The narrow path of beaten down grass from the side of the house to the back porch was a bit of an eyesore for years. Our pet dog Millie used it as a short cut. Trying to be clever and outsmart her, I tried different things to eliminate the dirt line. I planted a lilac bush in the middle of it and placing long sticks between the path and the deck; anything to get Millie to use another route and let the grass grow back. I rigged up similar obstacles to stop her from digging up mulch and groundcover in a front garden. I never had great success at this, even after firmly explaining its reason directly to Millie. It was a day last October that Millie passed away, and now the path became a reminder of a dear old friend.
February 20 was national "Love Your Pet Day," a sort of Valentine's Day for our animal friends. Like many people and things in our lives, we appreciate them while we have them, but when lost, see them in a different light with a deeper gratitude. Most times this deeper gratitude is for the simple joys that were available every day. There's something very therapeutic, tears and all, about taking the time to revisit all those special moments.
Millie was a pup from the Northern Chautauqua Canine Rescue. We had moved from Colorado with four children and even though we had other pets, the oldest child insisted that a dog of her own would help to make her new life here better. Always wanting a collie or sheltie, Millie was supposed to be a mix of that, although all I ever saw was a black lab. Like many parents have experienced, children grow up and move away and they are left with the pet. Of course, by that point it doesn't matter because the animal has become a full member of the family. So it was with Millie with plenty of good times for everyone.
Millie and the columnist’s son both changed over the years. Millie and Markus in 1999.
The beginning was a bit rough. We were busy with four children, two dogs, two cats, plenty of yard work, and employment. It was not welcome when Millie chewed up valuable things like a catcher's mitt, a new bird feeder, shoes, and a couch.
I called the shelter two times and wondered out loud if I could bring her back. They encouraged me to be patient while Millie grew out of her "chewing stage." She did and lived for over 14 years.
Millie lived in what some might call a dog paradise. How else can you describe the country, wandering an expanse of property at will, wildlife for entertainment, and keeping everyone company?
Millie loved to walk the trails when we worked trimming and mowing them. She camped with the boys near the pond. She sat at the edge of the ice or field when big groups of friends played pond hockey in winter or football in the summer. She would take naps next to anyone napping on the hammock. She watched as we worked the beehives, but knew to keep her distance after being stung once on the nose. Maybe a bit like a bully, or just mischievous, she seemed to enjoy chasing the pet ducks. She always walked to the end of the driveway to wait with the children for the school bus. Probably more than once, she hopped up to say hello to the now retired bus driver Bill. Somehow she knew the familiar sound of engines, and always came bounding around the corner of the house to greet whoever was coming home, including the school bus. She had no problem "taking care" of our leftovers from dinner. Never outright begging, but a good stare let you know she was interested.
As Millie aged, she was the bedtime companion of whoever had the downstairs bedroom. Our son would say, "It's time for bed, Millie." In they would go, Millie sleeping on the floor by the side of the bed. After he went away to college, the next son had to move to that bedroom for that was what Millie expected. If he slept in, so would Millie. We attempted to provide some extra comfort measures such as softer floor pillows as she became thinner and tumors were evident. Sensing her time with us was shortening, we waited close to the deadline of renewing her license and then jested that Millie might be serving a jail sentence with one of us due to a "sna-fu" of renewal paperwork.
It was a beautiful day last October when Millie passed. As usual, she was in and out of the house. A short time later, my husband sat down in a chair and glanced out the back window. Millie was in her usual and favorite place next to the deck where she had a good view of the woods and pond. This time however, her head was down. She looked different and my husband knew. We stroked her silky ears and wrapped her in her bedtime blanket. A wagon served as her hearse and she was prayerfully and tearfully placed to rest along-side other beloved pets in their own cemetery. In bittersweet irony, the recently purchased large bag of dog food was donated to the Northern Chautauqua Canine Rescue.
A day doesn't pass when we don't look over at the mounded rock of her burial place or look for her to bound up the driveway. The bell that she would ring with her nose to let us know she wanted to go outside still remains on the door. We think of how she could very well be with us in spirit, alongside my deceased dad who said Millie was the most gentle and good natured dog he had ever known.
A good friend shared a poem "Rainbow Bridge" at Millie's passing. I hope it offers comfort to others missing their pets.
The snow will melt soon and that well-trodden path will reappear. This time however, grass will overtake it and it will slowly disappear. How can it be that now we wouldn't mind having it?
Make it a good week and enjoy your beloved pets.
There is a bridge connecting heaven and earth.
It is called Rainbow Bridge because of its many colors.
Just this side of the Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows,
hills, valleys with lush green grass.
When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this special place.
There is always food and water and warm spring weather.
The old and frail are young again.
Those who are maimed are made whole again.
They play all day with each other. There is only one thing missing.
They are not with their special person who loved them on Earth.
So each day they run and play until the day comes
when one suddenly stops playing and looks up!
The nose twitches! The ears are up! The eyes are staring!
And this one suddenly runs from the group!
You have been seen, and when you and your special friend meet,
you take him or her into your arms and embrace.
Your face is kissed again and again,
and you look once more into the eyes of your trusting pet.
Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together, never to be separated