Friday, September 19, 2014

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"


Working NYC carriage horse, the driver barely holding reigns.
13-year-old carriage horse and pigeons enjoying his leftover, spilled oats.
Sean and Betty Black.
A special relationship?
Betty knows her name and responds when her caregiver calls her to look back.
Although being an Animal Rights advocate for nearly 40 years and an animal rescuer for at least half that time, there is one animal issue I have avoided like the plague in terms of either writing about or taking actual position on. That is because to do so would likely alienate me from other AR activists, many of whom are otherwise deeply respected and known for years.
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I am speaking about the horse carriages of Central Park -- an issue that has grabbed newspaper headlines in recent years, as well as garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent political funding and campaign contributions (most specifically to the successful deBlasio campaign for Mayor of NYC).  The goal is for the eventual demise and ban of horse carriages in New York City.
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I have followed the campaign to ban horse carriages in NYC for many years, but always had reservations and mixed feelings about it. Because of such internal conflict, I remained neutral and on the sidelines.
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On the one hand, attentiveness and pressure on the industry and politicians was a good thing in terms of bringing about important laws and 140 pages of regulations designed to protect horses from overwork and abuse and to insure proper nutrition and care. Among important regulations is a mandatory three week vacation in the country for carriage horses every year.
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On the other hand, the push for an outright "ban" seemed too extreme and over the top to me. What, I wondered, would become of the 220 horses currently working and even more significantly, future horses who would no longer have these job avenues as potential homes? (Presently, 130,000 horses are sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico every year for having lost their homes and not having new ones to go to.)
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One can of course correctly argue to the over-breeding of domestic horses in America as we do with cats and dogs, but that doesn't magically produce homes for the millions of animals already here, desperate for placement and dying.
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So, what was the ethically correct and pragmatic way to come down on this issue?   It all seemed so complex and fraught with land mines, I personally chose to avoid it all together. I tried to tell myself that never having personally owned a horse nor worked with them, I was in no real position to "judge" what was ultimately best for them.
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But, I see now that there are many people judging and portending to speak for horses who have actually never owned, worked with or rescued any  -- including our city Mayor deBlasio who refers to the horse carriages as "immoral."
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Perhaps it was incumbent upon me too (as advocate for animal justice) to do some personal investigation and try to find way through the mine fields to an actual position on the highly controversial issue.
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I don't know that I have actually arrived at hard core "position," (though at this point, am certainly leaning in sympathy to one side) as much as I have mostly been deeply troubled over that learned over the past few months and specifically, the last two days.
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I have, in fact. spent the last two days closely observing carriage horses at Central Park, as well as speaking with drivers, some of whom are owners.
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What has been observed have been beautiful, well kept horses who clearly enjoy being around people and genuinely appear happy in their lives and their work.
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In speaking with a few of the drivers, I learned one horse, "Prince" is 17 years-old, was purchased at auction and has been working with his owner for the past 12 years in CP.  (I had to ask myself if that could be true of an animal actually being "abused?") Prince was lively, alert and kept confidently nudging me for more carrots.  "He's pushy," the driver laughed.
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(In fact, all of the carriage horses observed over past two days were between 8 and 19-years old. Most were purchased from the "Holland" Pennsylvania horse auction, where many horses are sold to killer buyers. Other carriage horses are former race trotters.)
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Three horses visited with on Wednesday (Max, Lucky and Tickles) were equally outgoing, confident and seemingly cheerful and content as Prince. -- Nothing at all like they have been portrayed by some in the anti-carriage campaign ("Miserable, sad, overworked, abused"). I looked deeply into all of their eyes and what I saw were calm, ease and seeming comfort with their lives and their caregivers.
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One carriage driver pointed to me a Mexican woman vendor standing nearby and bags of carrots in the horse carriage.   "We buy our carrots from that lady everyday."  (Another person whose job and income will be impacted should a ban pass, but the Mexican lady will not be noted in statistics.)
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Hundreds of pigeons also live a life of ease around the carriage horses.  As one driver quipped, "horses and pigeons go together!" This same driver told me that whenever the horses have to be removed from streets during very hot of cold weather, the pigeons are "desperate" for their return as they are not used to fending for themselves. (This too is something never discussed, though as a bird lover, it bears some consideration to me.)
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I asked a couple of the drivers about the mayor and the campaign against them.
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This is a highly emotionally charged and very hard thing for some to talk about. Prince's owner seemed especially distraught. He shared with me, the alleged, "frustration" of ASPCA humane law enforcement officers who frequently complained of being called off  true animal neglect and abuse emergencies in the Bronx and elsewhere to investigate so-called "abuse" of carriage horses as reported by one particular anti-carriage crusader. According to the driver, the agents felt "prevented" from doing their actual jobs.
