by jane davis Copyright © 2000 All rights reserved. The following writing may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any way including electronically, without the prior written consent of the author.
Rita the Wonder Dog
"i'm here to pick up Rita," i said to the veterinarian assistant behind the counter. The waiting room was busy with dogs wrapped in blankets and contraptions to prevent them from biting their stitches.
"What name is it under?" she asked. "Bergman," i replied as she scurried away to the back of the clinic. The countertop was covered with glass. Underneath it were photos of cats, dogs, birds, iguanas, mountain lions, and turtles with all sorts of greetings and thanks to the Drs. at the hospital. i looked closely to see if Rita had any photos of her in the menagerie. While i looked, my mind raced back to when i first met Rita.
"I have some friends that are going away for a couple of months and need someone to house-sit and take care of their dog, Rita. Are you interested?" "YES!" i said immediately.
Living in Atlanta but yearning for New Mexico, i am always ready to volunteer to be of service there. my friend went on to describe Rita. "She's pretty sick," Kayla said.
It turns out that Rita, a dog of 7 years, was stricken with Cushings disease, a pituitary tumor that is inoperable. It increases steroid production and affects many functions of the body including eyesight and hearing.
When i first met Rita i was struck by the joy this sick little dog seemed to possess. She was a mix of wolf and miniature German shepherd, with one ear that seemed to be glued straight up and the other that flopped over. Her eyes were blue black with thick cataracts that made her virtually blind and she seemed to be able to hear high, loud sounds that resulted in her cocking her head quizzically from side to side, ferociously wagging her tail and then aiming like a torpedo toward the noise. While watching a dog bump into walls, bookshelves and couches is not funny, Rita's radar seemed to guide her like a blip on a screen combined with the resilience of a pinball having just been released from the shoot. She would just go, BUMP, turn, straight ahead, BUMP, turn, shadow the wall, BUMP until she got to wherever some invisible guide was taking her. She always heard the crunchy shaking sound her dry dog food made when preparing her two meals a day and she would bump around the kitchen until she found her bowl. Then, like a vulture, devoured her food.
i often wanted to feel sorry for her but she didn't allow it. There was something about her entire demeanor that demanded respect for her as if she were "fine". That was the thing. She was fine. She always found her way out of her doggy door to the enclosed area where she could relieve herself. She always found her food and water and her way upstairs at night to curl up at the end of the bed on the little piece of carpet and pillow that was her bed. She even found her way into the little office where i worked and would curl up on the floor next to me. So, while she seemed to be totally out of things, she wasn't. Her actions spoke otherwise.
That was two years ago. When her "parents" said good-bye as they departed on their trip, there was heaviness in the air. They were prepared for her not to be there when they returned. Despite all of her positive energy, she was very sick. But, she remained among us. Each time they went away there was that possibility, but Rita the Wonder Dog continued to bless us with her presence and teachings.
This year was different. This year Rita took a turn for the worse. It seemed like overnight. She stopped eating and regurgitated her medicine. Her back legs were dragging and she, for the first time, cried. And cried. And cried. It was heart wrenching. Amazingly she was still dragging herself around. i took her to the vet where she stayed for two days until the decision was made to let her go. There was no way of getting in touch with her "parents" and we had discussed this possibility.
When i got to the vet's office Rita was pretty much out of it. She was in the bottom cage lying on thick white blankets. It was painful to see this once determined dog lying there on her side simply breathing. Rita the Wonder Dog was ready to pass on. i sat on the floor and dragged her out on the blanket close to my lap. Her head rested on my knee. i stroked her ears and and her nose and her body while i thanked her for being such a wonderful dog. i wanted to sit like that for hours but i knew it was my selfishness that didn't want to let her go. She was ready. i nodded tearfully to the Doctor signaling that "we" were ready. The doctor came over and sat next to us. i think she began telling me what she was going to do but her words never reached my ears. i pulled Rita closer to me and held her. All i could focus on was Rita's breath. i synchronized mine to hers and held her tightly.
"OK Rita, you're not alone. You're such a good dog. Thank you."
The doctor had administered the overdose of barbiturates as Rita's breath slowly slowed down and then ... silence. i sat for another 30 minutes. Her body twitched despite the fact that her heart had stopped beating. i felt her soul move.
As the veterinarian assistant returned from the back of the clinic she handed me a a tear-dropped shaped cream colored clay urn sprinkled with gold sparkles and an envelope that said, "Rita." i walked out to the car with Rita the Wonder Dog, went next door to the little store and bought a paper sunflower to hang in the tree off the deck of the house, and brought Rita home.
Volunteering takes on many different forms. The thing about volunteering one's time to serve others, whether it be man or beast, is that something magical happens. For two years when they went away they would phone me and ask if i wanted to come back. "Yes" was always my response. i received numerous spiritual gifts from coming to take care of Rita. i felt privileged to serve and give my time to another being among us who gave so much joy to all who met her.