Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Leader of His Pack

As I was planning Warren's funeral the funeral director asked if we had any pets. When I said that we had a dog, she asked if I wanted to bring him to the private viewing before the wake. At the time, I thought it was a weird question and I wish that I had asked her why she asked. Instead, I wasn't thinking and I said no. I envisioned our dog jumping up on to the casket, sniffing Warren profusely and maybe even knocking it over. I also thought of his excitability at new places and how hard it would be to keep him still and stop him from marking his territory all over the funeral home. 

It never occurred to me that our dog would grieve the loss of his master. Baron was a Christmas gift to me from Warren a few years after our first dog had passed away. We had enjoyed being pet owners and when I was ready for another dog, I spent time looking for the same breed as our first dog because their temperament and energy level was a good match for our lifestyle. I remember when I first saw Baron's photo on He had the saddest eyes and it was like they looked right at me. I couldn't stop thinking about him or talking about him for days. Warren said he would be my gift if I was ready to love another dog. I was, and Warren shared the excitement.

Baron was at a shelter about an hour north of our home so we made a visit to see if there was chemistry between the three of us. At first Baron was a little shy, but within a few minutes he was all over us as though he was ours. When we drove away to think about the commitment we were about to make, I watched Baron from the side-view mirror until I could no longer see him. He watched us just as long. It was painful leaving him behind, so a few days later we went back and adopted him. 

From day one Warren called him a Mama's Boy. He said that he was more my dog than his because Baron would cry and mope when I left the house. Baron would look from window to window awaiting my return. I assured Warren that he looked from window to window when he left, too, but since Baron didn't cry for him, Warren was convinced the bond was stronger between me and Baron.

That didn't mean that Warren and Baron didn't have their adventures. On a camping trip in Oklahoma Baron got out of his harness and Warren, fresh from a shower, had to chase after him in the humidity and tackle him back into his harness, then into the car so we could pack up and head out. I still chuckle recalling Warren's frustration at the whole episode. You would think he would have learned his lesson, but nope. After swearing that Baron's camping days were over, he brought him along on an all-guys camping weekend with my brother and nephew. Guess who took off in the middle of the night and made Warren chase him through a dark campsite?

At home, Baron's favorite places were are Warren's feet in the living room, and on the floor on my side of the bed in our room. He loved being with either of us, but while he could easily pretend not to hear me when I commanded him to do something, it took one note of Warren's deep voice to get Baron to obey. It was clear that Warren was the leader of Baron's pack. Had I thought about that when he died, perhaps I could have made the transition easier on Baron. 

Before Warren died, Baron had separation anxiety that manifested in two incidents of destructive behavior when left alone. On one occasion he chewed himself a doggie door into our room while we were out to dinner. Another time, when left in the car while I ran a errand, he chewed through the back of my driver's side seat. But, other than that, he was the ideal dog. He never growled at the babies in our lives, although they gave him plenty of reasons to. He was always calm when we had guests. He didn't bark incessantly, or make others feel uncomfortable. His one vice was escaping every chance he got, and Warren and I had multiple adventures dealing with his Houdini-like antics. 

I don't recall Baron acting any different the day Warren died, not even in the hours when our house was filled with family and friends who came to pay their respects. I have one semi-clear memory of laying in bed, hugging Warren's pillow and Baron keeping me company in the room, while the rest of the house was filled with guests. In the days following, I have no memories of interacting any differently with Baron. It wasn't until the first thunderstorm that I noticed a change in him. He freaked out that night, jumping on the bed (which he's never been allowed on), trembling, breathing heavy and the only place he would sit was on my chest. Baron is sixty-five pounds. His place of solace cut off my air supply. At first I thought it was a fluke, a particularly bad storm he was weirdly reacting to. I was wrong. It happened every time there was thunder and lightning. I reached out to other pet owners and got their advice. I tried white noise, soft music, leaving lights on, a thunder shirt, wrapping him with something that smelled like me, and long walks the eve of an anticipated storm. Nothing soothed him. Finally, I got some tranquilizers from my vet and if given at just the right time before a storm, they allowed us to get some sleep on thunderous nights. 

During a widows' support group I happened to mention what was happening with Baron and a few widows shared that they encountered the same thing. They said that it was a manifestation of the dog's grief. It all made sense. From one day to the next Baron lost his pack leader. In times of distress, like during storms, Warren made him feel safe and taken care of. Not knowing what happened to his leader left him vulnerable. In Baron's mind, there was no one in the pack who could protect him. Even though I was trying to be strong, apparently he sensed my weakness and didn't see me as a viable leader who made him feel as secure as Warren had. 

To this day Baron has a storm phobia, and a host of other fear-based behaviors that developed after losing Warren. They are manageable and we work through them, but it makes me wish so much that I had been more with it when the funeral director asked about bringing Baron to say goodbye. Had I known how sensitive my sweet dog was to the loss, and how it was going to unleash so many fears, I would have brought him. He, too was loved by Warren and loved him back and I feel like I robbed them both of a final good-bye. I try to live free of regrets, but this one is definitely one that makes me take pause and remember that the power of love and loss is not limited to humans. 

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