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I also spoke with Christina Hansen who is both horse owner/driver and spokesperson for carriage drivers. (She owns "Tickles" who is a large, powerful draft horse working for Christina for, I believe, 8  years at CP.)  Christina is very knowledgeable and articulate on issue. She realizes the "gun" this industry is under and is fighting hard for herself, the horses and the other drivers. She told me, "There are currently 40,000 horses in desperate need of homes and adopters. The anti-carriage people have not contributed anything towards actually saving horses and are rather engaged in a misanthropic, hate campaign to deprive horses of the good homes they already have and put decent people out of work."
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"Its all about land grab," added Christina (and other drivers/owners). "The three story stables are surrounded by luxury, high rise buildings in prime real estate area.  Apartments in such buildings sell for millions."
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I tried to assure that not all animal rights advocates are pawns for rich Real Estate developers, ambitious politicians and/or engaged in or even supportive of the campaign to ban carriage horses in NYC, (me, being one of them). Quite frankly, for people under such constant attack I was surprised they did not have equal hatred for those crusading against them. On the contrary, the horse drivers I spoke with seemed to understand that true lovers and carers of animals would not be behind a campaign of such exaggeration, name-calling and acrimony. Rather, they refer to the protesters as "Radical Animal Rights."
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I spent much time observing some of the horses actually working to take people around Central Park.  The walks were slow and leisurely with drivers barely having to even hold the reigns.  The horses know the routes by heart and walk gingerly with heads level and (to my eyes) cheerful disposition.  (If this is "abuse" then perhaps I have been guilty of such when "forcing" my dogs to walk sizable distance through Central Park all these years?)
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When finally leaving on Wednesday and saying good-bye to horses and their owners, I said, "Don't worry. It's likely the ban will not happen."  (But, to be honest, I am not so sure of this anymore.)
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Yesterday, I returned to Central Park South as I did not have my camera the first day.
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More observations and interviews, similar to the first day.
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But, one driver/owner  was particularly despondent and pessimistic over the future for NYC carriage horses and their owners.
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"I used to love this work," said Sean, a 50-something-year-old Irish immigrant who has been working the beat for many years, "But, its become so hard."
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Sean is owner of "Betty Black," a beautiful black mare literally saved from slaughter 8 years ago.  "An Amish guy saved her from the killer buyer and called me saying, "'I've got the perfect horse for you.'"  I went and bought her the next day."
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Sean is planning to return to Ireland where he grew up on a farm. He claims to have a "beautiful home" lined up for Betty Black on a Virginia farm if and when the time actually comes. "There is no joy in this work anymore apart from what I share with my horse," Sean said.  "The protests, the lies, the accusations, the dirty politics, the land grab have all become too much."
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Sean went on to relate one particular incident that apparently got to him in soul and spirit.
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"A few weeks ago, I was driving a woman and her elderly mother. The mother was dying from cancer and it was one of her last wishes to take a horse carriage ride through Central Park.  Suddenly, two women, waving signs and pointing fingers started to shout repeatedly, 'Shame, shame!  Animal Abusers!'  I was so angry, I muttered a cuss word to them and then had to apologize to my passengers. But, they were pleased I had done that as the experience was ruined for both the daughter and her dying mom.  It has all just become too much over the past few years. I can't hold my temper anymore...." his voice trailing off...
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In reply, I attempted to spout empty platitudes like, "Well, don't give up. Nothing is ever hopeless" to which Sean lamented, "You know, the irony is we have wanted to make some renovations and improvements to the stables to make them even nicer for the horses...stuff like lighting, new pipes, etc, but sensing that the stables will be coming down, it doesn't make sense."
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I could only offer weak condolences and cliches as I did not have answer for that or for that matter, anything else heard previously.
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Finally bading Good-bye to Sean and Betty Black and  leaving Central Park South around 7 PM, I was struck by the general air of despondency surrounding the few remaining horse carriages and some of their drivers. Seemingly gone are the fancy dress of drivers and frivolous decorations on horses, instead replaced by more casual and basic garb.
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Is this, in fact, a "dying industry?" One done in by the modern tech age, pricey Real Estate land grabs, seemingly "bought" politicians, well meaning, but ultimately misinformed and misled "Animal Rights" proponents and a general public that, quite frankly has more important things to worry about?
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Is Sean right to give up on all this and retreat back to Ireland?
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I don't know.
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These experiences, however are known.
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For nearly 20 years I did cat and dog rescue and placement (both strays and AC&C animals; more than 3,000 in all) and saw more than my share of abused, neglected, sad, suffering, starved, defeated, desperate, sick, terrorized, tortured, horribly stressed and dead animals.  I did not see any hint of such over past two days. Moreover, I like to think I am particularly sensitive to animals and would easily recognize animal suffering if/when I saw it.
