By Felicia Lucas, LPN
“Are you the family of the cute, fat beagle of the neighborhood?” a young man in biker shorts and helmet asked me. The knock at the door had startled me, as it had been such a lazy Father’s Day, and my ex-husband was visiting with my son, Daniel and I that afternoon.
The cute, fat Beagle dog was named Rascal, and had been such a gift from God three years prior. My mother had just been diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and in an effort to relieve some of the emotional stress and pain we were going through, Daniel and I had stopped at a local pet store to “look” at some puppies. I had grown up around animals, and loved puppies and kittens, so I welcomed the reprieve from the anxiety of my mother’s fast approaching future.
Daniel and I both noticed the cute “Beagle” puppies, and I noted the price – $125.00!
When Daniel asked to hold one of the puppies, a certain one seemed to look at him in a way of “you’re finally here”. As he reached into the bin to pick him up, the “magical” bonding was instantaneous. I can’t explain it, but I was compelled to buy the puppy, who would not allow Daniel to let go of him – not that Daniel tried hard. He was like Velcro in his arms, and Daniel and he assumed the position of “spirit brothers” from that point on…I remarked that he was “sure a rascal”, and the name stuck. “Rascal”… although we should have named him “Houdini” as he always found a way to get out of our acreage that was securely fenced. We were constantly seeking new ways to block any measure of possible escape. No matter how long we watched out the window when he was outside, the moment we returned to our normal activity, we’d hear an “arooomp! aroomp!” and our Rascal would be howling after some rabbit or squirrel that had dared to enter into his view, and chasing it off down the street, outside the fenced- in back yard! We could NEVER find how he got out – we never located any hole no matter how many times we scoured the fence line! Eventually, the surrounding neighbors just accepted the fact that the “cute, fat Beagle” was the self appointed mascot of the neighborhood, and would wave to him as they drove slowly by. If truth be told, I think he adopted quite a few of the neighborhood kids, and was fed a lot of treats, which only encouraged his rebellious attitude against being “just a dog.” The other dogs of the neighborhood could be seen “talking” with him through their own fence lines, and, much to Rascal’s embarrassment, would bark and yelp loudly when I called for him from the front door.
As Rascal grew, so did the progression of my mother’s illness. When she could still hold and feel him, she would hold Rascal and state that he seemed to always “smell like a puppy”! He brought joy to the whole family during a difficult time, and would often come running when he would overhear me crying about the anticipated loss of my mother. After her passing, I continued Nursing School, and he would often wait up for me, greeting me after a long night of clinical studies. He often rolled over on his back, allowing me to practice hearing with my stethoscope, and was frequently rewarded with his favorite treat – hotdogs!
After my divorce, Rascal gave me the security I needed as he and I slept alone in our big, quiet house. Often, he would be waiting in the driveway if I should be “late” (past 10:00pm) in returning home, then, after giving me a stern look, would turn and walk silently toward the house…
On that Father’s Day morning, I had spent an unusual moment of “love” with Rascal, rubbing his stomach and telling him how much I appreciated all that he had meant to us, and he looked at me in that same “magical” look that he and Daniel had shared, and seemed to tell me that he loved me so much, too.
As I spoke with the young man at the door, I sensed an alarm in his voice as he inquired about our connection to the”cute, fat Beagle”. Since Daniel had left on his bike to visit his friend, my first thought was that Rascal had somehow followed him outside and was roamin’ the streets of our quiet neighborhood again. “He’s just been hit by a jeep, and I think he’s hurt!” Everything moved in slow motion, as I ran outside the front door. There, in the middle of the road, lay my 3 year old baby, Rascal. He didn’t move, and I couldn’t grasp mentally if he were dead. I, an end-of-life nurse, who had so many times held the hand of a dying person, and noted the very moments of last breath and life of a human being, couldn’t discern if he was breathing, if he had a pulse… His pupils appeared fixed, and he wasn’t responsive – but how could I know? He had brown emesis flowing from his mouth, and I comforted him with love and soft words, as my ex-husband lifted him into the back seat of the car to transport him to a nearby animal hospital. As I rode in the back seat with him, I slowly began to realize that maybe, maybe, he was dying, or had already died… I began to do what I had encouraged so many families of my patients to do at the last moments of the living – talking to him, thanking him for his life, love and loyalty to me and “his” family… and saying goodbye. When we arrived at the animal hospital, the blur of the technician, and my clumsy questions of “are you sure he’s gone?” seemed like a dream as he lifted Rascal out of the car… The technician allowed me to use his stethoscope as I , like so many times before, listened to his heart…I was in a daze as the tech explained that city ordinances would not allow us to bury him on our property, and he discussed disposal options with us…
I couldn’t stop crying as we headed home to find Daniel, and of course we all mourned our loss together…
The grief was fresh on my mind the next morning as I prepared to meet an elderly patient that I cared for. It was my day off, and I had volunteered to assist in obtaining a mammogram of her at a nearby diagnostic clinic, since she had no family, and our facility’s transporter was unable to stay with residents at appointments. I met Mamie* and the transport van at the clinic, and sat quietly with her as we waited her turn for the xray procedure.
Mamie was a quiet woman with the bluest eyes I had ever seen. She was always smiling and cooperative, but never spoke. Alzheimer’s Disease had taken a toll on her, and it was unsure if she could, or ever would, speak. She just seemed to quietly observe her surroundings throughout the lively days of the facility where she resided, and where I was employed as a care coordinator.
I had noted a lump on her right breast a few days prior, and a mammogram was needed to evaluate it. I held her hand as we were taken to the exam room for testing. As I began to undress her and place the pink drape over her, she remained trusting as I explained, again, that we had to let the “lady” look at her breast and take a picture.
While we waited, I couldn’t get Rascal off of my mind, and I couldn’t stop myself from sharing the story with Mamie. As I began sharing the events of the previous day with Mamie, she just sat and smiled, looking off with those blue eyes in her private world as usual. With an exasperating sigh, I commented; “Oh, Mamie, do you think animals go to Heaven?” In a movement that paralleled the familiar “magic” of Rascal , she turned her head toward me and looked straight into my eyes. As she mesmerized me with those crystal blues, she opened her mouth and voiced the only words I have ever heard her speak: “Well, of course they do!”
I’m not sure if I was stunned at her speaking, or at the confirmation that I felt I had heard straight from Heaven – but I was overwhelmed with the peace that my beloved Rascal would be with me again. Not in this world, but forever in the next…
It’s been 12 years since I last heard that “aroomp! aroomp!” from the cute, fat Beagle that just couldn’t help being “such a dog”. Occasionally, I relive those last moments with him over and over, but with peace, I also relive that moment with Mamie, who was every bit “my nurse” that morning.
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