Hello Fellow Readers, As you know, Miss Ellie Mae is the mascot for our column since we began our weekly chats over eight years ago. With a heavy heart, I share the news that we helped her go home on Tuesday.
She arrived unexpectedly eleven years ago during a tough time of transition. I’m doubly blessed as Curt came into my life about the same time. Together we shared a journey of recovery and finding unconditional love. Ellie was about a year old when she arrived, making her about twelve now— a long life for golden, but it never seems long enough.
I wrote a story about my Unexpected Furry Messenger a few years back; an excerpt is posted below, along with an addendum. I hope the lessons she shared with me will inspire you too.
Thank you, kind readers, for your loving thoughts and prayers.
For everything, there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…
Unexpected Furry Messenger
“I’d have to call off the dogs,” Mom loved to tell the tale of how she’d call the neighbors and ask if they’d keep their dogs inside until I was on the school bus. Ugly tears poured as I traipsed to the bus stop with four siblings and the neighbor kids. The dogs only seemed to follow and bark at me. It must’ve been kindergarten or first grade. I don’t know for sure. But I do know my fear of dogs carried me well into adulthood.
A year after I married, an impromptu adoption of a couple of puppies turned the fear around. Who could resist a picture of thirteen golden retriever pups in need of a home posted off-season at the General Store in Mount Snow, Vermont? “No harm in looking,” my husband encouraged. We did. Four hundred bucks a pup. Sadie, the pointy-nosed runt of the litter, was my pick. Sara, with her classic broad golden face, his. “How much for a couple-a-pups?” he asked. Six hundred. Trial parenting began. Dog dad failed miserably and threatened to get rid of the pups.
“If anyone leaves, it won’t be them.” My first line in the sand.
At less than a year old, Sadie chased a deer over the river where we lived. It was frozen solid that Valentine’s Day. The search to find her took weeks. Sadie’s dad helped that first afternoon until happy hour. I contacted shelters, animal controls, and veterinarians in a sixty-mile radius. I posted posters, ran ads, and spent long days searching the woods with Sara, praying Sadie would safely return. It was not to be. Sadie’s body was found after the snowmelt in late March.
As the years unfolded, my husband migrated to the barn to pursue his indulgences day after day. I’m embarrassed to say; there was a time I did my share of partying along with him as it turned into the only time he’d spend time with me. Then I didn’t want to hurt myself anymore, so I stopped. Weeks went by before he noticed.
He no longer joined me for dinner. I’d leave a plate in the fridge topped with a microwave lid. When Sara and I went to bed, it became his intermission. I’d hear the frig door open, then the ice rattle as he filled his to-go bucket. Sometimes I listened to the ruckus of a fresh bottle jammed into the ice.
It was the eve after helping Sara go home, only a week knowing she had aggressive cancer, I heard him on the phone with a friend and colleague who knew of our separate lives. He, already buzzed.
“Marty said I’d have to step up to the plate and start spending time with you.”
“You couldn’t fill those paws,” I responded, not in anger or spitefulness but in truth.
It occurred to me; I was married to my dog. Sara’s goodbye, in a magical way, gave me the courage to get off the merry-go-round.
My living alone status spread to my colleague’s daughter-in-law Whitney who was returning from Georgia and learned of a dog’s ill fate. Her kind heart traveled two extra hours to retrieve the retriever. ‘Gone to the farm’ was the note Whitney left behind and called in transit, “Guess who I have?” Then went on to describe the beautiful young dog left alone in an unsheltered cage in the scorching Georgian sun. A corroded algae green spackle bucket was her water bowl, her food a mush of cat kibble soaked by rain. Whitney called every stop on her way back to New Jersey, describing how the yellow dog was doing in transport.
“She’s such a cute and clever pup; wait till you see.” All the while was encouraging I consider fostering her, justifying she already had five rescues. In truth, she thought this young dog would help me. She assured me that even five years later if I could no longer foster because I had to move elsewhere where dogs weren’t allowed, she would take her on and provide a home. Whitney’s a woman of her word.
I went the next day to meet the yellow dog who looked alien compared to my red-furred Sara. She was thin, anxiety-ridden, sporting a sparse coat, with reddish and black patches of skin showing through. But she had a grin from ear to ear with soulful almond-colored eyes. I never saw a dog with such a wide smile. Her featherless tail and hindquarters led me to believe she may not be pure golden as Whitney thought. It didn’t matter to me. I took her home.