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So much of this is of course, subjective.  But, to claim "abuse" one should have actual evidence, not just feelings, the ability to name-call, money to throw to political campaigns or the repeated pointing to random and extremely rare incidents of misfortune.  The fact that some animals "work" does not in and of itself prove abuse.  Some might actually argue the opposite.  In humans for example, loss of work and purpose can be preludes to major depression.  In animals too, work, place and purpose are important to most, if not in fact, all species.  Boredom is neither a happy nor normal state of existence for any living being.  
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Should the ban happen, I don't know what will become of the unemployed carriage drivers or the Mexican lady depending on them to buy dollar bags of carrots everyday. Hopefully and presumably, they find other ways of making a living.  Hopefully too, the hundreds of pigeons who have had such easy pickings all these years will find other means of food and survival.
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But, for the unemployed horses, the future is a lot less clear.
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Sean may have a beautiful home lined up for Betty Black. The question is for all the future Betty Blacks for whom the call from the Amish farmer will have no receiver?
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Various cliches come to mind in closing. "The road to hell is paved by good intentions." "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." "Everything is political."
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But, perhaps the one most pertinent here is, "They shoot horses, don't they?"  -- Only we told ourselves at the time of pulling the trigger, we were doing it for their own good.  -- PCA
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Puppy Boy -- The Former "Vampire Dog"



Puppy Boy (AKA, "Chance") as he appear now. No longer the "Vampire Dog."
One goose and mallards at Harlem Meer last night. Though Puppy enjoyed the mile walk to see them, it was a very different story on the way back.
His official and formal name (from Animal Care and Control) is, "Chance."
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But truth is, I rarely, if ever call him that.
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From the day he was rescued from death at the city pound, I have called the then 10-year-old, puffy Pomeranian with "severe" temperament  issues, "Puppy Boy" (or sometimes, just plain, "Puppy.")
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I should be the last person on the planet to have a powder puff, "purebred" dog like this as my MO had always been to be champion (and caregiver) to the all American "mutt."  Nearly every dog I ever had (with lone exception of a wonderful rescued German Shepherd many years ago) has always been a combination of mixes -- "Heinz 57's," if you will.
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But, Puppy Boy was in big trouble 8 years ago.
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Normally, purebred, small dogs are the first animals to be rescued by established Breed Rescue groups should they be in danger at Animal Control pounds. 
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But, Puppy Boy's picture on the shelter Euth List was not one to warm the cockles.
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Rather, the stark photo showed an angry looking, black-eyed dog obviously snarling with mouth wide open and bearing, not the typical four, but FIVE sharp-pointing FANGS. (Puppy Boy actually had an extra fang jutting down from the center of his mouth just ready to take a  chunk out of someone!)
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I am not sure what prompted me to call the New Hope hotline to "pull" this frightening image off the Euth list, but perhaps something told me that "Vampire Dog's" photo might not generate other rescue calls -- especially with the "Severely Aggressive" behavioral evaluation attached to poor Puppy Boy's shelter record.  He apparently had tried to bite everyone at the shelter.
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Sure enough, I was the only one to have called, willing to take Puppy Boy.  -- A circumstance that apparently so pleased and relieved the shelter director, I was surprisingly awarded $200.00 to take the feisty Pomeranian. (The only time in my life, I was actually paid to rescue an animal!) 
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I was provided with information that Puppy was already neutered, had been owned by someone who had died and that the relatives apparently didn't want him. (Surprise, surprise!)
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Well, one could certainly understand why all of this was so traumatizing to poor Puppy. 
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Death, rejection and then worst of all, the final humiliation of this fancy dog ending up in the city pound.  Guess I would have been pissed off too -- though I didn't have five fangs to flaunt and show for it.
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Though a startlingly beautiful dog, Puppy Boy had not received the best care.
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His rear end was in fact, caked with at least several pounds of stuck on, hard and hanging feces -- a situation that caused much embarrassment when walking him along the streets of Park Avenue and my fancy, Upper East Side Manhattan neighborhood.  I could just feel the shocked stares and glares.
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Moreover, because Puppy was initially so distrusting, stressed and "angry," I dared not  take him to a groomer or try to bathe him myself -- unless wanting to end up in a hospital.
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So, I had to wait until Puppy had sufficient time to "de stress" at which time, I eventually bathed and cut all the crap off myself.
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The good news in all this was that Puppy Boy was good with other animals, particularly getting along well with my other dog, Tina.  That was actually my main concern with him.
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I don't remember if I had ever considered trying to find an adoptive home for Puppy once he had calmed down and been cleaned up. (He was actually a very nice dog after many weeks of care and fostering.)
