Ghost of Billy: Help with Pet Grief

WARNING: long post, but worth every word.

* Adapted excerpt from my autobiography to help with those struggling with the loss of a pet. May the ghost of Billy help you, too *

We Carried His Body

On Thanksgiving Day two years after we moved to Austin, Cody and I were taking our rescue boxer, Billy, for his morning walk. He acted totally fine and then suddenly fell to the ground. We awkwardly carried him back up the hill into our apartment. As we carried his body, we could feel the life going out of him and begged him to hang on.

We called every vet in town. Of course, nobody was open except for the one on-call emergency vet who told us to bring him in. We loaded him into the car and left. After two hours at the vet, we found out that he had heartworm and, while we never missed giving him his pill, the vet said, “If you test dogs for heartworm and there are no adults present, then the test results can be negative”. He continued to explain that, “When you rescued him from the abusive vet, he likely already had heartworm and, by giving him heartworm medication regularly, you prolonged his life for the past two years.” We were so sad and tears started to pour from our eyes.

The vet said, “Because you two gave him love, you also made the pain of his health a lot less noticeable. He was happy”. It was decided that it was most humane to put him to sleep.

When Cody and I arrived home with our swollen eyes and red faces from all of the crying, we flopped ourselves onto the couch. On the way in, I had turned on the radio to invite a distraction and noticed it was now 2:30 PM. When Cody and I were talking about how much we will miss Billy, he said, “Mom – listen!”

On the radio was a lady whose expertise was pet grief. She said, “When you lose an animal, immediately pray for its soul to reach Heaven. Then ask for the pet to come back to you and he will”.

Cody said, “Mom, I’m going to go pray for Billy to come back” and ran to his room. I chuckled to myself in disbelief but loved how awesome my son was to have such hope.

Two weeks later, Cody and I were talking about rescuing another boxer. Since I was a little girl, I had always wanted a white boxer but had heard they had so many health problems, were not recognized by the kennel clubs, and that most breeders actually drowned them as puppies. That was so sad – I don’t care about breeding or health problems – those can usually be controlled without prolonging pain. I just wanted one to love.

Cody and I spent the day calling and visiting shelters and rescues in the area. With no luck, I reached out to Dallas-area shelters. One lady called me back and stated that an enlisted member of the Army was getting ready to go to overseas and would be there for a year. He was single and his parents refused to keep his dog, so he was willing to let us adopt him. He was willing to sacrifice his “baby as long as he’d be happy”. This man didn’t want him to end up in a shelter. His boxer was white and only 18 months old. We were so excited that the three day wait while we were being approved seemed to last forever. We kept thinking what a great way to start a new year.

At the last minute, two hours before we were to leave for Dallas to pick him up, the owner’s parents agreed to keep his dog and therefore the adoption was called off. Cody was more upset than I was, but only due to maturity. I explained to him, “Everything happens for a reason, it just means that we will find a different white Boxer to save”.

He said, “I asked Billy to come back but he hasn’t come back to us yet mom”. To keep his hope alive, while not really believing in it, I said, “He will, when he’s ready”. Cody walked away disappointed.

During this time, my daughter Jayme had moved about six hours away. I decided to take Cody to visit her for a few days and visit our friends. We returned early because of a distressing situation. Instead of retelling the story, I will place the Letter to the Editor next. I submitted it immediately upon our return home…

***** BEGIN LETTER TO EDITOR *****

Dear Editor:

My son and I scheduled our first vacation in years and decided to go to Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco and McAllen. Instead of an enjoyable time, the trip was so bad that we returned home three days early!

One day, during our drive to Brownsville, I stopped for gas and saw a box of puppies, approximately 1 week old, duct-taped in a box sitting by the dumpster. They were full of feces and urine yet seemed healthy overall. We brought them to my daughter’s home (whom we were visiting), took them to the vet, bottle-fed them, and they are now fine. However, the lack of compassion of who set them there initially is nauseating!