She entered the house and ignited into heightened anxiety and didn’t know how to maneuver the stairs. The television intrigued but spooked her. Despite her fears, her shit-ass grin and curiosity as she raced from room to room warmed my heart. Day two, the stairs were mastered, and her jittery intrigue over the folks on TV became her friends. She now watches TV more than I do. When I brought home groceries, the plastic bags drove her to hide. “Did they try to suffocate you, dear girl?” My stomach became overwhelmed with nausea at the thought.
“A neighbor suggested Ellie would be a perfect southern belle name, don’t you agree?” I said to Sara’s veterinarian on the wellness check. Dr. Michelle smiled, knowing I was already beyond being a foster mom.
“I’d say she’s a hundred percent golden, about a year old.”
“What about her rat tail? Maybe her feathers have yet to grow because of the lack of nourishment?”
“Or, she just has a bad tail,” Dr. Michelle replied, kiddingly adding, “There’s always hair extensions.”
I shared what I knew of Ellie’s history. “She wasn’t abused but left alone in a cage in a backyard in Georgia.”
“Neglect IS abuse,” declared Sara’s veterinarian.
I had never thought of neglect as abuse. It felt as if a light woke me from hidden darkness clearing the years of numbness—sparking a glint of hope for healing to begin.
As Ellie began settling in, I witnessed her antics lying on her back, playing chase with her tail, then pulling out the fur. Mystery solved, playing with insects another obsession, likely her only other entertainment while in her six-by-six cell. It was a matter of a few days when I began speaking to Ellie in my iconic dog voice. A clue to those that know me, Ellie was here to stay.
It took months to trust the safety of her new home and kick her harmful habits. Now her lavishly feathered tail and coat blow out a plethora of tumbleweeds that I welcome. Her name morphed into Miss Ellie Mae, which had nothing to do with the Beverly Hillbillies character, though as her coat grew in, she became like the blonde bombshell; her ears the pigtails.
“What do you have?” Her face crammed with fabric, causing her eyes to squint shut. “You’re not supposed to have that,” Ellie answers back, moaning in the delight of her finds.
She stands now before me, handing me a sock hoping for a lick of what’s left in my bowl. It’s heartwarming how food motivated this canine kid has become, from a dog who had a hard time adjusting to the routine of being fed.
Ellie still drinks like a slob leaving sock wetting puddles all over the kitchen floor. She gulps her water rather than laps it. How else can you maneuver water from a five-gallon spackle bucket? Funny how habits remain habits despite no longer being a necessity.
She still has anxiety from time to time and a dreaded fear of most dogs, which seems ironic. When she inappropriately ignites, I explain to the dog owner, “Ellie’s a rescue that has scars from being attacked by other dogs.”
“How long have you had her?” they almost always ask.
“Several months,” my comeback. Eighty-eight months I don’t reveal, embarrassed that there’s no breaking Ellie’s aggression despite training. They say some responses from abuse become part of your DNA. I confess, though not proudly, it seems to be true. Let’s just say I’ve had a susceptibility of choosing unavailable men in varying disguises all my life, a predisposition I acquired, no doubt, from my good old dad. He didn’t know how to be a dad, never having had one of his own. Gratefully, we reconciled well before he died from cancer eight months before Sara. I believe we do the best we can with what we have to work with. And with any luck, we embrace lessons from unexpected messengers that come our way in this school of life.
Through my unexpected furry messenger, I’ve learned that curiosity and gusto for learning can take over fear and bring you to a place of trust, love, and joy—a place to run free in a field beyond the boundaries of isolation. Together Ellie and I have journeyed through recovery, accepting some of our stretch marks as permanent.
August 18, 2020, Rainbow Bridge
While walking among the trees is a lifelong passion, it wasn’t until Miss Ellie’s arrival that walking became a daily routine. On trails or along the road, walking was the only way to calm my then foster dog filled with heightened anxiety due to her first year of life.
She helped me through the loss of my soulful twin brother Bill. And through the long torturous goodbye of my beloved mom to dementia, Ellie and Curt always faithfully, unconditionally by my side.
We’ve walked four to five miles a day since June of 2009. True, our walks shortened as her health began to decline. We let her take the lead. But for sure, we clocked over 15,000 miles, moving forward one step at a time.
Every night our last words to her, “Nighty night, little Miss. See you in the morning. You’re the best dog in the world.”
See you on the other side, dear girl. Missing you, Mary