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It was, after all, my usual standard to always provide adopters the original shelter records from Animal Control. This reality scared me in terms of a potential lawsuit, should Puppy bite someone.  (i.e. "Knowingly" adopting out a "vicious" animal.)  Moreover, Puppy's "Vampire Dog" photo on the shelter records was enough to scare and deter most people.  (Gee, how I wish I had saved that gem!)
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So no, I never made any attempt to adopt Puppy Boy out.  He was really mine from day one.
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All of this occurred nearly 8 years ago.
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Since that time, I had Puppy's extra fang removed by my vet to give him a less scary appearance and have been pretty good about general maintenance (though I have never taken Puppy to a groomer for fear it would be too stressful for both him and the groomer).
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Fast forward to the past year.
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As noted in recent blog entries, most of my attention over the past year was on my other dog, 21-year-old, Tina who was suffering ravages of old age and in somewhat rapid decline.
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Vet appointments and medications did much to relieve Tina's pain and stave off the inevitable.  But, eventually the inevitable comes as it did for Tina and my family this past Labor Day.
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Since then, though dealing with grief and loss, I have been also focusing more attention on my surviving pets, of which Puppy Boy is now the only dog.
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Though also elderly now (18), I have recently been taking Puppy Boy for longer walks in hopes of strengthening his muscles and helping insure vitality.
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I noticed on one of these walks last week, a slight limp.
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When later examining his paws, it was clear Puppy's nails had grown too long and seriously needed clipping.
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Though having dog nail clippers, I decided to take the easy way out and inquired about having Puppy groomed at Petco.  But, I would need to update all of Puppy Boy's vaccines and due to his advanced age, I did not want to take unnecessary chance on this.
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So, I would have to clip his nails myself.
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That would turn out to be like a trip down memory lane -- though not in a good way.
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Puppy Boy never actually attempted to bite, but he was extremely unhappy with the procedure. -- A procedure that prompted the loudest of shrieks, yelps and piecing screams I have ever heard from a dog.  (Thankfully, my neighbors didn't report me to the ASPCA for animal torture and cruelty!)
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What normally takes a groomer a couple of minutes to do, in fact took me more than two days as I had to conduct the "torture" in small steps, one nail at a time.
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But, the positive result of all this is that Puppy now walks normally and gingerly - a circumstance that prompted me last night to (foolishly) walk Puppy Boy more than a mile to Harlem Meer in Central Park.
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It has been more than a year since making this trip with Puppy Boy.  And he was perfectly fine with the mile plus walk there.
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It was beginning the walk back, however, from the Meer, where either the somewhat warm temperature (68 degrees) or just the sheer distance got to him.
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Puppy Boy began to pant and he significantly slowed down; a situation that caused me to realize I would have to carry him virtually all the way home.
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Though a purebred Pomeranian, Puppy Boy is no "teacup."
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He weighs approximately,17 pounds.
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Barely over 105 lbs myself, it was a bit of a trek, holding Puppy Boy like a baby and walking the mile back towards home.
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It was quite the "workout" for biceps that have mostly been neglected over the past few years.
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But, for his part, Puppy seemed to enjoy the free ride.  He settled back in my arms like a content infant, enjoying the changing scenery.
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A few times I put him down just to rest my arms, but Puppy gave me the pitiful, "abused animal" look to let me know, he wanted no part in walking the rest of the way home.
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Walking as fast I could, we finally made it home, my shoulders and arms by that time, aching.
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Puppy ran to his food bowl to let me know all the "exercise" had worked up a gargantuan appetite. After filling his belly, Puppy settled down to sleep for the rest of the evening, as if I had cruelly forced him to run a marathon.
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So, in essence, there are two things I learned over this past week:
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If at some point, struggling for money, I will never make it as a "dog groomer" considering it took two full days to cut the nails of a small "powder puff" dog.
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Nor will I make it in the competitive world of women's weight lifting.
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As for whether I will walk Puppy Boy to Harlem Meer again to see the ducks and (currently, a loner goose there), the jury is out on that one.
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I imagine not without money in pocket for taxi fare home.  -- PCA
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Monday, September 8, 2014

The Aftermath of Losing Love



Tina, Chance and me......
A walk though Central Park with Tina and a foster dog.
Always the happy smile on Tina's face -- something that drew me in from the instant of seeing her in the pound in 1997.
Tina enjoying "swim" a couple of years ago in fountain outside of Metropolitan Museum.
Its been a week since having to make the decision that everyone who has ever loved a companion animal dreads and puts off as long as possible. -- The decision to end a life when that life has become so fraught with undeniable and untreatable pain for which there is no coming back.
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And no, it doesn't get easier with time -- either the act itself or its aftermath.
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Tina, my dog of 18 years filled virtually every moment of those days even when in her final months, she could no longer navigate walks in the park and did little more than sleep.
