Dogs Are Strange, Gross And Wonderful, Part Two

Miss Honey on the trail, circa 2010. Photo by CS Sherin

The Story Of The First Dog I Ever Rescued As An Adult, Miss Honey

Sept. 26, 2019

Dogs are embodied joy. Most of the time, when I see a dog, I smile. Most dogs live in the moment with a sweet intensity and playful enthusiasm — it’s irresistible. Dogs are loyal and depend on consistent schedules and their pack/people. Dogs can be such good teachers and wonderful friends. While Shaun had introduced me to some of this, Miss Honey brought me full on into the depths of dog magic and love.

At the end of 2004, while being self-employed at home, and actively caring for a 3 year old daughter and a few cats, I found myself longing for a dog. Our most recent adopted cat at the time, Boris, wanted a dog. I could just tell. Boris was a doggish cat that would greatly appreciate the right kind of dog. My experiences with Aubrey and Shaun probably helped me to have insight into that part of Boris. Doggish cats are certainly the best kind of cats, being a wonderful blend of cat magic and dog wisdom and tendencies — like fetching, the adherence to and need for consistent schedules, and a sense of loyalty and duty. Boris was just such a cat. Having a dog would answer a need in him, and in me. And, this was an opportunity to adopt a dog into the family that my husband and I created together as adults.

I hadn’t had a dog in my life since high school. My father-in-law had a dog, and that fueled my heart’s longing for one to a certain degree. The obstacle, at that time, was my much loved and appreciated life partner/husband, Jeff. He grew up with dogs, and loves and adores them. And, he had a faithful companion, a dog that was his, while growing up. His dog, Gomer, was a Chihuahua-Corgi mix. In all the pictures I saw, from the time Jeff was in middle school and after high school, Gomer was by his side. After Gomer died, Jeff felt unable to open up his heart to a dog again.

Despite this obstacle, it came to be, that my longing for a dog was greater than Jeff’s resistance.

I was looking online at shelters both locally and regionally. I was searching for our dog. I assured Jeff that I would tend to the dog’s needs. He made clear that he would have no part in it.

Some of the private, loving moments of life are shaped, saved, and blessed by beings other than us.

At the beginning of 2005, Jeff’s father died suddenly. He had known that we were looking for a dog. By the middle of June 2005, I had narrowed it down to two dogs at the no-kill county dog shelter, about a half-hour away from our city. One was a little Pug mix named Buzz, and the other was a Beagle-Terrier mix named Summer. I showed our daughter, Samara, and Jeff, the pictures and they agreed that both were cute, and a good size for our family. Jeff especially thought that Summer was adorable, but with a guarded sort of appreciation.

Samara and I drove out to the county shelter. It was a tiny concrete building, just off the freeway. What a sad place it was! A tiny reception room, and through the door a concrete room of kennels with a door outside to a barren fenced-in yard that was sizable. The dogs were all so desperate, sad, and needy. I could barely stand the heartache of their collective pleas, expressed with incessant barking when they saw perhaps someone would take them home. Two people were working who clearly cared deeply for the animals. What the shelter lacked in warmth or comfort was overcome by their dedication. They were eager to introduce us to Buzz and Summer. My heart went out to all the dogs waiting for a home, and I said little prayers for each of them, as I readied myself to perhaps adopt.

Buzz came out first. Buzz was well named! We never actually got to see his face. He was like a tornado, twirling through the room, in tight excited circles. I knew immediately that the cats would not recover from that kind of a dog energy, and we probably wouldn’t either! After Buzz, out came Summer. She walked into the room slowly, and looked at the people working there. She then walked up to me, lowered her head and leaned it against my legs. I spoke with the people as I held her head, and rubbed her satiny soft ears.

She had been brought in by people who said they had found her at another small town’s golf course. She was wandering there. The shelter worker added that this may simply be a story, and that sometimes people surrender animals without admitting that that is what they are doing. One clue, the worker mentioned, was that they had suggested her name was Summer when they brought her in, which the shelter added as her name. Summer was estimated to be 5-7 years old at that time.

I knew, as we sat and petted her, that she needed us, and we needed her. I made the offer to adopt her. Unfortunately, she had just been brought in, so we were forced to wait two weeks, in case someone would claim her. In addition to that hard news, the shelter worker informed me that whomever gets to the shelter first on the first day that she is officially up for adoption, gets her. Back then they opened at 6:30 am.

As Samara and I moved to leave, Summer tried to leave with us. I leaned down and told her that I would return for her. It was so hard for us to leave that day. And for two weeks, our hearts were holding their breath, waiting.

So, it was on my birthday week, in the first week of July, that my daughter and I got up extra early to be at the shelter by 6:30 am to adopt Summer. There was no one else there but the workers, and the adoption was a go!

We re-named her Miss Honey, after the kind, gentle teacher from the book and movie, Matilda, by Roald Dahl. What we noticed about Miss Honey and delighted in, were the following things:

She kept her puppy ears — her ears were like silk. She had the prettiest white eye lashes. And she inherited the Beagle traits of singing, dancing, crooning, and sighing when she feels good.

Miss Honey and Samara. This is in July of 2005, not long after we first adopted Miss Honey.

It wasn’t long before we found out that Miss Honey had some serious health issues. She came to us with Lyme’s disease, a severe bladder infection, and many large and small stones in her bladder, which required surgery. From the x-rays, we learned, as a side note from the veterinarian, that Miss Honey had pellets lodged under her skin, probably from a gun while hunting for small game. It became clear to us that she had been, most likely, abandoned because of her health problems.

In addition to the surgery and recovering from Lyme’s disease, we discovered that Miss Honey didn’t know how to play. In addition to this, she had been traumatized by being abandoned by her people (whether that was at the shelter or near a golf course). She associated getting into a car with being abandoned, and she never recovered from that particular trauma. Even after many years with us, reinforcing that we are her “forever home” over and over and over — the scar and its memory never left. She had issues related to abandonment all her life. Despite this, Miss Honey healed well.

Miss Honey, once she had learned to play and relax in our home as family. Circa 2006

I taught her how to play. And I have Shaun, our dog when I was a kid, to thank for that. I taught Miss Honey how to play by getting down on the floor in the universal position for play in dog language. If you don’t know this position, it is when a dog is lying down with their front legs, with head down, and the back legs are standing, while the tail wags. This position means, “I want to play!” Then, I would play with a toy and gently encourage her to do so as well. I showed her that it was okay, and that she had permission to have fun. At first, if she did join in and start to play, but she would quickly get self-conscious and nervous. Then, she would begin licking her arm obsessively. It took quite a while to get past that stage of fear. The good news is, we did get past it, and she spent many, many years playing with abandon and great enjoyment!

When I first began caring for Miss Honey, and we began those first daily walks, I felt a great joy rise up from my being. It was so healing to have a dog in my life again. In fact, Miss Honey is responsible for much joy, insight, learning, and healing for me and my life — and for my family. I had gained the most loyal, faithful, loving friend, in dog form, that I had known. She held joy and connection for me alone, in some ways. Some would say that I was her Alpha, but really, I was her rescuer, teacher, adopter — and she was mine in many ways.

Miss Honey’s joy on an open trail with us. Bliss walks, we may as well call them. Circa 2009

You may be wondering how Jeff was taking all of this, given that he was resistant to getting a dog…

Well, after about three months of me taking full responsibility for all of Miss Honey’s needs…and after Jeff also witnessed how Honey was utterly loyal to me, something in Jeff shifted.

Maybe it started when we were in a large field, and I went as far across it as I could, and Jeff and Samara held Honey until I waved my hands in the distance. As they let go of Miss Honey, she raced to me at full tilt, wanting only to be at my side, floating on the air with a beaming smile, and a lolling tongue of joy. Jeff’s heart melted. Well, all of our heart’s melted! In witnessing this love, it awakened great love and joy in him, and good, sacred memories. The pain of loss and grief was still a part of him, but it warmed into a continuity of love, translated into the present.

Jeff expressed such adoration in seeing the love that Honey had for me. For me, this was something new. I hadn’t had a dog bond to me like that before. It is humbling, healing, and a great responsibility. The beautiful part is that I was ready for it, and was able to be responsible to and for that beautiful dog.

Me and Miss Honey on a trail near the field where she would run to me. Photo by Samara Sherin

The bond between me and Honey gave Jeff room to feel more, and open up his heart, without all of it edging in on Gomer’s place in his heart. Witnessing the bond allowed his grief to soften.

One day, I walked into the living room, and found Jeff lying on the floor by Honey, playing with her, and just the faintest hint of tears were in his eyes. It was on that day that I knew Jeff’s heart was open and healing. From that day on, we shared the care for Honey equally. And since that day, Jeff has told me that he always wants to have a dog in his life.

The other thing you may be wondering about is how Boris and Miss Honey got along. Well, he fell in love with her, of course. Miss Honey, for her part, only tolerated the cats for my sake. But, with Boris she was different. She respected Boris. He could lay by her without her wanting to leave. He could play by her. And when she got out of line, he would tap the top of her head like a drum roll with his paw — so fast, and not quite hard, that she would flinch and blink her eyes. When he did that, then she would shape up and stop causing rifts between herself and the other cats. It was funny, and just what she needed on some days.

I think I have covered how dogs are wonderful in this story, but maybe not so much the strange and gross. For the most part, Miss Honey was a lovely, loving dog. She was never trying to be funny. And she certainly wasn’t the kind of dog that thrived on being strange or gross, but she had her moments…but nothing outrageous.

Miss Honey did like to rub the top of her lower back where it meets her tail under chairs. She would rub back and forth like a bear rubs his back against a tree. She would do this without ceasing whenever she thought we weren’t around or wouldn’t notice. She also broke into a whole container of freshly baked gingerbread cookies that were sealed with a sturdy plastic lid. We came home to find the plastic lid torn, and most of the cookies gone and in her belly.

