Avalon's Army of Angels
|August 28, 2008
A sad day...
Its a sad day here. We're in the process of saying goodbye to a fur friend...and I hate it.
Over the years, Nick and I have been forced to part with several fur friends. Sadly, no matter
how much we love them, their lifespans just don't equal ours. When Aurora was little and I lost
two animals I called my "Heart" and my "Soul", I truly thought my heart would just leap out of
my chest. Losing them hurt so deeply...I'm not sure I've ever recovered. But time marches
on, and one by one we've had to walk that lonely path with friend after friend. While none
have ever come close to breaking my spirit like my Heart and Soul did, it never gets easier,
and it never becomes routine. Especially, when you have to watch the death through the
eyes of your children.
Today, we are saying Good Bye to Malachi, and my children are aching deeply...
Not that any of this has anything to do with cancer, brain surgery, or nerve damage - but I'm
going to share about Malachi anyway. He's held my children's hearts, so he deserves his
chance to be glorified. And as I've said often, I deeply believe that Everything Happens for a
Reason. Malachi's life with our family was no accident. He was sent to us to teach us
patience, perseverance, and the ability to always find something positive. I now know he was
sent to prepare us for the journey we'd eventually walk with Avalon. He was a challenge, and
thereby a gift, that we had no way of knowing we needed.
Years ago, pre-children, Nick and I lived in a virtual zoo. Way back in high school, I had a
adopted a baby raccoon. That particular story is long and involved, but suffice it to say, she
was a VERY important part of my life, and her influence still lives deep in my heart. Tiki (the
raccoon) had her own bedroom in our house for years, only moving into mine and Nick's
room, when we had Aurora. Tiki was my "Heart" and a part of our family for 16 and 1/2 years.
(yes, you read that right) She is a part of the woman I became.
My "Soul" was a dog named Arthur. Arthur was part of a surprise litter born to a conditioning
dog when I lived at Ohio State's Laboratory Animal Center. (again, long story...) I watched
Arthur come into this world, and received him as a Christmas gift from the LAC. He and Tiki
were my children, long before I ever contemplated the human ones. He too, remains a part of
the person I became, forever living in a place in my heart. I've often longed for Tiki and Arthur
when we've received scary news about Avalon. I've wished for their "counsel" on those days
I've been convinced the Universe has forsaken us...
To Tiki and Arthur, you can add a list of fur friends that at any given time was a bit of a crazy
household. We normally had 3 dogs, 10 cats, a raccoon, an iguana here and there, and a
bunny. The list of dogs is long, but that's because they kind of came and went, each leaving
their scars when they crossed the rainbow bridge. There was Little Bit, a horribly ugly but
lovable dog, I rescued from the middle of Broad Street in downtown Columbus. King, the
Great Dane, who I adopted when a police officer told me I needed either a gun or a large dog
if I didn't want the attempted house intruder to come back (King lived to a ripe old age of 13,
similar to Arthur). Queen, a horribly neglected Great Dane, that we adopted from a Humane
Society after Little Bit died and King nearly died of a broken heart. (she didn't live long -
she'd been too abused in early life) Jenny, another looks-challenged but wonderful pooch,
who rescued King's heart and eventually outlived him. Bella, a handicapped Great Dane, who
lived far beyond expectations, but not nearly long enough to suit us. And then, there was
I should mention also, the stream of cats we've shared our lives with, and been forced to part
with in recent years, as age has finally taken them. Morgan, Nyneve, Merlin, Momma, Lester,
Fred, Sam, Oliver, Biff, and Buffy. Morgan, Nyneve, Merlin, Lester, and Sam were all gone
before we left the old house. Morgan and Nyneve were lovely old dames at 16, and Merlin
was a fantastic old gent at 18 when he passed. Since we've moved here, we've said Good
Bye to Momma, at an astounding 23 years of age. We've also had the horrible experience of
parting with Fred, my middle daughter's bestest best buddy, at a young 12 years of age,
because we found out as he was passing, he only had one kidney. Oliver, Biff, and Buffy
remain with us, and stand as our last links to our past life.