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It was Tina's constant presence, her indomitable spirit and the little things of everyday life that most of us take for granted that are so missed now.
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It's odd not to hear Tina's slow pitter pattering on the floors or to see her going to steal some of the cats' leftover food. Nor am I treated to the smiles of bewilderment and bemusement on her face when Dusty, my cat rubbed himself against her.
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Those were all little things that came with living with a dog of advanced age, but they became part of everyday experience and routine.  
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There seems now a huge void of silence and emptiness in their absence -- or more specifically, Tina's absence. 
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So many things remind of special memories with Tina of which there were so many thousands over the years:
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Walks in Central Park, Tina's fascination with squirrels, ducks and geese, her easy acceptance of other pets (well, except for one particularly feisty and challenging female Pekingese), her tendency to run off when mistakenly left off leash, her "drama queen" antics when taken to the vet for a simple procedure or stumbling on snow salt. (Tina loved snow, but hated salt in her paws!)  So many things.  But, most of all, there was always Tina's cheerful and confident demeanor.  A demeanor that never changed even when facing death in the pound or slow loss of vitality and strength in her final year.
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Probably the most painful thing to watch in Tina over the past year was not so much her frustration over losing strength and vitality, (she seemed to accept that) but rather losing her sense of independence.  She was always such an independent dog from day one and to allow me to carry her upstairs in the last few months seemed to be, for Tina, the ultimate in humiliation and degradation.  She fought it all the way and in whatever way her dwindling energy would allow. 
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Nor was carrying Tina up (or down) stairs a happy experience for me when realizing the emotional pain it caused her. It was the main reason I cut Tina's daily walks to only one a day and lined floors with puppy pads.  I hated stressing her (and myself) out and yet also felt guilty in limiting her walks. -- A situation that not only impacted, Tina, but my other dog, Chance as well.
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While in the past couple of months, I began to take Chance out for separate walks without Tina, this was something that also caused guilt as Tina would see us leaving together.
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 One could not imagine or know how Tina perceived this seeming "abandonment" of her and so I kept Chance out for only very brief, short walks.
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But, all that is changed now.
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If there be any "silver lining" in the crushing loss of Tina it is that I have more freedom and time to devote to my other animals.
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This past week, I brought Chance to Central Park again and we enjoyed a comparatively short evening walk around half the Reservoir.  Unfortunately, the weather then became very hot and humid and we were not able to repeat the venture for fear it would be too much for him.
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But, it is getting cooler now and I am thus hopeful and anticipatory of stretching out such walks to a comfortable level for Chance who is now also getting on in years at 18.
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It has also been heartening (and sad) to witness grief over Tina's loss in one of my cats, (Dusty) and recognize his need for extra attention and compassion.  (Something that has been surprising.) 
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Presently, Dusty is definitely making small overtures towards Chance, to the point of even daring to eat out of Chance's food bowl.  Surprisingly, Chance did not "correct" this brazen move and seems receptive to Dusty's cautious advances.  Dusty in fact, reminds me of a "loner goose" trying to assimilate into a new goose flock.  There is realization of wanting and needing to make new connection, but it has to be done with the utmost in respect and care. --  Fascinating stuff.
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But, perhaps the toughest part of all this was yesterday's long walk in Central Park.
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Though citing a feeling of "depression" in an earlier blog posting due to overwhelming crowds and lack of water birds in the park, part of that despair was memory of walking Tina in the same areas around Bethesda Fountain and the Boat Lake.  I remember her briefly jumping in the water several times due to her exuberance on seeing ducks (though Tina would never harm any living creature).
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Now, both Tina and the ducks are gone.
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But, not to wallow in the despair of loss, life in its own way, moves on. It is just different. 
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I was comforted yesterday to finally find the family of four geese at the Boat Lake and as I write this, Chance is happily napping at my feet -- as always.
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And there is part of me that trusts that somewhere in the grand cosmos, Tina's indomitable spirit is somewhere romping free where there are plenty of ducks, cats, dogs and other animals to entertain and keep that happy smile on her face.
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If only I could somehow "get used to" her loss here on earth.
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Hopefully, acceptance and moving on doesn't require getting used to.  
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Life moves on, yes, but it can never be the same again.
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Allow us to treasure and yes, never get used to losing what once brought so much joy, love and sense of freeing fun in our lives.
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Thanking God and technology for the miracle of photographs that can forever keep the beautiful image and memory of our loved ones, both human and animal, alive. 
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It is, after all, experience (of having them in our lives) that never dies.   -- PCA
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Where Have All the Water Birds Gone?


Young women photograph family of geese weaving in and out from boats at Central Park yesterday.
Mom, Dad and goslings.  The only intact goose family at Central Park these days.
