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Judy Atchinson's A Stubborn Woman
by Judy Atchinson

A Stubborn Woman

A Daily Gazette community blog
QUEST leader's wanderings and musings

Animals and love -- remembering Bertie

He/She is your friend, your,
partner, your defender, your dog.
You are his life, his love, his leader.
He will be yours, faithful and
true, to the last beat of his
heart -- you owe it to him to be
worthy of such devotion.

-- Anonymous

This will be our first Christmas without Bertie (pictured). He came to us almost 14 years ago, one week after Thanksgiving, and he wanted nothing whatever to do with us.

There had been an ad in the paper stating that the Altamont Shelter had an Irish Wolfhound up for adoption. Our beloved Dylan, a rescue Wolfhound, had died the previous April, and my 227 lb. baby had left me bereft. He would sleep with his giant head in my lap, play hide and seek with me outside and was truly a "gentle giant" with a massive funny bone.

I was determined to let no one, no dog at all, take his place in my heart; my husband on the other hand was all excited, just like a 6-year-old boy in a field of snakes and fishing poles. So as not to disappoint, I went along for the ride. And what a shock, what a disappointment. There was this runty dog (to my eyes anyway) who sat in his run with his back to us, as far away as he could possibly get.

"Uppity little thing," I mumbled, even when the staff brought him out on his leash, he ignored us completely. He did however as the staff kept telling us over and over have beautiful eyes but not for us. This 67 lb mutt was telling us to get lost with every ounce of his doggy self. I did not want to be a complete drag on everybody else's excitement so I said, "yeah, sure" and waited in the car.

He sat on my lap all the way home, a trick he did only once. The night we brought him home, I remember we had a very sick and crippled cat lying on the kitchen floor, a little spitfire of a deformed manx who hated the world just because it was there. Well, Bertie cautiously sniffed him and lay down so softly next to him he could have been "a feather on the breath of God." Somehow he was a cat magnet! For the rest of his life, Mr. Independence, Bertie Wooster, was the Pied Piper of cats. He paid them no mind, but they would follow him anywhere and everywhere.

Sometimes life just sneaks up on you, and so it was with Bertie. He with systemic lime disease, and we spent time and treasure keeping him up and moving. All his life he ignored the worlds -- people would pull up in cars and ask us what breed of dog he was; they would come over and take his picture, he would yawn and ignore them all. He never growled or was aggressive; he was just the master of disdain and boredom. But not for us, his family; he loved us to pieces. He would run to the door every night when I came home offering up for my delectation the favorite toy in his menagerie, Lambie, his mouth working furiously and Lambie squeaking away. I bought new ones all the time and kept them against the final squeak, so I would always have one just for Bert.

One Christmas I wrapped one loosely in tissue paper and stuck it in a gift bag with a bow and hid it. Damned if he didn't find it all by himself under the tree wedge in a humongus mountain of gifts and food. I wish we had pictures of his face as he poked his head in the bag and his eyes grew bigger and bigger, until finally he pushed the tissue paper aside and hauled out his new Lambie, squeaking it proudly and prancing around the house, not even roast beef could tempt him to lay his love down. And of course it went right into bed with him and slept under his right front paw.

And then there's the ocean; that was love at first sight for Bert, he would shuffle in the sand in front of me, take his yellow ball and drop the wet dirty thing in my lap -- if I did not respond he would grab it and nose it again in my lap -- giving it little pushes with his grubby nose. Then he'd threaten us. Nova Scotia has the highest tides in the world, so when the tide is out it's almost a quarter mile from the dunes to the water. Bert would grab his ball and looking over his shoulder he would start trucking down to the water, stopping every few feet to yap it up, until finally one of us would go down with him and throw the ball right out in the waves and he would bound in, getting smashed by the waves and laughing and barking and retrieving his precious yellow ball. And no matter how hard we tried to keep him out of the spray he would get swimmers ear every single summer and we would bind his ear to his head with a sock so he couldn't shake it, and ice it every time we turned around, or he did.