Two days later we were driving on the interstate between Harlingen and Mercedes with the flow of traffic at 70 mph. Both lanes were back-to-back with heavy cars due to the holiday rush when someone threw what appeared to be a German Shepherd mix puppy out of the car in between the two lanes of traffic. The puppy tried running to the side of the road but a car hit its hind leg. There was a very slight break in traffic and she was lying in the middle of the right-hand lane – looking up as I was coming toward her.

I immediately stopped the vehicle on the side of the road and yes, while telling my son to stay in the vehicle and without hesitation – I jumped in front of traffic. Had I not done so, the puppy would have been hit repeatedly since the cars coming toward her were not about to stop or move over…. at least not until they saw me in front of them. Someone going by yelled, “You are crazy lady”. Well, that may be, but I was not going to let her die like that!

I wrapped the dog in an old sheet that we had in the back seat. I could see a head wound, tire tracks on her tan body, cuts on her tail, and on her hind leg, and ears. She also appeared to be bleeding from her vaginal area. She was conscious and looking at me, breathing normally under the circumstances, but I could tell she was in shock. My son and I lifted her into the truck.

All the while I wondered, “What happened to the human race? Even with all of my traumatic experiences, I was never this cold-hearted.”

As I pulled my SUV back into the lane of traffic, I called the non-emergency police number in Weslaco and explained the situation. I asked if there was a vet, emergency pet clinic, Humane Society, anything; the officer said, “Ma’am, nobody here cares about that stuff” and hung up. I was furious!

Ever since I was a child, I have rescued and fought for animal rights, and have even turned people into authorities when they have dumped or mistreated animals. I was now in disbelief as a police officer hung up on me! I did not tie up the 9-1-1 lines, so I think the officer could have been a bit more helpful. After all, he is in a “helping” profession and he didn’t help at all.

Then I called the McAllen Police Department who gave me a number for an emergency vet clinic. I called this emergency vet and the person stated, “We don’t want her.” After I told her that she’s obviously in the wrong line of work and asked her if she feels it was more humane to let her keep getting hit, I hung up on her, feeling even more angry and disgusted with all of this, yet anxious to move on to the next call.

I then pleaded with directory assistance operator who went overboard to find a Humane Society number, only to have a cleaning lady answer and say that nobody works there on Saturday or Sunday, and she did not know how to get a hold of anyone. She said I had to wait until Monday and call back. I called yet another police department in the area who was just as rude and uncaring. I asked, “If a child is attacked by a dog, who goes to pick-up that dog?” She stated, “Ma’am unless you have that situation, we cannot help you,” and hung up on me!

Fast forward about two hours. While I am still calling everyone I could think of to help this poor little puppy, my son is still whispering to the puppy who is still conscious and still appears to be breathing calmly, despite being in shock. Then my best friend Susan calls and says, “Mozelle, since we just moved to this farm north of Weslaco we are going to need a watchdog anyway. Bring her over here and let’s get her fixed up.”

I drove to Susan’s house… she had the bandages, Neosporin, food, and water ready. We bandaged her on all obvious external wounds and she drank some water. She laid with her head across me and my son’s lap all night long. We stayed awake giving her all the calm and compassionate love we could.

When morning came, she took a very tiny sip of water, raised her head slightly, looked up at us as if to thank us, and took her last breath. We were so upset.

We were and still are very angry at the people of the Rio Grande Valley for being so cruel and uncaring! Literally sick with the lack of human compassion in this area of Texas, I felt ashamed that my son had to witness such cold cruelty. We left immediately.

I only hope that the love that this puppy felt from my son, myself, and Susan was enough to warm her soul as she passed. Passing with love was sure a lot better than being hit repeatedly on the expressway.

I hope just one person will start to care after reading this. We are all part of God’s Kingdom. Adults make some of their own drama; animals are innocent and depend on humans for care and love, or at least trust us repeatedly to not harm them. Instead of throwing a dog out in the middle of the expressway, why not give it to someone who would love her or, if need be, put her in the night drop of the Humane Society?

Better yet, if you get a pet so that you can leave them thirsty, starving, in the sun on a short chain, abused, neglected, ignored, or to fight them against one another, do not get one at all.