Staying close together.
Dad catching a little shut-eye yesterday in one of few quiet moments at park.
Little refuge away from maddening crowds.
 
I had to walk long and far yesterday to find any ducks, geese or other water birds in Central Park.
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The Reservoir, Turtle Pond, Harlem Meer and even the Boat Lake appeared nearly devoid of all, but a scattering of mallards here and there.
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Only the Boat Lake contained any geese and one had to walk  towards Bethesda Fountain to finally find the family of four weaving in and out from passing row boats and throngs of people.
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The anemic numbers of water birds in Central Park this time of year is utterly shocking and it is hard to understand the reasons for it.
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Yes, Central Park conducts an extremely aggressive program of goose harassment throughout most of the year and this obviously impacts other waterfowl, but to my knowledge, Geese Police is not active in Central Park -- yet.
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So, other than harassment, what else could account for such dramatic drop-offs particularly in mallard populations in Central Park?
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I honestly don't know -- unless the lack of geese and particularly heavy human activities is having an inhibiting effect on mallards and other water birds. 
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Or, its also possible that last year's particularly harsh winter in NY took out far more ducks and other water birds than was previously realized.
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I felt throughout yesterday's walk in the park that I was not so much in a park at all, but rather in the middle of Times Square on New Year's Eve.
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True, it was a Sunday afternoon, the weather was delightful and the park is beautiful, attracting hundreds of thousands of people.  But, it all just seemed tremendous overload for all of the senses.
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I was at the point of feeling truly miserable and somewhat depressed when finally seeing the family of four geese seemingly dodging row boats in the water near Bow Bridge.
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It was the first time all day I actually felt excited.
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My eyes tried to follow the geese in the water, but I quickly lost sight of them due to crowds and tall foliage surrounding the lake.
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I then wandered around and finally found a tiny quiet bank by the water that was partially cut off from the crowds and sat down.
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After about ten minutes, the geese found me.
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It was nice.  The geese came over, embarked on the small patch of dirt and rocks and just hung out for a while.
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Though I put out some small offerings of cracked corn, the parents and two fully grown goslings did not seem that hungry as much as they just wanted to relax and in two cases, even catch a little shut-eye.  I suspect the two trying to catch brief rest were probably the parents.
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The geese appeared grateful that I helped to find for them, this tiny little refuge away from the maddening crowds (and boats). 
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They remained there even after I finally left. 
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Walking home, I was relieved that the day had not turned out totally in vain and that I was at least able to find the one intact goose family in Central Park.  But, it had turned out to be quite a search.
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Gone are the days when one could easily find ducks, geese and even a few swans virtually on every watercourse in Central Park and in significant numbers.
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But, when wondering "where all the flowers have gone" (to quote an old song) let us not forget the seemingly never ending wars on wildlife that our city has been engaged in for some years now.
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This New York Post article from just a few months ago, summed it up well:
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Were have all the birds gone?
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Apparently, to be replaced by planes (and boats and fishermen and marathons and people) everywhere. -- PCA
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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dusty -- The Once Feral Cat Who Grieves for a Dog


Chance (left) soundly sleeping and Dusty taking advantage to quietly lie next to him and seek comfort.
Attempting to heal and reach out to another dog.
When he awakes, Chance may not be so accepting of cat in his space, but for the moment, everything was cool.
 Just when we think we know almost everything about animals, they turn around and surprise us.
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After sadly having to have my beloved dog of 18 years, Tina, put down this past weekend, I worried over her surviving canine companion, Chance.
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I rescued Chance around 8 years ago from AC&C where the then 10-year-old, purebred Pomeranian was to be destroyed for "Severely Aggressive" behavior. (It was humiliating for a fancy, powder puff pooch like Chance to find himself in the city pound.  He let everyone know of his extreme angst and displeasure by snarls, growls, lurches and numerous attempts to bite.)
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Though at first, Chance was a risk to have around people, he got along surprisingly well with other animals, both cat and dog.
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He and Tina especially seemed to form a quick rapport, perhaps because both dogs were of similar age, size and even coloring (though thankfully, opposite sex).
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Because I was afraid of a lawsuit if ever attempting to adopt Chance out and he eventually biting someone, I elected to keep Chance -- especially as he was good with other pets.
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Over the years, Chance became a very loving and devoted dog to me and quite trusting and generally sweet around other people -- even kids. Contrary to the "severe" behavioral rating he got at Animal Control and his easy acceptance of other pets, Chance is actually a very human-oriented and human dependent dog.  (As I write this, Chance is laying at my feet -- as usual.)
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With that in mind, it is perhaps not such great shock that Chance has seemingly accepted that Tina is no longer with us -- "close" as the two dogs appeared to be. In fact, he seems relatively unfazed by Tina's passing (which, quite frankly, has been a great surprise).
