and finally fully bloom. In August 2009, I published Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss. In it, I provide both personal and professional insights into the animal lover’s unique grieving process.

Just two days after my husband and I sent out prayers to Ludwig and asked him to paw-pick especially for us the next doggie we were supposed to share our lives with, my husband found Mortimer’s listing on Petfinder. (We saved him from the hideous temporary name Sir Chucky—I kept seeing that demon doll from the horror movie Child’s Play—and named him after Cary Grant’s character in Arsenic and Old Lace, Mortimer Brewster, who was so glad to find out that he was “adopted” and therefore wouldn’t inherit the family’s insanity.)

We drove to North Dakota to spring him from the James River Humane Society where he’d been deposited as a stray. The ad in Petfinder said he was three. A visit to our vet, where we learned he had advanced degenerative arthritis, got the response, “Well, I don’t think he’s quite ten.”

I was heartbroken. How could Ludwig have blown it so? I felt I’d lost seven years with my darling boy in a few seconds! I’ve found that sometimes we have to thank the Universe/(Puppy) Powers that be for keeping us in the dark and not giving us exactly what we wish for. They give us what we need.

In all honesty, knowing Mortimer’s advanced age would have deterred us from adopting him just then, as I couldn’t bear the thought of losing another senior so soon after Ludwig’s passing. But if we hadn’t been blissfully unaware, we wouldn’t have welcomed into our lives this phenomenally wonderful dog. He soon had two younger siblings to keep him young at heart, too.

By the time I started writing the book, I had added to my family those three Westies (yes, I’m brand loyal, but they’re always rescues), namely Mortimer, Blanche and Keely. They blended in beautifully with fellow rescues Giles and Xander (my cats), and Atticus and Scout (my finches).

My bond with all of these animals led me to pursue ordination as an animal chaplain, to further help me reach out in a meaningful way to others who are dealing with the pain of pet loss. Mortimer taught me to live in the moment as much as possible and to cherish every moment with our beloved companions. We made a concerted effort to ensure his last years were splendid, too. The experience tested my convictions in the book and showed me what I’d learned in researching and writing it really did work to help my heart heal after my much-loved Mortimer passed away rather suddenly just after I’d finished the book and turned over its pages to the designer for layout. His story became the book’s poignant epilogue. I have a peaceful heart knowing he and Ludwig both are properly immortalized and thanked for their invaluable roles in this life-changing venture.

I can see now the reason Ludwig found me this superb senior—so his passing would perfectly timed for me to have my two precious dogs as my “bookends.”

Though I live among a menagerie of animal family members and couldn’t imagine life without them in my home, I know where to draw the line with these feline/canine/avian, etc. room mates. The animals in my home have been domesticated for thousands of years and depend on my care to survive. Wild animals, on the other hand, do not belong in kennels or cages. When people decide to breed wild animals for profit, and someone invariably gets hurt or killed by one of them as a result, my blood boils at the thought that the animal is automatically killed in response when it was the human beings involved who were breaking the laws of nature by turning these creatures into pets. In my book, I include a chapter on “When a Companion Animal Is Not and Never Should Be a Pet” that highlighted Meme the Bengal tiger and the wonderful works of The Wildcat Sanctuary in a moving story by my friend Susan Timmerman.

Please check out their latest heart-wrenching video post, Titan and Lilly: Together at Last

Remember that while all animals are our teachers and deserving of our respect, love, admiration and protection from harm—they are not necessarily ours to “own” and never ours to exploit for profit. This story of remarkable, stunning tigers Titan and Lilly shows the resiliency of these creatures as they overcome traumas perpetrated on them by thoughtless, short-sighted human beings.

Please consider making a contribution to their ongoing care. The Wildcat Sanctuary and its founder, Tammy Quist, and her staff are simply astounding and most deserving of our support. That’s why I make a donation to them and a few other select no-kill animal shelters each time anyone purchases my book online or from me personally. You can go to my site at <www.goodgriefpetloss.com> and reach The Wildcat Sanctuary through the Affiliates page. They have an annual fund-raising dinner and dance (Jungle Boogie—info on their website) coming up in October, 2009; it’s ’50s themed and I and my hubby will be teaching some dances of the era that night through our business Two Right Feet Dance <www.tworightfeetdance.com>. Join us for the fun and support these beauteous felines.

This is a phenomenal story of how prisoners who participate in a program to raise and train puppies to become bomb-sniffing dogs and/or work with disabled vets and the elderly find a way to become more human through their interactions with a dog. It’s a very touching video.

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