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                                Heidi Spring Joy a Dog Story

After a year of sorting out my life, my emotions, all that follow after the death of a spouse of 28 years, a man I’d known all my life; I decided I was able to once again nurture another living thing, a dog.  Animals are a large part of my life.   In the beginning it was difficult to nurture myself, let alone anything needy like a frisky pup.

When my husband died it was a shock that one can’t imagine or begin to predict what the reaction may be, we are all quite certain we know just what we’d do, we don’t.   Not long after he passed, our beloved Shih Tzu, Lady Panda Bear had to leave for the Rainbow Bridge, sixteen years of delighting my children, the neighborhood and even the school.  What better to bring to school for show and tell then an adorable ‘dust mop’ that did tricks (often the opposite of what she was being asked to do). I had enough loss for the time being thank you very much!

I was living alone at that time (I’m not mentioning the two GIANT guinea pigs who would live on and on as they are poor company).  My youngest child Christina had left for college and the house was pretty quiet and my heart had an empty spot, (quite honestly, many empty spots).

After a small dog I wanted a BIG dog.  Maybe a German shepherd would work? I had one once in my life and he was amazing but was protective and I now had a fence with small children living nearby that would surely be sticking fingers through to pet my dog.  I called my veterinarian (don’t laugh) Dr. Barker and asked him to recommend a dog that would be happy, big and the life of the party.   A Golden Retriever was his suggestion and as it happened he knew a family who had newborns!  Be still my dog loving heart!  I called and they asked me to come over and I could pick the ‘second’ of the litter.  One was already promised, she came from good hunting dog breeding stock, like that would matter to me.   Guess there was always that option, although hard  to imagine me hunting anything.

Fat, balls of golden red fur, a whole mess of them all wiggling and tumbling over one another made for a hard choice.  I wanted a female so started my process; each was identified by pink or blue ribbon.  One just stood out for me, she was very active and liked to be held by people!  My name was placed on the pink ribbon.  I hurried home to call everyone I knew what I’d just done!  Hooray!  My kids were happy (they love animals) my friends wondered what I was getting myself into (they often question my sanity), a BIG dog!  And I did work at a botanical garden.  Duh!  I’d find a way, there’s always a way.  See any life lessons in here; always a way?

I visited her as often as the people would let me in the door, often with my daughter who was as delighted as I was with this new ball of fur.   She was coming home on Mother’s Day; I know how to treat myself right!  What a gift for me.

The wait for her to be able to come to her new home seemed forever to me. I had to come up with a name meaningful to me and fitting for a big red dog.  Most weekends in this time period I drove my trusty Rodeo (another story) to Upper Michigan to wander the shores of ‘my’ beloved Lake Superior.  The lake gave me strength when I needed it, often rough and black, huge foamy waves, sometimes beautiful light blue and smooth as glass How could someone not gain strength from such a thing of beauty and strength.  On my three CD drive to get to Lake Superior and my home town I had time to think, I came up with my favorite childhood story Heidi.  It was spring and the puppy would be a joy.   I had it!  Heidi Spring Joy was her name and she did fit the name well.  Heidi would later come with me on these journeys to Lake Superior. Heidi chased waves and was delighted with the water and the holes she could dig in the beautiful white sand with no one telling her to not dig there!

Heidi was an adorable pup and when she was old enough I started to take her to work with me.  I had an understanding boss, and the garden was just beginning so wasn’t’ flooded with people as it now is.  Heidi was nurtured by the beautiful garden, woods, paths to run on and lots of people to love her and play with her.  The only problem she caused, and it wasn’t a big one, she liked to eat the doorstops made out of wooden wedges.  Otherwise everyone was happy to see her and for the most part my “you are working” issue was solved.

Heidi and I had a change in store for us, I got a cat Daisy May from the Humane Society, and they got on well.  Another thing I’d always wanted was a Siamese cat.  No problem!  I found one and off friends and I went to bring her home.  They were certain I again had lost it but were patiently understanding with a bawling Siamese on a two-hour ride, Poppy never stopped bawling at the top of her lungs the whole drive.  Heidi liked her too, and she also liked Sweetie Pie who was the next, a rescue from Texas.  Little did Sweetie know her life would come full circle and she’d end up back in Texas!  Bless her heart.

My life at that time kept changing at a fairly steady pace!  I eventually met my husband Hal; a man who never had a pet in his life unless one counts the two turtles he dropped from a few floors up to see if they could fly.  They couldn’t.   When he came to visit me the first time he was greeted by a big dog, and three cats.  A cat that wouldn’t leave him alone, he thought she was growling when she was purring.   That would be The Popper as he came to call her.  And of course he didn’t mind Heidi too much either, and of course he was on his best behavior seeing we really didn’t know each other well and I don’t doubt he ever thought then he’d end up living with all these animals.