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But, not so with one of my cats, Dusty.
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Dusty too, was rescued from Animal Control some years back when the feral kitten was to be put down for unsociability. But, he was also very sick with a severe Upper Respiratory Infection.
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With treatment, Dusty survived the URI, but it left him with an impairment in the balance controlling part of the ears, causing him to walk funny -- like a drunk.  This, along with his shy and skittish demeanor virtually eliminated Dusty's adoption possibilities and so I kept him too.
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Over the past six months or so, as Tina's health rapidly declined due to the ravages of advanced age, Dusty suddenly took to regularly rubbing his body across her face in what seemed gestures of affection, commiseration and perhaps even empathy.
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Though at times appearing a bit annoyed with the suddenly amorous cat, Tina also seemed entertained and bemused by this free-flowing affectionate display. I think Dusty's enthusiastic gestures actually helped to lift Tina's spirits as a smile would come across her face.
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But, suddenly and inexplicably, Tina was one day gone.
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Though, as noted, I was more concerned with Chance's reaction to the loss of his canine girlfriend of 8 years, I did notice Dusty frequently wandering through the halls and apartment seemingly looking for Tina.  Who was he going to snuggle up to now?  Where was she?
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But, perhaps the greatest sign of stress in a house cat is when they start peeing outside of the litter box.
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A few days ago, I discovered Dusty suddenly peeing on my computer chair.
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Upon seeing this, most people would become upset.
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But, I realized then that Dusty was taking Tina's death particularly hard.
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Since that time, I have been paying special close attention to Dusty and petting him every moment I can.  "It's OK, Dusty.  Your friend is gone now, but I'm still here.  Your other friends are still here. Everything is going to be all right."
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Dusty seems to have been comforted by that and has since returned to his regular litter box habits.
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But, perhaps the greatest sign of attempt to heal and reach out was today: 
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A few hours ago, as Chance was taking a nap on the floor, Dusty quietly went over to lie down next to him.  (Normally, Chance doesn't like cats "in his face" or snuggling up to him.) 
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I grabbed my camera to take a few shots and only wish now that I had done so all those times, Dusty mooched his body across Tina's face in loving and comforting gesture during her final days.
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I guess I just didn't appreciate the significance and gravity of those overtures at the time.
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But, I do now.  
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Funny, how we normally don't think of cats as being particularly sensitive or "empathetic" to other animals and grieving upon their losses.
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But, this once feral cat seems to demonstrate otherwise.
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And just when we think we know almost everything about animals, they turn around and surprise us.
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Sometimes, I think I know nothing at all.   -- PCA
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Monday, September 1, 2014

Never Really a Right Time.....


My beautiful and forever free-spirited and exuberant Tina. May her spirit run free now in place without pain, boundaries and limitations.
My daughter, Tara who had visited over the holiday weekend left to return home a couple of hours ago. 
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It was completely joyous to finally spend some quality time with her. -- Every second was precious gift.
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But, sadly, we had to face extremely hard and wrenching decision last night.
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My (according to Animal Care and Control), 23-year-old dog, Tina had rapidly been declining over these many months and especially, the last few weeks.
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It wasn't a case of cancer or some other painful, terminal disease, but rather, the slow failure of multiple organ system abilities along with the ravages of very advanced age.
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Tina could no longer walk on the street without her back legs giving out and she falling over. Near blindness was causing her to sometimes walk into things and also topple over. But, worst of all were the past couple of days when Tina was unable to get up from sitting position and struggled helplessly. Despite my helping her when witnessing the struggle, Tina was unable to get to a special elimination area and soiled herself several times.
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She also showed no interest in food over past two days -- something never witnessed in Tina over almost 18 years.
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My daughter offered to return to the city next week to assist me in taking Tina to my vet for the final time. But, it was then I realized, Tina would probably not make it to next week. She was already exhibiting neurological symptoms, panting and some suggestion of seizures.
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I could not continue to helplessly watch Tina suffer with the inevitable outcome being that of a terrifying, convulsive death, likely within days. 
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With Tara's help, we were able to get a cab late last night and took Tina to the Animal Medical Center.
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Our vet was extremely competent, caring, kind and compassionate. We were given time to spend with Tina and to pray.  When the time came, the vet knelt down to Tina on the floor (rather than lifting her to table and stressing her out) and administered a shot of proplow (powerful anesthetic) intravenously.  I gently petted Tina as she lowered her head and vet administered second shot for euthanasia.   Tina was peacefully gone in seconds without any hint of pain or distress.
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It was then I realized Tina was gone forever and I "lost it."  I greatly needed my daughter and was grateful she was there for comfort and solace.  It seemed we were at AMC for hours, but it was actually far less.