Does any of this matter to any of you? No, probably not. I guess I'm feeling melancholic
today, I need to remember these creatures. They were a part of our lives, and they mattered
to us. As we are forced to say our forever goodbyes to Malachi today, I have the dubious
honor of recalling each previous farewell, and how much life has changed between them.
Malachi entered our life after we'd lost Arthur, King, and Tiki. Those three passed shortly
apart from each other, and it was a miserable time. We still had Jenny, but she was terribly
lonely. So, when I was called about a problem animal, we at least had the heart to try to help,
even if we had no intention of acquiring a new fur friend.
I got a phone call one night, from a friend who had an exotic animal farm. She'd been
contacted by a man who said he had a wolf puppy he needed to find a home for. The man
was a landlord, and was evicting some tenants. The tenants had a wolf puppy they'd
abandoned, and the local humane society said they would immediately destroy it if he brought
it in. This man was kind enough to think that wasn't fair to the puppy - it certainly hadn't been
the one to not pay him. Therefore, he called my friend for help. She didn't exactly have the
kind of personality to go get the puppy, there wasn't anything in it for her. However, she did
think to call me, and for that - I'm grateful.
A day later, and I was off to meet the landlord and pick up the wayward pup. I had absolutely
zero interest in a wolf, but was quite alright with rescuing it, and being the middle man to get
the pup to a proper rescue group. What I found was awful. This poor puppy had spent the
first 6 months of his life, chained in the middle of a gravel driveway. There was no shelter,
and had never been enough food or water, much less socialization. All he had was a name,
Malachi - messenger from God. That's a name that's hard to ignore.
We brought Malachi home, and began the quest to place him. The problem was, Malachi was
most certainly not a wolf, but a poorly bred wolf-dog. Therefore, the humane society wanted
to kill him, and the wolf rescues found him to be undesirable. The pitiful little guy was a
product of profiteering, that no one cared enough to keep alive. That is, no one but us. No
matter how much we didn't want or need a new animal, much less a very difficult one, you
simply can't ignore a message from God, you have to sit up and pay attention. Malachi and
God had something to teach me, and I was determined to learn.
I'm sure most of you reading this have no idea, but I happen to be an animal behaviorist. I
spent 8 years in college studying animal behavior in captivity. I'm a Darwinist in practice,
believing that evolution has shaped animals' behavior to best suit them to their respective
environments. When we place these creatures in artificial environments, their genetically
predetermined "hard wiring" can result in behaviors that are maladaptive because they were
never meant to be in that situation. In simpler terms, wolves are meant to live in packs, in
strict social hierarchies, fighting the elements, and searching for food. They are not meant to
live in a house. Put a wolf in a house, and there are bound to be problems. Duh.
As I said before, Malachi was most certainly not a wolf. He was some form of a wolf-dog.
Wolf-dogs are the brainchild of crazy people who think its cool to own something exotic or
"special". There are wolf-dog breeder organizations and multitudes of owner support groups.
There are registered breeders who guarantee "content" by having their breeding wolves
genetically typed, so they can represent pups as 50% wolf, 25% wolf, etc. Its all insane.
Then, there are the "unscrupulous" breeders that are terribly frowned on in the wolf-dog
world. The "bad breeders" use low content wolf-dogs, and mix them with common dogs to get
"wolfy looking" animals that they pass off as higher content ones. This is a high crime to
those in the wolf-dog world, but I'm thrilled they do it. It means there are less wolf-dogs out
there, and more fakes. According to the research I did and contacts I made, Malachi came
from a part of OH that is close to a breeder who is notorious for churning out low content
animals that she lies about. It made Malachi impossible to place in a rescue, but thrilled us to
no end. The less wolf content the better, it would make him easier to work with.
And that is how Malachi came to teach us. He arrived a starved, unsocialized, bedraggled
little puppy, in a no-man's land of being too wolfy for humane societies to care about, but not
wolfy enough for wolf people to save. We were truly his only hope, and we've sworn through
the years, the only people on the planet who would have put up with his shenanigans.
Malachi spent those early years testing every behaviorist cell in my body. He made me
redefine my understanding of patience...