Animals are as innocent and loving as a child who you would not put through that same abuse. The laws on animal abuse are not even close to being tough enough. I did learn one thing: next time I think of vacationing in your area again, I am going to remind myself that staying home is much more loving.

***** END LETTER TO EDITOR *****

Then, after returning home and trying to heal our thoughts from that traumatic event, I was speaking to my mother. After our chat, I came to the realization that we had not seen her for a couple years and decided it was time to visit. She still lived in the Midwest and her health was becoming more fragile due to her age and diminishing weight. As the only child, I felt a bit guilty for not visiting her more often. Plus, even though the doctor has repeatedly told her to stop smoking, she continued on. It seemed that with each phone call, her laborious breathing seemed worse and more obvious. She said, “I have very little joy left and now with emphysema, why would I quit? So I prolong my life for a day or week? No thanks, I’d rather keep the one thing that still gives me pleasure”.

My dad had passed away in 1996 and, because of her worsening symptoms and living alone, I felt we could possibly recover from our recent shitty “puppy luck” if we took a road trip. So, I rented a car to preserve mine, and Cody and I went to bed early to prepare for the long drive the next morning.

Return to the Midwest

As we were driving well into the darkness, we had now wandered a bit off the freeway and were somewhere in the middle of Iowa. In fact, the last road sign I had read said “Storm Lake” and it was by a lighthouse.

It was dark, very little traffic, and farmhouses seemed to have disappeared. Cody said, “Mom, I have to potty”.

I said, “Well, I can pull over and you can potty here, nobody will see you”.

He said, “No, I’m scared, what if there are animals out there that we don’t see?” He refused to go, and agreed to hold it as long as he could.

About 15 miles later, I saw a dim light starting to appear on the horizon. As we got closer, I realized that it was a convenience store. It was now 10:55 PM and, as I approached, a man appeared to be locking-up. I quickly pulled up and said, “Sir, sir, can my son please use your restroom?”

He replied, “Yes, but just so you know, a bunch of us men are having a poker game in the back by the restroom. It will be okay – there is just a lot of smoke in that area”.

He opened the door and let us in. I was a bit uncomfortable being the only female in a strange location at night in the middle of nowhere so, as I watched Cody safely make it to the restroom, I picked up a random newspaper from one of the racks closest to me. In an effort to hide my discomfort, I opened the paper to a random page and held it in front of my face. I had no plans to read it but, low and behold, when I actually did look at it, the first thing I saw was an ad for a “free white Boxer puppy” and I was ecstatic.

I immediately looked at my phone to call the number and realized I had no cellular service. I then interrupted the poker game and asked if I could use the man’s phone. He was very nice as he handed me his cordless handset. I dialed the number and the lady asked where we were and stated, “Well, you are on the other side of the state, but I will hold him for you”. I got the directions and we headed out.

Midway we stopped for a nap at a roadside rest and, four hours later, gassed up, threw our trash away, cleaned the windows, grabbed some breakfast, and were on the road again.

About three hours later, I realized we had accidentally thrown out the paper with the boxer ad and directions on it. Again – Cody was very upset. Again – I said, “Remember, everything happens for a reason – he was not supposed to be ours”.

Cody said, “Billy is never coming back to us, is he mom?”

Again trying to continue the hope, I said, “Yes he is, and Billy will come back to us soon”.

I decided to turn around and, while we did not know where we were, we did see a sign that said we were entering Amish territory. I had not taken a map with me because the same highway went from Texas to my mother’s house, so I didn’t have a reason to use a map. However, at this very moment, I sure wished I had one.

We decided to continue onward until we reached a town. We could get some fresh drinks, use the restroom, and most importantly, purchase a map. Instead, it did not quite turn out that way.

Because He’s White

We saw dozens of deer on the side of the road. It was a beautiful site and one I had missed while living in Austin. Although deer were not rare to me, to Cody they were. So he grabbed my camera and, as I kept driving, he kept taking pictures. “Oooh, look mom, turn here…. now turn here….” as the camera kept working it’s magic. I was just glad to see Cody smile again and in awe of the nature around us.

