Willson Fancy Dancing Bear was born, son of Spirit, in my bed on December 9, 1998. He was one of seven pups who declared early on that he wanted to be my dog by leaving his litter mates to lie by my feet. I think he might have been the returning soul of my cat, Cream Puff who had gotten me to keep him rather than his litter mates in precisely the same way. The color of the two was the same, and there was also a strange love of blueberry muffins that they shared. Bear's mother was a Siberian Husky/Shepherd mix and his father, Max, a roving dog about town, was Siberian Husky/Tervurian as best I can tell. Bear looks like a small, more refined Leonberger.
Yes, I write in present tense as Bear is still with me but I fear, not for long. We have an appointment with his Veterinarian this afternoon and the vet will tell me if any medication will give Bear some more good days or if it is time to help him leave his failing body. Today, he struggles terribly to walk and holds his head slightly to one side. He is still responsive and interested in what is going on around him and followed me into the kitchen when I went to make myself some breakfast. I held him up to keep him from falling as we made it back to my bedroom. He's lying on the floor beside me as I write this.
Bear has been showing his age for quite some time now. He lost most of his hearing last year and his time of running swiftly has long been past. One eye is clouded and probably not functioning. Still, until today, his life has been good and his affect one of joy.
Bear has always been the leader of the pack. The pack right now numbers five dogs. Two of them are his year old son and daughter. Bear has been very involved in training these pups. All his life, he demonstrated he wanted to be a father by caring for his stuffed animals. In my last home, his mother had dug a den for her pups when they were born. One day when Bear was about three years old, I couldn't find an single one of his many teddy bears. After looking for them I found them all in the den outside. Bear took his leadership of the pack seriously. His impetuous mother was a genus at finding trouble. Many a time, she would start to dash after something and her larger son would grab her tail, anchoring his mother who would still have her feet in running motion. I could easily imagine him saying "Mom! Mom, you know you'll just get in trouble." Spirit died two years ago. Getting her old enough to die of old age had been quite a challenge.
Bear was far less of a challenge. He was a total escape artist. Fences couldn't hold him but he was entirely road wise. Where we lived at the time was suburbia and people would call on their cell phones to report him to the police who would call the dog warden. I think Bear had his morning coffee with his friends to attend and then they would play poker for a while and after that, by late morning, Bear would return home if I hadn't found him first. Day after day, I'd cruise in my car, searching his regular haunts, trying to get him home before anyone called the police. Bear was aware of the dog warden after having been captured one time. They never caught him again. I remember coming home from lunch one day with my boyfriend and seeing the dog warden's truck parked in front of a house a block from where I lived. The dog catcher was looking under the front porch of the house. I spotted Bear around the side of the house, well blended with the bushes, watching. I signaled my boyfriend to drive around the corner, beside where Bear was. He did so, stopping the car out of sight of the dog catcher and I opened the car door. Bear silently and quickly came and jumped on my lap, lay down at my signal and we drove him out of there and home. The dog catcher was still checking the porch when I looked back.
The dog catcher made a goal of catching my dogs. My dogs made a goal out of escaping the confines of my fenced yard. I finally realized that the rural area I had lived in was rural no more and bought my dogs a farm in New Hampshire. That was the end of trouble with the law as now my dogs could wander but still be legally and safely on my property. Also it is a very different attitude towards dog here. The leash law is dogs must be under control of the owner not necessarily bound by an actual leash. Bear, who heels perfectly in public, would get a response where I used to live of "that dog should be on a leash. There's a leash law you know. " This would be said even if we were on my own front lawn. Here, I would walk Bear through a park in town and people would say "what a beautiful dog! Can I pet him?"
Bear understood everything, it seems, especially English. His interests, like most animals, was in that which concerned himself and that was mostly dog stuff but if my friends and I were having a conversation and something was said that interested Bear, he'd let you know whether he approved or disapproved. His contribution to the conversation was always appropriate.
He wasn't always obedient but he was always sensible, at least in the context of his needs and wants.
