Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Basset Hounds.
Tears and Cheers
What can you say about a five-year-old Basset Hound who died? That she was beautiful and brave? That she loved belly rubs, baby feet, ice cream, and a Red Flyer wagon? That her life was ending when we came together, but in those six remaining months, she would move many to tears and to cheers? She was amazing.
With less than a week remaining until Christmas, I was elated when my foster Basset Hound Abby was adopted into her forever home. Woohoo! I would spend Christmas with family and upon returning to my cozy little townhome in Dumfries, Virginia, would request another foster Basset Hound. Having become a foster home for BROOD (Basset Rescue of the Old Dominion) earlier that year, I found that both I and my kind-hearted Basset Hound, Hoover, enjoyed our temporary house guests. We both had more than enough love and nurturing to share as each sad-eyed Basset Hound, wounded in numerous ways, slipped into our routine, our bed, and our hearts.
December 23rd brought a phone call about a staggering Basset Hound dropped off at the overflowing holding kennel. She was a confused, frightened, and severely impaired little girl, who desperately needed to be in a quiet and attentive home. So while everyone else was in the countdown to the final 24 hours of Christmas, we were on the countdown to getting our new foster dog, Pecos, and before day’s end, she was whisked from the kennel chaos to the warm bath and bed our home could provide. Hoover, with his welcoming watchful eye, undoubtedly was happy that Christmas would now be spent at home with a new foster.
Pecos’ affliction was a mystery, and her relinquishing family provided little historical information. Her saving grace was the apparent lack of pain. She wobbled when she walked, with an odd, over-reaching step, and any movement appeared to be a challenge. She valiantly staggered toward the door when responding to nature’s call, but outdoor potty runs were impossible in her condition. I quickly learned to express her bladder, stimulate bowel movement, and carefully time her meals. Pecos adapted to saucy, padded denim britches, and we seemed to have things under control.
The search for a diagnosis and a plan of treatment took us to several specialists. Pecos had blood tests, X-rays, a spinal tap, an MRI, rehab therapy, acupuncture, and holistic treatments. Then we received the devastating diagnosis: Her brain and spine were affected by neurological distemper, undoubtedly having been latent in her body from earlier survival of the disease, which, by the way, is easily preventable.
Without a cure, we pushed on with living, with making the most of every day, with meds and therapy, and with prayers raised from the Basilica of Baltimore to the Grotto of Lourdes. Together we learned how to master movement with doggie carts supporting her rear legs. The day she came through her neurologist’s clinic door in her cart, the entire staff came into the lobby and cheered with smiles and tears as they watched her proudly roll forward to the treatment room under her own power.
Pecos became an ambassador for BROOD, attending doggie events and participating in fundraising walks. She alternated between her doggie cart and her Red Flyer wagon, which was known as her chariot. People applauded her effort to walk and asked to have their pictures taken with her. She adored the attention and gave a kiss to anyone who wanted one. She had a special fondness for licking the feet of squealing, excited babies.
Five months into our journey, Pecos lost the use of her front legs. Still happy with Hoover’s companionship, good food, and her pile of quilts with a view to outdoor activity and TV shows, we were now in hospice mode. At least Pecos was pain-free and reveling in outings with the Red Flyer wagon.
One month later Pecos let me know it was time to let her go. I gave her a final ride in the Red Flyer wagon, embraced her with our love, and then helped her on a peaceful transition from wheels to wings.
Pecos may be one of the few dogs in rescue history to be adopted after her passing. Some may think it a moot point; she was in foster care and considered unadoptable because of her terminal prognosis. But it did not seem quite right to close the books without making it official. She was part of our family. She was treasured. She was loved. To this day I think of her with that infamous question put forth by many a foster parent: “Who rescued whom?” She was so amazing.