By Jimmy Preston
Web Content Contributor
The loss of human lives, the destruction of physical property and the displacement of thousands of residents from the resultant storm surge, winds, and flooding brought about by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 dominated the headlines. In the subtext read a story, just as devastating, however easily passed to page 2 or beyond. The countless number of animals displaced by the storm needed care and attention as well. As the storm rolled on, leaving it’s swath of destruction, many groups rallied to the call of nature reunite these animals with their owners or find them new forever-homes.
One such organization answering the call was the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation (LDCRF), operating out of Arlington, Virginia. The LDCRF worked in coordination with numerous other rescue groups throughout the Southeast to move critters from the affected areas to facilities north and into their adoption network. It was through the LDCRF that I was introduced to my best friend, Deaner.
A few weeks prior to the landing of Hurricane Katrina, a stray dog, Gretel, was taken in at an animal shelter in Mississippi. Shortly after her intake she had a litter of six puppies. The pups were an eclectic mix of pit bull, plotthound and greyhound giving them a sleek, yet tough, brindle exterior. The shelter that Gretel had found refuge in was in the direct path of the storm and they needed to move all the animals to a safer location. Gretel and her six pups were transported to a shelter in West Virginia and finally to Northern Virginia.
As all of this was happening I was dealing with some devastation of my own, a broken heart. An ex-girlfriend and I had recently reunited and tried to give it another shot. Regardless of any of the storybooks we each had read as kids, this time there would not be a “happily ever after,” and the miles between us led to the relationship unraveling… again. As anybody may do during a break-up, I looked inward, trying to find out if I was the catalyst to my own sorrow. All the introspection led to one possible conclusion: I was not willing and/or capable of making a long-term commitment. To test this theory I needed more data. I set out to start a new relationship, to test if I was capable of maintaining a healthy and happy relationship built on mutual respect and love.
I knew Deaner was “the one” the moment I met him at his LDCRF foster mother’s house. His hurricane-survivor story was compelling, and certainly tugged on the heart strings, but he just had the look of a dog I could cohabitate with. The truth is, we even look alike. After filling out the required documents, waiting for the litter of pups to reach adoption age and finishing their round of antibiotics for kennel cough I was a new dog companion. Deaner was oblivious to the fact that I was a insecure pack leader and followed my lead regardless. I was hopeful this relationship had a chance.
Deaner and I were “peas and carrots.” During his puppy years, I worked from home so we would spend the entire day together. I did my best to study dog behavior so to raise a well-rounded dog. I was an early adopter of the pack-leader philosophy made popular by Cesar Millan, and I was careful not to humanize him.
In 2008, the real estate market crash put a damper on my real estate business so I began to look for sources of extra income. One afternoon at a coffee shop in Reston, VA I came across a flyer for a dog exercise park called Performance Dogs. Performance Dogs offers their clients’ canine companions a 4 1/2 acre off-leash park for daily pack walks, swimming, dock diving, lure course, flirt/spring pole, weight pulling and pick up/drop off service. This was a place I knew Deaner would love, but with my already stressed income, I couldn’t afford it. So I called the number to see if they had openings for a guy and his dog.
I got the job. I wasn’t getting rich but I was able to bring Deaner to work with me and soon enough, he was working there too. By accident, I had raised an Alpha dog. Deaner took on the role of the Alpha male in the pack at Performance Dogs. His manner of correcting other members of the pack was precise and rarely caused any damage. Dogs that came in as aggression cases were quickly corrected by Deaner and returned to their owners as good canine citizens. At the end of the day, I would round up all the dogs to take them home and Deaner would take his place next to my seat on the Doggie Bus. To this day he responds to, “Wanna go to work?”
Years later, after moving to Texas and enrolling back in college, Deaner has continued to be by my side. The experiment was a success and the original hypothesis was proven to be false. I am capable of a long-term commitment. My heart works, I can give and receive love unconditionally. The unfortunate consequence of my experiment that I never considered how it would end. I never prepared myself for “’til death do us part.”
Deaner was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer on December 5th. The doctor said the cancer would eventually degrade the right side of Deaner’s pelvis and it will break, causing excruciating pain. This week I will be taking Deaner in to be put down. He’s taught me so much during his ten years on this earth and I owe it to him to avoid unnecessary pain. Making the decision to make an appointment took weeks. Learning to put aside my feelings to make sure Deaner goes in peace and with dignity is the toughest lesson he ever taught me.