When we decided to drive down a remote road to turn around and then head back to the main highway, Cody said, “Look mom!” and pointed to a tree. I looked and it was a white Boxer puppy.

I immediately looked at the property and noticed a very long row of dog kennels on the left and, on the right, the puppy tied to a short chain with no shelter or food bowls in sight. It was winter in middle-of-nowhere Iowa. No shelter for this puppy? I told Cody, “Well, seems like divine intervention led us here so it’s time for me to intervene”.

I pulled into the driveway and got out; I told Cody to stay inside of the vehicle. An Amish man met me outside and, behind in a bit of a distance, was who appeared to be his wife, and his children: two sons and a daughter between the ages of 7 and 13.

I asked the man about the white puppy. He replied, “I’m sorry, he isn’t for sale, he has to be killed”.

I asked, “Why?”

He replied, “Because he is white”.

He was very emotionless – no facial expression of any kind and just as his wife and kids were heading toward us, I stated, “My son and I have been driving across Iowa looking for a white Boxer puppy. I understand you’re probably concerned about breeding. We don’t want to breed him; we just want to love him”.

I took $150 cash out of my pocket and handed it toward the man. I said, “Are you sure he isn’t for sale? It is winter, it is cold, he has no shelter, no food, no water… he is a baby, and just like children, he deserves love too”.

His wife looked up at him with pleading yet kind eyes, and gave him a half-smile before looking back at me. He started to take the money and I gripped it tighter saying, “I am sorry but not until the puppy is safely in our vehicle”. I motioned for Cody to get out and put the puppy in the car. He was so excited – little did he know just how close this puppy came to being killed.

As promised, when the puppy was in the car, I let go of the money. It was so cold outside and the wind was blowing. All I could think of was how great that puppy must feel by now… the warmth of the vehicle, and Cody’s love wrapped all around him.

Because I wanted to report them, I stated, “I am heading north to go visit my mother and will be coming back through this area on the way back home. Can I have your number in case I want to buy one of your other puppies?”  The wife wrote it down for me on a napkin that I had in my jacket pocket; I thanked them and we left.

We made it into the next town, got food and water for us and the puppy, gas, a map, and used the restroom. I asked the sales clerk how far I was from the state line. She explained that I was a few hours away and, based on her information, I was about 6 hours away from our destination.

When we finally arrived at my mother’s house, I explained the puppy situation and Cody told her about praying that Billy would come back. Then he said, “Um mom, did you ask the puppy’s birthday?”

I replied, “No I didn’t Codeman, I didn’t even think about it”.

He said, “Please call them and ask mom, we have to know so we can give him a party and a puppy cake”. I knew I was planning on reporting them so did not really want to call and chat with them.

But after 20 minutes of Cody bugging me about it, my mother said, “Well, it would be kind of fun to know when his birthday is”. So, I picked up the phone and dialed. After all, we always celebrated our pets’ birthdays.

The man’s wife answered and I asked. She placed me on hold to get the index card with the litter’s information on it. She came back on the phone and said, “He was born on Thanksgiving at 2:30 in the afternoon”. I was absolutely shocked – so much so that my mother and Cody asked what was wrong.

I said, “I am in shock because he was born on the exact same day and time that Billy died”.  (Even as I write this, I am getting chills).

Cody hugged him and said, “Billy, you came back to us, I knew you would” and kissed the puppy all over his face.

I finally said, “Well Cody, I think he deserves a name and calling him Billy is bad luck” – that was something my parents told me as a kid even though my mother had named every one of her Siamese cats the same… Dusty.

Cody said, “Well, he is white and the ghost of Billy, so let’s call him Ghost”… and so it was.

** End of excerpt **

So if you are dealing with the grief / loss of a pet, do as Cody did and pray. Prayers never hurt anyone. Besides, what do you have to lose?

In loving memory of Billy and Ghost…

billy   ghost

I sure hope that I see all of my now-deceased when I take my final breath. In the meantime…

b2106d090ef43936ef3b3fafbddbbd3c 628a39af9a2691528457db1f77ffe81eScreenshot_2019-09-30-08-04-05_resized