Then there's "You hide, I seek!" We discovered early on that Bert was an escape artist. The very first time in Nova Scotia we were at the local bakery and "lo" who comes bounding through the kitchen door but Bertie, and then there was the Price Chopper caper when my husband was walking down the food aisles and he says to himself, "Boy that dog looks just like Bertie" and of course it was, and Bertie just walks casually up to him, sneezes and they walk home together. But the best is when someone walks up to a teller in Bank of America and says "there's a strange dog in your parking lot and he's peeing on your front door; Bertie knew about the coming bank crisis and was making a strict comment. L.O.L.

He died on Dec. 28, 2010; he made it through Christmas and then his body just quit. But the night before he died he still got up and met me at the door, shaking his same old Lambie. We helped him to his bed and covered him up. And cried and cried and cried. And I 'm still not done crying. When I think of the days and weeks I wasted not letting him into my life and heart I am ashamed. Time and life are too precious, let your loved ones know they are loved. Animal or human it matters not. Love IS what make us human. Animals and love.

Last night I had the strangest evening, I had spent the day at the doctors and it had been a very anxious day. I had lost some weight which was the only good thing happening that day. Dr. B announced he was taking me off all pain meds for 3-4 weeks, because he said "my body needed a rest." And "don't you ever take a vacation?" he added. I've been having assorted headaches lately, probably stress related, and I went early to bed, as I was heavily asleep, one of these malicious little head traumas started, and then I felt these cool long pure white fingers stroking my forehead. I could somehow actually see these long white (alabaster) fingers and I accepted them completely. And my pain ceased and I slept.

Now I am not a religious fanatic and even if I was I am just an ordinary person with a big mouth and a lot to say. I do not pray and I do not attend any church or temple. There is no reason, none, in this mass of suffering humanity to be pulled out and comforted for such a small thing as a headache. But there it was -- it happened and I am confounded by it.

Now I am turning to a more serious problem. My kids, not one family or individual has come forth to offer Christmas joy to any of my kids. Nada, nothing -- not even a bag of M + M's. Let me tell you about T.L. A 12-year-old muffin of a boy. Who loves "Glee" and singing and mentoring little kids. On Friday last, he was waiting for me on his porch. "Locked out?" I asked. "Landlord changed the locks," he said.

And there he was left with only the clothes he was wearing. Everything he owned and cared about locked on the second floor of a row family house. He had been waiting since 3:30 for me to come and get him. It was now 5:00. Still T.L. persists in calling this his home. "Pick me up at my house tomorrow" he tells me and I do. I have quit meetings early, canceled my students so that on days we start later (5:00) I can go by and grab him at 4:00. I can't live with the thought of this child standing and waiting patiently through dark and cold.

It gets dark now by 4:00 and he is not in a safe place. The neighbors who live next door won't let him in because "the father doesn't like black people." And the downstairs neighbors "pretend they're not home." He impacts all this quietly and seems to have no inner anger, just acceptance of his situation. I worry there has to be anger somewhere, he should be angry. The $20 a week I pay him for doing odd jobs goes for cab fare to get to school in the morning. No one wants anyone to know what is going on. "Keep out of my business" is the going word here. But because of this, children suffer, and suffer badly. T.L. has a younger brother and a 1-year-old sister. In my minds eye, I always see him jumping off the porch and racing down the street to jump in the car. "I'm freezing," he says and I jack up the heat and we drive down the road.

This is only one kid but I have so many more in dangerous and poverty filled lives. I have no cute pictures, but these are our children. Money is going everywhere this year to flood victims and even out of the country but nothing is coming to our own. Are we ashamed to admit our own poverty levels right here, right now? I will never forget T.L. standing on that porch waiting -- just waiting -- waiting for something, anything to happen.

Joy in the universe, and keen curiousity about it all. That has been my religion.
-- John Burroughs

To the man from the Insurance Agency
all I can say is Thank You.
Merry Season of light and promise
and to Bert -- I know you are out there
I can hear you breathing.

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