It’s very hard for me to talk about my dog, Frankie.
But while I don’t talk about him, he is constantly on my heart; I see him everywhere.
Losing him and the way we lost him truly leveled me and to be honest, I don’t know that there will ever come a day that my heart doesn’t ache for him or when I will remember him and not hurt to my core. I’ve heard from other people who have lost a dog the way we did who say that there will come a day when I can talk about him and smile, remembering the love and not the pain.
To be clear, my tears are not for Frankie. I know he had a great life. It was just much, much too short. He never suffered; he always knew he was loved. I cry because I miss him and I wish so desperately that I could have saved him, and I will forever wonder if something I did or didn’t do caused him to act the way he did. When I’m strong enough, I plan to examine that question deeply so that I can learn from it and let it go.
All through my last days with him, I promised myself—never again. I would never love a dog like this. I couldn’t bear the possibility that it could come to this again.
A month after Frankie’s death, I traveled with my son Ian to Tennessee. It had been Ian’s idea, a trip we’d been planning, and instead of canceling it I decided that I would travel south to help dogs in Frankie’s name. I couldn’t save him, but maybe I could help other dogs.
It was a very hard trip in so many ways. We saw some of the most desperate situations I’d seen. One of the saddest situations I’ve ever seen in the thirty-seven shelter/rescue visits I’ve done, was where I met Fanny.
She was emaciated, her coat a dull brown and crusted with feces, her eyes so sad they brought tears to my own.
As I helped Trisha to test her for heartworm, treat her for fleas, and deworm her, I was humbled by her joy at our attentions. She wiggled and smiled and wagged her tail endlessly.
And my heart leapt. I wanted to scoop her up and put her in the car and drive far, far away. I remember looking back at our car, parked on the gravel outside the fence and visualizing doing just that. But I told myself, This is just you trying to fill the hole Frankie left. No more dogs.
There were three other dogs there that day that we treated, but it was only Fanny I couldn’t get out of my mind or off my heart as we drove away.
Trisha promised to go back to get Fanny (she called her Mocha because of her dull brown coat) and the other three dogs suffering in the Huntingdon Pound. The pounds in western Tennessee, are much like the pounds I remember from my childhood. Cold, hard places where dogs are ‘impounded’ by dogcatchers. Dogcatchers are not Animal Control Officers. They are not trained professionals; their job is simply to round up stray dogs. At the Huntingdon Pound, the dogs are held for the days prescribed by law with barely enough food and water with no medical care and zero attention, and then, instead of seeking rescue or adopters, the dogs are destroyed at the local vet for just $25.
I still don’t understand how this is possible in 2019. I can’t comprehend that there can be human beings who carry out these atrocities and think nothing of it. Or that elected officials know it is going on and do nothing to change the situation.
When I came home, I knew I had to go back. I had to do everything I could to help these forgotten dogs in these forgotten places. I pictured Fanny in that terrible place, suffering in the heat, not understanding why she was being treated that way. It is not okay that this is happening. Yes, there are too many unwanted dogs and yes, the reasons are many and complicated, but the least we can do is care for these dogs humanely and give them a chance. Loose dogs in Carroll County, Tennessee, have no chance.
But Fanny got one.
Trisha did go back and get her (and the other three and many more since then). While Trisha called her Mocha, in my mind she’d been Fanny since the day I met her. Looking back I don’t know why. Maybe because she wiggled her fanny so much when I put the leash on her and brought her out or maybe because Fanny’s happy heart and wide smile reminded me of Frankie’s.
She stayed on my mind and heart all summer. I checked in with Trisha periodically to see how she was doing. She was gaining weight and getting healthy. I waited for the message that said she’d been adopted. I imagined people would line up for such a happy, beautiful pup.
When it didn’t come, I asked OPH to pull Fanny so I could foster her. She’d waited too long for a happy ending. It had been a long summer for her living in a crate in Trisha’s living room. This was a dog I could literally ‘let out’ when Nancy and I returned to Tennessee.
When I saw Fanny again, she looked very different, still thin, but not skeletal; her coat was now a rich ginger color that shimmered in sunlight. She was shy and skittish, but eventually warmed up and gave me a few kisses.
When she is feeling safe and comfortable, Fanny is playful and silly and bounces as she chases after balls or toys. She is gangly and uncoordinated, falling off the couch and crashing into chairs. She is easily intimidated by Gracie and Flannery, they push her around like a gullible little sister.
She rivals Thelma in her chewing prowess; she’s already resigned to the trash both pairs of sandals I purchased this summer to replace the ones Thelma chewed. I tried leaving a leash on her when she was first loose in the house, so that I could keep her close by me, but she silently chewed each leash off so that she could chase after Flannery who taunted her.
After two weeks, I’ve decided to acknowledge what I’ve known since June. Fanny is my dog. I don’t know if Frankie sent her to me to heal my heart or if I am just desperately looking for anything to staunch the pain, but I need her.
And I think she needs me. She clings to my side, hesitant with new people, especially men. Even Nick and Ian can only pet her or snuggle her if they are sitting. She comes to life around other dogs, their presence instilling confidence. We are bonded, and when I think of breaking that bond so that she can be adopted, it hurts too much, a different pain than when I’ve let other dogs go.
So many times, I’ve said to myself, keeping this dog would be selfish. There are plenty of other people who can give her a wonderful home. That’s how I justify letting dog after dog leave. But this time, I can’t do it.
This time, for the first time, I think this dog needs me as much as I need her.
Thanks for reading!
I write another blog, Who Will Let the Dogs Out, where I share the stories of dogs and heroes and the situation in our rural southern shelters and rescues. I believe that this sad situation does not exists because people don’t care, it exists because people don’t know. Please subscribe, follow, and help us tell them.
If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog Facebook group.
Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available now: