When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

October 28, 2010

October 28, 2010


Scout, Peter and Sophie (Spring 2005)

October 28, 2010.  Tomorrow we’re putting our nearly 16-year-old Jack Russell Terrier to sleep, at 11:00 am to be precise.  We’ve already changed our minds numerous times and even cancelled one scheduled appointment.  But we can’t put it off any longer, there’s no denying what has to be done and I need to believe that this will be in fact the last act of love we’ll ever give her.  I remember picking Scout out of a litter of 9 as vividly as if it was yesterday.  The man selling the pups sized me up in about 30 seconds and warned that Jack Russells don’t make good lap dogs.  I smiled politely, thanked him for the information, and went about deciding on the puppy I intended to name Scout, the one with the diamond marking on her forehead.  Having buried my father only three weeks earlier, Scout has been a tremendous comfort and loyal companion from the start, and this despite all her typical Jack Russell characteristics.  Although weighing only 13 ounces, she nonetheless had the gumption, at just 8 weeks of age, to growl at me the first time I took her food away.  Even so, only a few days of convincing were needed to transform her into a snuggly, if tenacious, lap dog.  The first time Pat flew from NYC to visit me in Atlanta, when we were just beginning to see each other, he walked in my home, immediately reaching to pick up Scout before I had a chance to warn him that she can be nippy with strangers.  I had visions of his hands being sewn up in the Emergency Room and our fledgling relationship ending before it really ever began.  But she surprised me.  Or maybe it was Pat who did the surprising.  At any rate, they became fast and furious friends, meaning tomorrow’s appointment will be as hard on him as it will be for me.  She’s been every bit his dog too for the last dozen years.  As for the children, we’ve decided to lie, and I hope it’s the right decision.  Sophie especially was traumatized after being graphically exposed to the process of euthanasia by watching Marley and Me, a PG-rated movie whose advertising as a “family holiday” film still infuriates me.  Neither of us feels she’s of the mindset to handle being told we put Scout to sleep.  When they get home from school tomorrow, Sophie and Peter will be told she died at home, peacefully.  We began preparing them weeks ago for the inevitable and I hope they handle the news.  Of course, having Lulu, our new puppy, will help.  As I sit here contemplating the most difficult task of dog ownership, I can’t help reflect on how effortless my relationships with animals, especially dogs, always has been.  I seem to earn their trust and affection almost instantly, a feat I’ve not quite achieved with our two Russian-born children.  I know they aren’t comparable, children and dogs, but still, this journey with our kids has shaken the belief I had, and relied upon, regarding my ability to reach and keep the hearts of those I love.  I’ve earned Peter’s love and trust, something for which I’m immensely grateful, but it took five years and enough sweat and tears to fill a lake.  Only recently have Pat and I realized we’ve been fooling ourselves regarding both the solidity and nature of Sophie’s attachment to us.  This child I love more deeply than I imagined possible, it turns out, has very complex and troubled feelings toward us and the very concept of family, what it means, and requires, to be part of a family.  In the midst of Peter’s endless tornado, I allowed myself the fiction of believing that Sophie was secure, that she was ours and we were hers, in the most usual and heavenly ways.  But it wasn’t entirely true.  She was playing a part, acting a role, and now that Peter has emerged substantially from the storm of his early trauma, she’s adrift and unmoored, unsure of her place in the family and rejecting the fundamental tenet that parents’ love for their children is not an either/or proposition.  She’s angry, seething, boiling mad.  I have to find a way to reach her, show her that I love her as completely as I always have even though in her eyes, I now love Peter in the same “outward” way.  Despite our efforts to talk these issues through, she is young, and emotionally much younger than her age, and to her, our tough love approach with Peter seemed, I think, like the absence of love.  Also, for years, Peter wouldn’t allow us to hug, kiss, or snuggle him.  But now that we no longer feel like sandpaper against his skin, I take full advantage whenever the opportunities arise to make up for all the intimacy he missed, and of course, deserved.  But Sophie doesn’t see it this way.  To her it’s a threat, that much is clear.  What’s not clear is how we address it, how we help her heal wounds that have been festering, it turns out, like a bubbling low grade infection the entire time Peter’s more urgent injuries were being triaged.  But we must, and we will.  In many ways it’s going to be harder than what we went through with Peter.  As Pat sagely pointed out, Peter’s thought processes are simple, his trauma finding purchase in the way his brain and body reacted to demands and stimuli.  We had to break these patterns, to be gruff about it, much the same way one goes about breaking a horse.  But Sophie’s mind is complex, terribly complex.  Her injuries are emotional and psychological and because in large part we missed them, or more aptly, were unwilling to see them, they’ve been brewing and multiplying for years within the interior of a very capable, clever brain.  There’s no doubt Sophie is the Jack Russell of our family, or as Pat likes to say, the Jack Velociraptor.  As I prepare to say goodbye to my oldest and best canine friend, I hope and pray I have the strength to convince my daughter of the completeness and unassailability of my love for and devotion to her.  To be honest, not many people love Scout.  She’s bitchy and ornery and generally ill-tempered.  But I love her and so does Pat.  I hope tomorrow that our old girl senses we’re there to help her and that she accepts our love this one last time.  It’s all I want for our daughter, too.  That she be able, in the privacy of her own thoughts, to acknowledge that we love her, no matter what, for who she is and who she’s not, for what she’s done or might never do, because we are her parents and we love her, forever, without condition, judgment, or pretense.

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4 Comments »

  1. I wish you all the strength you need and comfort in the knowledge that setting Scout free from old dog pain and confusion is an act of great kindness and generosity. I hope that I’ll have the same courage with our Molly (lab/border collie wonderdog) when the time comes. You’ll be in my thoughts tomorrow morning. And telling the kids that she died peacefully at home is a kindness also–and not quite a lie because isn’t “home” in your arms?

    Comment by Patti — October 28, 2010 @ 12:13 pm | Reply

  2. Regarding Sophie, the real topic of your post…..

    When our daughter Katie was placed in her residential therapeutic school, it was very clear that Becky, 11 at the time, had emotional issues and concerns of her own. When Becky was eight, it had been pointed out to me when that she was somewhat adrift, ignored in the whirlwind of meeting Katie’s needs, and looking rather distracted and disengaged. So I started lying on the floor in her room as she got in to bed and we just talked about whatever. We did other things that afafirmed her as well. After Katie went to her residential placement, we decided to get Becky some therapy – mostly to explore whether she had major or minor issues to deal with. After six months of therapy, the therapist felt the issues in Becky were comparatively minor. Phew! What a relief for the parents, though I know that Becky has been angry with us for many years – after all she watched some violence in her house (though Katie never hit her), and, for a long time, her parents were unable to make the house feel like a safe place.

    Now, Sophie’s pre adoption history and Becky’s pre adoption history are very different. But you are so wise to see that Sophie needs your attention next, that Sophie needs to feel your love, and it sounds as if you are taking the steps that will express that love and give Sophie the safe place in which to grow.

    All the best to you and Pat,

    Chris

    Comment by Christopher Duncan, M.S., M.Ed., Education Advocate — October 28, 2010 @ 4:28 pm | Reply

  3. Thinking of you and your family during this difficult time. May Scout find the peace she deserves as she departs this earthly life. Hugs to you all.

    Comment by ani — October 31, 2010 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  4. I have a 7 year old daughter with FASD. I live across the river from you. If you are interested, my email is attached to the comment.

    Comment by Laurie — November 9, 2010 @ 2:52 pm | Reply


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