by Joya DiStefano
Once we communicated with all animals as our equals and we had great respect for all forms of life. Then one day a chasm began to open between the worlds of humans and animals. While the chasm was narrow, the dog pondered its options, to stay with the humans or to go with the animals. The dog jumped with his animal friends. As the chasm widened he jumped back and forth between the animals and the humans, unable to decide. Finally, as the last opportunity to jump arrived, the dog took the final leap to join his fate with the humans. The cat, of course, has never had to choose. – from a Native American legend
Early our first winter, while we were trying to decide where the appropriate niche was for Palmetto Animal Welfare Services (PAWS), my kid brother slipped on the ice, landed on his tail bone and did serious damage to his back. He needed a walker, couldn’t drive, and was primary care-giver to our 85-year-old mother, three dogs, a cat, and a blue-front Amazon parrot named Bubba. Back surgery did not help, nor did his relationship with alcohol.
Then last spring, about the time my brother’s German shepherd died, PAWS (Palmetto Animal Welfare Services) began advertising free spay/neuter services throughout Aiken County. Once word of the opportunity hit social media, calls began arriving from all over the CSRA. Not all of them were about fixing pets.
Early summer a call came in from Augusta. A family had rescued two lab-mix pups dumped in the street in front of their home. Sometimes, when there is a need that one can respond to, in spite of the boundaries set by practicality, one just says yes. PAWS agreed to sponsor the pups through their shots and spay/neuter, if the family would foster them. We found a rescue who would eventually take the pups, and the deal was made. I think it was shortly thereafter that my brother’s parrot Bubba died, and I put the word out that I was looking for a German shepherd for him. He had 20 acres in the Catskill Mountains, fields, streams, a potential wonderland for a rescued dog, I told myself.
At first the notifications of available GSDs (German shepherd dogs) were for females. He wanted a young male. And so it came to pass that, as I stood in the tack shop talking to the owner about many things, I learned of the 5-month old male shepherd at the SPCA that had just come available for adoption; and I learned of the magnificent trio of 3-month old GSDs on a horse farm in Edgefield, one female and two males. The SPCA dog was perfect. I didn’t consider the Edgefield pups until we tried to get my husband’s cousin in New Jersey to adopt the lab duo in Augusta. They said no-thanks; they were waiting for a German shepherd female. I picked up Comet from the SPCA on Thursday and Carolina Grace, “Carli” on Saturday. It was the last week in September, about the time that we learned that our big yellow lab Zoe Peach had bone cancer.
“This dog is too nice to be a redneck yard dog,” I told my brother. He never lets his dogs near the house, never mind in it. He was offended. I was resolute. He would not alter his standard of care. I told him to find his own dog. It was the last conversation we would have, as it turned out.
The two German shepherds flourished in our Bedlam. I added GSDs to cats as species that we could never again accommodate. They need way too much say about things. It was time to send them north. Then the cancer hit Zoe Peach’s spine. She lost her legs the day we pulled the big Catahoula off the county shelter’s death row (no rescue wanted the big heartworm positive dog). Zoe crossed The Bridge, and we renamed the Catahoula Thibodeaux. We accepted the large blue-eyed dog as a consolation gift from God for the loss of our big yellow girl. Then we found out that he could not be neutered until his heartworm is gone.
The plan to take the dogs to New Jersey was set for Sunday, the 14th of December. We would take the GSDs and the two problems: Thibodeaux, his meds, and the fence jumper, Dolly Mama. The night before we left my mother called to say that my kid brother was dead at 55, twelve days before Christmas.
If you want to travel to upstate New York with dogs, take I-77 to I-81 to Winchester. The Town Suites Marriott is pet friendly. If you want to keep your sanity in the woods of the Catskills, do not let an intact hound with a running buddy off-leash. My husband was going for a hike, like we do every morning in Hitchcock Woods with far more dogs. Two hundred yards out and the two dogs were gone, Dolly for 6 hours, Thibodeaux until we were posting signs the next afternoon! Both dogs came back to a house they had never seen before, and both dogs were tired, hungry and unharmed.
The two lab mixes and the two German shepherds are now in wonderful loving forever homes. My family: my brother’s kids, dogs and cats, ex-wives have all come together around the tragedy of his passing, the spirit of the season, the passage of time, and living without a larger-than-life alcoholic sucking up all the oxygen. My husband, the greatest man I know, is still saying that there could not have been a better Christmas than Thibodeaux’s safe return. Then wee had a foster litter of nine for Valentine’s Day and another five for Easter!
PAWS is an all-volunteer animal welfare public charity that serves Aiken County and its borders. We are totally dependent on community support and generosity to: spay or neuter every animal in every qualifying household; rescue and treat unadoptable and heartworm positive dogs in our county shelter; and, advocate wellness and value for and from pets for better pet retention. Please consider offering a donation of time or money. We appreciate all you do for our animal companions!
A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, Servant Leader, and co-founder of FOTAS and founder of PAWS, Inc.