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This past weekend, Sue Storms, our wonderful organizer of all things Westie-ful and fun, got us and our West Highland White Terriers together at the Dog City Dog Park in New Hope, Minnesota, for an afternoon of sniffing, playing and treats. Thanks, Sue! Here are a few shots of the cute group.

Doggie Treadmills at Dog City

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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.”

Dearest Blog,

Shortly after my nephew Jason’s girlfriend, Kormassa, went into labor on June 13, 2009, sending my sister, Diane, into paroxyms of joy over becoming a grandmother for the first time, I had to call and break the news to my sister that her beloved dog-nephew, Mortimer, would have to be put to sleep the next day. I can be such a buzz killer.

Talk about the cycle of life being illustrated in High Def! There we were, delighted and devastated by turns.

My new grand nephew, C.J. (either Christopher James or Christian James, I don’t know if they’ve decided yet), probably came in the same spiritual doorway that was, just hours later, held open for my baby, my West Highland white terrier.

Not being one to suffer in total solitude when I know I have a fabulous support system, I reached out far and wide to obtain that much-needed succor. I mass-emailed the following message:

Hello Everyone,

We have very sad news. Our darling Westie boy, Mortimer, age 12+, swiftly declined after contracting a severe eye infection that rendered him blind in mere days despite antibiotic treatment. He’d already lost his hearing some months back, and now, because he was suffering great pain and because there was no hope of recovery, we had to put him peacefully to sleep this afternoon (Sunday, June 14, 2009).

As you may know, I’m in the process of publishing a book I’ve written called Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss. I believe Mortimer timed his departure from this life precisely so he could give a poignant sense of closure to this book. I’m certainly being compelled to practice all I’ve “preached” about coping with such loss, and I can promise that what I’ve learned in researching and writing this book IS helping me and Anthony both stay strong and at peace even as we openly weep over Mortimer’s death.

Please hold our boy and us in your thoughts for a moment, wishing us all gentle passage into the next transformation in our lives.

Thank you in advance,
Sid and Anthony

By the next morning, I had to sit by my computer, alternately answering the literally HUNDREDS of messages of condolence I’d received (and forwarding them to my husband, Anthony, at work so he could benefit from them just as I was) and nearly short circuiting my keyboard with my torrents of sorrowful/grateful tears. I could have used one of those buffet-style sneeze guards about then to spare myself a call to First Tech for repairs.

I got to thinking about the old adage: “Be careful what you wish for; it just might come true.” I’d surely wished to finish my book, on which I’d been working for more than a year and a half, since the autumn of 2007. Accordingly, I proceeded to batter about my wounded heart, wondering, “Did I make Mortimer leave us right now because I’d just finished a book on grieving pet loss? Am I my own dog’s killer?”

Then, reexamining the logic that went into that conclusion, I decided that if I really had that kind of power, my next book was going to be called My Life as a Lottery Winner! and gave up the self-imposed guilt.

Finally, I arrived at what I believe is the most truthful conclusion: My former Westie, Ludwig, who had died the day before Thanksgiving in 2005, had been the initial inspiration for my writing a book about pet loss; and he sent us Mortimer—a stray picked up by the police alongside a road and delivered to the James River Humane Society in Jamestown, N.D.—just months later, in January 2006. Mortimer had signed on for a relatively short but intensely loving stay with us for a reason. His job was to top off my life’s work (to date anyway) by providing a beautiful, heartbreakingly poignant epilogue to my book.

Our companion animals often decide to leave when there is a huge change in their human’s life, be it a divorce, birth of a baby, marriage, move to a new home, etc. Mortimer died so that my book might be published and a new and very, very different chapter in my life might begin.

And so the cycle of life continues…

…as does the ceaseless love underlying everything and everyone at every moment.

Blessed be,
Sid

P.S. You may have heard of the writer’s rule is: Write what you know. Apparently, I know pets and death. What a combo.

I am reminded as I am preparing to promote the heck out of my book—even as I actively memorialize Mortimer’s too-soon demise—that, when I was in high school in the late 1970s and they’d administered those goofy professional aptitude tests, I’d laughed my butt off when mine came back saying I was fit to work in advertising and/or as a funeral director!

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