The Finish of Beginnings, The Start of Endings

It seems to me that life can be divided into beginnings and endings.

Child #1 leaves for graduate school.  Child #2 leaves for new apartment and sophomore year in college. Dog #3 arrives to distract mother of said children #1 and #2. 

I can label these changes as Chapters of Life,  Developmental Stages, Academic Calendars, Empty Nest. Every beginning has a start and a finish, and a middle. Every ending has a start and a finish, and a middle.  All these beginnings and endings just get all jumbled up inside me. 

The scary part about this emptying phase of life is that, although the endings are pretty evenly distributed, all the beginnings appear to belong to someone else.  The kids get to start a new academic year with all its new courses, classmates and teachers.  The kids get to set up new apartments and define new homes.  The husband gets to start making preparations for a career change, because the kids are nearing the self-sufficient stage.  The puppy even gets to start a new adventure with two great pals. 

Where are my beginnings? 

I found a clue by observing my dogs.

Luci has reached that stage in dog life where the comfort zone contracts.  Garbage cans are dog-eating monsters.  Car rides are unnerving sensory exercises. Acorns dropping from oak trees are projectiles from dog-hating gods. I deliberately set off with a leashed Luci every day investigating yet another evil-doer; I gently but firmly insist that she face her fear, and realize that not only will she survive to bark at another day BUT she will discover beginnings of new adventures. Puppies need good handlers to bring out their best instincts, and we mommies-letting-go need handlers/friends to bring out our best instincts.   I need to  find someone to be on the other end of the leash, to pull gently but insistently toward my safe new beginnings.

Luci knows how to ask for help,  with big dark chocolate pools of eye.  

I have words, and I need to give them voice.  I need only ask for help, ’cause my emptying is finished and my beginnings have begun.

A Tribute to Gunner: 9/11 Canine Hero

Not too long ago I met a story.

While walking my dog I stopped to wish a neighbor well with his move.  He waved thanks and kept walking toward his house, and the fellow taping up boxes looked up and beamed.  I thought he was grateful for the coffee approaching in my neighbor’s hand until he exclaimed “Puppy!”  Tall, lean, with a ponytail in back, this fifty-something man walked over, said hi to me, then crouched to say hello to Cappy.  I call this the working hello and I know that the person greeting my dog not only likes dogs but works hard to understand and communicate with them. In this relaxed fall morning a story unfolded.

Dave got his first work dog as a young Vietnam soldier. When this pup was shot literally from underneath him, he was given another to train and work.  “War dogs you don’t get too attached to. They are there to do a job.  You’re eighteen, away from home, and you love them, but you don’t get too attached.”  That’s how Dave became involved with civilian search and rescue teams.

In the 1990’s Dave was employed as a veterinary assistant in an Atlanta Emergency Clinic.  One morning he found a young stray tied to the clinic door, with two broken legs and a  ruptured spleen.  The doctors for whom he worked didn’t believe in euthanizing if they felt there was a reasonable chance of saving an animal.  They did their magic, and then it was Dave’s turn to do his.  In caring for this nine month old  pup Dave recognized that special blend of courage, smarts, loyalty, and desire to please that search and rescue work requires.  He put in a call to a buddy at the nearby military base and soon the flat-coated black lab graduated 3 of 30 in the search and rescue training program. 

“Gunner was my soul-mate.  He was so special.  There are 42 people on this earth, walking around today, because he found them.  Special.  We were there after 9/11.”

“Gunner was amazing.  There was too much noise at the site.  I could only use hand signals.  I’d send Gunner out, at thirty feet he would stop and wait for my command.  I would move my hand.”

At this Dave held out his right arm and with his index and third fingers extended  Dave made a small horizontal wave. 

“Then Gunner would start his zigzag pattern back toward me, sniffing. That’s how they teach them to search a grid.  When they find someone alive, the dog is trained to jump up and down and make a lot of noise. When they find a body or body part they sit.  We went to search and rescue, and of course you know it turned out to be all recovery.  Gunner would go out, search and sit.  Search and sit. He found 30 intact bodies.  Thirty! Out of 300 that means my Gunner found ten percent of the bodies recovered.  Everything else was an arm here, a hand. ”

Dave paused. 

He retired Gunner after that mission was complete, and they traveled together on Dave’s new job as a mover.  Last year Gunner succumbed to cancer. 

 “He was my soul mate. The dog to replace him hasn’t been born.”

Here’s to all those brave teams of men and women and dogs, who tirelessly searched for days and days through the rubble of the Towers.

Here’s to all those brave teams yet to be created, who will go out again and again, anytime there is tragedy, risking their lives so others may live, or find peace of mind.