Once, she was going to vomit in the living room on the carpet, and Jeff ran to her and cupped his hands, of all things, under her mouth. His two hands happened to hold the exact amount that came out. That was certainly gross, weird, and strangely hilarious. I certainly will never forget it. Even Miss Honey seemed a little weirded out by that. And of course, rolling in nasty dead things is a given for any dog, so I won’t go into that. She did it. They do it, and it serves a purpose from their ancestral past — but in the present, it is just nasty.

At Christmas time, we quickly learned that there could be no wrapped sweets under the tree. My mother had left freshly made Divinity candy wrapped under the tree for my mother-in-law. When we returned from an outing with them, we found that Miss Honey had ripped them open and eaten all the Divinity candy! She was a dog who loved treats, and had a terrible affection for sweets! We certainly didn’t try to let her have actual candy or chocolate, but it sure was challenging keeping her away from it.

A fond memory for my husband, daughter and me is the day that we all went for a neighborhood walk with Miss Honey, and we decided to give her full reign. We let her lead us all around the neighborhood — wherever she wanted to go. She meandered for a while. And then, for a straight 8 blocks, she walked faster and faster, with more and more purpose and vigor. After about a mile of walking, we laughed and laughed to find that she had led us to the back of a local strip mall, and specifically to the back door of Coney Island. The smell of hot dogs, chili, and fries were intoxicating for her. We relented and got her a hot dog without the bun. She eagerly ate it. We also tried to keep her diet healthy, and that was not a repeat practice, though she wished it was. Still, we gave her plenty of healthy treats and good food.

Happy Honey dog. Circa 2007

It was always bliss to go for walks with her everywhere, and to see her dance with joy to get home into a warm, happy house. After dancing, she would sing that Beagle croon of happiness. What a dog! She would actually dance with us when we would have little dance parties at home too. She was such a respectful, obedient dog in many ways. But, not because we had disciplined her, because she was filled with the beauty and gratitude of new life…

One of my fondest memories of Miss Honey is when Samara’s kindergarten teacher let me bring Miss Honey for a show and tell. The children all sat in a large circle on the ground as Miss Honey and I came in. Samara’s place in the circle was empty as she stood and introduced Miss Honey and talked about her. As we were welcomed into the room, I let Miss Honey off leash and she immediately went to Samara’s empty spot and sat still in the circle, just like all of the children. Everyone was delighted and amazed by her willingness to sit and be with them like that. And the teacher explained that it takes a lot of time to get a dog to listen and obey like that. I didn’t interject at all or correct the teacher, but I knew that Miss Honey wasn’t doing it out of obedience or anything I placed upon her, she did it out of love. She was a beautiful teacher and friend.

Sadly, in early October of 2013, Miss Honey was diagnosed with an aggressive throat cancer. We applied the care of medicines to extend her life, while keeping in mind her need for quality of life. She continued to make the effort to run, walk, ask for table scraps and even continued to try to sneak-eat cat food. I told our youngest cat of that time, Wesley, that Miss Honey was having a hard time. Wesley went to her and licked her ears and rubbed against her. Boris would lay by her side, more and more. She was also old — she had trouble seeing, and had arthritis. Jeff went out of his way to give her little treats that she adored and that were easy to eat in the last months. He would give her small mixtures of cream cheese and peanut butter with the medicine. She loved that.

Boris, me, and Miss Honey hanging out together. This is an elderly Miss Honey, and around the time she was diagnosed with cancer in Fall 2013. Photo by Jeff Sherin

By the beginning of November (2013), it was clear that she needed to be euthanized. She began having trouble breathing, and began choking at times. We had never had to euthanize an animal companion before, and we were maybe waiting a bit too long, feeling afraid of having to do that.

My oldest sister, Kelly, who would die of cancer about five months later, said to me that November:

“It’s never an easy choice…they are family. I love you, whatever you do — she knows you love her, and you have given her a wonderful life…always know that. Love you.

~ Kelly Burns
Miss Honey and me, November 2013, not long before she died.

Miss Honey didn’t want to leave, but she also became miserable from that wicked disease.

You know, there are never enough kisses, hugs, affirmations, or walks to express the depth of love that is really there.

After Thanksgiving of that month, Miss Honey was euthanized, and we witnessed that it was a peaceful, merciful death. It was terribly hard for us to say goodbye to her, and it was a blessing to be able to let her go peacefully. Right before she was euthanized I fed her little chocolates, which she gobbled up happily. Jeff and I both held her together as she gently left her body, and then we both ugly-cried.

There is no easy way to say goodbye to those we love…whether they are humans or other beings we share our lives with. But, sealed in the goodbyes are memories and love that lasts lifetimes.

This sacred dog story is shared with you because I feel the dogs wish for me to share them. Some of the private, loving moments of life are shaped, saved, and blessed by beings other than us.

Dogs are still mysterious to me. Even in all that I learned with Miss Honey, I still don’t totally comprehend dogs. Though, I do now respect and adore them, as I do cats, and other animals.

Well, this beloved dog story leads to my current dog story….stay tuned for the dog of my current life, and her story, next week!

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