We are packing and preparing to depart for cooler pastures up North and so here we go with the blog again. As some of you know, I’ve been on blogging hiatus over the winter while I was working on a book. We love staying in touch with all of our dear ones and hope that this year’s Chance Encounters posts will keep you a part of our lives while we are away.
But, least you think that this post is about departing on another fun trip, let me clarify that it is sadly not. It is about another kind of departure. A bittersweet departure.
Yesterday, we said a loving goodbye to Hana, our friend of 14 years as she departed this life gently and peacefully while Arnie and I held her and each other, thanking her for being with us. Hana has been our much-loved surrogate child and traveling companion, so her final departure is a bit heartbreaking on the eve of our own leaving. This morning I got up out of habit at the usual ungodly hour that she needed to go out in her old age. I knew she wasn’t there, but I got up anyway. I changed the water in the dish. I picked up the dog bed I couldn’t touch yesterday and went out on the porch with my coffee alone. And then I heard an early morning bird call out, seemingly telling me to sit for a spell and just heart-talk with Hana.
Chin’s are an odd little breed of dog that are full of mixed emotions. One the one hand they shun close contact, keeping themselves at a polite and aloof distance. On the other hand, they greet you with wild abandon after even a short separation. Even a five-minute trip to the garage could result in a greeting that would be more appropriate for after a long weekend away. Hana had the short-term memory of a sixties stoner. But those spinning, circling greetings accompanied by joyful squeaks and snorts were reaffirming. You never doubt that someone loves you with their whole heart when you are greeted by a Chin after being gone for only five short minutes. This morning when I talked with Hana, I told her how deeply reciprocal that love has been.
Hana came to me at the time of another transformational departure in my life. I had just lost another beloved dog and was full-blown into a grief process that was really challenging me to recover from. I was vulnerable. Not only that, I was puppy vulnerable, that awful state of being where every sighting of a puppy brings on a painful longing that you really are not yet ready for. Your head knows that, but it is a visceral response. A friend who did rescue work for Japanese Chin Rescue called and shared that he had just gotten in some puppies that needed homes. I went to see them thinking that I might just foster one, but when he put that tiny ball of fluff in my hands I was hooked. It was that gut-wrenching puppy longing fulfilled and all intelligent thought vanished. I had a bug-eyed, snaggle-toothed, crusty nosed instant Princess. This was perhaps the ugliest puppy I had ever seen. Not withstanding, I loved her instantly. I went out and bought her a dress. I thanked her for sparking the kind of adoration in me that pulled me out of a dark, sad pit of grief over the loss of her predecessor. So this morning , I also thanked Hana for turning me into one of those dog ladies who unapologetically expressed their mental issues by dressing their dogs in clothes and parading them around local farmers markets in a dog-stroller.
Chin ‘s are known as a brachlocephalic breed. Their short faces are artificially selected for by breeders who are going for a particular look. Pugs, Pekingese and Boston Terriers are examples of other breeds who have been developed for shortened faces. Along with this kind of breeding can come physical deformities and disabling conditions. Hana had a cluster of issues. Her face and head were twisted slightly, making one eye protrude prominently. Both eyes drifted lazily out to the sides and her jaw jutted off at an angle Her nose resided jauntily off to one side as if it were God’s afterthought. Although she snored and snorted enough to carry the nickname “PigPig”, none of these endearing attributes affected her in the slightest. But more than one vet was to confirm that she probably was a not “all there”. Hana’s head injury likely occurred at birth, resulting in challenges to her IQ that only made me love her more. I made sure she was home schooled in the special class and we made out just fine. The heart condition that finally precipitated her departure yesterday was more critical. This morning, I thanked Hana for reminding everyone around her that there is intrinsic value and something to celebrate in every individual no matter what they look like or what makes them different and unique.
Most of my life, I’ve had athletic dogs such as run-with-the-wind greyhounds, a razor-sharp Australian Shepherd, and working German Shepherds that live to do your bidding. I’ve always prefered dogs that can do a job. An unlikely choice made at a vulnerable time in my life, Hana was a born pillow-sitting Diva by nature. By her superior attitude she communicated her demands on the whole household. She could stop other dogs in their tracks and interrupt that introductory sniff with a stiff glare that said, “Keep away from the royal self.” Hana knew no commands, only invitations. She followed a daily routine if rewarded in accordance with her wishes. She knew the words Treat and Cookie before she knew her name and she trained me early on that I was expected to pay a tariff for her cooperation. This morning, I thanked Hana for keeping me humble for 14 years. I told her that I appreciated the constant reminder that we are all only here to serve in some way or another. To make the life of another creature better, safer, more comfortable or happier is a gift. As the giver, we receive beyond measure.
Back in my pre-Arnie days when I tent-camped all over Florida, the other dogs happily roughed it with me. Hana staked herself out on her pink fluffy blanket, wholly disgusted with the accommodations. No dog in the campground was too big for her to grump and growl at from her royal vantage point. She loved a nice hotel room with a balcony but she hated tent camping. Today, when I talked with Hana, I told her I admired a woman who could claim her rightful place in the world. I especially admire a woman who can get what she needs with one withering look.
And finally, I talked to Hana about how much we are going to miss her. Our household is an interlocked puzzle of animal personalities and there is a missing piece this morning. We are all feeling it in our own ways. For awhile, Cracker the African Grey will call her name and she will not come. Wicca the Cairn will wait for her at the door and Hana will not bounce back into the house alongside her pal. Arnie and I will reach for her and and miss the silken touch. And then, one day, we will Chance Encounter her somewhere again and recognize that it is sweet Hana. We hope that we sent your spirit off in love to drift gently into that next life where you have more lessons to learn and more lessons to teach. Thanks for being with us just as you were. Continue to love well little Hana and we will touch noses with you again and soon.