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Though the night was warm and sticky, we walked more than 30 blocks home because it somehow helped to just walk and talk and share memories of Tina.  -- Happy and even funny memories.
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There was the memory of when I first saw Tina up for adoption at the Manhattan city pound (Animal Care and Control) in 1997.  I can still see the happy smile on the "5-year-old," Corgi/Spitz's face as I said to Jesse, the then, New Hope (Rescue) Coordinator for AC&C, "Oh my, what a beautiful dog! She should get adopted in a snap!  But, just in case, she doesn't, please put my name on her."
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During the next two weeks, I kept seeing Tina in the same cage each time I went to the shelter to rescue a cat or dog. It was shocking that such a friendly, cheerful and gorgeous small dog would still be languishing in an adoption cage. But, in those days very few people actually went to AC&C to adopt.
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Then, one day I got the inevitable phone call from Jesse.
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"Patty, you know that dog you requested your name on?  She is on the Euth list for tonight because she is very sick with Kennel Cough.  You need to get here within 20 minutes if you want to take her."
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"Oh no!  Don't let anything happen to her!" I practically screamed into the phone.  "I'm jumping in a cab and will there within ten minutes!"
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Fortunately, Tina was still alive when I bolted into the shelter, though looking nothing like the happy, vibrant dog observed over the previous two weeks. 
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Rather, there were ropes of drool trailing from her mouth and green snot dripping from her nose. Tina, in short, looked a mess, though her lively spirit was not in the least, dampened or diminished.
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In fact, drool, green snot and all, Tina practically pulled me all the way home.
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Though initially the plan was to foster and care for Tina until she recovered and could be spayed in preparation for adoption, all that changed within weeks.
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Long story short, I fell in love with Tina. Along with other circumstances at the time, I removed Tina from adoption listings almost as soon as she had been spayed and put on.
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Tina was mine and wasn't going anywhere.
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So began a relationship of nearly 18 years.
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There were times the ever exuberant, leash pulling and initially difficult to housebreak dog frustrated with her tendencies to run off and not respond to "come" commands. (Tina could in fact, never be trusted off leash because of her independent spirit and easy distractibility.) There was the one time when Tina acting like a "protective" dog suddenly lurched at what she perceived threat, causing me to fall and break my wrist. And there were the occasional times when Tina became jealous and unaccepting of a particular foster dog.  (A certain, high strung female Pekingese named, "Nina" comes most readily to mind.)
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But, on total, Tina was always the "happy" liberated spirit for whom almost nothing (including a sickness inducing stint at the city pound) could bring down. 
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That is, until the last few months when slowly realizing her diminished capacities, Tina had to accept the losses of so much we used to do together -- especially, the nearly 3 mile walks in Central Park everyday.
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Despite vet visits and medications (which helped for a while) those once three mile walks eventually became difficult struggles just to walk up the block.
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Worst of all, the always independent, free-spirited Tina especially hated me carrying her up and down the stairs. It seemed her final humiliation.
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Now, all of that is gone.  Gone with two quick injections of the needle.
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Everything is suddenly eerily quiet, especially with my daughter now gone too as the Labor Day holiday comes to an end.
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It is very hard getting used to my home without Tina. Her presence here for almost 18 years was part of my very soul.
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But, in the end, we have to make these horrible decisions not for what is more bearable to us, but for what finally brings peace -- the only kind we ultimately can offer -- to our beloved animals.
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That is, after all our final responsibility to them -- to insure that they leave this world with the same sense of love and care we shared throughout their lives and without the terror and suffering that comes too often to those who die alone.
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I am grateful that at least Tina had that.
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Finally, I am grateful to still have my 18-year-old Pomeranian, Chance, who is at this moment, resting comfortably at my feet.  Though appearing a bit bewildered, it doesn't seem quite yet, Chance realizes his long time canine girlfriend is gone.  
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Hopefully, to carry on without too much grief and trauma, though only time alone can tell that.
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I am finally grateful for the comfort and solace provided by my daughter (and others) during these recent trying times. As per suggestion, it became all too painfully clear over the past few days, Tina was "letting me know."  It was important to observe, take that in and finally make that wrenching decision for which there is never really, the right time.
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I can only hope and pray now that the beautiful spirit of Tina is romping somewhere freely, unhampered by pain and age, but rather vibrant, strong and happy as I so remember her. Perhaps she has even found a few of her former "foster" friends (both dog and cat) with whom she enjoyed brief, but especially happy and rewarding comradery. 
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Tina was and always will be a very special dog. A cheerful pal and mentor to many, but part of very soul and existence to me.  Her loss is nearly insurmountable.
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May God treasure and forever protect and hold dear, Tina's indomitable, free and happy spirit.  I have to trust and have faith now that such is so.  -- PCA
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