No matter how "low content" or "poor quality" Malachi was, we always had to consider his
"inner wolf" when we tried to address or explain his behaviors. On one hand, he was brilliant.
He potty trained in a day, and learned sit/stay in a few hours. On the other hand, he was
terribly psychotic, spending his entire life violently food protective and in great fear of the
outdoors - he'd suffered too much as a puppy. He was utterly charming with his different
vocalizations for each member of the family, but ridiculously frustrating by his endless fear of
anyone outside of his "pack". In all of his years with us, he only accepted 2 or 3 people
outside of Nick, myself, and the kids, as being part of his group. Wolfy boy was huge, but the
biggest wimp of any animal I've ever met, bar none. We actually saw him jump or bark at his
own shadow...more than once.
We spent the early years trying to help Malachi forget the torment of his puppyhood. We
never did remove his fear of starvation, we simply learned to deal with it. It was a lifelong
battle. We also never managed to convince him that the outside world wasn't trying to actively
dismember him. He was truly a dog who hated grass. We battled his destructiveness too. At
different times, he bit a hunk out of our kitchen counter, bit the corner off of our kitchen table,
and once even dug a hole through the kitchen floor. Malachi was a challenge of the highest
order, but always with something to teach us. We learned to watch for subtle behavior cues.
We learned to think ahead of him. We learned to adjust our sails, and adapt to his needs,
purposefully letting go of ideas of "normal" pet ownership. We learned to value the life and
joy he shared with us, even if it meant exercising patience beyond anything we could have
previously imagined. We learned to adapt to a new norm. We had no way of knowing it, but
we were learning the tools we would need to survive as a cancer family. Malachi truly was a
messenger for us.
So here we are, at the end of our journey together. Our beloved puffball has reached his
final hours. No matter how often I've tossed my hands up in frustration, asking just what on
earth we did to deserve his latest antics...the fact is, we've loved him deeply. He never got to
be a "normal" housedog, because he would randomly choose things to potty on in the house,
or to chew on. But make no mistake, he was a member of our family. He valued his solitude
and bonded deeply to his dog brothers and sisters, actively choosing their company over
ours. But he did love us, and he did share his heart as much as he possibly could. Each new
child was granted his or her own "call". I will forever miss the "Woo woos" he greeted us with
when he was thrilled to see you. I'll miss his proud, handsome face and soft, thick ears.
When Malachi shared a hug with you, you always felt special, like you were being given a
grand gift. He adopted my children, welcoming them instantly to his pack, with glorious
gestures of love and affection. Although Aurora was truly his heart, he loved her as his own.
Those of our friends who knew his true identity, were always incredulous about what we were
willing to tolerate. No one could fathom that we would go to such great lengths to keep a dog.
The vast majority of people who just thought he was a husky/shephard mix, had no idea the
hurdles we had faced together. We've often been judged for his unusual lifestyle, with those
in judgement not understanding the whole picture. Its yet another lesson he taught us, to not
judge those around us, for we may never know what wars they are privately waging. Malachi's
life was one long trial for both sides. He had to fight to learn to live in our world, and we had
to work to understand sharing it with him. It was never easy, but it was always worth the effort.
Today, we've come to the moment that "Our" time ends. Malachi has to make these next
steps alone. Tomorrow morning, Nick will take Malachi to be humanely put to sleep, to end
the suffering of the past few weeks. (Malachi has been having cascading strokes. As of
today, he can no longer stand, and is now in pain) Nick will stay with him, in a final effort to
steward Malachi toward a better place. We've done that his entire life with us, hoping to help
him find as much happiness as was possible.
We'll spend today telling Malachi how much he meant to us. We'll thank him, hug him, and tell
him its OK to cross over. We'll do all we can so that he knows he is loved, and that he has
mattered to us. He's changed us. Malachi touched our hearts and taught them the true
meaning of love, being able to want/support/enjoy someone, even when its not easy. Malachi
was a messenger from God, bearing a message we didn't know we needed. The lessons
haven't been easy, but things worth learning usually aren't. The truth is, I wouldn't trade a
minute of it, it all meant too much.
Good Bye, my Wonderful Friend. I've appreciated all that you shared with me. You will be