Eventually all these animals and I moved to Punta Gorda, Florida.  Hal and I built a house; long distance building is great fun!  All of my animals were being crated and flown to Florida with me; my car was going with my moving van.  Then 9/11 happened, such an unforgettable tragedy for America.  And new restrictions were placed on flying.  My only choice was to drive my car and my animals (now numbering four) to Florida.  Another challenge.  My oldest son Mike was coerced into driving with me so I wouldn’t need to make the trip alone.  And thank goodness he did, he’s a good traveling companion but it was like a traveling zoo with a bleating cat all the way.  Even with tranquilizers she bleated all the way to Punta Gorda, think Linda Blair in the Exorcist, horrible sound. Heidi Spring Joy was great, slept in her spot and I think put her paws over her ears.

Hal, Hal’s wife Annie Girl, Heidi and I moved into our new home (another day, another story) and all the animals were delighted and Heidi was a happy dog.  She walked with me in the neighborhood and delighted everyone we met; everyone knew her name, they did NOT know mine.  Not quite as friendly as Texas, at least where we lived.  A boating and golf community, something we did not do.  What were we thinking?

Heidi matured into a lovely Golden; she was working for her certification to be a visiting dog at nursing homes.  She was doing well. She had Annie at home to practice with, head in lap, wait for a crumb, or sleep by her chair.  Golden’s calm down after a few years (yes, it takes that long) and are perfect to take visiting people who miss having an animal or even find they like one that will lay her head in their lap to be petted.  Heidi looked forward every week day for Hal to go pick Annie up from day care, a ride!  Nothing better.

The summer of August 2004 the 1st named hurricane of the season was named Charley.  Punta Gorda hadn’t had a hurricane hit since the 60’s; we all felt relatively safe but took precautions.  We did not leave our house.  Charley hit us as a strong category 4 hurricane.  It devastated our town and did a darn good job on our house after a window was breached.  It was a frightening time for all of us in Florida.  More hurricanes followed that year.

The repair from such devastation takes time; piles and piles of debris, becoming toxic lined our streets and neighborhood.  The crews cleaning up got to us when they could.  In the meantime Heidi still needed to be walked, our yard was a big mess, my gardens ripped to shreds; they would recover nicely with a lot of gardening repair.

Walking along in her usual manner Heidi would sniff everything in sight, she was a dog after all, and it’s what they do.  The piles of fermenting debris we could do nothing about and at the time didn’t think they would be harmful.  Although shortly after all these walks and sniffing Heidi started to get sick.  Our vet couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her.  She simply got sicker and sicker.

One day Hal & I couldn’t find her.  We went in the back yard (she had a doggy door) and nowhere to be found.  Then I remembered that an animal would go away, hide, and find a place to die.   We found her, she wouldn’t come to us, and she was still alive, we brought her to the vet, they just didn’t know what to do, and the doctors had been treating her for some time at this point.  We brought her home, went out for the evening with friends and when we came home we found her.  She was heading for her doggy door and died on the pool deck.  Our hearts were truly broken.  We can’t talk about her today and that she died so young (6) without tears coming to our eyes.  The man who never had a dog, and his animal crazy wife were overcome with sadness, never to have a dog again, we’ll stick with our cats seeing they don’t go outside to sniff and inhale toxic waste that will destroy their liver.

Our hearts can break in so many ways, losing a beloved pet is only one of them.  The only cure is time and it simply softens, takes the edge off  your sadness.  Good memories, kindness of friends and our environment sustain us.

More hurricanes followed that summer of Charley, we repaired our house as fast as Hal could get contractors and after one look at Cedar Creek Texas we built another home.  We moved our household (again with the bleating Poppy Cat) and with Annie Girl from her nursing home in Punta Gorda to an even nicer one in Buchner Villas.  And we started again, new gardens, new people, new everything.  We did already have Tracy and her husband Rob here (one of our daughters) so we had a head start.

To connect this to my love for gardening I believe we transplanted ourselves quite nicely, it wasn’t easy and there were many obstacles but we once again began to thrive in our new home with 4 cats.  Although, we do now have another dog, Calla Lily (never say never) we’ve lost our beloved Poppy Cat but have added two more cats. And of course we have gardens.  Life goes on, all of us waiting for the next adventure, good or bad.