Happy Tails: Billy
After posting a good-bye to Billy on the Lollypop Farm wall on facebook, someone requested that I write a "Happy Tail" about Billy. It took some time, but I think I can do this now.
I can start this story stating that I had a dog, Randi, from the time I was 6 years old until I was 23. We were never parted ... she even went to college with me (reasons why I never lived on campus). When she did die, at age 17, I was DEVASTATED and stated that I would never have another dog ever again.
Seven years later, in September of 2003 I saw Billy at Lollypop West and knew that we should be together. I wasn't sure if it was the "This is all a mistake, and I don't know why I'm here" look on his face, or the way he leaned his entire body into my few fingers placed through the kennel, but I just knew I had to take him home. I had to check with my husband (who was sure I was nuts after I told him it was love at first sight) and my landlord (I was ready to move if he said, "no,") but it was all a "go," and Billy came home with me shortly thereafter. I remember him pulling me from car to car in the parking lot that day (we needed to work on those leash manners), looking up at me with each car as if to say, "Is this one yours? I'm ready to go home."
Our first week at home was rough. I didn't know what toys he liked (I bought a bunch of stuff, just in case), and I was afraid of what he might do. His previous owners stated that he soiled the house and scratched at doors and windows. Luckily, all he did in the first week was eat a bar of Irish Spring soap (the resulting BM from this was not pleasant!), and pulverize a roll of toilet paper. (I later realized that he was just making confetti to celebrate his new home!) OK ... a few more anti-boredom toys were added, and a LOT more exercise. He never soiled the house or scratched at doors and windows.
As I got to know Billy, I remember thinking how strange it was that he didn't know what toys were. I had to teach him to play ball (which became his ULTIMATE pastime) and how to use chewy toys. He had a stuffed animal frog which he loved and carried where ever he went. He slept with it at night, snuggled up under his head. We then started working on basic manners and socialization skills. He progressed quickly, and soon I realized what a "people dog" he was.
He started going to work with me some days at the nursing home, and he loved everyone as much as they loved him. Even those who said they didn't like dogs liked him after they got to know him. From there he went on to earn his AKC Canine Good Citizen award and pass his Therapy Dog International test with no problem.
Billy was a celebrity wherever he went: people would come out of their houses while we were walking to greet him; visitors, staff, as well as residents at the nursing home would seek him out daily, and fuss over what a good dog he was. After he retired, up to this day, people still ask for him and wonder how he is doing.
Billy was just an amazing dog: so loving and so smart, so obedient. He loved me so much, and I loved him equally--maybe even more. He went every where with me: work, vacation, swimming, the barn, on trail rides (I've been riding horses since I was 6) and never left my side unless I told him to wait somewhere for me. Regardless of where I told him to wait, or how long he had to wait, he waited right there for me to come back, never moving an inch. He heeled so well, that he was always to the left side of me, with or without a leash. The only exception to this rule was after I had children--he would walk next to the baby in the stroller or walk with the one lagging behind the group, making sure that everyone was OK.
He had a huge variety of tricks he would perform: shaking hands, rolling over, spinning around and around, playing dead, etc. ... and if you had a highly desirable treat in your hand, he may spontaneously start doing all of his tricks--one after another--hoping that one of them was the one he had to do to get that treat! What a ham!!!
Things seemed to be going well until he had an incident (Easter morning) when he woke up howling and dragging his back legs. I had no idea what had happened, but I was so sure that I would be losing him that day. As I drove to Orchard Park Emergency vet clinic, I came to terms with the real possibility that I would have to drive home without him. By the time we got there, he was standing in the back seat, happy and wagging his tail again. X-rays showed that he had, at one time, broken two vertebrae and that he had some degree of deformity from that. The vet noticed some scars on the inside of his legs, and thought that maybe he had been hit by a car at some time in his life. I felt so bad for him, as I also remembered that his previous owners had left him to "roam free" when they were not home. The temporary paralysis was probably caused by him sleeping on a big fluffy bed and might return at any time. After some steroids and the purchase of a new, firmer orthopedic bed, Billy was back to chasing balls around the backyard and had no further issues for years.
Everyone used to ask me what breed he was. Although we will never know for sure, he had the pit bull smile and tongue curl, the howl of a hound (and boy-oh-boy could he tree a 'coon in no time!) and some other breed which made one ear stand up all of the time, and the other ear stand up about 2% of the time. He was very active but could cuddle for hours at night while watching a movie (all 60 pounds of him). If his previous owners were accurate, Billy was 7 going on 8 when they dropped him off at the shelter. He was with me just short of 8 wonderful years.
I had to make the decision to euthanize Billy as I watched him deteriorate. I knew for a while he had some kidney failure, but the damaged area to his spine started to develop further deformities, putting pressure on his spine. While he never complained of pain, I saw the look on his face when he could no longer control his urine (he was truly ashamed of himself, poor thing) and the terror when, on two occasions his back end went out and we had to help him up. At this point I knew it was time. Luckily, our vet said that he would come out to the house.
On July 15 I said goodbye to Billy in the sun, on a favorite blankie, with his "froggie," with lots of hugs and kisses. I swear I could feel my heart breaking. I know that part of me died with him, and I will never, ever again know a dog like him.
What I do know, is that I can love another dog again ... not in the same way, but with the same strength. I brought Bella (a funny setter/spaniel mix with the energy of 10 dogs) home from Lollypop Farm on April 30, as I knew Billy's time was dwindling, and my other dog, Onnie (a mixed breed-Lab/chow/some type of herding dog?--whom I rescued directly from a bad situation), did not do well at home alone.
While Billy is gone, and I miss him dearly, Onnie and Bella are there for me, and I am there for them. Onnie doesn't have the personality to go to work with me, as she is a one-person dog, but Bella has gone to the nursing home a few times and seems to help the residents in the healing of the loss of Billy. She will never be Billy, nor will I ask her to be. I have learned that the benefit of having loved an animal far outweighs the pain of the loss when we lose them.
Billy taught me so much, and filled each day of my life with so much love and happiness, as do each of my other dogs. Billy taught me that I was not being unfaithful to my previous dog by loving another and that, by saying I would never have another dog again, I was depriving myself of so many good times as well as depriving another dog a good, happy home.
Attached are some of my favorite pictures of Billy ... one of sir handsome himself collarless right after a summer outdoor bath, one of him running on the beach, playing ball in Cape Cod, and one of him laying in the sun. I hope all the staff and volunteers at Lollypop Farm feel so good about the job they do, knowing that you are able to provide these animals with another opportunity to find their forever home and brighten so many lives. Thank you so much!
Onnie, Bella and I will see you at Barktober Fest!