The pups are a bit of a miracle. I wanted his pups for some time and wanted a litter at home to allow the souls of some departed animal friends a chance to return. In early 2008, I bought an oversized black and white, or bi-black as the color is called, Shetland Sheepdog. With care, I kept them apart when Cait would come into heat until she was almost three. Then I let them get together -- to no avail. Bear was eager but seemed clueless about how the deed was done. My virgin dog, Cait, thought that when he would try to climb on her it was a game called lets jump on each other. She loved that game. Finally, Cait was five and five heats had gone by without producing pups. I said out loud that it was getting to be time to spay Cait as I didn't want to risk her life having her whelp her first litter when she was too old. Cait and Bear were listening, it seems although I still picture Cait directing Bear as to how to mate her by signaling with those lights like the guys who guide the air planes into their parking spaces at the air port. I was so stunned by Cait actually being pregnant that I didn't believe it. Finally when she was so large she could no longer jump on my bed, I took her to the vet. As Bear was larger than Cait, I also wanted to make sure if she was pregnant rather than having another false pregnancy that she could whelp the pups safely. The x-ray showed lots of pups, enough to keep them small enough for safety. i bought a bookcase to use as a whelping box on my way home.
Three days later, the pups were born. Bear watched and as each was born his tail wagged like mad and he was ever so happy. He'd relax between the births and then celebrate with each one. He knew his pups were finally here. I was less sure that the pups were his. Maybe Cait had found another male somewhere, although no other male was ever hanging around.
Then, after the pups eyes opened, the question was answered. One pup had a merle (partly blue) eye just like his Dad. The old guy had managed it finally. Bear was no longer interested in his stuffed animals. He had real puppies at last although he never tried picking up or moving the pups, thank heavens. He did give them kisses and as they got older, he gave them lessons. He is also very good about playing with their toys to make sure they are safe and fun.
There were six pups and I kept two. The little girl, Bonnie, is a daddy's girl. She shares his love of teasing and keeps him company, going out when he goes and returning when he comes in. As Bear has gotten old and more feeble, he usually comes in soon after going out. Bonnie has taken Bear's place by my feet but Bear is all right with that. The two kiss and play a lot. I am glad Bonnie has had her father but she is going to miss him when he is gone. She clearly has bought him a lot of joy.
Geordie also known as Georgie and Porky (as he was a little fat pork chop of a puppy) has been given lessons in pack leadership. Clearly the designated heir, Bear is tough on Georgie. Georgie must be obedient and humble in Bear's presence or Bear holds Georgie's snout in his teeth, hard. Bear likes to lie in front of the door of the bathroom where the pups sleep at night. Georgie won't go by until I stand between him and Bear's "jaws of death." Bear has also given Georgie many lessons on hunting. wood lore, and so many other things the well educated dog needs to know. I've been so glad these pups have had their father's influence as their mother, unexpectedly for a Sheltie, is a bit of a ditz. The pups also don't have their mom's tendency to bark all the time, thank goodness. Georgie has the reverse of his father's coloring. Bear is red-gold with black tips on the end of his fur. Georgie is black, with barely there red gold tips.
The pups were born January 31, 2012. This December I thought we might be losing Bear. Then he rallied and clearly was still enjoying life fully. Today, I don't know. This end of life business is hard.
I really can't afford the vet visit and certainly no heroic care will be given. I wish I had a job and money and pet insurance and could get vet care for my animals every time they have a hang nail. Still, their coats glisten and they live long so I can't be doing all that much wrong. I always plan to let my animals just go when it is their time but then I can't stand it and get them end of life care or give them the last gift of an easy passing. I had saved money to buy a new pair of glasses which I need. Instead, it will go towards easing Bear's journey into the beyond, whether that is today or some time in the future. I'm not planning on having any more animals born in my home so Bear and the others are just going to have to wait for me until my time comes.
Oh, the pups I kept turned out to be unexpected returns. Georgie is my most beloved black thoroughbred, Devils, who always did want to be in my bed with me, the sexy horse. Bonnie is Kyla, a six month old pup who got killed by a car, who clearly felt she hadn't had enough time with me. I'm not shocked to see Devils back as we so dearly loved each other for so long but it was a big surprise that Kyla returned. It's funny because I still tend to have nightmares about losing both those friends and have to remind myself that they aren't lost anymore. We'll be together again for a while until another turn of the wheel. I wonder who we'll all be then and who we were before. I wonder that there is so much love that keeps us together once again.
3:02 PM PT: We are just back from seeing the veterinarian. All are back, especially Bear. The wonderful news is that Bear has something called Geriatric Vestibulitus Syndrome, which is an inner ear awful thing that happens to old dogs sometimes. The wonderful part is that dogs recover from this without treatment in two to three weeks. Bear won't be a young dog ever again but this isn't the end for him. The vet says he'll return to as he was before this inability to walk and shakiness hit him.