Beth Innis, DVM
Without words, over many years, in many ways, my Animal Patients, you have given me your instruction. Sometimes it is gentle and quiet, other times it is more with a start or a push. When I have been able to listen, you have given me a soft purr, a low growl or an effortful groan. I have learned from your exposed underbellies and your sideways looks. I have seen how you dash into my clinic with excitement or you slink in as a gift to your person. I never, ever want you to feel that it has been in vein. I always want you to know that I learn a million new things every year around the Sun from the things you quietly share with me. When I have wanted to hide under my desk because the world seems to be falling apart, my children are crying, my body is hurting and my hope feels small, you have gifted me patience and let me stroke your magical fur. When I am confused and the medical picture doesn’t seem to add up, you whisper to me a treatment to start with, an acupuncture point to use, a medicine that will help. When it is time to usher you out of this world and into the next, you send a wind to flutter a curtain, a sigh or a snore to pass through your lips to remind me you’ve already chosen your path and it is good. When my heart breaks for missing my own Ancestors and my past Teachers, you come to me as a young soul with vibrance and joy and the circles swishes around again.
You were my first soulmate.
I met you when you were so sick. Your pit bull head appeared giant compared to your skinny torso. Your little feet were flat and bowed from malnutrition. You were a few months old, found on the streets. And yet you looked at me like you had lived a thousand lives. A thousand rough lives where no one had loved you enough.
We were at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. I was a second year student and you were a shelter dog volunteered for our spay surgery lab. One of the nurses noticed your sickness. You were swiftly moved to isolation and infused with medicines to see if you could heal. I snuck in, put on a gown, and cuddled you until I was found out. You later became my pup.
Your body became stronger and you learned your lessons of house training quickly for a dog your age. You could escape from any crate and any room with a door, so the house training came in handy. You loved me fiercely and tried so hard to be good. My parents forgave you when you ate their carpet, my landlord forgave you when you ate our apartment wall, and I forgave you when you kept fighting (and winning) with all the dogs that didn’t get out of your way fast enough.
You ate to live, but you didn’t really love food that much. Your digestion was never strong, you had constant allergies, you later would blow out both knees. You weren’t able to handle toys, as you’d get over excited and it didn’t go well for others in the room. Despite all the warnings, you slept on my bed. Because I loved Tom, you loved Tom. Because I loved my friends, you loved my friends. And when Tom and I got married and he needed a cat, all Churchill had to do was hiss at you once, as a tiny, scrappy kitten, and he was your boss for the rest of yours days. When Liesel, the schnauzer puppy, came home after the pet store gave her up for illness, she won your heart with her little joyful bark and playful ways. You house trained her yourself and no longer felt so carsick in the car, with her by your side.
You battled cancer. You took the medicines I could give you at home (coming to work was off the table as you became a living, breathing panic attack). You were my acupuncture guinea pig, my first herbal patient and my heart and my soul. You kicked that cancer’s butt and lived three years not the one year you had been given. I cried a million tears and loved you so much it hurt my heart. You always protected me and Liesel, wherever we went, whether we needed it or not. Those were days I didn’t need to lock my doors.
Your love for me was simple and wild, your relationship with the rest of the world was more complicated. There were times your pupils would dilate, the whites of your eyes would go red and you became one with something from your dark past that I wished you could unsee. Those were the times that made you untrustworthy with other dogs, untrustworthy with strangers and kept you on a short leash at all times wherever we went.
When I became pregnant with Trudie, you scanned strangers carefully and reacted with alarm if they even came close. When she was born, you looked her over, agreed to let her stay and never batted an eye at her cries or her movements. You had her back.
Then you started to become tired. Something hurt, not just your knees, but something deeper inside. None of us could find what was causing the blood in your pee. I couldn’t keep you comfortable anymore. One day you gave us the nod and it was time to set you free. Free from the dark shadows of the past and the soreness in your body. Free from the stares at your big pit bull head as people crossed the street to avoid you. Almost exactly one month after you died, Maisie started growing in my belly.
You still come to me in my dreams and show me the way. Your tail wags leisurely as you lead all my other dogs and cats that have come to join you. When it is a tough day in the clinic and I’m searching for strength, I see your face in my face and I carry on. When I want to protect my children from all that is bad and keep, I ask you to watch over them with my Grandmothers and I know the fierce love that you encircle them with is impenetrable.